by Chris Handros/Getty Images
at the gates: a Palestinian boy looks at an Israeli checkpoint
on and eyewitness accounts of the Israel-Palestine conflict
Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images
one Israeli commentator pointed out this week, since the
beginning of this wave of Palestinian attacks in fall 2000,
more Israelis have died in car accidents than by suicide
bombings. Dying at the hands of someone who hates you for
your citizenship (or religion) somehow feels different.
But no matter how horrific Israel’s losses have been at
the hands of Palestinian suicide bombers, nothing—absolutely
nothing—excuses the cold-blooded Israeli attacks upon the
civilian population of Palestine that continue as you read
this. Reports from Israel suggest Ariel Sharon’s government
intends to wage this “campaign” until all of Palestine has
been subjected to it.
The attacks doubtless seem to many Americans like just another
war—more tragic, perhaps, because “they’re always fighting
over there,” but basically an unsolvable mess the United
States is only tangentially related to. We’re not, of course.
The United States is inextricably linked—by weapons sales,
aid programs, investment, and the eyes of the world—to whatever
Israel does. And this is no “ordinary” war; it is not even
a war, because with few exceptions the “enemy” is not shooting
back, is not even present. And in the course of the resulting
death and destruction, Israel is violating just about every
known convention for how humanity has agreed to conduct
itself during its most inhumane moments.
Consider these recent accounts:
Israeli aircrafts have already started firing at Aida Refugees’
camp. . . . The Israeli soldiers do not care anymore at
whom their guns are pointed.” —George Rishmawi, Bethlehem
than 150 Israeli tanks invaded Bethlehem area from all directions.
Heavy shooting and shelling is regular all morning long.
The Israeli army is moving towards the Church of Nativity.
Bethlehem is sliced into a dozen isolated areas. Soldiers
and Apaches are shooting at any moving target.” —Ghassan,
we have heard numerous reports of 30 Palestinian policemen
executed in cold blood by Israeli soldiers in a building
where they sought refuge on Irssal Street in Ramallah. This
was after five Palestinian officers were executed by being
shot to the head and then had their corpses thrown on the
pavement for hours on Friday. Ambulances are prevented from
reaching their destinations and two hospitals have either
been broken into (Arabcare) or shot at (Nazer Maternity
Hospital). . . . One of the employees of the Sakakini Center
had the Israeli Army burst into his village (Kobar) yesterday,
destroy belongings and arrest his younger brother, alongside
30 other young men from the village.
cleaning lady of the center lives in a house with an outhouse
for toilets. For three days the Israelis have been posted
by the door to her house and preventing all exit. When the
eldest today sneaked out to the outhouse, the Israelis caught
him and beat him. His schoolteacher father tried to intervene,
the Israelis beat him and arrested him.
of the board members of our center was arrested with all
the employees of the office building where he was working
late Thursday night. They were all blindfolded and had their
hands tied and placed in one room for 16 hours. The Israelis
destroyed some office furniture and stole hard drives from
computers. They all untied themselves once they realized
the Israelis had gone on to bigger prey.
next-door neighbor’s 70-plus-year-old father lives near
Yasser Arafat’s office. The Israelis broke into his home
Friday, broke everything with the butts of their rifles
(TV, sinks, furniture, etc.) and then stole some money.
are reports also of Israeli soldiers breaking into banks
and change offices and jewelry stores and stealing money
and jewelry.” —Adila Laidi, director, Khalil Sakakini Cultural
tanks were waiting outside the front of the house. Israelis
have been going into houses taking food and leaving. Also,
they have been going into houses and taking all men ages
15 to 50. Some have been taken away. Others have been stripped
and left in the street for several hours in the cold and
morning the President of the Red Crescent Society (Red Cross)
(Younis Al-Khatib) was taken from his office by Israeli
soldiers, made to crawl on his hands and knees in the street
in the rain, and then arrested. Many medics have been arrested.
PRCS officially announced that there is no ambulance service
for the sick and injured in Ramallah. Israelis will not
let ambulances pass, and the medics are taken away.” —Caroline,
Ramallah, as told via phone to a Seattle friend
here are shifting again slightly, but not enough. There
are still large numbers of wounded in Manger Square in the
center of the old city, and many dead lying in the streets
or in houses from which they cannot be removed [update this
second: the family who had two members killed by a tank
shell have managed to get them out]. The mosque, in which
people were hiding, was shelled by tanks, and there are
150-200 holed up in the Church of the Nativity; we’ve just
spoken to one of them and no medics have been allowed through
but nuns have been attending the injured. Injured in Deheishe
refugee camp have also been denied access to hospital, and
we’ve just watched from our window as Israeli troops surrounded
and searched a Red Crescent ambulance. Another ambulance
was crushed by a tank this morning in Beit Kala. A group
of internationals attempted to accompany an ambulance to
Manger Square to get humanitarian aid to those trapped,
but they were fired on; apparently the Israelis had chosen
(without telling anyone) that they would use their clocks,
and not Palestinian time, to time the curfew and thus decided
to shoot at people. . . .
Ramallah, a group of 2,000 Israelis (Gush Shalom) and Arab
Israelis attempting to deliver food and medical supplies
were stopped and heavily teargassed. One truck of aid was
allowed through, but the soldiers then emptied it and stamped
on the medical supplies, leaving the food on the ground.”
—Sarah Irving, International Solidarity Movement, Bethlehem
so they come in, account after account, endlessly detailing
a systematic attack by a marauding army upon a helpless,
impoverished civilian population: denying food, denying
medical supplies, denying care for the wounded, stealing
what they like and destroying the rest, arbitrarily arresting,
beating, torturing, and even executing large numbers of
people for the crime of being Palestinian and male, and
specifically attacking neutrals—not just medics, but journalists
and internationals who can tell the world what Israel is
by Chris Handros/Getty Images
of these are violations not just of the Geneva Convention,
but just about any international law or standard relating
to warfare that can be imagined. This is not an invasion,
but an attack upon civilians who have already lived under
Israeli military rule for 35 years. That military is now
carrying out calculated actions thought by many to be unimaginable
in the 21st century. For much of the world, the United States—which,
to the extent it has said anything at all, still seems to
blame Yassar Arafat for this spectacle—is equally culpable.
For the last two days, I have been trying to distill what
needs to be written about these atrocities, and United States
complicity in them; instead, the list keeps expanding. This
is due, in part, to the presence of the “internationals,”
courageous activists from around the world bearing witness
and acting as shields in the worst of the attack areas.
As it happens, I know no less than four of them. Two, in
fact, are volunteers (and personal friends) with the community
newspaper I help publish in Seattle, Eat the State!;
they had offered ahead of time to write of their experiences
for ETS!. One was in the group that was shot at on
Monday; the other is waiting, nervously, in the Azza refugee
camp near Bethlehem, having refused a U.S. embassy offer
of evacuation. Another international is a former intern
at Seattle Weekly, where I work.
Personally knowing people who are in the midst of this catastrophe
makes a difference, but it shouldn’t.
Another ETS! volunteer went on a similar delegation
in January; here’s what happened to his host family in Ramallah:
friend Mahmoud (47 years old) and his son Majd (18 years
old) were arrested and taken out of their apartment in Ramallah
this morning. . . . All the other Palestinian males in their
building were also arrested. Israeli soldiers have been
going from house to house for days, arresting all Palestinian
males under 45—and apparently some that are older.
this writing [Tuesday] there have been at least 14 summary
executions of prisoners in Ramallah, with reports of many
more than that. One report describes prisoners in a large
room being roughly divided into two groups, one group to
be held, one group to be shot.
. . . was released tonight. Mahmoud is currently in too
much pain to stand up. After being beaten and kicked in
the back while in custody, he was released and allowed to
walk home—about seven miles. . . . Several older men were
released with him. Mahmoud’s son Majd is still in custody,
along with all the other young men. It is Majd’s first arrest.
The family is hoping he will come home alive.”
all of the Palestinian families hoping their sons, husbands
and fathers will survive, there is something we can do.
The United States still has, if it so chooses, tremendous
influence over this situation. If these scenes, and countless
more like them, do not fit your idea of civilized behavior—let
alone democracy—call the White House. Call your congresspeople.
Call your local talk shows, write and e-mail letters to
the editor, get in touch with international aid groups.
This is a horror unfolding before our eyes, and the United
States, alone among international actors, has the power
to make it stop; we alone, among outraged people around
the world, have the power to petition a government (outside
Israel) that can make it stop. Let’s use it.
Parrish writes frequently for AlterNet, the Seattle
Weekly, In These Times and WorkingforChange.com,
where this article originally appeared.
Is a Two-Way Street
been forced to think a lot these days about Israel and Palestine,
who are and will be permanent neighbors. Especially as a
Jew, a progressive, a human being, I do so with a very heavy
Both sides and their supporters are responsible, even if
not equally so, and both sides and their supporters are
acting irresponsibly. Both sides have legitimate concerns
(e.g., independence, safety, justice), but use illegitimate
methods (e.g., dehumanizing the other, violence against
civilians, collective punishments). So while I strenuously
oppose the violent and brutal methods of both sides, I’m
entirely sympathetic to the legitimate concerns, fears,
and grievances of both sides.
Both countries deserve to live in peace, both sides deserve
to have their children grow up safely and happily, both
countries deserve to be free, both countries are losing
key people due to brain drain, both populations deserve
to be active participants in their collective destiny rather
than subjugated by their authoritarian power-hungry leaders.
The Israeli occupation and military incursions are illegal
and immoral, not to mention counterproductive, ultimately.
(As terrible as it is, though, it is not a holocaust or
genocide. The Israeli army is physically capable of doing
so, and if it were so inclined would be killing much more
than hundreds of Palestinians a year.) The vitriolic and
virulent anti-Jewish (not just anti-Israeli) speech and
actions of the Palestinians are frightening, dangerous and
deadly. (See www.memri.org for English translations of the
Arabic media.) I think it’s true that Yasser Arafat is encouraging
Palestinian violence against civilians (e.g., he still refers
to suicide/homicide bombers as “martyrs,” not murderers,
and he at least nominally directs the Al-Aqsa Brigade),
yet he doesn’t necessarily have the power or the legitimacy
to fully stop it. I think it’s true that Ariel Sharon is
a war criminal and, instead of being in jail where he belongs,
is on a new warpath.
Each side is all too effective at provoking and demonizing
the other. As usual, the people suffer. As historical and
religious cousins, in addition to being neighbors, Jews
and Muslims need to find ways to discuss, debate and disagree—even
hate each other—without descending to violent attacks.
Both sides are engaging in terrorism, and Israel’s is being
materially and ideologically supported by the United States
(with billions of dollars in aid and full diplomatic support)
while Palestine’s is being materially supported by Saudi
Arabia, Iraq, Qatar (which provide tens of thousands of
dollars to the usually impoverished families of the suicide
bombers) and ideologically supported by most of the Muslim
countries (which incessantly extol the Palestinian cause
and demonize “the Jews” in order to distract from their
own authoritarian and corrupt systems).
Both sides are not only inflicting damage on the other side,
but also on themselves. Both sides are killing children,
the other side’s as well as their own. As we should know,
the means do not justify the ends—the means create the ends.
I sincerely believe that Israel should end the occupation,
dismantle the settlements, remunerate refugees, and treat
Israeli Arabs equally and fairly, etc., which is the just
thing to do. This would alleviate many of the problems,
but it would not end all the violence, to say the least.
Palestine also has responsibilities, including the condemning
and stemming of violence. The other Muslim nations also
have responsibilities, not least of which should be financially
building Palestine rather than verbally attacking Jews,
and worse. Further, Hamas wants all of Israel and Palestine
to be an Islamic country ruled by Islamic law, presumably
similar to a Taliban-like or Iranian-style clerical-fascist
dictatorship. It should also be noted that even before Israel
was a state, during World War II, some top Palestinian leaders
sought to ally with Hitler to pursue a final solution against
Jews. Their dream/nightmare continues unabated.
Some have asserted that the issue of Jewish historic suffering
is “entirely irrelevant to the present day circumstances”.
However, it is relevant and important because Jews have
been blamed, threatened, maligned, attacked, ghettoized,
bombed and killed for thousands of years, all over the world,
continuing into the present and unfortunately very likely
into the future, mostly by Christians but also by Muslims.
Many Jews who are traditionally liberal and progressive
often become right wing around these issues, due to the
legitimate historical, present, and future fears of deep
and pervasive anti-Jewish hatred and violence.
For many Jews, with the tragic history of multiple genocides
(uncountable pogroms, the Inquisition, the Holocaust), and
with so relatively few Jews in the world (only about 13
million in a world of over 6 billion people), any attack
against Jews is seen in the context of group survival and
continued ethnic existence. Let alone bullets and bombs,
when Palestinians (almost exclusively men and boys) throw
rocks, they are symbolically stoning the “infidels” (i.e.,
Jews and all other non-Muslims, in addition to gays, rape
victims but not rapists, women adulterers, but not male
ones, et al.), symbolically enacting and exacting the death
penalty, thereby playing on the realistic fears of Jews,
secularists and others.
I frankly don’t understand why so many people, especially
those on the left, consider the suicide/homicide bombings
against civilians understandable (aside from in a social
scientific sense, even if not “excusable”), inevitable,
or the like. Why would it be “inevitable” for Palestinians
and not for African-Americans, South Africans under apartheid,
Native Americans and other indigenous people, East Timorese,
Tibetans, Romani, Basques, Dalit, Kurds, Northern Ireland’s
Catholics, et al.? Like all others, Palestinians make choices,
even if those choices are constrained by their culture,
and it is unfair to rob them of their agency. There are
always other alternatives.
As I have long believed and advocated, the Palestinians
would be much more effective against the Israelis if they
engaged in a relentless mass movement of nonviolent civil
disobedience (including marching into and around Jerusalem/al-Quds
in the hundreds of thousands). The entire might of the Israeli
army with all its U.S. funding and weaponry would eventually
be virtually powerless against this most potent weapon.
U.S. and world opinion would be more firmly in the Palestinian
camp, as would many more Israelis. Furthermore, this would
help build Palestinian civil society alongside the fight
for a Palestinian state, instead of damaging the prospects
Israelis also need to increase their civil-disobedience
campaign to end the occupation and to reduce the militarization
of their society, ensuring their security through the positive
peace of justice rather than repression and war. Likewise,
Americans in particular, but others as well, need to pressure
their government leaders.
As we have long been saying in the movement, if the people
lead, eventually the leaders will follow. We need to lead
them to peace with justice in Israel and Palestine.
Brook teaches sociology at the University of California
at Berkeley. His essays have appeared the American
Journal of Economics and Sociology, Peace Review
and Z Magazine. He can reached via