Israel's Colonial War
International Socialist Review, March / April
After the September 11 attacks, the Israeli government escalated
its violence against Palestinians to the level of open warfare.
It claims it has a right to do whatever it takes to "fight
terrorism." Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a war criminal responsible
for the bloody 1982 massacres at Sabra and Shatila, is now openly
calling for a war policy aimed at inflicting as much damage as
possible on the Palestinian population, legitimizing mass killing.
"We must cause them losses, casualties!" he exclaimed
in early March. Sharon's stated policy now is to smash the Intifada
and then make "peace." "They must first be hit
hard.... Only after they are beaten will we be able to hold talks."
Last fall, the Bush administration gave Sharon a yellow light.
Believing that Arab opinion had to be placated to win support
for his "war on terrorism," Bush announced his heretofore
secret support for a Palestinian state. Yet, after the U.S. overthrew
the Taliban government in Afghanistan, the administration determined
that it didn't have to worry about Arab opinion anymore. So Bush
gave Sharon the green light: You fight your "terrorists,"
we'll fight ours.
Liberals who chided Bush for not being "more involved"
in the Middle East have it all wrong. The administration didn't
abandon the peace process because of narrow-mindedness or head-in-the-sand
ignorance. On the contrary. It agrees with Sharon's escalation.
The U.S. supplies Israel's Apache helicopters and F-16 fighter
planes, underwriting Israel's repression. The U.S. has defended
Israel's right to assassinate Palestinians they accuse of terrorism
and to use "preemptive" attacks on Palestinians.
Yet the U.S. is also concerned about whether Sharon's policy
of escalation will work. Hence Secretary of State Colin Powell's
reaction to Sharon's early March pronouncements: "If you
declare war on the Palestinians and think you can solve the problem
by seeing how many Palestinians can be killed, I don't know if
that leads us anywhere." He also added a warning to Palestinian
Authority head Yasser Arafat, saying that he "has to do more,
can do more, and must do more" to call a halt to attacks
on Israeli targets.
Bush then announced his decision to send Special Envoy Anthony
Zinni back to the region to broker another cease-fire and round
of talks. The U.S. wants a "peace" agreement that ends
the Intifada in order to get on with the business of winning Arab
support for an attack on Iraq. That's why Zinni departed for a
"peace mission" at the same time that Vice President
Cheney toured the region druming up support for a war mission.
In late February and early March, Israel sent soldiers and
tanks into the largest Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank,
the Balata camp in Nablus, where 20,000 people live in only one
square mile, and into a camp in Jenin. Britain's Guardian newspaper
described in detail how Israel quickly
killed around 30 Palestinians, and sowed fear and panic as
soldiers went from house to house by smashing their way through
the walls.... Palestinian witnesses...described how Apache helicopters
peppered homes with machine-gun fire.
After invading the refugee camps, Israeli F-16 warplanes fired
rockets into Bethlehem and Ramallah.
The continuing Israeli occupation is the central fact of life
for Palestinians-a fact that is essential to understanding the
conflict. The Israeli assaults make "normal" life for
Palestinians impossible. The Israelis used the 1993-2000 period
of the Oslo accords to carve up the West Bank and Gaza with Jewish-only
settlements, military checkpoints, and Jewish-only bypass roads.
Palestinians who avoid the checkpoints to conduct their daily
lives risk being shot for "breaking the rules."
"Yesterday at this spot, the Israelis shot eight young
men, six of whom were under the age of 18. One was 12," New
York Times reporter Chris Hedges wrote about his trip to Gaza,
published in Harpers magazine.
This afternoon, they kill an 1 I-year-old boy, Ali Murad,
and seriously wound four more, three of whom are under 8. Children
have been shot in other conflicts I have covered ...but I have
never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a
trap and murder them for sport.
Israel has been successful in portraying its aggression as
a defensive response to Palestinian attacks. But this doesn't
change the fact that a huge power imbalance exists between Israel
and the U.S. on one side and the Palestinians on the other-or
that Israel is the occupying power and not the reverse. One measure
of this imbalance was the reaction to Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince
Abdullah's February 2002 proposal that promises Arab League recognition
of Israel in exchange for its withdrawal to 1967 borders.
Although proposals like this one have been on the table for
decades, the U.S., Arab countries, and the Palestinian Authority
deemed it a breakthrough in achieving peace. Little mention was
made of the fact that Abdullah didn't affirm the right of return
for the more than 4 million Palestinian refugees living in the
Every major peace proposal, whether from Arab leaders or Western
ones, teaches a numbingly familiar lesson: Half-measures and negotiations
dominated by Israel and the U.S. only lead to the further entrenchment
of Israel's power and the further disenfranchisement and suffering
of Palestinians. In every case, the massive power imbalance between
Israel and the Palestinians has determined the outcome.
But forces battling in the West Bank and Gaza weren't interested
in hearing about international diplomacy. Sharon thought his military
escalation would force the collapse of the Palestinian Authority,
the end of the Oslo accords, and a "peace" under Israeli
guns. However, Palestinian society hasn't collapsed. In recent
months, Palestinian forces, Islamic and secular, have regrouped
and retargeted their military attacks on Israeli soldiers and
settlers in the Occupied Territories. Militias under Arafat's
control have taken the lead in this new strategy. As a result,
many Palestinians who criticized Arafat for selling out under
Oslo have rallied behind him.
Sharon's new strategy has also increased polarization inside
Israeli society. Opinion polls show a collapse of confidence in
his government. On the right, this has led to calls for full-scale
war, permanent reoccupation of the Occupied Territories, and mass
expulsion of Palestinians.
More encouragingly, it has given an opening to those who argue
for ending the occupation. A March 8 op-ed piece in the Israeli
newspaper Ha'aretz called Israel's policy "a campaign of
They are no longer ashamed to speak of war when what they
are really engaged in is colonial policing, which recalls the
takeover by the white police of the poor neighborhoods of the
blacks in South Africa during the Apartheid era.... In colonial
Israel, and more especially the Israel in which advocates of "transfer"
sit in the government, human life is cheap.... The killing of
innocent people is gradually becoming a norm, and that norm is
being implemented in the service of a goal that seeks to deprive
another people of its freedom and human rights. The Sharon government
is turning the territories into one huge jailhouse, and is turning
its citizens into warders who are called upon to suppress a prisoner
More than 250 Israeli reservists have signed a petition that
reads, "We will no longer fight beyond the Green Line for
the purpose of occupying, deporting, destroying, blockading, killing,
starving and humiliating an entire people," referring to
the border between Israel and the West Bank. Lieutenant David
Zonshein, who helped to draft the petition, told the newspaper,
[You are asked to do things that should not be asked of you-to
shoot people, to stop ambulances, to destroy houses in which you
don't know if there are people living.
Peretz Kidron, a member of the Yesh Gvul, a campaign to support
soldiers and reservists who refuse to fight in the Occupied Territories,
told the Jerusalem Post that more than 400 soldiers have refused
to serve in the territories since October 2000.
This small but important breach in the Israeli consensus -combined
with Israel's failure to crush the Palestinian Intifada-has the
potential to undermine Sharon's plans. But if Israel, the U.S.,
and Arafat use this impasse as an excuse to work out a slightly
less onerous Oslo-type settlement, the potential will have been
Until there is justice for Palestinians-an end to the Israeli
occupation and the right of Palestinians to return to their pre-1948
homes-there will be no peace in the region.