“The time for bombing is over”

Gideon Levy in Haaretz:

The Palestinian people want to be free of the occupation. Life is like that sometimes. But how to accomplish that? At first they tried doing nothing. For 20 years they were idle, and indeed nothing happened. They then tried rocks and knives, the first intifada. And still nothing happened, except for the Oslo Accords, which did not change the fundamental nature of the occupation. After that, they tried a vicious intifada: again, nothing. They made a stab at diplomacy; still nothing, the occupation went on as before.
Now they split: One hand fires Qassam rockets at Israel, the other turns to the United Nations. Israel crushes both of them. In between, the Palestinian people also try nonviolent protest, and are met with rifle butts to the face, rubber-tipped bullets and live fire. And again, nothing. The Palestinians try three different approaches, weapons, diplomacy and nonviolent resistance, and Israel says no to all three.
What do Israelis want? Nothing. They want calm. They want the occupation to continue without disturbing their interminable siesta time. Nearly all Israeli politicians say there is no solution, and anyway we shouldn’t go there. There are no Palestinians, no terror attacks and no problem. We left the Gaza Strip, the West Bank is quiet, we have proclaimed our support for a two-state solution. What is the Israeli offering the Palestinian? Sit quietly and don’t do anything. But the Palestinian people wants to be free of the occupation. Life is like that sometimes.
Israel arrived at the current round of this endless cycle of bloodshed at yet another peak of denial of the existence of the Palestinian people. From Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich, they all tried to bury our heads in the sand and claim that the issue does not exist, that the problem is not a problem – until a Qassam comes and blows up in their faces. They planned an election campaign around the price of cottage cheese, until Hamas came and reminded them of its existence the only way it could, which will not get it anywhere either.
What is Israel supposed to do now, ask the askers, not react with force? Should it hold back when the lives of people in the south have become hell? That question shouldn’t be raised now, when all the other options have met with refusal. That question should have been raised with regard to the other approaches that failed. Now Israel must once again choose the default option, familiar to the point of nausea; yet another high-level assassination, yet another knockout blow, of the kind we know and love.
We have grown up a little since Operation Cast Lead, it’s true. Richard Goldstone deserves the thanks for that, even though we’ll deny it. The Israel Defense Force has not killed 250 Palestinian police officers in one day, and (at least for now ) the current, relatively surgical operation pales before the crimes of its predecessor. The rhetoric, too, is slightly less diabolical. The politicians and the generals are hitting the radio and television studios again, competing against each other for the title of most bloodthirsty, but to a lesser degree. MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer boasts of having been the one who “eliminated Shehadeh,” referring to Salah Shehadeh, the Hamas commander who was killed by an Israel Air Force bomb in July 2002, when Ben-Eliezer was minister of defense. Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter recommends that the Gaza Strip be “reformatted,” while former GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant once again reminds us how fortunate we are that he was not made chief of staff. The IDF fires a new term into the battleground, “beheading,” to describe what Israel was doing to the Hamas military leadership. MK Miri Regev (Likud ) says she opposes a two-state solution, making an execrable grammatical error in the process. Channel 2 defense correspondent Roni Daniel promises Gaza “an interesting night.” Once again, there are intellectuals and academics who propose cutting off food, water and electricity to the Strip. MK Yisrael Katz (Likud ) tops them all for monstrosity: A single tear from a Jewish child is sufficient to justify driving out the entire population of the Gaza Strip. Transportation minister or not, the party primary beckons.
This is, so it seems, the only tribal campfire we have left, now that the games of Maccabi Tel Aviv and the Eurovision song contest no longer do it for us. But even this mean-souled chatter is less jingoistic than in the past. Who knows, perhaps the recognition is beginning to percolate that something must be done “once and for all,” as Israelis like to say. But, as before, that will not happen through the force of arms. Trying to talk with Hamas, to say yes to the Saudi peace initiative for once, even to discuss the handful of percentage points that remained between former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in their negotiations; anything but bombings. The time has come for diplomacy and for ending the occupation, the time for bombing is over.
Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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