Israel is more worried about resistance attacks against its soldiers than its civilians, for the former are the guardians of Zionism and the prestige of self-appointed supremacy, writes Azmi Bishara.
Israel opened its raid into Gaza by bombarding power stations, the main water pipeline and several major thoroughfares. If civilians in Gaza are the source of terrorism, this is certainly their infrastructure. But the real "infrastructure of terrorism" is not to be found in that poverty-stricken collection of slums they call Gaza. The real infrastructure of terrorism is the Israeli occupation and Israeli occupation policy.
The purpose of the current Israeli assault on Gaza in not to rescue one kidnapped Israeli soldier. He was just an excuse, applied retroactively. Israel has made no bones about the fact that it regarded harsh retaliation against Palestinian resistance operations a built-in feature of its unilateral withdrawal plan from Gaza. Moreover, at least two weeks ago Israeli military officials had already started to leak to the press information regarding plans for a massive response to the Qassam missiles that had been fired from Gaza into south Sedirot and elsewhere, harming no one. It was intensely distressing and nerve-racking to see the civil casualties from the Israeli raids on Gaza during those weeks and then listen to Arab political analysts predicting more extensive Israeli incursions after every raid. There was no suggestion of a Palestinian response. Then the tunnel attack and kidnapping caused even the most loquacious commentator to fall dumb.
Israel acts as though its current behaviour is internationally justifiable on the grounds of the unilateral disengagement. It points to its non-presence in Gaza, even as it attacks from inside the Strip. The subterfuge is possible because of the model solution Israel has invented for Gaza and intends to apply to the West Bank: Palestinians locked up behind walls, guarded by Palestinian security forces on the inside and by the Israeli army on the outside. But the latter will strike hard and fast into this concentration camp after every resistance operation intended to remind Israel that it can’t solve the Palestinian problem and the problems of the Palestinians by leaving those overcrowded slums and locking the doors behind it.
Regretfully, the international community, including the Arabs, have colluded with this solution by effectively hailing the Israeli disengagement as a withdrawal to recognised international boundaries, as though Gaza were a separate occupied entity whose occupation ended with the withdrawal instead of being part and parcel of the territories Israel occupied in 1967. In lending themselves to this interpretation of the disengagement, they have simultaneously helped furnish Israel with pretexts for going on the rampage.
Therefore, when we say that the Israeli response in Gaza is excessive compared to that bold act of resistance waged Monday against Israeli terrorism, this is not a reflection on the value of the kidnapped Israeli soldier, as Israel claims and some Arabs reiterate like parrots, but rather on the nature of the Israeli solution. Excessive violence against the slightest peep from the territories that Israel "withdrew" from is part of the internationally applauded deal that parades beneath the name of "disengagement".
In all events, the incursion is not about the superior value of an Israeli life, but about Israeli superiority, to which the former value is a corollary. The assertion of Israeli superiority is the answer to anything that Israel regards as a precedent never to be repeated. Contrary to the general belief, Israel perceives a greater danger from attacks against its soldiers than attacks against civilians — it does not want the precedent to catch on. This is why it will respond much more harshly to attacks against the military and why it attaches the greatest importance to gauging its response and to gauging how the Arabs react to this response. If anything, therefore, the incursion is about the superiority of the value of the soldier over the value of the ordinary human being.
Israel knows that if military confrontation became the rule this would threaten the unity of Israeli society. As long as civilians are at risk, Israelis can tell themselves they are being attacked because they are Jews and that they have no choice but to defend themselves, or that war is an imperative. But attacks against soldiers are attacks mounted directly against the occupation and the armed forces that embody the occupation. States can choose their policies, unlike people on a bus or in a restaurant. Soldiers who are killed are not said to have been murdered, like civilians who happen to have been in the wrong restaurant or on the wrong bus at the wrong time, but rather to have "died in the line of duty". The Zionist establishment is also acutely sensitive to the fact that the army, security and the military myth are fundamental to the credibility and prestige of Zionism as a historic solution. No doubt, too, selecting military targets would also alter the image of the resister. He would become a formidable adversary who plans his strategies and tactics in order to accomplish a certain agenda, instead of just a mad suicide bomber driven by dreams of martyrdom or personal revenge into blowing himself up in a marketplace so as to take reap the greatest number of civilian casualties. The Zionist establishment does not want anything to shake this carefully constructed and marketed image of Palestinian otherness, because otherwise the Palestinian fighter would become a legitimate party in a comprehensible struggle for liberation.
Israelis do not know whether or not the recent Palestinian act of resistance marks a turning point in the approach to resistance. By no means do they want it to be. Apart from Israeli repression aimed at quelling the resistance and forcing Palestinian society to pay the most exorbitant price in the bargain, the foremost obstacle to such a turning point is the intolerable number of parties that claim to plan, act and speak on behalf of the Palestinians, let alone the lack of unity behind a single political leadership. Indeed, it is currently impossible to speak of a Palestinian approach, which implies perseverance in the use of certain means towards the achievement of certain aims. Nor can there be such a thing as a Palestinian approach without a unified leadership to press towards these aims and without a common agenda to impose unity. Resistance is not an operation, or set of operations, that hits its mark. It is a project, which entails an overall scheme that governs the acts of resistance and which engages the indispensable qualities of foresightedness, originality and boldness, as opposed to mere artfulness at words. Sometimes it is possible for an act of resistance to hit its mark and be morally justified yet for it to be politically wrong because it fails to serve the agenda or the project of the resistance. If the recent resistance operation is to be regarded as a turning point in the resistance then it will have to be demonstrated that it falls within the framework of certain criteria.
On the other hand, you would think that the international community and the Arabs would at least draw a line between a resistance operation mounted against an Israeli military target and other operations that target civilians. But no, that is not the case. When it comes to the Palestinians and Israelis, at least, such fundamental distinctions have been gradually smudged and perverted over the past two years. Consequently, a captured Israeli soldier has been transformed into a kidnapped hostage, the attack on a military installation is treated as though it were an assault on a café filled with elderly aunts and a blown up tank is mourned as though it were an urban bus. Arab and Western officials have raced to their microphones to issue appeals to the "kidnappers" to release the soldier, yet none of these have issued a serious appeal to Israel to release Palestinian women and children in Israeli jails. Nothing could more unequivocally attest that the world has fallen for Israeli propaganda hook, line and sinker.
There must be no backing down. Neither the pain nor the heroism of the Palestinians should be held in such cheap regard. We must insist on the distinction between the Palestinian resistance and Israeli terrorism in this case. Some people chose to respond to the murder of Palestinian civilians by attacking an Israeli military installation. They made the hardest choice, and chose the difficult path. Those who did not take this path, who did not make this sacrifice, or put their courage to this test, or suffer the trembling nerves in the darkness of the tunnel, yet who have some delicacy of feeling towards the pains of the Palestinians could at least spare this operation the embarrassment of tainting it as terrorist. It was not "terrorism" by any standard. Israel and the US should be warned against the folly of treating it as such and of marketing Damascus, for example, as a base for it, as Israel is currently trying to do in a ridiculous parody of the way Bush handled Osama Bin Laden in the wake of 11 September.
As one observes events on the Palestinian and Arab scene, one is pursued by a thought that one dare not formulate fully for fear of having to support the inevitable conclusions: whatever one might say about Israeli behaviour, however closely one might scrutinise it, there is no cure and no substitute for good intentions. These cannot remain hidden for a long time, for if they are not exposed by one’s outward behaviour they will be betrayed by a mood, an attitude, by a psychological disposition.
They say that in politics intentions don’t count, that what counts are actions and their results. The remark falls into that category of quotes that seem wise, but only in hindsight. In fact there is probably not an adage that is more deceptive and more stupid. Intentions are another word for ends, albeit viewed from their origins, and ends determine the actions of rational beings to a large extent. The claim, therefore, that intentions don’t count is meaningless.
Intentions don’t count if the results prove contrary, or different, to one’s intentions for reasons outside the power of one’s will. Intentions don’t count if one thinks it in one’s interest to conceal these intentions. But, in this case, they will reveal themselves as soon as one’s end is attained. But, even before that they are often betrayed by a mood or an attitude that is too obvious to suppress.
Embracing Olmert at a time when a massacre is in progress in Gaza and when Olmert insists on continuing the massacre is an expression of a mood. We’re talking here about Israel, whose political leaders and ministers cancel their trips abroad whenever an Israeli is killed as the result of the conflict. Just for reminders, the meeting where all that embracing took place was not held to get the settlement ball rolling again or to discuss Israeli behaviour in Gaza, but rather for purely celebratory and back-patting purposes. Olmert’s very presence at this meeting, under the laws of the current mood, counts as a victory. And what a lovely setting for it too: against the backdrop of the rosy cliffs of Petra. Here were gathered a handful of Nobel Prize laureates who had performed not a single service for humanity. None of these had invented insulin or even aspirin, or produced great literature or made peace anywhere in the world — in fact, one of them had caused wars. It was a collection of self-obsessed narcissists, caring only about how to refine and polish their image. Prime among them was a mediocre novelist, a self-promoting racist by the name of Elie Weisel, who, regretfully, took the appalling tragedy of the death of millions of Jews in the Holocaust and reduced it to a kiosk for selling anti- Arab hatred. Another of these luminaries initiated the nuclear arms race in the region, not to mention several massacres, the most famous being the massacre of Qana in Lebanon. This was none other than Shimon Peres, who, in the wake of the recent resistance operation, now leads the campaign against Damascus and is sounding the drums of a new war.
Why should Israel be rewarded for the atrocities it perpetrates and for its political intransigence?
Not that Israel cares about the answer to this, either way. Rather, it prefers for the question to remain unanswered so that it can bask in its rewards as it simultaneously exploits them to indulge itself further in its policies of repression against the backdrop of an international silence that amounts to more than a wink of approval.
How can Israeli belligerency be stopped and how can Israeli leaders be brought to account for the crimes they are perpetrating when they are being toasted by Arab leaders? There is only one way to prevent the current blurring and perversion of distinctions from claiming a final victory and this is for democratic and grassroots forces in the Arab world to make their voice heard loud and clear.