Correction: The first title for this post was “Palestinian Attack on Eilat…” That was when most of the world believed that the attack had been perpetrated by Palestinian militants. Subsequently, through research, Egyptian sources, and anomalies in the Israeli response to the attack, I’ve become convinced that the attack was the responsibility of Egyptian militants based in Sinai. I have not seen any convincing evidence that Palestinians were responsible.
For anyone who hasn’t read Huck Finn, you must. Tonight calls to mind the harrowing section of that novel about the feud till death of the Hatfield and McCoys (called the Grangerfords and Sheperdsons in the novel). In American parlance, since the publication of the book, the phrase has come to mean any sort of family feud. But go back and re-read it and you’ll see that this was anything but a mere feud. It was pure blood lust and vengeance ending with the decimation of two entire families along with all the dreams of even the most innocent and peaceful among them. That is what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict calls to mind on this sorrowful day.
What can one say? That the Palestinian attack was atrocious (despite the fact that some of those attacked were Israeli soldiers–a distinction some of my Palestinian friends may make, but which feels especially hollow today)? That the Israeli revenge response was equally heinous since it killed two innocent children? Yes, to both of these.
One thing my friend Dena Shunra pointed out to me earlier today when we commiserated about the day’s events was Ehud Barak’s adoption of the language of the Jewish terror underground. He stated that today’s terror attack would merit a “price tag” (read, “blood vengeance”) response. For any who don’t know the phrase, it’s used by the most radical of the settlers and Hilltop Youth to denote their policy of pogrom-like attacks against Palestinian civilians whenever the Israeli government or Palestinians themselves commit an act which they feel threatens their hegemony over the Occupied Territories. This includes shooting elderly Palestinians, poisoning and burning their olive groves, killing their farm animals, beating up young Palestinian shepherds, poisoning water wells, and burning mosques.
This hooliganism is bad enough. But to think that the defense minister of the State of Israel is adopting the same language (and the same tactics apparently, writ large) is beyond horrifying. Every time I read something like this I think that these people don’t understand that there WILL be an accounting both for their language and deeds. “Price tag” is, of course, collective punishment, which is illegal under international law. But it’s worse than that. Because “price tag” is deeply integrated into the Israeli consciousness as a strategy of the most odious, homicidal members of its society. So now, the defense minister has become the same as a masked settler gunmen trolling for Palestinians to whack. Is this what Zionism has come to for these people?
And at this point, lest the anti-Zionists among us cheer too loudly, I should make clear that this is blood lust Zionism, one that I reject in favor of a Zionism that rejects any violence as a way to resolve this conflict; a Zionism that says that two peoples can live together on this land without one dominating or murdering the other.
But finally, I think the only thing that one can say is that any Israeli government that refuses to negotiate a final end to this conflict on terms that just about everyone knows, will reap many more such attacks. Before some of my right-wing pro-Israel readers jump down my throat (they’re firing up their keyboards as they read these words), I am not condoning Palestinian terrorism (or “resistance” or whatever you wish to call it). I deplore it just as I deplore what amounts to Israeli terrorism in response. But it is a simple fact that the terror will never end until there is a settlement (no, not that kind of settlement!). And everyone except the Israeli far-right (within which I include Netanyahu and virtually his entire government) knows this or should know it.
I should add that at this point I’ve given up hope on the Israeli political system to produce an answer. Neither the far-right nor the center (Kadima, Labor) are capable of doing it. Peace can only be imposed from the outside. Not that I credit much hope that the world community will have the courage or vision to intervene. No, I’m afraid there will have to be more wars, more killings. The Hatfields and McCoys haven’t shed enough blood yet to move the world’s conscience. I’m afraid that one must almost commit genocide against the other before action is taken. I hope to God I’m wrong and my bleak vision is too pessimistic. Prove me wrong, that’s all I can ask of Obama, the EU, NATO or the Quartet: prove me wrong.
Israel claims to have killed the top leadership of the Armed Resistance Committees, the Gaza group which supposedly orchestrated the attack. I don’t know whether elements of this claim are true or not. I don’t know whether this group was responsible and I don’t know whether those killed were the authors of the crime. But one thing strikes me as strange. If you were a Gazan who planned a major terror attack would you hide out in the same house with the other top leaders of your group? It doesn’t sound plausible to me. If I were a terrorist (thank God, I’m not) I’d hightail it outa there to Egypt; or else I’d separate from my comrades and say: “it’s each man for himself.” Coming days will perhaps uncover some of these mysteries.
Netanyahu announced with smug satisfaction that the authors of the crime were no longer among the living. But how or why does this matter? Are terror attacks such specialized operations that they can’t be planned and executed by any reasonably intelligent individual or group? So what if you kill one or three or a battalion of terrorists. There will be 10 to take the place of every one you kill. And who knows, the one you kill may be replaced by someone truly brilliant at his job who will cause you ten times the suffering of the one you murdered. Such happened when Hassan Nasrallah took over from the Hezbollah leader Israel murdered.
Israel’s strategy seems to be to inflict so much pain upon the other side that eventually it will be forced to concede to superior numbers and power. But what the Syrian opposition and Palestinian resistance has shown for decades is that there is no threshold of pain beyond which they will yield. The same cannot be said for Israel, which has often withdrew from supposedly ironclad military positions in south Lebanon, Gaza, etc. But if there are any Palestinians who think they can win a war of attrition, they too are foolhardy because they may have to exhaust their entire supply of male fighters in order to finally wear Israel out. And what benefit is there in this if four out of every five (say) male Palestinians is dead? Would that be a victory?
Israel blames Hamas for the attack though pointedly it hasn’t yet struck specifically Hamas targets. It claims that there is virtually no difference between the Armed Resistance Committees and the Islamist movement. That may be true or it may not. But there is one intriguing recent development which may (or may not) have borne on the attack itself. Yesterday, the Egyptians announced they were at an impasse in the Gilad Shalit negotiations and that each side refused to budge from their positions in order to achieve compromise. Could it be that either Hamas saw this as an opportunity to punish Israel for failure of the negotiation; or the Armed Resistance Committees, without Hamas’ blessings, took advantage of the deadlock to strike its own blow for Palestinian resistance? Who knows.
To complicate matters even further, Al Jazeera relays a report by Egyptian state media that an IDF Apache attach helicopter purusing armed men from Egypt into Gaza fired on and killed two Egyptian policemen:
…Two Egyptian policemen were killed when the Israeli aircraft opened fire near the Rafah border town with the Palestinian Gaza Strip, the official MENA news agency quoted an Egyptian military official as saying.
“An Israeli plane was pursuing infiltrators on the other side of the border until they reached Rafah and fired at them. There were several Central Security members there and they were hit by the gunfire,” the official told MENA.
This could be why Israel has been extraordinarily careful in not ascribing blame to Egypt for the terror incident though it appears the Gazan attackers trekked through the Sinai from Gaza to Eilat to carry out their assault. In the light of the possible IDF cock-up and killing of Egyptian police, it wouldn’t take much to inflame Israeli-Egyptian relations, which are in a very delicate stage after the overthrow of Israel’s main-man, Hosni Mubarak.
The moral of the tale as far as this attack is concerned is that when there is stalemate it does not mean maintenance of the status quo. It means the gremlin-demons on each side take charge and make their own statements in blood. This happened after Rabin’s assassination when the Palestinian’s launched repeated terror attacks against Israel which torpedoed Shimon Peres’ chances of winning the elections. This in turn brought Bibi to power the first time.
So in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stasis doesn’t equal status quo, it equals death.