Holy Land Apartheid
Barbarism Beneath Israel’s Boot
Pierre Tristam/Daytona Beach News-Journal, April 9, 2002
Its Holy Land setting aside, the cruelest irony of the Israeli subjugation of Palestinians is that Palestinians are seen as the aggressors, Israelis as the victims. Palestinians are partly to blame. You don’t blow up civilians in suicide attacks and get called a freedom fighter. Terrorism doesn’t get easier to define. But Israeli terrorism is not that different. That it is dressed up in American-made choppers and Goebbels-quality propaganda doesn’t make it less murderous.
To the contrary. More innocent Palestinians by far are dying as a result of Israeli terror than Israelis dying as a result of Palestinian terror. Numerical comparisons of the dead are stupid. But it’s a stupid war, as any war fueled by the folly of biblical claims or anti-Semitism would be, and it has come to that. Palestinians have been massacred at low ebb since their uprising began in the late 1980s—let’s not call it the intefadeh, that convenient Arab word media use to veil its real meaning, but a revolt against occupation. Palestinian casualties have been overwhelmingly civilian, the purpose of the massacres none other than to terrorize them into submission on their own land. Israelis are only now discovering how Palestinian retribution can even out this absurd killing field. It isn’t really a new tactic, as the media here portray it. Suicide bombers demoralized the Israeli army occupying southern Lebanon until its unilateral withdrawal exactly two years ago. There too the killing field was uneven. Israel’s occupation had all the hardware, all the ordnance, all the men it needed, and it faced as trashy a guerrilla force as they come—ragtag and fanatical, as Lebanon’s Iran-inspired Hezbollah guerrillas tend to be. Israel lacked one thing in southern Lebanon: legitimacy. The same soldiers who would readily die to protect against suicide bombers on Israeli soil had no reason to keep dying to defend a land that didn’t belong to them. So they withdrew. The suicide bombers are back, this time to level the killing fields of the West Bank and Gaza, by way of Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv and other places now off-limit to reason.
Are they justified? Of course not. Terror is terror, barbarism is barbarism. But pretending that Israeli terror is any less bloody, any more justified, would be intellectual barbarism. Every civilian death—every death, period—should provoke outrage. It doesn’t matter how the victim dies. That death comes by way of a suicide bomber inculcated in the worst perversion of Islam or by Israeli army ordnance manufactured by Lockheed Martin makes no difference to the victim, and it is the victim’s perspective that matters. Only the perverse hierarchy of the means of killing, as absurd as the difference between an electric chair and a firing squad, can judge a civilian’s death by a suicide fanatic more reprehensible than a death by a soldier’s bullet or an Apache helicopter’s er rant missile.
Yet here is the Arab-Israeli conflict reflected in just such a hierarchy as the war engulfs what has become as unholy a smack of land as any in the world. That false hierarchy, in which Israel’s PR machine invests so much and to such great effect, is one of the reasons progress against the war is impossible. Palestinians are doomed not just to enmity but to monstrosity. America having more sympathy for Klingons than Arabs, it lets Israel get away with it, when Israel ought to be owning up to its own monstrosities. Only then would a “just peace” between equals be possible—a peace between equally bloody enemies with equally justified claims to the same land. It is that equality that Israel dreads, since recognizing it would unravel its ludicrous claim to exceptionalism. The West Bank is not Massada. Israel is not the hunted loner. It is the hunter—ruthless and roguish.
A master at euphemizing terror in Orwellian language, Israel calls its army the “Israeli Defense Force,” (the way it calls its occupation of the West Bank a “buffer” against Arab aggression, the way it once called the southern portion of Lebanon it occupied a “security zone”). You might as well call a guard at a concentration camp a camp counselor, and call an executioner a minister.
There’s nothing defensive about an army of occupation that has devoted the past year to treating the West Bank and Gaza’s 2 million Palestinians as prisoners in their own land, forbidding them to commute, to work, to trade, to travel freely from one village to another without institutionalized humiliations, without roadblocks more frequent than mile markers, searches, arbitrary arrests. The bulldozing of homes, the assassinations of alleged militants and the killings of civilians are extra. Even South Africa’s apartheid regime was not that brutal. Palestinians have no Nelson Mandela that we know of. If they had, he likely wouldn’t have survived whatever passes for Israel’s Robben Island.
But if Israel’s occupation army is the daily heel in the face of Palestinian dignity, the Israeli government’s doubling of Jewish settlers in the West Bank in the last 10 years is contempt by policy. It is contempt for international law, since settling occupied territory goes against United Nations conventions and resolutions, and contempt, of course, for Palestinian claims to statehood on the West Bank.
Palestinian aggressors? Only in so far as an inmate can manage to stab his jailer or riot, with this one difference: Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are committing no crimes in claiming their own land, although they are very effectively being incarcerated for it. That they’ve never been known for enlightened resistance is a self-inflicted failure Israel has come to depend on. The suicide bombers’ crime may be matching Israel’s barbarism with barbarism, but it loses for all Palestinians what credibility their claim deserves.