Monday, 22 March 2004
Is Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon out of his mind? Sharon, praised by U.S. president George W. Bush as "a man of peace," today ordered the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of the Palestinian group Hamas. An Israeli jet launched three rockets, which killed the blind, wheelchair-bound Yassin and seven others as they left a mosque in Gaza City. Sixteen people were wounded.
In response to the assassination, about 200,000 Palestinians turned out in the streets of Gaza for Yassin's funeral, shouting promises to avenge the murder on Israelis and Americans, whom many Palestinians believe to be complicit in the affair. World leaders universally condemned the attack, though the U.S. response was only tepid.
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process, already moribund, may now officially be declared dead, at least as long as Sharon and Bush remain in power. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, after canceling his governments twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations with Israel over the Camp David accords, said that the assassination "aborts all efforts" to revive the peace process.
It's hard to determine what Sharon's motivation might have been in ordering this senseless attack. If he had wanted Yassin out of the way, he could easily have ordered him arrested at any time, since he wasn't hiding. Apparently Sharon wanted to make a statement by killing Yassin, although what that statement was is debatable. Perhaps he wanted to say, "I can do whatever I want; no one can stop me." What the Palestinians heard, though, was something like this: "It's now open season on Israeli citizens."
Ironically, Israel originally supported the creation of Hamas as a foil to the Palestine Liberation Organization, headed by Yasser Arafat. In a short time, however, Hamas turned to violent resistance against Israeli soldiers and citizens alike, though the organization is also quite involved in charity work among Palestinians. Because of its involvement with and concern for the needy among the Palestinians, Hamas is viewed favorably by many in the region. Their success is a clue that might lead toward a possible solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
First, the solution will require true concern for the socio-economic condition of the Palestinians. Rather than shower Israel with billions of dollars of weaponry every year, the U.S. would be better advised to use a large portion of the money to improve the lot of the Palestinians, starting immediately. The U.S., and even Israel, could reap huge amounts of goodwill among both the Palestinians and other Arabs in the region by showing true compassion for the Palestinian people.
Second, Israel will have to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, which will become the boundaries of the new Palestinian state. Some minor changes are possible, such as those outlined in the best plan offered to date, the Geneva Initiative, but there is no doubt that the only way to create a stable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel is for Israel to return to its original borders.
Third, the U.S., which has always been a strong supporter of Israel, will have to show the Arab world that it can be a fair broker for peace. The favoritism shown to Israel in terms of financial and military aid will have to go. The loud condemnation of Palestinian suicide attacks on Israelis will have to be balanced by equally vociferous condemnation of Israeli government acts of terror against Palestinians.
Fourth, the American media will have to do a better job of presenting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a balanced way. The typical American citizen is uninformed about the true nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, both its history and the number of people killed on both sides. A large reason for this ignorance is that the mainstream media does an exceptionally poor job of covering it in an unbiased manner (and not just Fox News). Two examples may be cited among many. (1) Israeli security forces are referred to as soldiers, while their Palestinian counterparts are referred to by the lesser title gunmen. (2) Israeli attacks on Palestinians are regularly described as being in retaliation for a specific Palestinian attack, as though the Israelis were just responding to provocation and would otherwise not have attacked. Imagine how views would change if the same events were reported like this: "Palestinian freedom fighters today responded to yesterday's Israeli rocket attack that killed several civilians by striking selected Israeli targets." Every attack on both sides is a response to some previous provocation, and to pretend that the Palestinians are the primary aggressors is simply false. Another way in which the media can help to educate Americans about the true nature of the conflict is to publicize widely the statistics concerning the dead on both sides of the conflict, not primarily the Israeli side. The typical American believes that more Israelis than Palestinians have been killed over the past few years, primarily by suicide bombers. In fact, many more Palestinians have died at the hands of the Israelis than vice versa. Since 29 September 2000, the beginning of the current intifada (sparked by Ariel Sharon's provocative visit to the Temple Mount), through 10 March 2004 the number of Israelis killed by Palestinians is 857. In that same time period, the number of Palestinians killed by Israelis is 2477. In other words, approximately three times as many Palestinians as Israelis have died violently during this period (see the information provided by The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories). All of the deaths on both sides are tragic, and the media needs to do a better job of portraying the horrors of the conflict on all sides.
Fifth, both the Israelis and the U.S. will have to throw out their current governments with their disastrous, bloodthirsty policies and replace them with more reasonable people. Both Bush and Sharon have demonstrated that they are incapable of making peace, though they are good at fanning the flames of war. It is quite possible that Yasser Arafat should be replaced as well. Since U.S. elections are still eight months away and Israelis will probably not go to the polls before then, this conflict is destined to last at least until November, barring a miraculous intervention of some sort. Somewhere among the Israelis there is another Yitzhak Rabin, and in the U.S. there is another Jimmy Carter, peacemakers who can work with one another and a reasonable Palestinians leader (Ahmed Qureia?) to resolve this festering sore than continues to infect the whole Middle East, and indeed the rest of the world.
The assassination of Yassin will undoubtedly turn even more Palestinians, and possibly other Arabs as well, into volunteer martyrs, willing to kill Israelis and Americans alike. Like Bush's war on Iraq, this act will spark more and greater acts of terrorism in response. The months ahead may be the bloodiest in Israel and Palestine since the Six Day War, thanks in large measure to Ariel Sharon and his complicit ally, George W. Bush.
© Copyright 2004, Progressive Theology