Fuel for the Fire

The Twin Towers Attack Emboldens Israeli Hawks

By September 14, Sharon had called off scheduled talks between Arafat and Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres, and announced that Israel was establishing a "buffer zone" between itself and the northern West Bank, a swath of land as wide as three kilometers that Palestinians will not be permitted to enter. Meanwhile, Ha'aretz quoted a senior diplomatic source close to Sharon asserting that Israel was already taking advantage of more freedom to exert military pressure. "We are operating in the Jenin area and nobody's complaining," he said. In addition to Jenin, the population centers of Jericho, Gaza, Ramallah, and Qalqiliya all came under sustained attack.

On September 12, the Israeli military stormed a West Bank village in pursuit of three alleged Islamic Jihad activists, firing missiles and shells on the building where they had barricaded themselves. In the three-hour exchange of fire, five Palestinian civilians were killed—among them a 12-year-old girl—and 50 wounded. The next day, Israeli tanks roared into West Bank towns again, setting off gun battles that left three Palestinians dead and 21 wounded. The incursions, the Israeli military said, were intended to "root out terror."

As this week's parade of Israeli politicos on American TV networks suggests, Israeli officials are regarded as the most legitimate experts on terrorism. Only last month New York's police commissioner Bernard Kerik visited Israel to to discuss anti-terrorism tactics (and Israeli trafficking of Ecstasy pills). But Khalidi, among others, warns that Israel's military strategy simply has not worked: Striking civilian centers in which guerrilla actions may be hatched only tightens the spiral of vengeance. Israel's own military coordinator for the West Bank and Gaza, General Amos Gilad, has said that Israel's repression of Palestinians in the occupied territories produces "a fool's cycle of violence in which Hamas grows stronger, we respond, and as a result the hardship in the territories grows and Hamas grows even stronger. If the situation continues, we are likely to be confronted with . . . five terror attacks a day."

The point was not lost on former deputy mayor of Jerusalem Meron Benvenisti, writing in a Ha'aretz op-ed about what he deems the cynical uses his government is making of the American tragedy. Speaking deeply from his experience as an Israeli, he concludes, "There's no doubt that the world after September 11 will be different from the world before this date, but what kind of world it will be remains an unknown. What is clear is that if it is shaped only by feelings of vengeance, and not in accordance with the need to deal with the rotting soil in which the hate, envy, and frustration of the terrorists grew, it won't be a better world."

Critics of the now canceled pro-Israel rally in New York have been saying for months that the event dangerously shut out Jews who dissent from Israel's violent crackdown against Palestinians, and they had been organizing a range of anti-occupation events for the same day. Now they have joined an inchoate peace movement, planning various kinds of anti-war manifestations on the 23rd in response to Mayor Giuliani's call for a mass memorial rally in Central Park on that date. Amid the clamor for vengeance and war, they say, the original rally's slogan—"Some moments define who you are"—might more properly be contemplated by all Americans.

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