Thursday, June 15, 2006

On the BeachbyRonnie D. Lipschutz
Bombs, rockets, and artillery shells don’t always go where you aim them or want them to go. Sometimes, however, where they go may serve a political purpose.
This past Friday, some sort of projectile went astray at a beach in Gaza, killing at eight people—six from one family—out to enjoy a day in the sun. We know who killed them; it is less clear what killed them or why. Some thought the wayward shells might have come from an Israeli gunship offshore or from an aircraft. Israeli military officials explained that the deaths were accidental—“collateral damage”— and that the wayward artillery shells were meant to deter the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel. Official sources regretted harm to any Palestinian civilians. But the damage was done. Eight people were dead and Hamas declared it would resume attacks on Israel. Perhaps this was not an accident.
One irony of this episode is that the Qassam rockets fired by Palestinians into Israel are made locally in workshops, notoriously inaccurate, short range and cause few, if any, casualties or damage. Mostly, they have nuisance value. Israel’s reaction, by contrast, is powerful and deadly. It has produced steady stream of Palestinian casualties, both “militants” in cars and houses and civilians who are merely in the way. Predictably, such killings cause resentment, anger and more rockets, all beyond the control of either President Abbas or the Hamas government. Israel can then argue that violence is all the Palestinians know and there is no one among them with whom to negotiate, even as it ensures, with its repeated attacks, that there will be no Palestinians willing to risk negotiations for fear of assassination.
Such an outcome, we might speculate, is precisely what the new government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seeks. Why? In the recent elections to the Israeli Knesset, competing parties fought over the so-called legacy of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, now three months into a coma from which he is unlikely ever to awake. Over the past few years, Sharon decided to pursue the physical separation of Israel and Palestine (what the Israelis call “hitkansut,” or a “coming together”), building a wall between the two—which takes in substantial portions of the West Bank—and orchestrating a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. This policy was violently opposed by many members of the Likud Party, to which Sharon had belonged for decades, as renunciation to title to all of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. In response, Sharon formed a new party, Kadimah, which he hoped could form a new government empowered to continue the process of separation.
No doubt, Sharon and his colleagues were hoping that the Palestinians would fall to fighting among themselves as well as continue to attack Israel, making it all the easier to finalize separation and impose a “final” border as a fait accompli.
Kadimah won the election, although receiving many less votes than predicted and has formed a government in coalition with several other supportive parties. This new government will complete the wall dividing Israel from the Palestinian lands, and will try to move several tens of thousands of West Bank settlers out of their current locations into communities on the Israeli side of the wall. A majority of Jewish Israelis support this plan although, if and when it happens, it is likely to be fairly contentious procedure and even trigger Israeli-on-Israeli violence. Many predicted such clashes during the withdrawal from Gaza, but that turned out to be fairly peaceful. Still, Gaza has never been as important as the West Bank in Zionist ideology and religious belief, and the West Bank settlers have promised to resist with all their ability.
This is where a certain amount of Palestinian violence might serve the interests and goals of the Olmert government. Renewed bombings in Israeli cities will highlight the continued risks of engagement with Palestine as well as the vulnerability of settlers on the wrong side of the wall and the high costs of keeping soldiers out there to protect them. After all, if bombs can be detonated in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, given how well defended they are, imagine how much easier it will be to set off bombs in the West Bank. Just as in Gaza, the pullback will be rationalized as a “security measure,” which will satisfy the Israeli electorate and leave the Palestinians with those few remaining pieces of territory that no one in Israel wants.
Yet, the Sharon solution will hardly put an end to this war or to civilian deaths. In a very real sense, the growing discord among various Palestinian factions is directly attributable to Israeli policy, especially over the past decade. Seeking perfect safety, Israel continually made impossible demands of the Palestinian Authority. Thinking that it would be easier to deal with a splintered enemy than a unified neighbor, Israel thought it could manipulate the Palestinian Authority into an alliance of convenience against Hamas and Jihad. Now, facing the consequences of its cynical strategies, Israel is trying to wash its hands of the mess it did so much to create.
No doubt, the Israelis will find that walls are only walls and that they can be surmounted rather easily. The violence within Palestine will not remain contained but will spill over into Israel. More critically, perhaps, sooner or later the Palestinians will unite in the face of Israel’s cynical exploitation. Then, as real war spreads from the Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, not only the beach will be a dangerous place for families and others.

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