Terror In The Territories

Craig Aaron

Secretary of State Colin Powell started his latest world tour in Morocco, where the king greeted him with a simple question: Dont you think it would be more important to go to Jerusalem first?

Much of the world has been asking the very same question since the Israel Defense Forces launched Operation Protective Wall and invaded the West Bank on March 29. As Israels ally and patronto the tune of $3 billion in aid annuallythe United States is the only country with enough leverage to halt this disaster. Yet as the carnage mounts and the destruction widens, the president has been sitting on his hands.

Yes, under growing international pressureand weakening support for the impending attack on Saddam HusseinBush dispatched Powell on another Middle East jaunt and took a stronger tone on April 4, calling for an Israeli withdrawal and even assuring reporters a few days later that I meant what I said. The Israelis got the message: We support you fully, but hurry upyoure starting to make us look bad.

As Powell took the scenic route, also stopping off in Spain, Egypt and Jordan (he was due in Israel on April 11, as In These Times went to press), the IDF stepped up its onslaught. Tanks and troops pushed further into Nablus, Ramallah and Jenin, cutting off electricity and water and bulldozing houses. Soldiers prevented ambulances from reaching the sick and wounded. Hundreds of Palestinians and dozens of Israeli soldiers have been killed. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is privately referring to the Jenin incursion as a massacre that will do us immense damage in the eyes of the world.

Another suicide bomber blew up a bus in Haifa on April 10, killing eight. No one disputes the depravity of these attacks, the tragic loss of innocent life. (Bush is right: The bombers are not martyrs, theyre murderers.) This is the very definition of terrorism. But the Bush administration and most of the U.S. media would have us believe that these terrible attacks somehow excuse Israels atrocities. Are we really to believe that escalation of the terror against Palestinian civilians will bring peace any closer than the murder of Israelis? That it will make Israel a safer place?

So what are the real goals of Ariel Sharons campaign? Like Bushs own war on terror (and couched in the same language), Sharon is exploiting national fear and outrage to accomplish his own long-held objectives: the utter obliteration of the Oslo peace process, the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat himself. Sharon may succeed, but Israel will be no closer to peace or security. As Gideon Levy asked recently in Haaretz: What is the infrastructure of terrorism if not the occupation, the despair and the hatred?

Yet Bush has reserved most of his ire for Arafat, castigating him for not doing enough to stop the suicide bombers. He probably hasnt. But its hard to imagine what Washington expects him to do now, under siege in Ramallah with Israeli soldiers in his living room. Why is it that the Palestinians are always being ordered to restrain themselves and police their own occupation, but the occupation itself is never questioned? As the Independents Robert Fisk has observed, while the Palestinians are encouraged to practice nonviolence (á la Gandhi, in the words of the New York Times Thomas Friedman), the Israelis are called on to deliver a military blow that shows terror will not pay (Friedman again).

Yet even when peace activists like the ones profiled in this issue practice nonviolent resistance, they are widely dismissed as propagandists, hypocrites, even traitors. Critics ask: Why arent they also shielding the cafes and discos of Tel Aviv? A better question: When did the Palestinians become so dehumanized that its only shocking when unarmed Europeans are shot in the street?

The entire situation is all the more tragic because the outlines of a peaceful, political solution are clear: Israel, roughly within its 1967 borders, alongside an independent, demilitarized Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. The Israeli occupation must end, and the settlements must be dismantled. The Palestinians will have to relinquish the right of return (but not some form of compensation). A U.S.-led peacekeeping force will be required. Neither side will be fully satisfied. Just look at the alternative.

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Craig Aaron is senior program director of the national media reform group Free Press and a former managing editor of In These Times.
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