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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2731

Israel: A Negative Model

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

Israel has degenerated into heartlessness, real cruelty toward the weak, the poor, and the suffering. Israel displays indifference to the hungry, the elderly, the sick, and the handicapped, equanimity in the face of, for example, trafficking in women, or the exploitation of foreign workers in conditions of slave labor, and in the face of profound, institutionalized racism toward its Arab minority. When all this happens as if it were perfectly natural, without outrage and without protest, I begin to fear that even if peace comes tomorrow, even if we eventually return to some sort of normality, it may be too late to heal us completely. David Grossman (The Rabin Memorial Lecture, Nov. 4, 2006, in the presence of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert)

It might make sense to buy weapons and military technology from Israel but only the congenitally inane would take political advice from a country that has been immersed in a conflict for more than half a century, with no end in sight. Israel has not only brought untold misery to the Palestinian people; she has also endangered her own health and future, as a nation. Her refusal to look at the root causes of the conflict and address them politically, her insistence on reducing the entire issue to a battle against terrorism has brought her not victory but an endless war and unending insecurity. Israel does provide a lesson and an example in what not to do when dealing with an ethnic issue.

Last week PM Ratnasiri Wickramanayake visited Israel and had a bilateral discussion with Prime Minister Ehud Olemrt. The government media made much of the visit and even more of a supposed piece of advice from Mr. Olmert: ‘Do not give into terrorism because it will only bring destruction to your country”. Israel of course never gave into ‘terrorism’, never permitted any considerations of human rights, public opinion or international community interferes with her relentless battle with ‘terrorism’. She had never cared about the costs of that war, economic or material, either to the enemy or to her own people. For more than half a decade Israel waged a total war against the Palestinians in the name of battling terrorism.

What have been the results of this policy? The war still continues; the suicide bombers still come. Israel’s borders are not secure and there is no internal security either. The harsher the Israel policy gets the more dogged becomes Palestinian resistance. Both nations are caught in a vicious cycle of death and destruction seemingly with no end because the moderates are not strong enough to impose possible compromises on the polity and the society.

The Terrorists and the People

No two conflicts are exactly similar and there are many points of differences major and minor in the situations faced by Sri Lanka and Israel. Still there is much that we can learn from the trails and travails of the Jewish state. The most potent lesson provided by Israel is a negative one: how not to deal with the people from whose midst terrorists and suicide bombers come forth. If repression and military measures alone can succeed in a political vacuum, the Palestinian problem would have been solved long ago. Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians cannot be equated with Adolf Hitler’s treatment of the Jews.

Though Israel has not turned mass murder into official policy it does not stint at inflicting murderous violence on the Palestinian people whenever deemed necessary. Israel bombs and strafes Palestinian areas with no consideration of the costs to innocent civilians caught in the cross-fire; the civilians are denied of access to the basic necessities of life, using security considerations. As John Holmes the UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs said at the end of a recent fact finding mission, "The conditions in Gaza are grim and miserable and are not in accordance with the standards of human dignity…These victims here are innocent civilians. There is no time to lose in putting an end to this vicious circle of violence” (Irin News).

Some months ago Gotabhaya Rajapakse sought to expel North Eastern Tamils residing in Colombo lodges on the grounds that some of the Tiger attacks were planned and carried out by people who lived in these lodges. This act of blatant discrimination, this measure of collective punishment could not be implemented because the judiciary intervened and the society expressed its outrage. What Mr. Rajapakse sought to do unsuccessfully, has been the policy of successive Israel regimes for decades. Israel routinely imposes collective punishment on Palestinian people; entire villages are victimized because of one suicide bomber. The most recent and the most chilling case involves Highway 443, a major access road to Jerusalem, the scene of several drive-by shootings by Palestinian gunmen targeting Israelis: “For the first time the Supreme Court, albeit in an interim decision has accepted the idea of separate roads for Palestinians in the occupied areas.

The association of Civil Rights in Israel told the Supreme Court that what was happening on the highway could be the onset of legal apartheid in the West Bank…. The court’s decision is significant because it accepted the idea in principle put forth by the army that while it had no choice but to ban Palestinian traffic because of anti-Israel attacks on it, some of which it says originated from the surrounding villages, it would build separate roads for the Palestinians” (New York Times 28.3.2008).

It is little wonder that the state media made so much of the Israeli endorsement since many hardliners in the Rajapakse administration, from his Defence Secretary to the JHU, would regard Israel as a role model of a state which does not give the enemy any breathing space. Israel leaders steadfastly adhere to their policy of defeating terrorism by any means necessary. Israel Prime Minister defended the current crippling blockade on Gaza and stated that Gaza’s residents will not be permitted a ‘pleasant and comfortable life’ so long as the rocket attacks on Israeli residents continue: "As far as I'm concerned, Gaza residents will walk, without gas for their cars, because they have a murderous, terrorist regime that doesn't let people in southern Israel live in peace” ( 21.1.2008).

All of this and yet the suicide bombers continue to come. If a case study is needed to demonstrate that superior military power, sans political measures, cannot address the issue of terrorism in general and suicide bombing in particular, Israel is it. This is not to say that organizations such as Hamas and the LTTE can be dealt with using political measures alone. As we have seen, time and again, the Tigers do not respond positively to political measures; a peace process for the LTTE is merely a time to recuperate for the next war. Appeasement does not work with entities such as the LTTE and the Hamas; but while using military measures to face the undoubted threat posed by such organizations political measures are necessary to engage and win over the moderates and the ordinary civilians.

Negotiating with the Tigers is an exercise in futility; all the more reason why we should bypass the Tigers and offer the Tamil people a reasonable power sharing deal. As David Grossman, internationally acclaimed Israeli author whose son was killed by Lebanese militants said, “The Palestinians have placed Hamas in their leadership, and Hamas refuses to negotiate with us, refuses even to recognize us. What can we do in such a situation?... Tighten the noose even more? Continue to kill hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the great majority of them innocent civilians, like us? Appeal to the Palestinians, Mr. Olmert. Appeal to them over Hamas's head. Appeal to the moderates among them, to those who, like you and me, oppose Hamas and its ideology.…. Make them an offer that their moderates can accept… Go to them with the boldest, most serious plan that Israel is able to put forward. A plan that all Israelis and Palestinians with eyes in their heads will know is the limit of refusal and concession, ours and theirs” (The Rabin Memorial Lecture, Nov. 4, 2006). That is one of key lessons we need to learn from Israel peace can never come in the absence of a generous political settlement, however single-mindedly the military option is pursued.

Political and Military

There will be those who will argue that the Rajapakse administration is doing just that by accepting the 13th Amendment and by having elections in the East. There have been elections in the Palestinian territories, free and fair ones too, in which inveterate enemies of the state of Israel have emerged victorious. But elections, even free and fair ones, in the absence of a political settlement cannot bring violence to an end or function as a solution. Elections can help bring about peace and normalcy only as a component of a political programme of power sharing. In the absence of such a plan elections can become and be perceived as - a tool used by the regime to impose its will and agenda on a powerless minority.

This is precisely the problem in the East. The recent local government election was free of violence but that is because it did not involve a contestation and its results were a foregone conclusion. Given the deal between the PA and the Pilliyan group no one had any doubts as to which way the elections would go. The provincial council election can be another affair, if the opposition parties contest and actively campaign. Even then the critical absence of a political solution cannot be made good. What we are offering the Tamil people is nothing more than a return to status quo ante, an existence in a unitary state of Sri Lanka where the majority community has the whip hand, politically and militarily.

There is credible evidence that the Pilliyan group is engaged in anti-civilian activities including child conscription. Since the East is a cleared area obviously these criminal acts are being committed with the blessing of the regime. The Pilliyan group is not only unmindful of the basic rights of the Tamil people as much as the LTTE is; it also lacks a political programme aimed at winning a power sharing deal for the Tamils. Therefore this group cannot be considered anything other than an appendage of the regime, a group of Tamil politico-military auxiliaries used by Sinhala hardliners to keep not only Tamils but also Muslims quiescent. Elections, even if they happen to be free and fair, will not present the Tamil people with a different and a better option. This critical absence of an alternative will enable the LTTE not only to harden its resistance in the North but also to make a comeback in the East.

Israel has the full backing of the US; its leaders have been committed to the total defeat of Palestinian ‘terrorism’. All the conditions Sinhala hardliners believe are necessary for a victory over Tigers were and are present in Israel. Yet Israel is still mired in a war without end. The only thing Israel has not done is also the only thing we have not done offer the community from whom the terrorists gain nourishment a fair deal. In the absence of that critical condition we cannot prevail over the LTTE anymore than Israel has been able to prevail over the Palestinians. A never ending conflict which saps the energies of all parties will be the only future we can expect unless we draw that critical line of demarcation between the LTTE and the Tamil people and offer the latter a just deal even as we resist the former with all the strength at our command.

- Asian Tribune -

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