COMMONWEAL Magazine
December 21, 2001

EDITORIAL


An unholy land

The war Israel is fighting against terrorism is not the same war the United States is fighting. The origins, responsibilities, and resolutions of the two are distinct and U.S. identification with Israel's war seems only to bring greater conflict to the Middle East.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's December 2 visit with President George W. Bush, with its photo-op handshake, signaled U.S. assent to Israel's current policies. If we are to be an honest broker, we must maintain a greater distance from Sharon. Sharon was unexpectedly headed back to Israel because of three suicide bombings in which twenty-five were killed and many injured. The continuing Hamas suicide bombings are horrible, and in that sense, yes, terrorism is terrorism whether it occurs in New York or Jerusalem. But what about Israeli incursions into and shelling of Palestinian areas? What shall we call them?

Though Arafat is responsible for the current intifada, Sharon shares with him responsibility for the downward spiral of violence. Arafat was foolish to let the settlement offered in summer 2000 pass without negotiations. The subsequent election of Sharon has pitted two hard-liners against one another, both engaged in politique du pire. There are people in Israel and in the Sharon administration as ready to drive the Palestinians from the West Bank as there are Palestinians wanting to drive Israel from the Middle East. Continuing Israeli settlement of the West Bank and Gaza; expropriation of Palestinian land by means legal and not; the destruction of Palestinian homes and the military occupation of Palestinian areas; the uprooting of olive tree groves by Israeli settlers and their terrorizing and shooting of Palestinian civilians; the disruption to daily life by Israeli checkpoints—none of these is as dramatic as suicide bombers. But, taken together, they have many of the same effects: Palestinian children are shot in the street and blown up coming from school; civilians are directly targeted and wounded or killed; Palestinians are driven to despair. Americans have so long been Israel's ally that we have blinded ourselves to the degree that the Israeli government and the settlers oppress the Palestinian people.

The Israelis, confident of U.S. support, will press their military and economic advantage, perhaps succeeding at what the most radical parties want—possession of the whole of the West Bank, perhaps Gaza, and the expulsion of the Palestinians. Dethroning Arafat, which now appears to be Sharon's policy, will give Hamas ever greater authority, but to what end? The Palestinians, despairing of ever emerging from this struggle, will only increase their suicidal intransigence.

A cease-fire and negotiations must be pressed once again. The United States, Canada, the European Union, Egypt, and Jordan, along with other willing states need to draw the warring sides into a sober consideration of their downward path. If credible and forceful international calls for a cease-fire are not heeded, then sanctions against both parties should be considered. The Bush administration closed down the U.S. Holy Land Foundation, which sends money to Hamas schools and social services, on charges that these funds also support terrorist activities. What of similar funds to schools in Israel that teach that the West Bank is an inalienable part of the biblical patrimony and must be part of the nation of Israel? What about philanthropic funds to Israeli settlers who build illegally in East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank? The longer this conflict continues the more gruesome the outcome, the more Israelis and Palestinians will adopt the most brutal tactics of the other.

December 11, 2001