BOSTON — The last few weeks’ escalating cycle of tensions, Israeli settlements expansions, murderous attacks by both Israelis and Palestinians, and reprisal demolitions of Palestinian homes may well escalate into something much more vicious and terrible, but it is hard to see what such an escalation would achieve. We have witnessed such cycles many times in the past 66 years, since Israel was created and the Palestinians experienced forced exile, refugeehood and occupation.
Two main lessons can be learned — yet again — from the ongoing killings and reprisals by both Israelis and Palestinians. One is that such violence is not going to achieve anything that could help us find a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that is seen to be fair by both sides. It is an expression of mutual fears, anger, and existential vulnerability, but it does not promote any serious negotiations or cause either side to reconsider its tactics.
The second is that the status quo in Palestine will never remain calm for very long while Israel continues to expropriate and steal Arab lands and build new colonies and settlements in the lands captured during the 1967 war. We have had many instances of relative calm over periods of many months, but the calm never lasts, because the underlying conditions of occupation do not allow it to last. The continuation of the Israeli settlements policy and other acts — such as the siege of Gaza or Israeli shootings of nonviolent Palestinian demonstrators — always generate tensions and anger that explodes into violent confrontations and Palestinian acts of murder and resistance.
In the past three months or so, 11 Israelis have been killed in the course of seven different attacks, most of them in Jerusalem. During that same period, 17 Palestinians were killed. Yet the cycle of fear and killing is not a symmetrical one, because Israel is the occupying and expanding party and the Palestinians are the ones living under strict colonial-style and Apartheid-like controls on travel, work, access to water, education and medical care, and most other essentials of life. Nevertheless, this cycle of death and destruction seems to have become impervious to any positive moves by political leaders on both sides, who accuse each other of “inciting” the violence by their people.
One of the ironies is that the actions the Israeli government takes to punish Palestinian perpetrators of killings of Israelis seem only to generate new kinds of fears and hatreds among Palestinians who in turn respond by new attacks against Israelis that they see as “resistance” to the Israeli occupation. The most obvious such action is the Israeli government’s decision to resume a practice that it suspended some years ago — the demolition of the homes of the families of Palestinians accused of killing Israelis. This is not merely a reprisal against Palestinian attacks, it is also a tactic that Israel has used systematically since 1967 to carry out a low-intensity ethnic cleansing operation that would slowly drive Palestinians out of their ancestral homes in Jerusalem and other parts of the occupied territories.
This complements other tactics such as withdrawing the identity cards of Palestinians who live in occupied East Jerusalem, aiming to slowly whittle down the size of the Palestinian population there, or refusing to allow Jerusalem Palestinians who marry Palestinians from outside Jerusalem to bring their spouses to live with them. Israel also seeks to Judaize all of Jerusalem by surreptitiously buying homes in Arab areas or forcibly occupying buildings in densely inhabited Arab quarters.
The house demolitions are the most paradoxical tactic that Israel uses, because their aim of deterring other Palestinian attacks against Israelis clearly is not working. Even Israeli official bodies or commissions that investigated this matter came to the conclusion that demolishing Palestinian homes does not deter Palestinian attacks.
The numbers are frightening. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions that documents such things reports that Israel has destroyed some 27,000 Palestinian structures in the occupied territories (the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip) since 1967. This figure includes over 24,000 homes of which some 2000 were in Arab East Jerusalem.
The magnitude of this effort by Israel to continue trying to transform the land of Palestine from one that was predominantly Arab a century ago to one that is predominantly Jewish sees two main consequences: The Palestinians will keep finding new ways to express their resistance to the threat of their total elimination from the land, and the confrontation between Zionism and Palestinian Arabism will remain locked in a cycle of militarism that will cause death, destruction and fear on both sides, without bringing them any closer to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
The events of recent weeks are neither surprising nor unprecedented, but rather a natural outcome of the continuing events of the past 66 years. The surprising and depressing elements are that neither popular grassroots movements nor enlightened leaderships have emerged on either side to pull us all out of this endless cycle of death.
Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly in the Daily Star. He was founding director and now senior policy fellow of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. Follow him on Twitter @ramikhouri.
Copyright © 2014 Rami G. Khouri—distributed by Agence Global
Released: 22 November 2014
Word Count: 828
For rights and permissions, contact:
firstname.lastname@example.org, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.212.731.0757