July 13, 2006


By Uli Schmetzer*

Israel’s brutal bombing of Lebanon and the Gaza has illustrated yet again peace in the Middle East is an illusion and war on terror generates only more terror. Israel’s hard line policy has a history of being ineffective as a solution and its strong arm tactics only lead to more violence in a region where blood calls for more blood and power cliques on both sides feed off the victims.

After reporting over fourteen years on these conflicts as well as the constant failure of peace efforts people inevitably ask me these days: ‘Who is to blame?’

This question itself is clear evidence Israel has lost its once solid aura as the victim and the Arabs are no longer simply the villains.

A growing number of the public, including the European Community, today view Israel’s bombing, shelling and raiding of the Gaza Strip and Lebanon as a disproportionate use of punishment for the capture of three soldiers. For years Israeli forces arrested, ‘kidnapped’ and jailed thousands of Palestinians, among them women and minors under eighteen, keeping hundreds of them in detention centers until today. Was it not to be expected that sooner or later Palestinian and Hetzbollah militants would kidnap Israeli soldiers and use them as bargaining chips to free Palestinians or Lebanese in Israeli jails?

A crisis is triggered easily in the Middle East and serves many masters. Iran, anxious to remove the global spotlight from its nuclear program could well order its quisling, Hetzbollah, to shell the Jewish State. Israel’s new Prime Minister may want to show the Arabs and his people he is just as tough as his mentor, Sharon. And the United States, embarrassed by more and more barbarities of its soldiers in Iraq, may have given their own quisling, Israel, the green light to join the war on ‘terror.’

The point to remember is this:

To the Palestinians and Hetzbollah the Israelis are invaders. Resistance, in any form, is patriotic and justified (just as the resistance to the Nazi occupation in France and Russia was legitimate).

To the Israelis the Palestinians are terrorists who do not accept the State of Israel’s right to exist and refuse to accept the status – of occupied lands and Israeli settlements.

The easy reply to the question ‘who is to blame’ would be ‘both sides.’ Israel is guided by Zionists with a basic belief in a Greater Israel that includes the West Bank. The Palestinians are under the thumb of Islamic radicals who refuse to acknowledge Israel’s legitimacy. The Zionists are divided into two camps: The religious fanatics view the biblical locations in the West Bank as their historic heritage while the pragmatists consider the water, land and tourism resources of the West Bank vital for the survival and prosperity of the State of Israel - which sooner or later has to exist without massive U.S. handouts.

The Palestinians too are divided: Islamic zealots argue the land was taken from them by force and death is preferable to surrendering it to the Jews. The pragmatists see the West Bank as the core of a Palestinian State. Without the West Bank any Palestinian ‘State’ would be no more then an insignificant canton, a strip of land in the Gaza which Zionists have always set apart as a Palestinian homeland.

Now and then someone in Washington needs to upgrade their international image and calls for a meeting of the warring sides.

I am not the only one who considers all peace efforts so far - from Oslo to Camp David to the Road Map – mere window dressing, charades to hoodwink the international community into believing Israel is ready to offer the Palestinians a State.

After each of these fake peace milestones Israel has escalated its settlement activities in the West Bank and conducted a flurry of raids into Palestinian territories to arrest so-called senior terrorists and bomb makers of which the Palestinians seemed to have an endless supply. Tel Aviv carried out ‘targeted killings’ of militant Palestinians, in short assassinations. It imposed curfews at will on Palestinian communities, rounded up suspects, killed a few civilians accidentally (collateral damage), tore Palestinians out of their sleep and lined them up for hours in the street, squatting on their haunches with hands behind their heads.

The excuse for staging these raids was uncannily similar: Information about a bomb-making cell, an underground tunnel to smuggle weapons, location of a senior terrorist leader (the New York Times once asked how many senior terrorist leaders the Palestinians could possibly have) the attack on a settlement or a settler. When everything else failed the excuse was to safeguard ‘our national security, our right to exist.’

The raids escalated whenever peace threatened to break out. Even a mentally slow observer had to eventually ask why such a disproportionate and provocative use of force was activated each time a peaceful solution presented itself. Perhaps, contrary to its public declarations, Israel does not want a peace deal as long as the West Bank, or most of it, is not part of Israel.

It is a law of physics that any action prompts a reaction.

The Palestinians were never slow to react to Israeli raids, raids always justified as a necessity to safeguard Israeli lives. Outgunned and out-financed the Palestinians are without a superpower sponsor. Their cause is out-publicized by Israel with a superior control of the Western and particularly the U.S. media which is saturated with Jewish journalists, editors and news directors most of whom are highly partial when it comes to the State of Israel. Take the example of the current war: The world media was saturated with images of eight Israelis killed by home-made Hetzbollah missiles yet the previous day there was scant coverage of forty Lebanese killed by the massive Israeli bombing.

(Comparing the ultra-modern Israeli missiles and bombs to the amateurish Hetzbollah rockets is like comparing a firecracker to a stick of dynamite.)

In the end the militants will again resort to the one weapon that can escape Israel’s powerful defense arsenal: Suicide bombers. For the Palestinians the ‘martyrs’ have reduced the gaping gap in military punching power. More important (as the Germans found out during World War II when their cities were bombed and the Americans found out on September 11, 2001) suicide bombers take the war into the homes of the enemy. Logic has it the targets for these suicide bombers tomorrow will not only be Israel but the Western countries, and especially the United States, that stood by and did nothing to stop the massacre in the Gaza and the Lebanon. That in turn will give the Israelis and the U.S. another reason to hit back even more fiercely. And so the cycle of violence continues and escalates.

It may be difficult to understand why someone would sacrifice their life to inoculate fear into ‘the enemy’ unless one has spent time in the Palestinian war zones or spoken to families whose homes were demolished with explosives as collective punishment for someone’s suicide attack. One had to speak to farmers whose citrus fruit and olive groves were bulldozed into the soil because someone fired from them at a Jewish settler, groves that would take decades to grow back, if ever. This practice of collective punishment coupled with periodic curfews, raids, closed borders, checkpoints that take hours to pass, have created that startling army of young men and women willing to self-destruct as their ultimate contribution to a flagellated society, a society desperate and running out of hope.

The reservoir for these suicides is enormous if one takes into consideration that 60 per cent of the Palestinian population still live in exile (404,000 of them alone in Lebanon) banned from returning to Palestine by an Israel which fears their repatriation would dangerously swell the number of the Arab population. Why should anyone be surprised that many of these exiles (some dating back to 1948) should be ready recruits for Islamic organizations like Hetzbollah and even Al Queda?

Of course the suicide bombings have given Israel the excuse of being the victim once again, an image fostered by a world media that seems to weep more over Jewish dead then Arab dead.

Many of us remain puzzled how a people who suffered so much and gained so much international compassion as the result of persecution for hundreds of years and extermination in the holocaust can today use collective punishments and detention camps to subjugate another minority. One can only be encouraged by the growing number of Israelis asking that same question at home and abroad – just as more and more Americans are beginning to question the wisdom and war strategy of the Bush administration.

Who then is to blame?

Six decades of being pushed into a corner by Israel has pushed the Palestinians, who once practiced a decidedly moderate and liberal Islam, into the arms of religious radicals. Six decades of feeding their citizen on the horrors of the holocaust and the fear of Arab retaliation has pushed the Israelis into the arms of the hard-line Zionists who do not believe in an eye for an eye but in an equation of four eyes to one eye.

Yet Zionism’s dream of a Greater Israel has proved difficult to translate into reality. Between the dream and reality is the obstacle of an Arabic people who feel, justly, they have as much right to the land in dispute as any other claimant and are willing to die for their land. Only when both sides recognize each others rights can they hope to work out a border. In the meantime bullying and terrorizing leads nowhere.

Who then is to blame?

One could argue the United States for its unwavering financial, military and diplomatic support of Israel while pretending to be an even-handed broker in the dispute. One can also blame the surge of Islamic radicals who have used the Middle East conflict to promote their anachronistic cause for rule by the clergy and rigid religious laws.

And then there is Israel, escalating its vengeance and its excessive retaliation by the year, stoking more hatred with each military intervention, creating more potential ‘terrorists’ with each attack, playing on the undisputed fact its wrath can be far more lethal then that of the Arabs.

Sadly both sides have been at war so long they have nursed into adulthood a new generation fed on hate, fear and misery, a generation that considers ‘the others’ as the real terrorists. (ends)

*Uli Schmetzer covered the Middle East periodically for the Chicago Tribune between 1988 and 2002.