Uri Avnery / 14.1.01
Two boxers enter the ring. One is a heavy-weight
champion, his opponent is a feather-weight. Everyone expects a knock-out
at the beginning of the first round.
But, miraculously, the first round ends – and there is
no knock-out. The second round ends – no knock-out. When the
feather-weight is still standing up after the third and fourth round, it
is clear that he is the true winner. Not by a knock-out, not even on
points, but just because he is still standing and fighting against such
a formidable opponent.
This exemplifies the present confrontation between the
IDF and the Palestinian people. The mighty Israeli army has not
succeeded in breaking the backbone of the uprising. It has tried
everything – gunship helicopters, tanks, cannons, liquidations,
destruction of whole neighborhoods, closure, siege, demolition of homes,
uprooting of plantations – and, in the seventh month, the Palestinians
continue to stand on their feet and fight.
In this fight, the Sharon-Peres government enjoys the
overwhelming support of the United States, which provides it with arms
and money and exercises its veto in the Security Council on Israel’s
behalf. (Indeed, a European diplomat has said that Israel is in practice
the fifth permanent member of the Security Council with the veto power.)
Europe does pay lip-service to the Palestinians, but that’s all. The
Arab regimes, which receive generous American handouts, are also content
with merely donating kind words to the Palestinians. In Israel itself,
all the media are totally enlisted in the service of the government,
there is no real opposition in the Knesset, and – apart from the small
radical peace-forces, which are boycotted by the media – there is no
If so, are the Palestinians helpless against the vast
superiority of the Sharon-Peres government? Not really. They pin their
hopes on several factors.
First: the intifada itself. To the astonishment of the
Israeli generals and commentators, the will of the Palestinian
population has not broken, in spite of the terrible blows it is
suffering. The economy has been demolished, life has become hell, but
the entire Palestinian public supports the struggle.
Somebody has described the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict as a "clash between an irresistible force and an immovable
object". The intifada has become a war of attrition. In such a war
between occupier and occupied, the morale of the occupied is stronger,
because he is fighting for his very existence. Napoleon said: "In war,
moral considerations account for three quarters, the balance of actual
forces only for the other quarter."
Israel, too, pays an immense price (nobody in Israel
dares to calculate it), both in terms of money and the great damage
caused to the quality of the IDF. Nobody knows when fatigue will
overcome the will of the Israeli people to go on with this useless
struggle. It will probably happen before the Palestinian side raises its
hands in surrender.
Second: the Arab masses. True, the Arab regimes are
not ready to lift a finger for the Palestinians and they cannot afford
to provoke the Americans, who keep them going with their money. But the
situation of the intellectuals and the masses is quite different. There
the sympathy for the Palestinians is great.
This does not yet bother the kings and presidents. But
if something were to happen that would infuriate the masses in a way
that would endanger the stability of their governments, the situation
would suddenly change completely. In all the Arab countries there are
nationalist and Islamic opposition groups just waiting for such an
opportunity. If Israel commits – even by accident – an atrocity like the
1996 Kafr Kana incident or an outrage in the Haram al-Sharif (Temple
Mount) area, an explosion would follow.
A few days ago I had a conversation with Yasser Arafat
in Ramallah. I got the impression that he pins great hopes on Arab
support. He pointed out that a million people had taken part in one
demonstration in Morocco, that for the first time a demonstration had
been held in Saudi Arabia (and a women’s demonstration at that!), and
that even in distant Oman angry demonstrations had taken place. It seems
that everybody is waiting for Sharon to commit the act of brutality that
will blow the situation sky-high.
Third: there is a limit even to the total American
support for Sharon-Peres. From the Palestinian point of view, the Bush
administration may be the worst ever. But it has a definite red line:
the oil. If an explosion were to occur in the Arab world and the kings
and presidents were to send SOS messages to the White House, an American
iron fist would descend on Sharon and Company.
In the meantime, in the 29th week of the fight, there
is no knock-out.