Injustice, not grief over the dead, key to Mideast violence

Key to Mideast cycle of violence is anger and grief over the dead. That’s what my newspaper said, December 12. Israelis, retaliating against Palestinian provocations (that’s the way it’s always put), accidentally kill some innocent Palestinian passersby (that’s the way it’s always put), and before you know it suicide bombs are being detonated, busses are being shot at, and cabinet ministers are being ambushed in hotel hallways. And so goes the cycle of violence. Ever bloodier. Never ending. If only Palestinians would stop, the cycle of violence would end. That’s the conservative’s view, recycled endlessly, all black and white but for the occasional concession to the liberal’s view: if only Israelis would show some restraint, the killing would stop. Nothing about ending Israeli occupation. Nothing about illegal settlements. Nothing about Palestinians living in refugee camps. As if none of this exists, let alone matters.

A UN peacekeeping force is needed, someone says. Yes, it is. Only the Israelis won’t have it. And neither will Washington. And what Washington wants, or doesn’t want, Washington gets, or blocks. That could make you wonder: Is it really Palestinians who are the key to ending the violence?

International law is needed, someone says. Yes, it is. Only the Israelis won’t follow it. And Washington says they don’t have to. And that’s what matters. If Washington doesn’t want it, it doesn’t happen. Compliance with UN resolutions on the right of return, on dismantling settlements, on withdrawing to pre-1967 borders — could that be the key?

Not according to Tel Aviv or Washington or the media. Compliance with international law is peremptorily dismissed. It would change Israel’s racial character, reduce its territory, narrow its power, and that can never be allowed to happen. The best Palestinians can hope for is not to have Israeli tanks rumbling through their towns, razing houses, destroying olive groves. Peace. Not justice.

We’re told Israel must be armed to the teeth to defend itself from Arab hordes who would drive Israeli Jews into the sea, from the suicide bombers who blow themselves up, taking Jewish civilians with them. Washington acts as Israel’s armourer, furnishing Tel Aviv with tanks, missiles, fighter jets, and, a fixture in the skies over the West Bank and Gaza these days, Black Hawk helicopters.

Just the other day, two of them fired missiles at a car waiting at a red light on a crowded Hebron street. Their target? Mohammed Sidr, a suspected Islamic Jihad activist. The mission? Assassination. The outcome? A 13 year-old and a three year-old were killed, the 13 year-old walking along the sidewalk, the three year-old sitting in his father’s car, waiting at the same stoplight. Would you fire a missile into a crowded intersection? Israeli pilots will.

The deaths of the 13 year-old and the three year-old were accidental, says the Israeli government. We didn’t mean it. The media, following a pro-Israeli line, agrees. The pilots were aiming at a suspected terrorist, not at the Palestinians who were killed. But civilians were killed nonetheless, by pilots recklessly firing into a crowded street. Is it not disingenuous in the extreme to say the deaths were “accidental”? What’s really meant is that the Israelis knew civilians were going to be killed; they just didn’t know which ones. It was crap shoot.

And what is meant when we say “civilians” were killed, as if Mohammed Sidr, the man the helicopter pilots were trying to kill, isn’t a civilian? Who’s a civilian and who isn’t?

The answer to that question, like so many others in the West Bank and Gaza, is entirely up to the Israelis, by authority of having soldiers, more guns, tanks, F-16s and attack helicopters.

A civilian, it seems, is anyone Israeli security forces kill, whose name they don’t know. A suspected terrorist is anyone they kill, whose name they do know. Both die at the hands of the IDF. One dies in a crap shoot, because he got in the way. The other dies because he’s on a list.

The strategy is called minimizing false negatives. In the extreme, it means the best way to eliminate terrorists is to kill everyone who could be, or someday might be, a terrorist. If you get the wrong man, so what? Better to kill innocents, than let a terrorist slip through the net. If bystanders get caught in the fire, so much the better. They just might be terrorists themselves. Or might soon become one. The view is bone-chillingly expressed by one American who said he wasn’t troubled in the least by the bombing deaths of Afghan children. Rukia aged two will become Rukia aged 22, a terrorist, he said. Best to get rid of her now.

That Rukia, aged two, was taken out by a terrorist with a bomb, who happened to be piloting a B-52, never occurred to him. Terrorists are people who have bombs. It’s only those who have no air force, no Black Hawk helicopters from which to drop them, who are called terrorists. But all of them — the young man who straps high explosives to his midriff to set off on a crowded street, the young man who fires missiles into a crowded intersection from a helicopter — are they any less terrorists, any less killers, for one being Arab, the other Jew?

The key to the Mideast cycle of violence isn’t anger and grief over the dead. The key is something Tel Aviv doesn’t want to talk about and Washington doesn’t want to talk about and the media rarely acknowledges. The key is something Palestinians have been forced to endure for over 50 years — injustice.

And when all the journalists stop turning a blind eye, when Washington decides it’s no longer tolerable to back Israeli intolerance of the legitimate rights of Palestinians, then, and only then, has the Mideast cycle of violence any chance of finally being brought to an end.

Mr. Steve Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.

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