Tuesday, February 5, 2002

A Flicker of Light

Some of us think that we may have discerned a very slight flicker of light coming through the dense forest. There appears to be a serious increase in public reservations regarding Sharon’s policies. I will attempt a short run down on these, but, before doing so, it must be said that on the macro level we are in the midst of one of the most critical phases in the relations between the two peoples. Sharon will decide in the very near future as to whether he can pull off his dream of destroying the Palestinian Authority and removing Arafat from the scene. Bush has certainly helped to create the climate for such a move and there are no real obstacles to such a move ‘on the ground.” Sharon must also fear that delay on his part will enable Arafat to break out of the diplomatic and strategic blockade in which he finds himself.

Sharon’s main difficulty with the public and the media comes from a growing sense that despite his promises and the faith of large sections of the public in him, he cannot fulfill his election promise to bring peace and security. The public, it may be surmised, figured from the beginning that Sharon might not deliver on the peace promise, but it did hope that he would be better at eliminating or reducing the day to day effect of Palestinian resistance. The public at large still supports Sharon’s hard line, but it is dawning on it that he cannot provide a semblence of security. At the same time, the state of the economy is increasingly grim. The economic impact of the Intifada has multiplied trends linked to the dismal state of the international economic scene.

The peace movement, especially its more radical wing, has been reinvigorated. One of the first signs of the new mood was the relative success of the annual march sponsored by the Women’s Coalition for Peace at the end of last year. In addition, a new protest organization, built around joint activity by Israel Jews and Israeli Arabs grows by the week. Tay’ush ( Partnership in Arabic) leads large convoys into the occupied territories bearing messages of political solidarity along with welcome truckloads of food and clothing. A plethora of NGO’s are a bit more successful in mobilizing activists against house demolitions, against torture and administrative arrests, against cruel and arbitrary actions by Israeli Defense Forces soldiers involved in the imposition of collective punishment such as closures, curfews and the like.

All of the above show that though distinctly a minority, there is a vibrant, growing and dedicated peace community in Israel. A certain amount of progress has even been made on the level of establishment politics. Ben Eliezer, if only because of the requirements of his new post as the leader of the Labor Party, has had to stake out a bit of independent political territory. This is the ratio behind his meeting last week with Mubarak. It is of course highly premature to hope for any good news from the Labor Party. Peres, who is supposed to keep the peace process alive by virtue of his prominence in Sharon’s national unity government, is obviously obssessed with diplomatic perquisites and frequent opportunities to hobnob with world leaders. No one seems to believe that he would pay the smallest price in the defense of principle. A full report should include an analysis of a the Zionist dove coalition headed by Beilin of the Labor party and MERETZ leader Sarid, who is the titular head of the opposition in the Knesset. I hope to return to the subject, but meanwhile, the interesting story from the dove wing of the establishment is the declared intention of Knesset Speaker, Avrum Burg to address the Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority. Sharon, with the entire right, as well as Ben Eliezer, have come out hysterically against the visit, thereby imparting it with quite a bit more importance than it had originally. It all adds up to a sense that Sharon is still strong but there are real cracks in his image of invincibility.

The biggest story and the most fabulous development in Israel today is the very recent declaration by more than a hundred and seventy IDF reservists from combat units. They insist that they are ready and willing to serve their country, but not the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Stressing their patriotic and Zionist motivation, the reservists have stirred up a virtual storm in the media and the public. A surprisingly large section of the public seems to, at the least, understand the legitimacy of the reservists complaints, though, each and every branch of the establishment naturally enough rejects the very idea of linking military service to any political issue.

It is important to understand that the new group (still expanding), is proceeding along a path trail blazed by more radical sections of the peace movement, such as Yesh Gvul and more than a hundred high school students who have announced that they will refuse induction. Two of them are already serving time.

So there is a bit less doom and despair and a bit more of a sense that protest pays off. But I better date this communication and get it out. This is the place where yesterday’s commentaries sound as if they appeared a year ago.

Friday, February 1, 2002

Analytical difficulty

Anti-Communism – Anti-Terrorism

The dominant element in present U.S. policy is ‘anti-terrorism’. This policy has, at the most, a rather remote connection to any serious confrontation with the problem of terror. Neither does it pretend to make the feeblest of attempts to analyze the sources of terror, aside from the suggested theological link between terror and ‘evil.’ Since evil has been around quite a while, we are left to guess as to the reasons for the ‘fact’ that at some quite recent date, evil-linked terrorism has reached tidal wave dimensions. One hypothesis would suggest that evil, after lying dormant for so long, has a new lease on life.

Incidentally, “terrorism” is an orphaned ‘ism’. The very definition of an ‘ism’ implies an ideology enjoying a modicum of open public support. But we do not have any people around who claim that they are expounding the teachings of terrorism, or putting them into practice. So though we have plenty of people who are currently being designated as terrorists, the candidates for this kind of appellation invariably deny that they are terrorists. More often than not, designated terrorists tend to claim, and often with very good reason that their accusers are themselves the real terrorists.

Despite much room for confusion, people of good will can identify what they mean by terrorism and why they find it objectionable. Terrorism involves an indiscriminate use of force and violence against innocent civilians, so whatever the matter at hand, the wrong people are suffering. It is no secret that usually terrorism is attributed to the behavior of people out of power, people who do not control state apparatuses. Governments out of favor are usually not described as terrorist but qualify for an additional criminal category. These governments are, it seems, not terrorists themselves but they are guilty of harboring terrorists or encouraging them, or they are not legitimate governments at all – they are rogue states. However, if the indiscriminate use of violence against civilians is the chief criteria, there is absolutely no reason why any state cannot be just as guilty of terrorism as any band of desperados. All you need to show is that the state involved is pursuing acts of violence and force against innocent civilians, an activity justly condemned by men and women of good will.

Many who recognize the injustice perpetrated against the Palestinian people and rightly demand the recognition of their just national rights might tend to hesitate before condemning suicide attacks against Israeli civilians. The argument against condemnation stresses that the Palestinians suffer from conditions that engender despair and frustration and have no other option, since terrorist activity by suicide bombers seems to be custom made for the weak. The difficulty is that the suicide tactic is not one of individual desperation, but an organizational and institutional effort led by those who find it, out of their own political considerations and credo, perfectly acceptable to kill civilians. No good can come out of hesitating to condemn terror sponsored by political and military forces with a very shady political agenda.

The real problem is the tendency of many to blind themselves as to the nature and the scope of Israeli repression in the occupied territories. The terrorist nature of a policy that turns the life of three million people into a living hell more than qualifies as terrorism perpetrated by a state formation or in short, state terrorism. Power usually enables the powerful to define the nature of social problems. Thus, it is ‘common knowledge’ that the Palestinians, instead of doing something more worthwhile, are perpetrating horrible acts of terrorism. The same discourse that tends to link terror to action by partisan irregulars enables Israel to be a leader in the fight against terror, when at the very same time, Israeli forces are pulverizing Palestinian civilian society and inflicting pain, suffering and humiliation on millions of civilians who are innocent, even in official Israeli parlance. However, even as Bush provides the ammunition for the fight against Arab terrorism, and as Sharon turns the screws against the Palestinian authority, more Israelis are beginning to understand that the occupation can and will qualify as a breeding ground for crimes of war.
Though there is no real difficulty in defining terror, terrorism is not simply the clear definition of any doctrine or practice, terrorism is a label with which power stigmatizes its current candidate for military and political annihilation.

But I have wandered from the main issue. Anti-Communism may have been connected in one way or another with the battle by the ‘free world’ against the Soviet Union, its friends and allies. The conflict between the United States and the USSR was real enough. But ‘anti-communism’ was something else; it was a more far reaching and more embracing concept and program. Anti-communism was the political and ideological crusade, which was designed to multiply the strategic and tactical options at the disposal of reaction. Of course, the common denominator is the manufacture of a political climate that disadvantages free public debate and public criticism.Analytical Difficulty

The physical existence of massive social entities referred to as the Arab countries and the Muslim world is a matter of fact. Observers devoted no little effort to calibrate the influence of these formations on the decision makers in the United States. The traditional wisdom is that in order to pursue and maintain its manifold interests in the Middle East, the United States must, in formulating policies, take into account the wishes and feelings of the Arab leadership and Arab public opinion.

Any logical and coherent U.S. response to the events of September 11 would seem to demand a greater sensitivity and increased efforts to keep friends and influence public opinion in the Arab world. Nothing would have been easier, for this purpose, than reenergizing U.S. policy on behalf of a just peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. It isn’t necessary to prove that the United States had at its disposal all the required elements to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem or, at the least, to create a new modus vivendi that would go far to alleviate tensions and suffering.
Instead, at this point in time, the United States is giving full and open backing to Ariel Sharon and the most chauvinist and annexationist government ever to exist in Israel. The United States has actually taken the lead in attempts to isolate the Palestinian Authority and Arafat. Israel continues its massive and cruel repression against the Palestinians. The ostensible reasons are obvious. The United States is convinced that Arafat is soft on terror. It, therefore, sponsors his physical and political degradation by Sharon. The really big question is how the United States is able to disregard the responses of friends and foes alike, how the United States is totally unconcerned that its active alliance with Sharon may cause it serious difficulties in the defense of its regional interests.The big question is how the United States has zeroed out the Arab and Muslim world from the political equation in the Middle East.

The only answer is that the establishment in these countries has been rendered politically impotent and is totally unable to mount any effective criticism against the United States. Moreover, the opposition forces, and that first and foremost the Islamic fundamentalist opposition, are in a state of political paralysis. Arab nationalism has disappeared or been co-opted by the existing regimes. The left is still smarting from the loss of the Soviet alternative. Although it is clear that the United States is more and more disliked (hated, would be the better word) all over the Arab and Muslim worlds, there is at the present no focal point for serious opposition to present U.S. policies. So the United States can and is getting away with the establishment of the Sharon-Bush evil axis.The role of anti-terrorism, the new official ideology imposed on the world by the only super power, has been deadly effective in silencing those who hesitate to challenge its basic assumptions.

One could bring any number of examples, but Palestine-Israel is always an excellent source. The suicide attacks by Khamas militants are certainly not considered terrorist attacks by that outfit and its supporters. But a pretty good case can be made for defining them as such since the victims are, by any standard, innocent. Certainly, massive, continuous and unrelenting collective punishment by Israel, applied indiscriminately against millions of innocent civilians is terror, pure and simple. However, in the comparison of these two sorts of terror, Israel comes off as by far the worst case. Khamas is a splinter group, operating under military occupation. They can claim mitigating circumstances. Israel is an official state formation, with no shortage of available military potential, and a respectable (if not always respected) member of the family of sovereign states.