The Filthy War


JAFFA—Can any of you fathom what we’re doing? My friends are all dumbfounded. I’ve asked everyone I know, running the gamut from right-wingers to bleeding hearts, and not one person can comprehend the logic behind the current military frenzy.

The superficial “why?” is easy. Israelis are fed up with atrocious terrorist bombings and want them stopped. Some want revenge. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is the kind of guy who thinks brute force can solve any problem. And, if he wavers in that conviction, the hard-liners know how to give him backbone—they threaten to bring down his government.

No more carrots, the hard-liners say. Just bring out the sticks.

But the underlying “why?” eludes us all. Sharon and his cronies are not stupid and must understand that the military havoc Israel is perpetrating has raised the pitch of Palestinian hatred for Israelis past the boiling point. Did they really think that unleashing the most ferocious military campaign Israel has mounted in years was going to quell the violence?

Israelis ask if we are demeaning ourselves by answering the filthy war the Palestinians are fighting against us with an equivalently filthy war against them. The answer is “yes.”

Israelis also ask if we are breeding a whole new generation of suicide bombers with our tactics. Again, the answer most certainly is “yes.” If you believe Palestinian propaganda, and on this point I do, hundreds if not thousands of young people are getting in line to blow themselves up for the cause.

And, if life is cheap, so are the explosives. One of the documents reportedly found in Yasser Arafat’s besieged Ramallah compound was a request for funds. It explained that the explosive belts worn by suicide bombers cost 700 shekels each (about $150) and between five and nine devices were needed per week, if the Chairman could spare the money. Thank you very much.

Suicide bombings and sniper ambushes by Palestinians during the month of March killed 129 Israelis. In the worst massacre of the 18-month-old Palestinian uprising or intifada, 26 people were killed at a Passover dinner in the seaside town of Netanya.

Reliable figures do not exist for the Palestinian dead, but March was the first month of the current intifada when Israeli dead outnumbered those of the Palestinians.

During the first intifada, which began in 1987, the ratio of Palestinian to Israeli dead was 25 to one. The ratio during the second intifada, which began in October 2000, was a steady three to one until recent events. The Palestinians believe that time is on their side and have made it clear that they consider their casualty figures acceptable. Gives you something to think about.

Also worrying is that the suicide bombers no longer belong only to Hamas or Islamic Jihad. They now belong to Al Aqsa, they are Fatah, they are linked directly to Yasser Arafat. And guess who gave them guns and weapons training back in the good old days when we were all basking in Oslo’s golden light. We did.

Speaking of Arafat, we are all anxious about him too, but you shouldn’t lose any sleep agonizing about his well-being. He’s reveling in all the attention. For him, the siege is as invigorating as a hit of methamphetamine.

The Israeli government has assigned one Lieutenant Colonel Amir Safri to take care of Arafat’s “humanitarian needs”: food, medicine, toilet paper, and other necessities. The guy is apparently efficient. There is water, electricity, and occasional telephone service, in case you want to call and chat.

No, it’s not Arafat’s comfort we worry about. We’re just concerned that he’ll trip down the stairs or have a heart attack or something. If Arafat croaks, all hell will break loose, making what’s happening now look like the proverbial calm before the storm.

No one has cared about Arafat since the jerk walked out of Camp David after Ehud Barak made an extremely courageous peace offer—an offer that cost him the prime minister’s job. Arafat considered Barak’s offer of half of Jerusalem and all of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, a sign of Israeli weakness. He made it clear that he wanted what he had wanted from day one—all of historic Palestine for the Palestinians.

Playing us for suckers, Arafat declared that he could accept no deal with Israel that did not include the “right of return” to Israel for millions of Palestinian refugees, something that would put the Jews in the minority and spell the end of the Jewish state.

The plight of Palestinian refugees is tragic. But while Israel opened its arms to Jewish refugees who were driven out of Iraq, Tunisia, Morocco, Yemen, and other Arab nations after 1948, most Arab countries have confined the Palestinians in squalid refugee camps for decades so they can supply political capital against Israel.

Now Arafat is trying to play us for suckers again. As soon as the “mighty” Israeli military machine began rolling toward Ramallah, Arafat announced that he was ready for a cease-fire. So Israel asked Arafat to do one simple thing: declare the cease-fire in Arabic and order an end to terrorist killings. Arafat refused. He’ll say anything the Americans ask him to say . . . but not in Arabic.

And no one understands why the Israeli government is going after Arafat and his gang but not Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who leads Hamas and is considered much more dangerous.

The wheelchair-bound Sheik Yassin was jailed by Israel from 1989 to 1997 for ordering Hamas attacks against Israeli targets. He is paralyzed in all four limbs, has breathing problems, and can barely hear. But the old coot still has a lot of power and a surplus of venom in his veins.

Anyway, it’s time to stop being polite to sovereign or would-be sovereign nations. It is time to impose an agreement. Washington will have to do the dirty work if the anguish on both sides here is to end.

As Yossi Sarid, the leader of the Israeli opposition Meretz party, wrote in the International Herald Tribune on March 29: “Superpower status, like nobility in the past, obliges.”

Washington, Sarid wrote, “should tell both sides that if in a few days they don’t achieve a truce, an international force under U.S. leadership will be sent to separate the Israelis from the Palestinians. . . . ”

“An international force under U.S. leadership,” he wrote, “would not only protect Israelis from Palestinians (and vice versa), it would safeguard the interests of the United States, the free world and moderate Arab countries, and would help the Palestinian Authority rehabilitate itself and the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza finally to stand on their feet.

“For many years, Israel rejected the idea of an international force, saying: ‘Excuse me? Are we Bosnia? Is this Kosovo?’ My answer is: Yes, we have become Kosovo. When victims fall every day and both sides are blinded by hatred and revenge, we are Kosovo. And a Kosovo-like reality demands a Kosovo-like solution.”

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