So far 25 Israelis have been killed and around 200 injured as a result of the Saturday evening and Sunday morning attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa. This brings the total number of Israelis killed in the last 14 months to 239, and nearly 800 injured.
These numbers are horrendous. Even more terrifying is that the dead and wounded are all victims of the Israeli government’s refusal to make any real effort toward peace, and the international community’s reluctance to send in a desperately needed international force to protect the beleaguered inhabitants of the occupied Palestinian territories.
These deaths and wounds illustrate the truth of the much-used expression “violence breeds violence.” They also show, once again, that the root of the problem is Israeli occupation.
This violence stems from the longest military occupation in modern history, the existence and continuous growth of hundreds of illegal settlements in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, and the draconian closure to which Palestinian civilians are subjected every day: the collective punishment of 3.1 million people.
The Israeli war against Palestinian civilians, the occupation and the endless racial discrimination against the Palestinian people are radicalising sectors of our population, and feeding extremism and violence.
Sharon and his government claim that the security of the Israeli population is their paramount concern, but we now have clear if ugly evidence that militarism and violent solutions do not and cannot guarantee this security. It is equally obvious that Sharon intended to provoke the suicide bombings. Since the September cease-fire, he has killed 200 Palestinians, including 20 who were the victims of extra-judicial assassinations.
Instead of accepting an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with 200km of borders to be secured, Sharon has chosen to create 3,000km of borders around Palestinian towns and villages, and has failed to provide security.
Despite Israel’s illegal policies of assassinating activists, obliterating the Palestinian infrastructure and economy, devastating health and education and attacking civilians, Sharon has not managed to annihilate the Palestinians’ determination to achieve freedom from Israeli occupation; nor has he provided security for Israelis. This is understandable: there can be no security for Israelis, if Sharon’s agenda is to eliminate the Palestinian leadership and destroy Palestinian lives, livelihoods and property. The events of the past few days only prove that the harder Sharon hits, the harsher the backlash on the Israeli people.
Colin Powell’s diagnosis is correct: the settlements and the continuing occupation are the primary obstacles to the development of a Palestinian state and to peaceful coexistence. Powell, however, limited the solution to a cease-fire, hoping that would be enough to ensure peace. Just because Powell did not go far enough in his vision for an end to the current conflict, however, does not mean that there is no way to bring Palestinians and Israelis back from the imminent abyss. There is.
First, an international observer/protection force must be deployed immediately in the occupied territories to ensure the safety and security of Palestinians, who bear the brunt of Israeli military aggression. This force, however, must provide protection for both sides.
Second, there must be a sincere, just peace initiative — not the unrealistic “solutions” offered by Barak, but a balanced settlement that ensures the security and sustainability of both Israel and Palestine. The negotiations must focus on a real proposal for peace, that concentrates on the implementation of UN Resolutions 242 and 338 and other UN resolutions that will guarantee Palestinian rights, end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and establish a sovereign, independent Palestinian state. This will ensure that both peoples are able to work toward peaceful coexistence.
Sharon and the Israeli government continue to impede peace negotiations, however; in fact, they still refuse to engage in any negotiations, and instead continue to humiliate the Palestinian population, creating a growing sense of frustration.
The Israeli propaganda campaign to dehumanise the Palestinians must not dissimulate the real problem — that the Israeli occupation is a cancer that hurts the life and future of both peoples, and threatens the stability of the whole region.
Now we are waiting, as the Israeli government wonders how to respond to the Palestinians’ reaction. As we sit here, Israeli tanks are surrounding Palestinian towns and cities. Reoccupation seems imminent, as does more bloodshed. All movement is blocked; doctors, nurses, students, patients are unable to move. A whole population is subject to vicious collective punishment.
No one knows what will happen tomorrow. If preventive action is not taken immediately, Israel will launch a massive military campaign, and possibly a massacre. By acting now, the world can prevent this. Acting now means guaranteeing the security and peace of both peoples in the long term.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi is President of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees.