Sharon’s problem is not a few terrorists. His problem is the entire Palestinian population. When people are made miserable and hopeless, they do not mind dying. As much as the Israelis would like to, they cannot kill them all, and they cannot beat them into submission. As long as the Palestinians have no state, Israel will have no security.

Sharon’s problem is not a few terrorists. His problem is the entire Palestinian population. When people are made miserable and hopeless, they do not mind dying. As much as the Israelis would like to, they cannot kill them all, and they cannot beat them into submission. As long as the Palestinians have no state, Israel will have no security.

The American reporter Charley Reese wrote those uncompromising words in a challenging article entitled ‘Bush Plays Pontius Pilate’ that he filed from Jerusalem on 12 April 2002. He expressed the strong belief that Israel cannot extinguish the collective – and at times violent – hatred felt by many Palestinians so long as it does not withdraw from the occupied territories to allow for the establishment of a sovereign and viable Palestinian state.

It is so easy and comforting to think of the entire Palestinian society as primitive, bloodthirsty terrorists, after the raw material and product of their intellectual, cultural, social and economic activity has been destroyed. That way, the Israeli public can continue to be deceived into believing that terror is a genetic problem and not a sociological and political mutation, horrific as it may be, derived from the horrors of the occupation.

Amira Haas, an outspoken Israeli journalist, wrote an article on 23 April 2002 to describe how the Israeli incursion into the West Bank had caused the wanton destruction of many Palestinian non-governmental organisations. She raised the point that PM Ariel Sharon’s war against terrorism in the West Bank was no more than a fig leaf in his attempt to crush Palestinian aspirations for a future Palestinian State. Otherwise, she added, what was the point of destroying the computers and databases of non-military and ‘non-terrorist’ institutions such as the Ministries of Education and Health?

The broken concrete in Jenin reeked of rotting corpses. But it also gave off the whiff of wrongdoing. Nearly half the Palestinians dead who have been identified were civilians, including children. There was a man who had a bullet in his head. I tried to call an ambulance, but it was sent back by the Israelis. Over and over again, witnesses have been giving similar accounts of atrocities in Jenin.

This article, co-written by the British journalists Justin Huggler and Phil Reeves, was published on 25 April 2002. It followed a visit by both journalists, along with a representative from the Human Rights Watch organisation, to the Jenin refugee camp. Their report raised serious questions about Israel’s ‘Operation Defensive Shield’ and the dubious facts of what truly happened at the refugee camp. A preliminary conclusion by Amnesty International found evidence of severe abuses of human rights – including extra-judicial executions – and called for a war crimes enquiry.

Suicide bombings are an explanation, not a justification, of oppression and occupation.

This is the sobering assessment offered by Vicky Metcalfe, a British lawyer working as a volunteer in Gaza, to a BBC report that was aired on television last week. It provides a non-Palestinian [and ostensibly less partial] take on the situation in the Holy Land, and edits somewhat the case that US President G W Bush and other American politicians or neo-conservative factions have been making with unblinking ease against Palestinian violence.

The irony here is that I would not have used such unvarnished words to describe the dirty war that Israel has been waging against Palestinians. I will have unequivocally condemned suicide bombings as an unacceptable tool of resistance. I will have probably added that both the Palestinian and Israeli psyches have been traumatised, and that both sides must pull back from the brink toward dignity, justice, peace and reconciliation. But the excerpts I have quoted call a spade a spade! They convey a truth that is far too often watered down, and a pain that is far too frequently dulled, for the sake of a morally interactive, more balanced and less jarring depiction of this unequal conflict. But verbal shock therapy sometimes helps people to grasp the endmost truth and wade more resolutely through the political fudge.

The irony also is that I am willing to move beyond the atrocities suffered by both peoples to date as the price paid for Palestinian independence and statehood. If only Israel would heed at long last to the sound voice of reason and reach out toward this tantalising vision of peace that could blunt the cycle of pain and violence. To achieve that goal, though, it needs to pull out from territories it occupied in 1967. But can Israel do it?  Or perhaps more importantly, will it do it?

(c) harry-bvH @ 29 April 2002