A DEFEATED POLICY, NOT A DEFEATED PEOPLE
By Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 7 March 2008
Compared with the international silence that surrounded
Israel's recent massacres of Palestinian civilians in the
Occupied Gaza Strip, condemnation and condolences for the
victims of the shooting attack that killed eight students
at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem has been swift.
"I have just spoken with [Israeli] Prime Minister [Ehud]
Olmert to extend my deepest condolences to the victims,
their families, and to the people of Israel," US President
George W. Bush said. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
added his "condemnation" and "condolences," as did EU High
Representative Javier Solana.
The day before the Jerusalem attack, Amira Abu 'Aser was
buried in Gaza. She had lived just 20 days on this earth
before being shot in the head by Israeli occupation forces
who attacked the house of friends she and her family were
visiting. Needless to say, she had not been firing rockets
at Sderot when she was killed. One of the house's
inhabitants was found the next day, shot dead and his head
crushed by an army jeep, an apparent victim of an
extrajudicial murder by Israeli forces.
But confirming their status in the eyes of the
"international community" as less than complete human
beings, neither Amira's killing, nor any of the dozens of
Palestinian civilian victims of Israel's onslaught in Gaza
have merited condemnation or condolences.
The fallacy that lies behind the differential concern for
the lives of innocent Israelis and Palestinians is that
the massacre in Jerusalem and the massacres in Gaza can be
separated. Israeli deaths are "terrorism," while
Palestinian deaths are merely an unfortunate consequence
of the fight against "terrorism." But the two are
intricately linked, and what happened in Jerusalem is a
direct consequence of what Israel has been doing to the
Palestinians for decades.
Let me be clear that the killing of civilians, Israeli or
Palestinian, is wrong, repugnant, and cannot bring this
one-hundred-year war caused by the Zionist colonization of
Palestine to an end. There will be an Israeli propaganda
effort -- as always -- to present Palestinian violence as
being simply motivated by hatred, and divorced from the
context of brutal occupation that Palestinians live under.
What greater proof could you need than an attack on
religious students, devoting their life to the study of
We cannot expect much analysis in the media of why the
Mercaz HaRav yeshiva might have been chosen as a target.
Was it mere coincidence that the school, named for Rabbi
Abraham Isaac Kook, and led after his death by his son
Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, is the ideological cradle of the
militant, Jewish supremacist settler movement Gush Emunim?
Unlike other sects in Israel which sought exemption of
their students from military service, Gush Emunim
encouraged its followers to join the army and become the
armed wing of religious nationalist Zionism. Gush Emunim
settlers, many of them, like Moshe Levinger, graduates of
Mercaz HaRav, founded the most extreme and racist
settlements in the Occupied West Bank, including the
notorious colonies in and near Hebron whose inhabitants
have made life miserable for Palestinians in the city and
forced many of them out of their homes. It is the militant
settlers of Gush Emunim who still honor Baruch Goldstein
who murdered 29 Palestinians in Hebron in February 1994.
It is in Hebron that the Gush Emunim settlers spray "Arabs
to the gas chambers" on Palestinian houses.
It is possible that the Mercaz HaRav gunman did not know
or care about any of this, that any target he could
identify as Israeli would have satisfied his desire to
In 2002, Israeli army chief Moshe Yaalon declared that
"the Palestinians must be made to understand in the
deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a
defeated people." This would be achieved by the massive
and constant application of force until they got the
message. The same philosophy was elaborated in 2004 by
Professor Arnon Soffer, one of the architects, with former
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, of the 2005 Gaza
Soffer, an avid supporter of turning Gaza into a
hermetically-sealed pen for unwanted Palestinians,
explained that if Palestinians fire a single rocket over
the fence into Israel, "we will fire 10 in response. And
women and children will be killed, and houses will be
destroyed. After the fifth such incident, Palestinian
mothers won't allow their husbands to shoot Qassams
[rockets], because they will know what's waiting for
Soffer predicted that in a few years' time, "when 2.5
million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it's going to be
a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger
animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane
fundamentalist Islam." With Palestinians closed in, "The
pressure at the border will be awful," Soffer predicted.
"It's going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain
alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day,
To be fair, Soffer did display a human side: "The only
thing that concerns me is how to ensure that the boys and
men who are going to have to do the killing will be able
to return home to their families and be normal human
beings" ("It's the demography, stupid," The Jerusalem
Post, 21 May 2004).
For decades Israel has been exercizing with
ever-escalating brutality this deliberate strategy to
crush through force and starvation a civilian population
in rebellion against colonial rule. To Israel's vexation,
the Palestinians are not playing their part. After sixty
years of expulsions, massacres, assassinations of their
leaders, colonization, torture, and mass imprisonment, the
Palestinians have utterly failed to understand that they
are a "defeated people."
The vast majority of Palestinians in Gaza and the West
Bank endure unprecedented oppression by the Israeli army
and settlers without resorting to violence in response,
but they maintain an inextinguishable determination to
endure until they regain their rights. If the methods the
Palestinian resistance has sometimes used are
reprehensible, they have also been typical for
anti-colonial resistance movements throughout time, as
William Polk shows in his book Violent Politics: A History
of Insurgency, Terrorism and Guerilla War from the
American Revolution to Iraq, and Robert Pape demonstrated
through his study of suicide bombing in Dying to Win.
Is it not time for the rest of the world to step in and
force Israel at last to understand the same thing, so that
the senseless bloodshed can finally stop and all the
people of the country -- Israelis and Palestinians -- can
begin to imagine a future other than an endless parade of
Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is
author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the
Israeli-Palestinian Impasse (Metropolitan Books, 2006).
Saturday, March 8, 2008
Ali Abunimah on the recent events in Israel/Palestine
Ali Abunimah's attempt to put the recent horrific attack on the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in the context of what is happening in Gaza. It goes without saying that all of these deaths are horrific, terrible events, where our common humanity is violated, and that even the process of bringing analysis to such events always feels mistimed. Still, I think that this represents a thoughtful Palestinian point of view on how the conflict is perpetuating itself, and how Palestinians continue to feel as if they being threatened as a people, and that despite this threat, that they are not being heard by the international community--that their deaths don't matter.