Translation of an article in
to be published 19-06-2001
Uri Avnery - 16.6.01
An Interim Balance Sheet:
The cease-fire, which was imposed
by the Americans on Israel and the Palestinian Authority, provides a
good occasion for the drawing up of an interim balance sheet.
Irrespective of the question whether the cease-fire will last and for
how long, one can try to add up the gains and losses of the Palestinians
during the eight and a half months of the al-Aksa intifada.
"World public opinion"
In Israel, a lot of attention is
generally paid to the struggle for world public opinion. Listening to
the "political sources" and the Prime Minister’s spokesmen, you would
think we have routed the Palestinians in this arena. Shimon Peres
emerges triumphant from every meeting. Indeed, it seems Ariel Sharon may
at any moment receive the Nobel peace prize.
The reality is quite different.
The world long ago ceased to accept the picture of the holocaust
survivors (Israel) bravely defying the abominable terrorists (the
Palestinians). Nowadays the dominant picture is of a small occupied
people rising up against a powerful occupier. David and Goliath in
This picture is reinforced by the
daily photos in the world media, that almost always show brutal-looking
occupation soldiers, armed to the teeth, facing either stone-throwers or
ordinary civilians. The situation is made worse by reports of
bombardments by warplanes and helicopters, the shelling of civilian
neighborhoods by tanks and the choking of civilian life.
The Israeli public does not know
what is happening in the Palestinian areas, in spite of the fact that
some live just a few minutes by car from the events. The public is
protected by a heavy curtain of euphemisms: Seger, Keter, liquidation,
terrorist targets, source of fire, gisum, cleaning. When they are
translated into other languages, they sound quite different: blockade,
starvation, assassinations, civilian neighborhoods, revenge, cutting
down trees, demolition of homes. Not very nice.
Notwithstanding all this, the
Palestinians have not won a clear-cut victory in this battle. In the
world media, the "friends of Israel" (not all of them Jews) enjoy an
enormous advantage. The international media do not report on the
Israeli-Palestinian struggle the way they reported, for example, on the
South African struggle between the apartheid regime and the blacks.
Considering this reality, if the Palestinians won points, it is a great
achievement for them.
From the Palestinian point of
view, the main achievement is that their national cause in on the
agenda. Before the intifada, Israeli spokesmen reported happily that the
world had lost interest in the Palestinian issue, that Americans and
Europeans were fed up with it. (These reports, by the way, may have
fuelled the Palestinian determination to start the uprising, which did
indeed change this situation completely.)
In one arena the Palestinian have
gained a decisive victory: the whole world detests the settlers. A
concrete result of this was the Mitchell report’s recommendation,
supported by the Americans and the Europeans, to halt all settlement
Blockade of the settlements
However, the struggle for world
public opinion, important as it is, is a secondary one. The historic
conflict between the two peoples of this country will not be decided in
the pages of the New York Times. When the Israeli media concentrate
almost exclusively on this aspect, they avoid, as usual, the main issue,
the battle on the ground.
In this battle, the Palestinians
have lost more than 500 dead, as against about a hundred Israeli dead.
The proportion of the dead started with 1:10 and has reached by now 1:4.
The Palestinians also have more than ten thousand wounded, many of them
incapacitated for life. The number of Israeli wounded is relatively
What have the Palestinians gained
at this price?
For them, the main battle is
about the settlements. Here they have won a great victory. With a
minimum outlay – a few shootings per night – they have made impressive
gains. While Israelis talk about the blockade and siege of every
Palestinian village, the contrary has become reality: the Palestinians
have blockaded every settlement.
Some central roads on the West
Bank have ceased to be used altogether. Beautiful by-pass roads, in
which enormous sums have been sunk, are desolate. On the other roads,
too, traffic moves in protected convoys, in some only by armored buses.
It is difficult to find out how
much the settlers themselves have been worn out. Television shows only
the most fanatical ones, who wave their babies and swear "we shall never
budge". But how many families have already quietly returned to Israel?
How many have sent their children (quite rightly) to Grandma in
Tel-Aviv? The patriotic media do not ask.
What has happened to the
enterprises that were moved from Israel to the "industrial parks" in the
settlements, with the help of enormous sums from the public purse and
promises of great profits for the entrepreneurs (no minimum wage, no
compulsory social benefits, no taxes, all kind of subsidies and other
benefits)? Research of Gush Shalom, an organization that has been
conducting a boycott campaign against the products of the settlements
for several years, has revealed that about half of the enterprises are
not there anymore. They have quietly stolen away, after they found out
that truckers and maintenance personnel are not ready to risk their
lives in order to get there.
Settlers’ Defense Forces
In the long run, the military
angle is most important. The legend, that the settlements are necessary
for the defense of Israel (sworn to by the Chief-of-Staff Rafael Eytan
in a famous Supreme Court case) was exploded long ago. The intifada has
compelled the army to devote itself almost entirely to the defense of
the settlements, postponing all training activities and courses that are
essential for its capability to defend the state against foreign
enemies. In order to restore the army to its primary function, while
continuing to defend the settlers, it would have to almost double its
manpower. That is not possible. The army’s demand for an additional
budget of another five billions is only the tip of the iceberg of needs.
The settlements are – mildly
speaking - not popular in Israel. Most people are quite fed up with the
antics of the settlers, as shown on TV. How much longer will the public
be ready to send their sons to risk their lives for those people? How
much longer will it be ready to pay for it? The immense effort the army
has invested in protecting the soldiers has born fruit, but even the
limited number of casualties taxes the public’s readiness to fight for
All public opinion polls show
that the great majority of Israelis support the freeze of all settlement
activity in return for a cease-fire. A third of the young people in the
settlements themselves are ready to leave immediately. If the government
had offered to pay generous compensations to settlers who are ready to
be evacuated even now (as we proposed to Rabin immediately after Oslo),
half of the settlers would be on the way home. According to the polls,
nearly 80% of the settlers believe that the settlements (all or most)
will be evacuated in the future.
This is an irreversible outcome
of the intifada, even if the cease-fire breaks down and a massive
escalation will take place, as Sharon hopes.
Live bombs in Israel
The attacks inside Israel are
another story. Even among the Palestinians, there are different views
Those who favor the attacks can
point to the immediate results of the suicide bombings. Tourism to
Israel has been reduced to a trickle for the foreseeable future. Major
Jewish organizations in the US are afraid to send their children to
Israel, even the prospect of holding the Maccabia games has caused a
major uproar. Agriculture and the building industry have suffered major
setbacks. The increased military expenditure is compelling the
government to cut back essential social service, bad as they already
are. It is interesting to note that neither the press nor the television
in Israel has investigated the material losses caused to the country by
According to the various economic
indicators, economic growth has been reduced decisively. (Luckily, the
world-wide high-tech slump has enabled the economists to transfer the
losses to this account.)
On the psychological level,
long-range national morale has been damaged. Nobody knows how this will
affect future emigration, for example. The patriotic media, who inflate
every incident, evenrandom shooting in the air without casualties, to
hysterical proportions, help to increase the damage. The fear of
entering a bus, a mall or a book fair, or to attend an important soccer
game, is causing long-range attrition.
If the Palestinian supporters of
the bombing attacks see these results as achievements, their opponents
have strong arguments, too.
In the short run, the attacks
push moderate Israelis into the arms of the right-wing extremists. They
solidify the national unity based on a total denial of Palestinian
rights. They obliterate the fact that this is a war for the continuation
of the occupation and the settlements and justify the argument that the
war is really about Tel-Aviv and Netanya, where the suicide bombers did
their job. They provide pretexts to those parts of the Israeli "left’
that, already at the beginning of the intifada, retreated into the warm
lap of the national consensus. From this point of view, immense damage
has been caused to the Palestinian cause.
Cease-fire: the Palestinian side
The general picture may convince
many Palestinians that the intifada is winning, and is worth the
tremendous suffering caused to the Palestinian people.
The conclusion: don’t stop it
(and if at all, only for short-term tactical purposes), unless the
Palestinian people are offered meaningful political gains, beyond the
freeze of the settlements. Meaning: the beginning of real negotiations,
that will lead to the creation of the Sate of Palestine in all of the
West Bank and the Gaza Strip, sovereignty over East Jerusalem,
evacuation of the settlements and a reasonable solution of the refugee
problem. Sharon wouldn’t dream of it.
In the absence of such hope ("the
light at the end of the tunnel’), a great majority of Palestinian public
opinion will support the continuation of the intifada, including the
attacks inside Israel, even if the price is almost unbearable. No
Palestinian leader will be able to ignore this public mood, that will
also encourage the extremist organizations to act, in order to gain
Cease-fire: the Israeli side
On the Israel side, too, there is
no inclination to uphold the cease-fire for any length of time. The main
actor on the scene is the enormous lobby of army officers, both past and
present, that dominates the important parties and the media and actually
directs the state.
Like their American colleagues in
Vietnam and their French ones in Algeria, our generals cannot accept the
fact that they are being beaten by the despised "natives", who lack both
resources and experience. This, understandably, is unbearable for them.
How can they accept that Arafat dictates the course of events to mighty
Israel – the same Arafat who wass "finished" by Sharon in Lebanon and ,
according to Defense Minister Fuad Ben-Eliezer, a failed general and a
third-grade politician, "has to step down from the stage of history"?
There is hardly a professional
senior officer who is able to understand the character of a popular
uprising. Generals are not trained for it. Their monumental lack of
understanding expresses itself in almost every one of their utterances,
from Mofaz down. Lacking understanding, they are unable to frame a
reasonable strategy and resort to the classic Israeli maxim: if force
doesn’t work, use more force.
The frustrated officers, headed
by General Sharon, hate the cease-fire and only pay lip-service to it.
They are longing to break it at the first opportunity. Sharon is
determined to do this in a way that will put the blame on Arafat.
Without a clear and convincing reason, he will not receive permission
from the Americans.
(This bears an uncanny
resemblance to Sharon’s situation on the eve of the Lebanon war, when
the American secretary of state – General Haig – told Sharon that he was
allowed to invade Lebanon only if there is a clear-cut provocation,
accepted by the world. A few days later, there was an attempt on the
life of the Israeli ambassador in London, Argov, and the ball started
Sharon and his generals believe
that unlimited escalation will bring victory to Israel. This time,
everything will be permissible: the killing, imprisonment or deportation
of Arafat; the systematic assassination of all Palestinian local
leaders; the carving-up of the Palestinian areas into dozens of cut-off
islands; the expulsion of populations; the cutting off of electricity,
water, food and medicines; the bombardment from the air, from the sea
and on land; and many other "creative" methods.
Trouble is, all these methods,
without exception, have already been tried by the generals in other
countries, and all have failed. The results were always the opposite of
what was intended: consolidation of the oppressed people, a
strengthening of the resistance and a refining of its methods, the loss
of international public opinion, failure. But it seems that there is
almost no escape from this drama.
The only alternative is a
change in Israeli public opinion, the cessation of the violent struggle
and the settlement activity, serious and quick negotiations to end the
occupation and the acceptance of a political solution, all of whose
elements are already well-known. That will happen in the end – but until
then, rivers of blood may flow.