Be an arbiter – not an accomplice!

It was recently that the American mediator Anthony Zinni tried to set up a 48-hour cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians. A few hours later, Israeli helicopters killed four Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. On the morning, this was followed by the killing of two Palestinian boys, who the soldiers claimed had been throwing stones at an army outpost. The Israeli media took in its stride these incidents – and other ones, such as an incursion in force into the Palestinian town of Jenin. The funerals, with the thousands of furious mourners, were not shown on Israeli TV at all. The Hamas ambush in the evening, in which nine Israelis got killed and many more wounded, is presented to the public as an unprovoked act of terrorism, killing for the sake of killing.

Except for a short remark by Yoram Binur on second Channel TV, there was little notice taken of the fact that today’s victims were settlers living illegally on the occupied West Bank and that today’s attack, however cruel, shows a change of the previous Hamas policy of aiming at random Israeli civilians in the main population centres – which can be considered a direct result of the enormous international pressures put on the Palestinians.

But as reflected in the mainstream electronic media, Israeli society regards today’s killings as the continuation of the 26 killed by Hamas two weeks ago in the city centres Jerusalem and Haifa. As usual on such evenings, interviewed politicians shade from the extreme to the ultra-extreme. The retaliatory bombings by Israel’s Air Force already began, including on targets which have not the remotest connection with terrorism or armed struggle, such as the Palestinian Ministry of Science in Nablus; and more heavy retaliation is predicted to come out of Sharon’s conclave with his ministers, taking part at this moment in the Ministry of Defence. Hamas taking responsibility for the attack will not prevent Arafat being blamed as always and his men bearing the burnt of the retaliation.

Actually, before this cataclysm broke upon us we were preparing to send you a report of the Gush Shalom vigil, held last night in response to the killing, day before yesterday, of two Palestinian children in Hebron, when Israeli helicopters tried to perform a “targeted killing” of a young man appearing on Sharon’s wanted list. Yesterday’s modest achievement of a hasty mobilization getting some sixty or seventy people to stand up and be counted in the streets of Tel-Aviv now seems far away. Yet the decision to hold the protest on the pavement outside the US Embassy – rather than, as we usually do, at the Defence Ministry or the PM’s residence – seems vindicated by the events of the past hours. [‘Be an arbiter – not an accomplice!’]

The United States Government – specifically, President George W. Bush in person – bears a major share of the responsibility for the galloping escalation: discarding the last vestiges of a pretence at being an honest broker and openly giving Sharon a free hand to undertake the most brutal measures against the Palestinians. The shrill demand upon Arafat to immediately crack down upon Hamas, while asking nothing whatsoever from Sharon, is grossly unfair to what is what is and remains the immeasurably weaker party to the conflict – however much the terrible images of terrorist attacks are being used to obscure that fact. Bush’s endorsement of Sharon is also a highly dubious boon to Israel – helping to entrench in power a highly dangerous and immoral man, who can offer no solution whatsoever to the country’s problems.

In the discourse of the past days, much was made of the precedent of 1996, when Arafat did make a severe and quite thorough crackdown on the Hamas, under circumstances which superficially look similar to the present – the wake of a series of suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv. But that was when Israel still had a government committed to go forward with what started at Oslo in 1993. That was when was Arafat was able to tell his people that a promising road forward is open to them through negotiations, and that Hamas suicide bombings are blocking that road. Specifically, Arafat was able to tell that to the young members of the Palestinian police and security services, who are required to carry out the arrests and confrontations.

At this moment, there is nothing remotely similar. On the contrary – the present government of Israel is fully committed to continuing occupation and settlement construction, and has been at great pains to show that the Palestinians have absolutely nothing to expect of negotiations. And under such conditions, Arafat is being to choose between steps which may lead to a civil war among Palestinians, or having the full might of the Israeli armed forces loosed upon him with international sanction…

Gush Shalom is a non-partisan and extra-parliamentary grass roots movement, whose aim is to influence public opinion. Gush Shalom is composed of Jews and Arabs, Independents as well as members of political parties and other organizations.