Falling Into Sharon's Trap

by Stanley Heller from "The Struggle" March 2002

For several weeks Palestinian militants had been refraining from attacks on civilians inside Israel, but that hopeful development ended on March 2. Following attacks on Balata and Jenin camps in which many civilians were killed, a Palestinian from a refugee camp blew himself up with nine others in Jerusalem.

Stanley Heller writes about the Palestinian terror problem.


In December there was a startling column on the front page of Yediot Aharonot critical of Israeli assassinations. Yediot Aharonot has the biggest circulation in Israel and had been in support of the assassination policy. The article was written by Alex Fishman, the paper’s Security Commentator. Fishman wrote about the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmud Abu Hunud, “Whoever gave a green light to this act of liquidation knew full well that he is thereby shattering in one blow the gentleman's agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority; under that agreement, Hamas was to avoid in the near future suicide bombings inside the Green Line, of the kind perpetrated at the Dolphinarium [discotheque in Tel-Aviv].” The “whoever” is not named in the column, but it’s obviously Sharon. He knew the assassination would lead to suicide bombings. “The subject was extensively discussed both by Israel's military echelon and its political one, before it was decided to carry out the liquidation.”, said Fishman. Sharon wanted Hamas to send in suicide bombers. He has been chomping at the bit, furious with Bush for depriving him of his “War Against Terrorism”. He needed a bloody weekend to justify more brutal measures by his Occupation Army.

So Hamas gave him the excuse, murdering a score of innocent kids, blowing them to pieces like the five children blown to bits at Khan Younis. Yes, the media showed the grief of the Israelis and as usual ignored the grief of the Palestinians. I say we should not complain about that. That’s right. We should not complain. We, the supporters of human rights for Palestinians have a bigger duty, to talk frankly to the Palestinian intellectuals and leaders about their terrorism problem.

It’s not about who is worse. The Israelis killed ten thousand civilians in 1982 in Lebanon. In November they shot and bombed 60 people dead in and around Bethlehem. It’s not about cruelty. Just look at pictures of Palestinian youths hit by tank shells or listen to the accounts of prisoners tortured by the Shabak. It’s not about justice. Israelis could be living in Western Europe. Palestinians are locked up in bantustans.

It’s about winning, about what actually will allow Palestinian children to one day walk without fear in Ramallah, and Hebron and Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

How did the South African blacks triumph? The South African racists didn’t agree to end apartheid only because of military pressure. There was strong economic pressure on them from people around the world who were appalled at apartheid for
moral reasons. Equally important, a section of the South African elite realized there could be a decent future for whites after apartheid because they could see that the ANC was not going to massacre and oppress them. It was this section that eventually made peace with Mandela. If the Palestinian movement has no discipline, won’t recognize certain limits, won't break with those who massacre Israeli civilians, it convinces virtually all Israelis that there is no alternative for them except Sharon. At the international level the sympathy for the Palestinians is dissipated. “You kill, they kill. Why should I get involved?” It squanders the moral capital built up by decades of Palestinians deaths and suffering. It weakens every international campaign for an economic boycott of Israel or for cutting back of Israel’s foreign aid.

Where does the Palestinian movement stand on terrorism, suicide bombings of shopping malls, buses and the like? Hamas and Islamic Jihad obviously embrace it as does the Al-Aksa Brigade. What about the other streams? The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is supposedly the most sophisticated group, the most “Marxist”, the one that wants a secular non-discriminatory state. On November 3 it issued a statement on U.S. government decision branding Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the PFLP as terrorist. It said the PFLP “declares clearly that these organizations are national liberation movements. They resist occupation and therefore are not terrorist organizations. They are organizations, indeed, that resist a military, colonial and racist occupation. Real terrorism is that which is practiced by the government of Sharon and the previous Zionist governments ...The Palestinian people are the most oppressed people in history. Their country is the last colonial territory. All international law permits this people to engage in all types of struggle in order to rid itself of the occupation and to attain its national independence, armed with United Nations’ resolutions, whose implementation America and the Zionist Entity continue to obstruct.” In other words nothing is forbidden to the Palestinians since they are the oppressed. The PFLP has not one criticism of the Hamas “resistance”.

The largest Palestinian organization is Fatah and Marwan Barghouti is reputedly the leader of its military activities. On November 11 he was interviewed by Gideon Levy an outstanding, sympathetic columnist for Ha’aretz. He said that Fatah meets every week with Hamas and Islamic Jihad and that he’s personally gotten closer to them. He said, “I support any action against the Israeli occupation and the settlers.” Levy gave him a chance to explain that. He said, “What actions do you consider legitimate and what actions do you consider illegitimate?”

"You know that up to now, our policy in Fatah has been to restrict our actions to the territories. There are political reasons for this as well - it is relevant to defend the matter of borders. I would really like all the organizations to concentrate on the territories. But I understand why they carry out actions inside Israel. Why should you feel secure in Tel Aviv when we don't feel secure in Ramallah or Bethlehem? More than 80 percent of those killed were killed in Area A. For me, Ramallah and Tel Aviv are now Area A. The same. If you want security in Tel Aviv, give security to Ramallah.” He understands the “actions”. He deliberately refuses to say that anything is “illegitimate”.

In January 16, 2002 Barghouti spoke differently. In an op-ed in the Washington Post he wrote, “While I, and the Fatah movement to which I belong, strongly oppose attacks and the targeting of civilians inside Israel, our future neighbor, I reserve the right to protect myself”.

Which Palestinians speak out unhesitantly against atrocities against Israeli civilians? No one does strongly enough. Writers are plagued by the Yes-But syndrome, as in “Yes, we condemn this outrage, but you have to understand that ....” Two sentences of criticism and then paragraphs and paragraphs about what Israel has done. Who writes like Robert Fisk who has been a friend of Arab rights for decades? He wrote “The Palestinian suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa are disgusting, evil, revolting, unforgivable. I saw the immediate aftermath of the Pizzeria suicide bombing in Jerusalem last August: Israeli women and children, ripped apart by explosives that had nails packed around them -designed to ensure that those who survived were scarred for life.”

Who condemns Islamic Jihad and Hamas by name? Who calls for a break with them? Who is willing to take on the nonsense that in the name of the “unity of the national liberation struggle” one must . never criticize ideas and organizations that are disastrous?

I realize that Palestinians are under siege, are under attack by F-16’s and every other U.S. advanced weapons and feel they can’t break with organizations who are fighting forces that smash their houses and murder their children. Yet uncritical cooperation has brought things to the state where the world sees the suicide bombing as the Palestinian weapon of choice and sees little difference between the resistance and the occupation.

“What has “the world” done for Palestinians?” is the obvious rejoinder. Precious little, criminally little. But it won’t ever become a lot as long as Palestinians walk into crowds of civilians and blow them up.

There are alternatives that are militant without being terroristic. Militants need to be Left of Arafat and Left of Hamas, both in demands and in action. Call for a democractic state all over Israel/Palestine [whether in one state or two]. Found an organization in Palestine/Israel of Palestinians and Israeli Jews dedicated to that aim. Expand the mass non-violent marches and demonstrations after civil rights struggles in the U.S. Call for immediate integration of settlements with Palestinian refugees. Lead the international boycotts and campaigns for aid cuts. It is not enough to be right. The oppressed have to be smarter and more disciplined, and more just and more honorable if they are to overcome the money and might of their tormentors.