Politicide by Baruch Kimmerling (Introduction and Conclusion)


Ariel Sharon's War against the Palestinians


Baruch Kimmerling

Ariel Sharon's War against the Palestinians

published by
Verso Books
parts presented in this document:
Introduction, pages 3-9
Conclusion, pages 201-217
Recommended Reading, pages 219-220

Also available from Amazon.com


On February 6, 2001, Ariel Sharon won a direct election to become Prime Minister of Israel with an unprecedented 52 percent of the vote. This event marked both a turning point in the history of the country and the region and a basic change in the character of the Israeli Government and its political culture. This change was consolidated in a general election held on January 28, 2003, in which the rightwing bloc headed by Sharon won 69 out of 120 Knesset seats, and Sharon was re-elected Prime Minister of Israel. Sharon's landslide victory was made more impressive by the fact that he became the first Israeli Prime Minister to be re-elected for a second term since Menachem Begin in 1981.

Israel under Ariel Sharon became an agent of destruction, not only for its surrounding environment, but for itself as well, because its domestic and foreign policy is largely oriented toward one major goal: the politicide of the Palestinian people. By politicide I mean a process that has, as its ultimate goal, the dissolution of the Palestinian people's existence as a legitimate social, political, and economic entity. This process may also but not necessarily include their partial or complete ethnic cleansing from the territory known as the Land of Israel. This policy will inevitably rot the internal fabric of Israeli society and undermine the moral foundation of the Jewish state in the Middle East. From this perspective, the result will be a double politicide—that of the Palestinian entity and, in the long run, that of the Jewish entity as well. Therefore, the current Israeli Government poses a considerable danger to the stability and the very survival of all the peoples of the entire region.

Politicide is a process that covers a wide range of social, political, and military activities whose goal is to destroy the political and national existence of a whole community of people and thus deny it the possibility of self-determination. Murders, localized massacres, the elimination of leadership and elite groups, the physical destruction of public institutions and infrastructure, land colonization, starvation, social and political isolation, re-education, and partial ethnic cleansing are the major tools used to achieve this goal.

The politicide of the Palestinian people did not begin with Ariel Sharon's election. Rather, it is a consequence of the 1967 War and, partially, of the very nature and roots of the Zionist movement, and has been supported and reinforced by a series of regional and global events and processes.

The doomsday scenario that lies ahead has never been inevitable, and nor are the stages leading to it irreversible. However, Sharon's election and re-election, the circumstances that made them possible, and the internal political situation created in their aftermath have made this frightening vision more probable than it has ever been since 1948.

Israel never was a perfect liberal democracy, because the circumstances of its birth and its roots never allowed it to be. In spite of this, it was, with some measure of justification, considered by its Jewish population and the Western world as the only democracy in the Middle East. Indeed it was democratic in comparison to other regimes in the region. Israel was proud of its regular free elections, which provided its citizens with the opportunity to change the government and ruling elite according to their will. Israelis enjoyed relative freedom of expression—although this freedom existed in greater measure for Jews than for Arabs—as well as many other rights and liberties guaranteed by the law or the local political culture, and a judicial system that tried to provide a system of checks and balances, thus limiting the power of the bureaucracy and executive branches. Israel also tried to develop a limited welfare state. Today, these positive features are deteriorating as Israel becomes a Thatcherist and semi-fascist regime.

A mixture of elements characterizes the Israeli fascist tendencies:

• There is a drastic reduction in freedom of expression and a growing tendency to label opposition to the present policy as "treason." In fact, parliamentary opposition has been nearly liquidated by the previous creation of a Likud-Labor National Unity Government and by the refusal of Meretz, the only major Jewish-liberal-Ieftist party outside the government, to advocate alternative policies. Meretz, under the leadership of veteran Laborite Yossi Sarid, has preferred to remain inside the holy national consensus rather than perform the role of a real opposition party during a period of crisis by working to change this consensus. Labor's departure from the unity government did not make any difference since the damage was already done to Israeli society as well as to the party itself.

• The military are increasingly involved in political affairs and the media. Israel always was a militarized society and the boundaries between the military and political spheres were blurred. Officers of high and even middle rank have enormous influence in most aspects of Israeli society and political culture. Officers who left the military, usually when they were in their forties, were always considered self-evidently qualified for any civilian leadership position. Thus, the Israeli military has never needed to stage a coup-d'état to rule Israel, because the military—wielding varying degrees of power—has always been a partner in the major decision-making processes of a country which has consistently acted as though it were under siege and facing an existential crisis, regardless of whether the threat was real or not.

• Army personnel and former security officers, who are sometimes camouflaged as academic experts, have become the predominant interpreters of the situation in the mass media. Relations with the Palestinians are managed directly by consultations between the PM and the highest-ranking generals. Many of them, like the recently appointed Commander-in-Chief Moshe Ya'alon, are even more extreme in their daily operations than Sharon himself. The rest of the civilian ministers and parliamentary committees are informed only partially and after the fact about political developments, even though they are ideologically close to Sharon's views and have a tacit agreement with him on political goals.

• Sharon considers very few colleagues trustworthy. His authoritarian and suspicious personality, the decay of Israeli civil society, and the weakness of other political institutions have had undesirable effects. An informal regime has been created in which major decisions in a wide variety of spheres are taken by a single man, Ariel Sharon. Many former Israeli prime ministers—beginning with David Ben-Gurion—had a highly authoritarian style of decision-making; however, Sharon has succeeded in transforming a personal characteristic into an institutionalized system of rule and has successfully neutralized and marginalized any Jewish opposition.

• The most crucial element in Israel's recent drift toward fascism is the definition of "the other" (in this case the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and even the Arab citizens of Israel, collectively) as a danger to the very existence of Israel as a nation and every Israeli individually. This definition prepares Israeli, Jewish, and world public opinion for drastic measures against the Palestinians. What before Sharon was considered unthinkable, or at least politically incorrect, has now become an explicit and respectable issue in mainstream Israeli polItical discourse—ethnic cleansing as a legitimate solution to the "demographic problem" of there being an Arab majority or approximate majority on the land. It is, however, unclear whether Israeli decision makers consider ethnic cleansing a real option or just a psychological warfare tactic that is being used as part of the process of politicide.

While the state nurtures public enmity against Arabs, it neglects the sharp increase in Israeli poverty. The total number of people living below the poverty level at the end of 2001 stood at 1,169,000—including over half a million children. The rate of unemployment rose from 8.8 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2001 and 12 percent in 2002. During the first two years of the second, al-Aqsa, Intifada, which started on September 29, 2000, the Israeli economy lost approximately $7 billion. The cost to the gross domestic product for the first year was 2.5 percent and for the second year 4.5 percent, and during these two years the military expenditure has been increased by $0.8 billion. In 2001 there was a negative growth in GNP of 1 percent and in 2002 of 1.5, a phenomenon unknown since the 1953 recession. While the poverty level, the highest since the 1950s, continues to increase, the state has remained indifferent to this process, leaving the fate of its impoverished citizens in the hands of a few charitable organizations. As the economic situation continues to deteriorate, Israeli citizens demand more activities against the "other"—the Arabs. The interactions among these processes create the main manifestations and local flavor of Israeli fascism. The major aims of the present book are to present and analyze these different background factors and examine how and why the Israeli state and its Jewish society have reached this abyss while most Israeli Jews remain unaware of the direction in which their society is headed.

Finally, a personal note: as an Israeli patriot, highly committed to the fate and well-being of Israel, my only country, and as a sociologist who has dedicated most of his professional life to studying Israeli and Palestinian societies, I am writing this book—in my temporary refuge in Toronto—with great sorrow and pain. My only personal objective for publishing this book is not "Israel bashing" by a "self-hating Jew," as most of my political and ideological opponents will argue—and as they claimed about some of my previous writings when they did not have better arguments—but to make a further attempt to open the eyes of a benevolent and humanistic people who do not yet see the real dangers besetting Israel. Indeed, the battle over the soul, fate, and well-being of Israel and all its citizens, Jews and Arabs, is global—as are most of the "local" issues of our era.

Baruch Kimmerling
March 2003

Conclusion: Politicide in Progress

The first chapter of this book described the continuing crisis that has been an inherent feature of the Israeli state since 1967 and the logical and ideological contradictions of the Israeli right wing. The only logical solutions to this crisis and paradox—the desire to possess the whole Land of Israel without the Palestinian inhabitants who endanger the Jewish character of the state—are to get rid of its unwanted population or alternatively to withdraw to the 1967 border, and perhaps even relinquish part of the lower Galilee, which has a large Arab population. In other words, a partial or complete ethnic cleansing is the one unequivocal answer to the unbearable dissonance existing in rightwing ideology between the desired and the existing realities. The other possible solution acceptable to most Israeli Jews under certain circumstances is a far-reaching territorial compromise. The crisis is rooted in the fact that the Israeli political and cultural system is able neither to conduct a large-scale ethnic cleansing of the area nor negotiate a real compromise acceptable to most of the Palestinians.

Although current political and moral constraints will not allow ethnic cleansing at present, several factors have made it more likely at some time in the future. The Israeli public now—in contrast with the not-so-distant past—considers the Palestinian population's "transfer," the Hebrew euphemism for ethnic cleansing, to be a legitimate subject of discussion.1 For example, Rabbi Benny Elon, now Minister of Transportation [sic—actually Minister of Tourism and his fellow party member, Avigdor Lieberman, Minister of Transportation—web editor], representing the National Union Party (which has eight seats in the Knesset [It appears as if the National Union only has 7 seats at this time.—web editor]), has repeatedly expressed the opinion that transfer is not only a viable option and a necessary condition for the survival of the Jewish state but also a humane one, because repatriation to Arab lands spares Palestinians the misery of living under Jewish rule or being killed in military actions.

Ariel Sharon has surrounded himself with officials and advisors who seemingly share these extremist views, like the Minister of Defense, Shaul Mofaz, and Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon.2 Thus, the possibility that Ariel Sharon is preparing a grand design, as he did in 1982, or perhaps several, cannot be excluded. His plan would not only include drastic measures to crush the Palestinian armed struggle and prevent terrorist attacks, but would resolve, once and for all, the basic contradiction inherent in the rightwing and religious fundamentalist ideologies by realising their dream of purging the Arabs from the "Land of Israel." After all, Israel, in its short history, has already established a precedent for ethnic cleansing.

Efraim Halevy, Ariel Sharon's close aide, the former head of Mossad, and presently the head of the Israeli National Security Council, said during the above-mentioned Herzliya conference that the rules of engagement would be changed because the threat of "mega-terror" acts against Israel can be construed as an attempt to commit genocide against the Israeli people and undermine the very foundation and existence of the state.3 If the Palestinians continue with their terrorist activities, he added, there is a real possibility that the Palestinian national movement will be eliminated. In such a case, the world will understand and support the Israeli measures. Halevy did not explain what these measures would be.

The possibility of implementing even more extreme measures against the Palestinians has been greatly increased by one of Sharon's most impressive achievements—the link he has forged between the local Palestinian struggle for self -determination, which has used terror, and the American mobilization against world terrorism. Exploiting the tragedy of September 11, Sharon rushed to declare, "Arafat is Bin Laden." Israeli analysts and experts saw this comparison as ridiculous and harmful, but the subsequent adoption of the comparison by both the Bush administration and the American public once again demonstrated Sharon's superior political instincts. This gave him free rein to re-occupy most Palestinian cities and refugee camps and, de facto, to undermine the internal and external legitimacy of the Palestinian authority and to destroy its material and human infrastructure as well.

There can be no doubt that the primary duty of every state is to protect its civilian citizens by all legitimate means, including the use of military force. From this point of view, the Israeli military operations could be considered completely justified and justifiable—if their objectives were limited to deterring further attacks against the Israeli civilian population and eliminating terrorists and terrorist groups. However, this reasoning seems somehow misleading and out of context because it fails to consider the violence inherent in occupying a territory and oppressing its people for decades. The argument that the re-occupation of Palestinian territories was intended solely to protect Israeli citizens from terrorist acts strongly resembled the declared objectives of Operation Peace for Galilee, because the real aims of both operations contradicted the legitimate goal of securing the safety of the state's citizens. The real goals of the re-occupation are revealed in the modus operandi of the various security agencies, whose actions were explicitly designed to irritate the Palestinians and exacerbate their hatred and desire for revenge. These policies can only produce more terror and violence, especially since the Palestinians have not been given any reason to hope for a swift and reasonable settlement. This has created a chain reaction of violence that has had its most significant effects on the Palestinian community. Those outside the Israeli Government, including Israeli civilians and the Jewish community in the U.S., have been largely indifferent to this state of affairs because the painful losses suffered by Jews and the resultant grief and mourning have destroyed any empathy they might have felt for the personal and collective tragedies, the economic privation, the violence and destruction, suffered by the Palestinians.

The present essay does not pretend to predict the future or guess Sharon's real intentions or plans. However, an attentive reading of his own words, an analysis of recent military operations, and an examination of the present sociopolitical culture in Israel and abroad are enough to conclude that Israel is at present pursuing the gradual and incremental politicide of the Palestinian people. This is a longterm process, often conducted by trial and error, which explores and exploits the diverse opportunities offered by the domestic and international arenas and by the Palestinians themselves.4

The ability to carry out this program of politicide partially depends on the United States. Although the Israeli right has always suspected the U.S. of being pro-Arab because of its oil interests, Israeli liberals and leftists have perceived America as a kind of political and moral superego and believe that what America allows is not only politically possible but also meets a higher standard of morality, as that nation is a symbol of the free world and the ultimate model of democracy and bastion of civil liberties.

However, since September 11, the anti-Arab and anti-Islamic torrents sweeping across America and the increasing political power of the Christian Zionists have created a political climate in which the U.S. Government will not prevent Israel from doing anything it wants to the Palestinians, while also providing it with international legitimacy and protection.5

Indeed, one of the earliest of George W. Bush's pronouncements on the conflict was heartening to the non-fundamentalist Israeli right wing. On June 24, 2002, Bush set forth his proposal for the establishment of a Palestinian state. He did not specify a time for its establishment or suggest borders but required the cessation of all terror or resistance activities and a change in the present Palestinian leadership, a demand that was widely understood to mean that the Palestinians must get rid of Arafat and his loyalists and institute democratic reforms within the PNA. Before the announcement, Arafat's power and prestige had hit rock bottom and Palestinian intellectuals demanded reform and democratization of the regime, but Bush's declaration silenced the internal Palestinian democratic opposition. At a time when the U.S. was waging war in Afghanistan and engaging in warmongering against Iraq, a demand for democratization became synonymous with a demand for obedience to Washington and its definition of democracy, a demand naturally rejected unanimously by Palestinians whatever their evaluation of Arafat's regime. However, at the end of that year, the presidential vision was supplemented by the so-called "road map," which called for the establishment of a state within temporary borders by the end of 2003 (later freezing the finalization of the plan till the Israeli election and the formation of a new government), followed by the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the PNA territories and the holding of elections for a new Palestinian Council there. The Palestinian state within provisional borders will then begin negotiations with Israel on a permanent agreement to be reached by 2005. According to the road map, Israel and the Palestinians will begin formulating a new security cooperation plan only in the second stage, probably when the war with Iraq will have ended. Israel will be required to end the curfews and sieges and cease operating in populated areas. The so-called Quartet of the U.S., the EU, Russia, and the United Nations will supervise the implementation of the plan. Although the plan calls for the establishment of a vague entity called a Palestinian state, no additional proposals were made, leaving all the matters in dispute—like borders, refugees, and the status of jerusalem—open. This strategy fits in with Sharon's tactic of buying time to continue his policy of politicide against the Palestinians, a tactic that rests on the assumption that Palestinian irritation will lead to continued terrorist attacks and a corresponding mighty Israeli military response and so forth.

How effective Sharon's tactics are on both sides can be seen in a public opinion poll conducted in early December 2002. More than seven in ten Palestinians and Israelis indicated that they were ready to accept a settlement process based on the Palestinians refraining from violence and the Israelis agreeing to a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. Less than one in five Palestinians and Israelis (in both cases the percentages were remarkably similar) were committed to the idea of regaining historical Palestine or holding on to the occupied territories. However, a major proportion of both the Palestinian and Israeli majorities expressed no confidence in the readiness of the other side to give up violence or make the necessary concessions. Thus, a majority of Palestinians have continued to support the use of violent methods in the Intifada while a majority of Israelis continue to favor a violent crackdown by the Israeli military.

Being a person who is able to read maps well, Ariel Sharon found Bush's road map highly convenient. Speaking at the annual meeting of the newspaper editors' committee on November 5, 2002, and on the same day at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, Sharon expressed a clear vision of how the conflict should be managed. He said that with the implementation of the road map proposed by President Bush, Israel would create a contiguous area of territory in the West Bank, allowing Palestinians to travel from Jenin to Hebron without passing through any Israeli roadblocks or checkpoints. This could be accomplished with a combination of tunnels and bridges. He later said, however, that Israel would take measures such as "creating territorial continuity between Palestinian population centers"—i.e., withdrawing from cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Hebron—only while the Palestinians were still engaged in making a "sincere and real effort to stop terror." After the required reforms in the Palestinian Authority have been completed, Sharon said, the next phase of the Bush plan comes into effect: the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The intention is obvious. The Palestinian state will be formed by three enclaves around the cities of Jenin, Nablus, and Hebron that lack territorial contiguity. The plan to connect the enclaves with tunnels and bridges means that there will be a strong Israeli presence in most other areas of the West Bank. By comparison, the Bantustans provided by the Afrikaners for the black population look like symbols of freedom, sovereignty, and self-determination.

In order to make his intentions clear, Sharon added: "This palestinian state will be completely demilitarized. It will be allowed to maintain lightly armed police and internal forces to ensure civil order. Israel will continue to control all movement in and out of the Palestinian state, will command its airspace, and not allow it to form alliances with Israel's enemies." Sharon knows very well that no Palestinian leader will agree to end the conflict in exchange for a state with such limited sovereignty; but the very mention of the words "Palestinian state"—a taboo term in the rightwing lexicon—grants him an image of moderation in the international community and a place in the center of the domestic spectrum.6 However, these moderate gestures buy him an almost unlimited amount of time to continue his process of politicide.

As this essay argues, politicide is a multilevel process, not necessarily anchored to a coherent socio-military doctrine. It is a general approach, with many of the decisions being made in the field, but whose cumulative effects are twofold. The first is the destruction of the Palestinian public sphere, including its leadership and social and material infrastructure. The second effect is to make everyday life for the Palestinians increasingly unbearable by destroying the private sphere and any possibility of normalcy and stability. Creating a famine is another way to create such an effect. Thus, in mid-November 1 2002, Israeli forces completely destroyed a three-storey warehouse in Beit Lahiya, a town in the northern Gaza Strip, which had enough flour, cooking oil, and rice to feed 38,000 people for a month. The food belonged to the UN-affiliated World Food Program. Before this, as the Intifada progressed, Israel banned most Palestinian workers from entering Israel, cutting off the main source of income for the densely populated, impoverished Gaza Strip, leaving the UN with the responsibility of feeding, at a minimal level, the Palestinians there.7 A UN official said in August 2002 that about half of the 3.3 million Palestinians are receiving food aid, a fivefold increase since the violence erupted.

All of these conditions are, according to Sharon, designed to lower Palestinian expectations, crush their resistance, isolate them, make them submit to any arrangement suggested by the Israelis, and eventually cause their "voluntary" mass emigration from the land. Sharon is pragmatic and aware that international opinion will not accept either large-scale ethnic cleansing or the transformation of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan into a Palestinian state, as envisioned in his initial program. However, he is carefully observing the international political scene in order to exploit the different situations that will arise. He seeks to weaken not only Palestinian society but also the Israeli opposition, because his war against the Palestinians is intermingled with an internal Kulturkampf against some of the factions shaping the character and identity of the Israeli state.

Another battle in this war is the one being waged for world public opinion, especially that of the North American Jewish communities. Even before the attacks on September 11, 2001, the Americans—in contrast with the Europeans—were strongly and stereotypically anti-Arab and anti-Muslim, an attitude that influences their views on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The majority of the American public and mass media gave almost unconditional support to Israel without distinguishing between Israel and the policies of its government. Although many American Jews are unaffiliated with Jewish organizations and hold relatively moderate views on the Israel-Palestine conflict, political activists within the organized Jewish community are often especially vociferous in their anti-Arab views, as are some marginal and conservative academics.

After September 11, the fierceness, irrationality , and frequency of these anti-Arab sentiments increased dramatically. Naturally, this discontentment is thoroughly exploited by the Israelis so that they can intensify their oppression of the Palestinians. However, Israeli policy has provoked heavy criticism from European intellectuals and a few dissident voices in North America. Regrettably, this criticism is often rejected, unexamined, as anti-Semitic. The accusation of anti-Semitism has become a powerful tool for silencing opposition to Israel's oppressive policies. No doubt some old and new anti-Semitic elements in Europe, North and South America, and the Arab world have been emboldened by the criticism of Israel's policies. This phenomenon should be denounced and dealt with using the proper social and legal tools, as should any manifestation of racism. The bona fide moral critics should be very careful with whom and how they ally themselves, but the leaders of Israel have to be aware of their partial responsibility in the awaking of this anti-Semitism.

The strength of anti-Arab sentiments in the U.S. is illustrated by the observations of the political geographer, Professor Oren Yiftachel, of Ben-Gurion University, who also works as a peace and reconciliation activist, in his account of a three-week lecture tour of major American campuses made with Palestinian Professor Rema Hammami of Bir Zeit University. He told the Boston Globe that a major shift appears to be taking place in the American debate about the Israel-Palestine conflict—the fading-away of Palestine. He was attacked with dubious facts and supposed evidence that had disappeared from Israeli discourse some time ago, and which demonstrated not just ignorance but the lack of any willingness to listen to counter arguments. Statements like "Jordan is the Palestinian state;" "the Land of Israel was given to the Jews [by God?] and only the Jews;" "Is there even such a thing as a Palestinian people?;" "Jerusalem is not even mentioned in the Koran" were typical.

The reaction of the audiences was quite similar in most campuses. . . . The discourse was highly polarized and this was most evident in the unwillingness to even listen to a joint Palestinian-Israeli narrative. At almost every campus, audience members arose and exclaimed angrily: "How is it possible that you are not arguing with one another?" "We were cheated: they promised a debate and we got a monologue."

"The American audiences were more interested in dwelling on swastikas on the wall of a public library than in the brutal occupation of Palestine, the on-going Israeli violation of international laws and norms, and the mass killing of innocent Palestinian and Israeli civilians"—added Yiftachel wryly.

Regardless of what the attitudes of North Americans and Europeans are, the fate of the Israeli state and of the Palestinian people will be decided on the ground in the Middle East. The hard facts are that a Palestinian people exists, no matter how "old" it is, and that the possibility of their politicide—or their being ethnically cleansed from the country—without a fatal outcome for Israel is nil. The Palestinian people, like many other peoples organized in sovereign states, are basically a creation of a colonial world-system, even if their social and political development was hampered by the same colonial Empire (the British) and by the Jewish colonization of Palestine (which also began under the British colonial umbrella, without whose existence the emergence of a Jewish state in the region would have been impossible). However, even before the beginning of the contemporary Jewish colonization of Palestine, in 1882, the country was populated by approximately 600,000 Arabs and 20,000 Jews.8

On the other hand, Israel is not only an established fact in the region, but also a military, economic, and technological superpower.9 The Israeli state, like many other immigrant-settler societies, was born in sin, on the ruins of another culture, one which suffered politicide and a partial ethnic cleansing, even though the new state did not succeed in annihilating the rival aboriginal culture as many other immigrant-settler societies have done. In 1948, it lacked the power to do so and the global post-colonial culture was already unwilling to accept such actions. Unlike Algeria, Zambia, or the Afrikaner state of South Africa, the Palestinians and the other Arab states were unable to get rid of their colonizers. The Jewish state in the Middle East proved its viability against all odds and developed a rich, flourishing, and vital society. All it needed was acceptance as a legitimate entity in the region. Its internal normalcy and continuous development depend, in the long run, on being recognized by the other peoples of the region. This process began with the peace accord signed with Egypt, which can be considered the second biggest victory of Zionism. The biggest victory was the Oslo Accords, despite all their drawbacks, because the Zionist movement's primary victim and adversary recognized the right of a Jewish state to exist in Palestine. This revolutionary change in mainstream Palestinian political thought was, like the Egyptian peace agreement with Israel, a delayed result of the 1967 and 1973 wars.

But the 1967 War had additional and contradictory outcomes that created a continuing crisis in Israeli society. Sharon and his ideology are a manifestation of the crisis that has been building since the beginning of the occupation and Israel's transformation into a Herrenvolk democracy. What most exemplifies this distorted regime is the fact that when 520 Jews in Hebron celebrate Jewish holidays and receive guests who come to show their solidarity, 160,000 Palestinians in the Old City of Hebron are imprisoned while the settlers use the religious holidays to demonstrate their lordship. All of this occurs with the collusion of thousands of military personnel and hundreds of armed settlers.

Soldiers bursting into private homes, most commonly at night, has become a common occurrence. These raids are carried out under the pretext of searching for terrorists or weapons and are sometimes accompanied by plunder and more often by arbitrary killings. These abuses have been recorded by dozens of eyewitness reports collected by B'Tselem and other human-rights organizations. Even if such events are not ordered from above, the military authorities—in contrast to the conventions of previous periods—do not usually investigate and do not prosecute deviant and even criminal acts, thus signaling to the soldiers that the property, privacy, and even the lives of the Palestinian population are considered of no importance.10

The crisis is at its deepest right now. Appropriate leadership is lacking, and the actual or potential leadership that exists on both sides is frightening. Nonetheless, we are closer than ever before to a breakthrough because both parties are beginning to understand that they are in a no-win situation and that no military or political strategy—or combination of the two—will make the opponent disappear. Neither the Jews nor the Palestinians will be moved from that piece of land without great harm befalling the other side also. If the hostilities persist, the situation may lead to long-term mutual attrition, resulting in the destruction and disappearance of both societies if the conflict escalates into a regional war, whether non-conventional weapons are used or not. A new Palestinian Nakba ("Catastrophe") would be accompanied by a new Jewish Holocaust if the Israeli Jews and the Palestinians fail to conclude that their fates are intertwined, that their interests are mostly mutual and not mutually exclusive. If both sides will make or remake the painful compromises they find unthinkable at present, but which are needed to effect a mutual reconciliation, and will adopt basic humanistic values, they may not only cease being enemies but may find that their common interests lead them to become close allies as well. Without a reconciliation between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the contemporary Jewish state will become a mere footnote in world history.

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Further Reading on Palestine on this site

Children of Palestine by John Pilger

Palestine by John Pilger

Israeli Water Interests in the Occupied Territories by Ze'ev Schiff

Israel Talks of a New Exodus by Ellen Cantarow and Peretz Kidron

Recommended Reading

Uri Ben-Eliezer, The Making of Israeli Militarism, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Uzi Benziman, Sharon: An Israeli Caesar, New York: Adama Books, 1985.

Nachman Ben-Yehuda, Sacrificing the Truth: Archeology and Myth of Masada. New York: Humanity Books, 2002.

Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.

Menachem Hofnung, Democracy, Law and National Security in Israel, New York: Dartmouth Publishers, 1996.

Baruch Kimmerling, The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Culture and Military in Israel, Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal, The Palestinian People: A History, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.

Rashid Khalidi, Under Siege: PLO Decision Making During the 1982 War, New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

Ian Lustick, For the Land and the Lord: Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, New York: Council of Foreign Relations, 1988.

——— Unsettled States/Disputed Lands: Britain and lreland, France and Algeria, Israel and the West Bank—Gaza, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1993.

David Kretzmer, The Occupation of Justice: The Supreme Court of Israel and the Occupied Territories, Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.

Menachem Klein, The Jerusalem Problem: The Struggle for Permanent Status, Tampa: University Press of Florida, 2003.

Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

——— Israel's Border War 1949-1956: Arab Infiltrators, Israeli Retaliation, and the Countdown to the Suez War, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Laurence J. Silberstein, The Postzionism Debates: Knowledge and Power in Israeli Culture, New York: Routledge, 1999.

Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari, Israel's Lebanon War, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985.

Gershon Shafir, Land, Labour and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Avi Shlaim, War and Peace in the Middle East: A Concise History, New York: Penguin, 1995.

Ariel Sharon (with David Chanoff), Warrior: An Autobiography, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989.

Ehud Sprinzak, The Ascendance of Israel's Radical Right, New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Mark Tessler, A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Meira Weiss, The Chosen Body, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002.

Yael Zerubavel, Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.


1. Rumors about detailed plans for ethnic cleansing have been spread during the past year by the Israeli right wing. Moreover, Palestinians and some Israeli intellectuals have warned of the possibility. One example was an interview given by Benny Elon to the rightwing weekly Makor Rishon, in which he discussed secret talks between the U.S. and Israel concerning the re-settlement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Iraq, as a part of the envisioned new order in the Middle East imposed following the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In general, the enthusiastic support by Israel for the Bush administration's campaign against Iraq was viewed in the context of a regional war, with Israeli leaders believing that the war would distract the world's media and allow them to handle Palestinian issues more easily and to employ more drastic measures.

2. During their overlapping terms—Mofaz as Chief of Staff and Sharon as Prime Minister—Mofaz complained many times, even in public, that the PM didn't allow the military free rein to crush the Palestinians and get rid of Arafat. Once, when Mofaz didn't execute a Cabinet decision, Sharon erupted angrily, telling Mofaz "There is a Government in Jerusalem." The disagreements between the two men made it surprising that, after Benjamin Ben Eliezer left the National Unity Government, Sharon appointed Mofaz as his replacement. Some analysts concluded that Sharon needed to prevent Mofaz from joining a radical party like the National Union.

3. "Mega-terror" usually refers to an act that may cause many thousands of casualties and a massive destruction of property and infrastructure, most probably by an attack with biological or chemical weapons, but it could also be a spectacular attack like the unsuccessful attempt to hit an Israeli airliner in Kenya with a ground-to-air missile. At the beginning of 2002, it was reported that an attempt at mega-terror was thwarted when security officials detected an explosive device attached to a tanker that was about to enter an oil storage facility in a densely populated region of central Israel.

4. Azmi Bishara, one of most prominent Israeli Palestinian intellectuals, complained on September 3, 2002 about the lack of a strategy of liberation: "Many of today's operations are motivated by revenge or anger and are not the product of any strategy. When the subject of the presence or absence of a Palestinian strategy is discussed, impatient questioners seek to boil the matter down to whether you are for or against suicide operations. The reduction of national strategy to this question exemplifies the extreme poverty of Palestinian politics in these difficult times, which is also quite tragic." Bishara called for an intra-Palestinian dialogue about the goals and the means of the struggle and clearly opted for a popular Intifada (instead of the armed struggle).

5. According to Protestant fundamentalist theology, the return of Jesus and a happy conclusion to history depend on the Jews returning to the Holy Land and regaining control over Jerusalem. This explains the fundamentalists' unwavering support for Israel. This theology also teaches that the Jews will convert en masse to Christianity, a situation that will effectively bring about the cultural destruction of the Jewish people. The Jewish right wing knows this yet warmly welcomes the fundamentalists' political support, believing that what happens at the end of days is irrelevant to the current political situation.

6. Sharon was heavily attacked by his own camp's supporters (like Benjamin Netanyahu and Uzi Landau), but mainly by radical and religious right wingers and settlers' leaders, for his apparent acceptance of a Palestinian state. For example, a certain Dovid Ben Chaim circulated the following hate-mail on the Internet: "(Please forward far and wide) Ariel Sharon: The Manchurian Candidate. How do you like your hemlock? One lump or two? Let's be very clear about this: Generalissimos Sharon and Mitzna have identical visions for Israel. Clearing out "the settlers" and carving out a PLO state within Israel. Period. Now is the time for all good men (ladies, too) to get the heck out of LIKUD and join up on the right. Leave its dead carcass to the maggots of the Left. [Moshe] Arens [a former Minister of Defense] went quiedy. You other guys make some noise!! You got a month and a half to pull it together. If it doesn't work, after that, you've got all the time in the world to make the Revolution! For six weeks put everything you've got into it. Find a leader (or two) even if he's not Thomas Jefferson. [Avigdor] Lieberman [head of a Russian faction of the National Union Party] and [Efli] Eitam [leader of the NRP] come to mind. Remember to get to the bottom of things, they say, "follow the money." So who profits from Israeli cynicisms? Arafat, the generalisimo and the Left. UNITE THE RIGHT! Blessed are You, G-d, who gives Your People Israel a mighty arm and the will to use it. Be strong! Be strong! May we all be strengthened! WE ARE TAKING IT ALL BACK AND KEEPING IT!" [Capitalized in original]. The violent style is not exceptional but very frequent among the Jewish religious fundamentalists.

7. On the night of October 12, 2002, live Palestinian workers were killed while they tried to sneak into Israel from the Gaza Strip, near the Karni crossing (in the center of the Strip), in a desperate attempt to find work. An Israeli tank spotted them and fired a shell that killed the live men, none of whom were armed, immediately. They were not suicide bombers, but suicide workers.

8. For a detailed account of Palestinian history, see my book, co-authored with Joel s. Migdal, The Palestinian People: A History (Harvard University Press, 2003).

9. The military superiority of Israel is used domestically in both directions: some argue that a military power like Israel does not have to make any concessions to the Arabs, while others argue that a strong country can afford to make such concessions.

10. Occupation, as a social system, is harmful not only to the occupied but also to the occupier. In early November 2002, under the headline "What have I done?!—a hundred soldiers treated for 'Intifada Syndrome'," Ma'ariv reported that a special "rehabilitation village" has been set up to care for former combat soldiers who suffer from deep mental crises, a hundred of whom are at present undergoing treatment. Some suffer from nightmares, and are unable to face up to operational failures and having harmed civilians. Veterans of elite units are being treated at the "Izun" ["Balance"] rehabilitation village near Caesarea, by a staff including seven reserve officers. Orit Mofaz, wife of the new Defense Minister, supports the project. The ex-soldiers' parents finance the treatment.

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