The Israeli-Palestinian conflict - politicide in progress
In January and February of 2003, there were no serious Palestinian attacks against the Israeli civilian population and no suicide bombers attacked Israel. This was an impossible situation from the Israeli government's point of view. Thus, early in the morning on Monday 3 March, 2003, Israeli tanks moved into the el-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, killing eight Palestinians, including two civilians - one of them a pregnant woman - and wounding 25 others. The pretext of the operation was the arrest of Mohammed Taha, 60, one of the founding members of Hamas in 1987. Taha's five sons - all senior Hamas activists - were also arrested. The Israeli operation was not confined to arrests and killings but also included destruction so severe that it deprived many families of shelter and basic belongs. The mass funerals, as expected by the Israelis, called for a revenge that no doubt will come and will lead to renewed attacks on Israeli civilians. That is well known rule of the game in this troubled region.
Since then, the Sharon government has taken advantage of the media and public attention to the Anglo-American assault on Iraq by launching additional operations that have killed an additional 95 Palestinians in March, 2003, making it one of the bloodiest months since operation "Defensive Shield" in March and April of 2002 when hundreds of Palestinians were killed during each of those two months.
Last Wednesday, a massive incursion into Tulkarem targeted its major refugee camp. After their invasion of the camp (before dawn), soldiers summoned all men aged 15-40 to the UNRWA school compound, which was turned into an "interrogation centre." Those "cleared" by interrogators, i.e. not declared "wanted," however, were not allowed to return to their homes, and ordered to leave the camp until further notice. Hundreds were put on lorries that took them outside the camp, hundreds of others walked by foot.
More recently, a massive demolition operation took place on Thursday, 3 April, in which 16 houses, all belonging to Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, were demolished using the pretext that the owners did not hold building permits.
However, this operation should be viewed in its wider context. Since the establishment of the first Sharon government, the Israelis deliberately adopted a new strategy to handle the so-called "Palestinian problem," a mixture of military, political and economic measures called Politicide. By politicide I mean a process that has, as its ultimate goal, the dissolution of the Palestinian people's existence as a legitimate social, political, and economic entity. This process may also but not necessarily include their gradual partial or complete ethnic cleansing from the territory known as the Land of Israel or the historic Palestine.
Since 1967, the territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip were gradually integrated into the Israeli economic and political systems. The territories were opened to Israeli products; their cheap labour force constitutes a significant portion of the non-skilled labour-market, and their lands were opened up for Jewish colonisation. Until the start of the Palestinian rebellion, usually known as the Intifada, in 1987, the Israelis enjoyed an unusually convenient situation that was accompanied by billions of dollars of American and other foreign aid that made the Israeli state one of the most prosperous in the world. All sectors of the Israeli society, including the Arab citizens and the Palestinian population, enjoyed this prosperity. Until the eruption of the first Intifada, this occupation without annexation yielded only benefits to Israel without any significant costs. But the Palestinian rebellion caused hidden internal contradictions in the Israeli political culture to surface: the tiny immigrant-settler society's hunger for land was in conflict with its aspiration to remain an exclusively Jewish state. The Zionist aspiration was always to acquire the maximum amount of land with the fewest possible Arab inhabitants.
Thus, Jewish Israelis were confronted with a dilemma. They discovered that the territory perceived to be the motherland of the Jewish people also contained a rapidly growing Arab-Palestinian population with its own aspirations for self determination and political rights. This population, together with the Arab citizens of Israel, de facto transformed the Jewish state into a bi-national entity even if the annexed population was not granted the right of full citizenship and access to social welfare programs. Today, in spite of the unprecedented immigration of more than one million non-Arabs (Jews and non-Jews) from the former Soviet lands, the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River contains about five million Jews (and non-Arabs) and 4.5 million Palestinians (citizens and non-citizens). Current demographic projections indicate that future population figures will favour the Palestinians and further imperil the slender Jewish demographic majority. By the year 2020, a total of 15.1 million persons will live on the land of historic Palestine with Jews being a minority of 6.5 million. Moreover, even within Israel itself, in about 20 years the Jewish population will be reduced from its current 81 per cent majority to a projected majority of barely 65 per cent.
Rabin and the so-called peace camp tried to solve this problem by giving up most of the territories together with their people. Rabin was assassinated because of this policy and since then, Jewish voters have expressed rejection, or at least ambivalence, toward this solution. Sharon's governments opted almost explicitly for politicide as an alternative to the Oslo approach.
Since 29 March, 2002, with the beginning of Operation Defence Shield, the Israel military reoccupied areas in West Bank and Gaza under the pretext of "destroying the infrastructure of terror." One after another, the major cities, refugee camps, and some villages were occupied. In most cases, all the civilian institutions including schools, ports, airports, roads, food warehouses, power plants, and water treatment facilities were systematically destroyed. The closures and the almost complete ban on movement between the Palestinian localities created a lasting and unbearable situation for the Palestinians.
Sharon's attacks on civilian institutions that have no connection to terrorism and his restrictions on basic human rights such as freedom of movement are part of an ongoing process of politicide that can only end in tragedy for both the Palestinians and Israelis, two peoples whose destinies are inextricably linked.
This article is based on the author's 'Politicide: Ariel Sharon's wars against the Palestinians' (Verso, 2003).