Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Who’s on Trial, What’s on Trial?

Three young Israelis have been remanded to ‘camp confinement’ until the end of the court martial proceedings against them for refusing as a matter of conscience to serve in the IDF. The immediate background for these proceedings is a growing concern here and abroad that Israel has lost forfeited any vestige of legitimacy in the present phase of military operations in the Palestinian territories. The military actions involved in the continued occupation of these territories have become increasingly fierce and brutal. The rational for all this is startlingly simple. There is any number of terrorists in the territories. The security of Israeli citizens depends on apprehending the terrorists and rendering them ineffective. Well, we have no way of knowing how many so called terrorists there are, but it seems that we are talking about many, many thousands. This dangerous element is embedded in the population and enjoys its support.

In the absence of any political horizon that could reduce tension, the Israeli government has decided to go after the terrorists. In practical terms this means greater restrictions on the general population, incessant night raids, nightly shoot outs (between Israeli armored troops and Palestinian irregulars) and a regular quota of dead and wounded – mainly Palestinians. Palestinian resistance to the armored incursion (tanks and lots of them) takes some toll among the Israelis. This, if nothing else, is a convincing reason to indulge in collective punishment. One example is to blow up a multi-story apartment building because a sniper fired from it. The scale of death and destruction rises dramatically if the raid goes wrong and there is a need to retreat under pressure. In this instance any precautions that may have been involved in the planning to prevent innocent civilian casualties is discarded and any amount of fire power may be employed to save the lives of the Israeli soldiers who might be in danger. Almost every night we are encouraged to hear that this or that terrorist who was responsible for this or that attack has been killed (usually) or captured. Another ten or twenty men on the wanted list are also rounded it up.

From time to time we learn that labs for creating explosives or metal shops making shells are discovered and blown to bits. You know that you can do a lot of things with a lathe. But not after it has been destroyed.

There is a certain eerie open-endedness in the present campaign by the IDF to annihilate the terrorist presence in the territories. There cannot be any doubt that the fighting capacity and potential of the Islamic groups and the Fatah ‘tanzim’ is suffering from the search and destroy missions of the IDF. But three and half million people under occupation seem to create an endless supply of new candidates for the armed underground groups. In a costly selection process, the terrorists will develop new methods to cope with the incessant attacks and raids. Enjoying greater support and admiration for standing up against the IDF onslaught, the armed bands will attract more and more devoted and capable people to their ranks. The IDF military machine manages to produce new terrorists at the very moment that it engages the veterans so as to render them ineffective.

Now the name of this process is called fighting terror. This is, in modern discourse, a vital necessity and something all enlightened societies should be doing, if they are not already in the thick of the battle.The real questions are, of course, ignored. Why are these people engaged in terror? What are the basic issues confronting their society and how are these being addressed, if at all.

One should direct a number of hard questions to those who consider the war on terror a justified affair. Just how much death, destruction, and human suffering are you willing to impose on the Palestinians under occupation in this mad hunt for the enemy, who multiplies, as you crush his leadership and his organization.