Oct 23 2000

Might Vs. Right

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

RAMALLAH, West Bank –– When I passed by the bombed out police station in the center of the Palestinian town of Ramallah, I felt sad. What has happened to the peace process, that Israel has to use U.S.-made Apache helicopters to shell one of the few signs of peace with the Palestinians? The Palestinian Authority’s police station was bombed on Oct. 12, after two Israeli soldiers were killed by a mob of Palestinians who wanted to take revenge for the more than 100 Palestinians killed in the past two weeks by Israeli soldiers. 

At another time and under different circumstances, I might not have felt so sad. After all, it was in precisely that police station that I was detained for seven days after the television station I was running in 1997 had broadcast live a session of the Palestinian Legislative Council dealing with corruption in the Palestinian Authority. But the sadness I have now is shared by most Palestinians who believe that the peace process, with its hope of freedom and independence, has crumbled back to the same old situation of an occupying power (Israel) using excessive force to dominate a rebellious population.

Sure, Israeli spin doctors have been trying to put all the blame on the Palestinians. It is the fault of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for not putting down the revolt himself, they say, thus forcing the

Israeli army to do the dirty job. Some have even used racist undertones by attacking Palestinian mothers as being sub-human because, unlike normal mothers, they send their children to be killed. Such statements continued even after the damning pictures of a father trying to protect his 12-year-old son from being killed by Israeli gunfire.

The trouble in the peace process began in the first months after the 1993 signing of the Oslo accords. The late Yitzak Rabin refused to make the first withdrawal, saying, “There are no sacred dates.” The hesitation of consecutive Israeli governments to return Palestinian territories in accordance to the schedule of the agreement caused many to start doubting Israel’s commitment to it. Arafat started sounding like a broken record as he repeated the same statement, “All we are asking for is the accurate implementation of what has been agreed upon.” Israeli continued to waver in returning territory, relaxing border crossings, releasing prisoners, opening safe passage ways, rescinding Israeli-issued military orders and abolishing their civil administration. What was even worse for Palestinians was the continuation of Israeli settlement building and the opening of bypass roads on Palestinian territories that were intended for Jewish settler use.

The Israelis and their American allies would respond to complaints about these matters by asking Palestinians to wait for the permanent status agreement. After seven years of waiting, the Israelis were still holding on to their four negatives: no to the return of the 1967 borders, no to the right of return, no to allowing a foreign army on the Jordan River and no to the division of Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and many of his Labor Party supporters said that they were disappointed with the Palestinians’ lukewarm response to the offers he made at the Camp David II talks. Although the Barak offer was in fact better than any offer made by previous Israeli leaders, it fell way short of Palestinian aspirations.

The seven years of wait had not produced the kind of change in Israel that would allow for a viable independent Palestinian state. And key issues that no Palestinian leader can bypass, such as Jerusalem and the right of refugees to return, were not adequately addressed in the Israeli offer. That is why Palestinians responded angrily to the visit of Ariel Sharon to al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.

After months of talk about this sacred site, the feeling among Palestinians was that Sharon’s visit was aimed at legitimizing Israeli control. And instead of the Israeli government understanding the basis of the Palestinian frustration, it attempted to crush this popular protest. And with every Palestinian who was killed or injured by this excessive Israeli response, more Palestinians came out to demonstrate. And with more Palestinians killed, Arabs and Muslims around the world became angry and started joining the Palestinian plea for independence and freedom.

Instead of trying to calm the situation, Israel started demanding that Arafat crack down on his own people. When Arafat insisted that an independent inquiry be established to determine the cause of what happened and to create a mechanism for protecting the Palestinian population, Israel decided to declare war on Palestinians. They moved tanks and armored carriers against the civilian Palestinian population. Ultimatums were issued and helicopters were used to bomb Palestinians into submission.

The United States has always stated that it supports Israel because of shared values. These values, I assume, are those of democracy and respect for human rights–in short, the principle that right is might. Shooting at demonstrators, harassing ambulances, bombing a civilian population and placing 3 million people under siege are clear violations for human rights and international law. Shelling the police station of a party you have peace talks with is nothing more than an attempt to get political results by using bully tactics. When might becomes right, the United States must have the moral courage to kindly tell its friend no. Doing anything else will not be a true sign of friendship.

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