On Jan. 23 Ha'aretz readers were utterly
embarrassed. Just as the quality paper was printing its top headline, based
on Israel's omniscient "security sources" – "New Israeli Policy in Gaza: Border
Crossings Will Stay Closed" – the border crossings between Gaza and Egypt were
being opened; a few hours later, they didn't exist anymore. Once again, the
regional power was caught in surprise; Hamas won by breaking the siege.
A good indication for a declining empire is its inherent tendency to say "no"
to reality. The Soviet Union gave the English language the interjection "nyet."
Long ago, it was the Arabs who said "no" – no to negotiations, no to normalization,
no to recognition, no to peace. This changed, at the latest, with the Arab
Peace Initiative of 2002. Now it's Israel that has become the nyet-sayer.
Get prepared to look up "lo," the Hebrew "no," in the Oxford English
The Israeli border town of Sderot is under attack. Rockets from Gaza are fired
at the civilian population on a daily basis. No country can tolerate that for
long, but the attacks have been going on for seven years. Military operations
have all failed to stop or even significantly reduce the fire. Any rational
adviser would say (1) protect or evacuate the inhabitants of Sderot; (2) talk to
those firing the missiles and see what they want. Israel, however, says "no"
to both suggestions.
Why Not Talk to Hamas?
Talks with Hamas are a good place to start. Polls
show strong support among Israelis for such a step. But Israel says "no."
The ideology propagated by the media is so dominant that this issue is not even
discussed in Israel; rejectionism is taken for granted. Why not talk to Hamas?
The official answer: "Hamas denies Israel's right to exist." A ridiculous
argument, which comes down to "we don't talk to our enemy because he is our
enemy," or "we'd rather make peace with friends than with foes." Moreover,
Hamas offers a long-term cease-fire, lasting years or even decades. Israel says
"no" to that too. Why? The idiotic Israeli answer is that Hamas would
use the time to rearm. As if Israel would use the time to make love. A pseudo-democracy
run by the military is totally blind to the rational logic of creating a "temporary"
peaceful atmosphere, boosting the parties' vested interest in a peaceful life,
raising a new generation in prosperity and free of old hatreds, and so on. Better
a war right now than decades of peace and a war – perhaps – afterwards. It surely
is better – for the weapons industry, and for the graveyards.
Israel, of course, is a spoiled colonialist. In Abu Mazen Israel found a weak
but rather reliable collaborator. Talking to Hamas, so the experts claim, would
weaken Abu Mazen and make him issue more demands, to compete with Hamas. Even
a successful policy of "divide and rule" has its disadvantages. Somehow, there's
always an excuse: if the Palestinians are united, we cannot make peace with
them because they are either too weak (and thus unreliable) or too strong (and
too demanding). If they are divided, we surely cannot talk to them because the
fractions would compete.
Obviously, the true reason not to seriously negotiate – Israel already says
the end of the year is much too early to strike a deal even with Abu Mazen!
– is that Israel is unwilling to end the occupation. Not only land and water
are at stake, but, as Meron Rapoport of Ha'aretz recently reminded, more
than 6 percent of
all Israeli exports (excluding diamonds) go to the occupied Palestinian
market, about $2 billion a year, more than to France and Italy combined: fruits
and vegetables, medicines and hospital equipment, water and electricity, steel
and cement. A captive market, where products not good enough for the Israeli
customer can be dumped for good money (from the donor countries). A precious
asset in a competitive capitalist world.
Civilians as Propaganda Card
Ehud Barak will be remembered in Israel's history
as the one who introduced the abuse of innocent civilians as political cards.
Barak was probably not the first Israeli warrior to abuse civilians on a tactical
level, but he was the one who turned it into a central Israeli strategy. Operation
Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon, in 1996, with Barak as an influential cabinet member,
openly targeted civilians, turning them into refugees to make them put pressure
on Beirut's government. The recent siege on Gaza follows a similar logic: put
pressure on civilians to achieve political goals. (A clear war crime, it goes
The Israeli inhabitants of Sderot are similarly abused. Israel hasn't yet found
the budget to give suitable protection to those bombed citizens. Only last week,
23 public shelters were opened in the southern town – financed, however, not
by the Israeli government, but by an American evangelical foundation (IFCJ).
It is also a private donor who, from time to time, takes some of Sderot's residents
to a week off in a safe hotel. Inhabitants seeking government aid to leave their
bombarded town were turned down: "house
hostages" as Ha'aretz terms it. Evacuating the town, says official
Israel, would be yielding to terror. Obviously, an 8-year-old child losing a
leg in Sderot is a propaganda asset Israel cannot resist. How easy it is, sitting
in an armchair in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, or Washington, to make a point on the
back of innocent civilians – both in Gaza and in Sderot.
And all this in vain, of course: the citizens of Sderot grow understandably
impatient, with their protest capitalized on by political parties. The inhabitants
of Gaza now broke the siege – which doesn't make Israel lift it – and the rockets
keep being fired. What's the solution? The rejectionist regime can offer just
more of the same. Interior Minister Meir Shitreet recently suggested to "demolish
a whole neighborhood in Gaza." Other politicians and columnists do not
lag in "creative" ideas. Israel is doing what it thinks it does best: sowing
death and destruction. But as we now know, even in this Israel is not as good
as it used to be.