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February 19, 2008

Israel Says 'No'


by Ran HaCohen

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 Dictionary.

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 without saying.)

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.

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Dr. Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and grew up in Israel. He has a B.A. in Computer Science, an M.A. in Comparative Literature, and his PhD is in Jewish Studies. He is a university teacher in Israel. He also works as a literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth. Mr. HaCohen's work has been published widely in Israel. "Letter from Israel" appears occasionally at Antiwar.com.

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