By Gabriel Ash
25 April 2002
How many Palestinians are dead in Jenin? Dozens? Hundreds? How many hundreds? If the number turns out to be exactly 641, or exactly 139, will that be a PR "victory" for the Palestinians, or for the Israelis? As journalists are lining up to declare the "victor," CNN runs a web poll about each side's credibility. Soon we may see the dead jostling with the living in CNN's sordidly named "crossfire."
As a mental exercise, let each of us decide at exactly how many deaths the scale tips from the Israeli side to the Palestinian side, at what point an incursion becomes a slaughter, at what point a slaughter becomes a massacre, at what point a massacre becomes a genocide.
This is all very important, PR-wise.
For eleven days, IDF soldiers have been preventing journalists, medics, rescue teams and aid convoys from entering Jenin.
This is how they "protect" the truth inside from all those
outside who might want to "misuse" it against Israel.
After all, the truth is such a terrible weapon. It would be wrong to allow one side to have more of it than the other. There must be balance. But only regarding the truth. There need not be balance in firepower, for example. It is O.K. that Israel has nuclear weapons and Apache helicopters, paid for by American taxpayers who can't afford to pay for adequate health care, while Palestinians fight with rifles and home-made explosives.
There need not be balance about land either. It is O.K. that Israelis control all the land and Palestinians none.
Nor is balance a requirement regarding liberty, or human rights, which Israelis enjoy and Palestinians do not. But there must be balance in describing what happened in Jenin.
That is why accuracy is very important in Jenin. Was it exactly a "massacre," as Perez called it and then denied, or a "devastation," or just an "incursion" that used "minimal force" to achieve "necessary goals," such as showing Palestinians who's the boss and what you get for upsetting him? If you use too strong a word, if you match the expression to the stench of the decomposing bodies, Israel will reprimand you, brand you an anti-Semite, maybe even expel you. Be forewarned.
But what can one do? Even the cautious and pro-Israeli The Economist saw clear evidence of war crimes. U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen
described the devastation in Jenin as "horrific beyond belief," and said it was "morally repugnant" that Israel blocked humanitarian emergency workers from entering Jenin for 11 days. Israel is still blocking rescue teams, while Perez is pondering whether to send Roed-Larsen home with a note to his parents or merely revoke his weekly allowance. The undiplomatic words of the Norwegian diplomat, but not the undiplomatic reality these words refer to, really hurt Israel's highly evolved moral sensibility.
Having agreed to it earlier, the government of Israel is now blocking the UN fact-finding mission to Jenin. The problem, according to Israel, is that too many of the members have "humanitarian" experience, and might not understand the requirements of warfare. It is easy to imagine the people and the resumes Israel would want to see instead: maybe a few Latin American death-squad leaders; or Lt. William Calley, whose experience at Mai Lai could prove invaluable in determining what is and what isn't a massacre; or perhaps the French General Paul Aussaresses, commander of the 1957 French paratroopers' attack on the Casbah of Algier. To top it all, war crimes connoisseur Madeleine Albright, or even Henri Kissinger, could provide moral leadership, as well as much needed verbal elasticity.
As long as there is balance.
For the Israeli public and politicians, the widespread, and very unbalanced, opprobrium is just one more affirmation that the "whole world is against us."
Echoing popular sentiment, Israel's President Moshe Katsav whines: "with all due respect and esteem for people of conscience and the bleeding-heart liberals of the world, I don't understand why they've clamped their mouths shut for a year and a half while the cruelest of unprecedented terrorist acts were committed against Israelis citizens everywhere."
President Katsav, are all the inhabitants of Jenin terrorists?
Are most? Is God's own standard, of requiring only ten righteous men to save a city, too lax for you? What part of "collective punishment is a war crime" don't you understand?
The fact that the eruption of violence during the last eighteen months baffles you so much makes me wonder, President Katsav. Do you understand the idea of liberty? Have you ever read the universal declaration of human rights?
Do you understand that "universal" means "applies to everybody equally"?
Does the declination of possessive pronouns confuse you?
Surely you are at ease with "mine" and "ours." But do you also understand the concepts behind "yours," "his," "hers," and "theirs"?
When I look at the map of the land grab for your illegal settlements, I have serious doubts.
Are you troubled why "people of conscience" do not condemn terrorism? Even to make such an accusation you must be living in an alternate universe. But I will answer your whining twice nevertheless.
The long answer, President Katsav, "with all due respect and esteem," is that the suicide bombers did not land in Israel from outer space. The explosive belts might as well carry a label that reads "made in the Greater Eretz Israel."
The suicide bombs are the mutant flowers of Israel's brutalizing occupation, springing from the seeds of the 54-year-long dehumanization of Palestinians. They are the ghosts of your brutality coming back to haunt you, the mementos of your war against memory.
The massive and deliberate destruction of Palestinian civil records in the West Bank in the last weeks is but the most recent chapter in a war against Palestinian memory that began in 1948, with the annihilation of 400 Palestinian villages. But you seem to learn nothing from history, indeed from your own history: ghosts always return, each time more violently.
For those ready to die, their spiritless hatred towards you is what remains after you have bulldozed their past and their future. Whether you like it or not, they are your bastard offspring. Everything they know about hate, you taught them. Everything they forgot about humanity, you made them forget. Give them a hug now, as they have proven themselves worthy of their parents - you.
The short answer, President Katsav, is really short: just get out!
Call the army home. Call the occupation off. And get out of the Occupied Territories. Just get out!
Don't mumble about how "difficult" or "complex" the situation is. It isn't. You are the oppressor. You are the occupier. You park your tanks on plundered land. You fill your swimming pools with stolen water. You kill and destroy in order to inherit. So don't bullshit about "the situation." Just get out!
Stop abusing people. Stop abusing language. Stop spinning your own moral cocoon. Stop turning your country and your people into a metaphor of evil. Just get out!
Don't wait for Bush. Don't wait for Arafat. Don't wait to negotiate with the mythical Palestinian leader who will finally accept your dominion. There is nothing to negotiate about. Just get out!
Take your rabid Jewish fundamentalists from Kiriat Arba and Beit El with you. Load them on buses and pump the gas pedal until the hills of the West Bank vanish in the rear mirror. Just get out!
Gather your thugs from the borderless "border police," give them scholarships and send them to school again. Let them discover there is more to life than beating people to a pulp. Just get out!
Take your checkpoints, with all their petty humiliations and deadly snipers, with you. And just get out!
Send the Shin-Bet packing. After 35 years, the world had enough of your clever jailers and torturers. Take them with you and just get out!
Let your hideous bulldozers loose on the illegal settlements of Ma'ale Edomim, Har Homa and Gilo. There is plenty of demolition work for them there. Let them continue until the mountain line bears no more memory of your rape. Then just get out!
Don't apologize. Don't justify. Don't explain. There is nothing left to explain. Honestly. Just get out!
Don't even worry about the thousands of olive trees, symbols of peace, you uprooted. Someone will plant them again.
Just get out!
Gabriel Ash encourages your comments: gash@YellowTimes.org
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