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Is America Copying Israel's mistakes?

William Pfaff

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The power of the weak lies in a people’s acceptance of suffering. The weakness of the strong is that a disproportionate use of force against the weak eventually corrupts their own society. The recent air attacks against the Palestinians in Gaza, using helicopter gun ships and F-16 fighter aircraft and producing the inevitable “collateral damage,” have actually been a demonstration of Israeli weakness. The attacks led nowhere that the majority of Israel’s society wants to go. The daily newspaper Maariv described the message they delivered: “Israel has gone mad.”
Hanadi Tayseer was a quiet student lawyer, not connected with the Palestinian resistance. On October 4th, in revenge for the killing of her brother and cousin by Israeli occupiers, Hanadi's frustration exploded on the streets of Haifa, along with twenty civilian bystanders.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon claims to see blinding light at the end of the tunnel. A “victory” over the terrorist infrastructure is only weeks away, and Israel is about to be liberated from fear. He says the new Geneva draft peace settlement, developed by former official Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, is mere political plotting by disloyal Israelis, “encouraging terrorism.” Yet few, even in the military command, can believe that aerial bombing will stop Palestinian suicide bombings. The latest, in Haifa, which served as justification for the new Israeli offensive, killed 21. It was committed by a 27-year-old student lawyer with no known connection to Islamic Jihad, which claimed responsibility. Her brother and cousin had recently been shot dead by Israeli soldiers.

Sharon has always publicly professed two convictions: First is that Israel must expand into the occupied territories. He sponsored the colonization movement after the 1967 war, and on Thursday his government confirmed a decision to build 300 new West Bank housing units, despite its “road map” commitment to halt colonization. The second conviction is that military force prevails. “There has never been room in the Middle East for pity or mercy,” he told an Israeli audience Tuesday, adding, “every sign of weakness only invites new aggression.” A commentator in Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s biggest-circulation daily, asked, “Is it conceivable that some among us now consider the entire Palestinian population our target? Then there is no longer any limit.”

The mission of civilian repression has deeply affected the Israeli military. Martin Van Creveld, a military sociologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, writes that “the morale of the army has never been so low.” The military command has no strategic vision, he said. “Nothing it has done to defeat the Intifada has worked.”

There is a grave lesson in this for the U.S. Army in Iraq, which [according to the author ? ed.] now teeters on the wall separating liberation from repression. The official claim is that it is fighting attacks from remnants of a defeated regime and other enemies of democratic reform. Yet the number of daily attacks on U.S. forces has been rising.

Liberation has turned into a security problem. Force protection is sought by tracking down attackers, with penalties for the communities or tribal groups from which the “terrorists” come. Collective punishments have begun. Punitive destruction of crops and orchards of peasant communities has been carried out to force delivery of the names of relatives or fellow tribesmen thought to be members of resistance groups.

The American presence is criticised by many for blocking the Iraqis from taking control of their own affairs, whatever the obvious risks of civil disorder and conflict. But one undeniable reason for a prolonged occupation is to maintain U.S. control over Iraqi oil production and the economy. This may serve the interests of corporations notoriously well connected with the Bush administration. But it is not an American national interest. Least of all is it a national interest for the U.S. occupation to go down the Israeli road. Surely, that must be obvious.

Published Saturday, October 25th, 2003 - 08:33am GMT

Article courtesy of International Herald Tribune

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