Between Armageddon and Peace—Iraq and
the Israeli Occupation
Hanan AshrawiOctober 25, 2002
This article originally
appeared on CounterPunch at http://www.counterpunch.org/ashrawi1016.html.
It is no coincidence that the
most vociferous voice advocating a military attack on Iraq is that of
the Israeli Likud-led government and its spin machine.
In fact, if Ariel Sharon had his druthers, the US would oblige by conducting
Israel's proxy war against a long list of targets, including Iran, Syria,
Libya, Sudan and even Saudi Arabia (or at least a convenient fragmentation
and "regime change" there).
Warmongering had become such a favourite pastime of the Israeli establishment
that Sharon found himself uncharacteristically asking his cohorts to
tone down the rhetoric and curb their gleeful drum beating. In addition
to Iraq being viewed as a "strategic threat" to Israel, the
motives are diverse. They include the weakening of the Arab world, maintaining
Israel's "strategic superiority" in the region, imposing a
solution more favourable to Israel on a "defeated" Arab nation,
plus the further debilitation of the captive Palestinians and their
The flip side of the coin is the current Israeli preoccupation with
the question of "will he-won't he" (i.e., Saddam Hussein)
strike at Israel in the course of the war, particularly if he concludes
that "all is lost" and he has "nothing more to lose".
The "will we-won't we" (respond) argument seems to be rhetorical,
at best. Actually, the nature of the debate seems to be more in line
with "when" and "how" rather than "whether
While those who are openly in favour of a preemptive strike are in the
minority (particularly given the gigantic monkey wrench that this would
throw into the American machinery), there are still those who would
seek to join a war in progress.
To do so, they need a visible excuse such as another feeble missile
strike against Israel to justify its involvement under the pretext that
Israel has the right to "self defence" and that sitting idle
by would be construed as weakness and hence would weaken Israel's deterrent
ability in the eyes of the Arab world.
In fact, such a strike would play straight into the hands of this government
that had already threatened the use of nuclear weapons in such an instance
to the extent that Iraq would cease to exist as a state.
Furthermore, a major cause for concern among American warmongers has
become how to keep Israel out of the war and to keep it straining at
the leash rather than stampeding into the battlefield and fulfilling
doomsday projections of Armageddon.
To the Palestinians, however, the most prevalent doomsday scenario is
in Israel's exploitation of the world's preoccupation with war to carry
out its own endgame in Palestine.
Anti-war Israeli, international and Palestinian voices have repeatedly
cautioned against the "final solution" of "transfer",
or the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians through forced expulsions.
Given the nature of the discourse in Israel and the "legitimisation"
of racism and extreme measures advocated by military sources, pseudo-respectable
partners in the government, and thinly-disguised "think tanks",
such a course of action may not be as unthinkable as it seems.
Neighbouring Arab countries have taken this threat with sufficient seriousness
as to close down their borders with Israel/Palestine, particularly Jordan
and Egypt who had signed peace agreements with Israel and who would
view such expulsions as a declaration of war.
Israel, however, might be contemplating a variety of additional options
to complete is destruction of Palestinian reality. These would include
a further tightening of the already devastating siege by imposing long-term,
unrelieved curfews that would further exacerbate the economic, educational,
health and personal suffering of the Palestinians. Expulsion might take
on a more restricted and selective form by targeting "undesirable"
leadership figures and/or specified populations along the lines of the
Further violent measures might include massive "military operations"
in refugee camps, urban centres and more isolated rural areas including
vulnerable villages. A wholesale military assault on Gaza (as opposed
to the daily attacks or incursion by instalments) has been on the drawing
board for some time and is still being viewed as an option awaiting
the opportune moment of implementation.
The pretext for such drastic "operations" does not have to
be more than one incident of violence by a Palestinian individual or
group, or (as some Israeli spokespersons are hoping for) a misguided
show of support for Saddam by any Palestinian individual or group. In
all cases, the Palestinian people under occupation feel targeted and
vulnerable should the projected war against Iraq materialise.
The collective mood however is one of staying put—digging in of
heels and resisting any attempt at expulsion. Hence, one can discern
the resurgence of the spirit of "steadfastness", or sumoud,
that had characterised the earlier Intifada. Along with the conscious
rejection of any panic or fear response, the Palestinians are engaged
in a reevaluation of the most effective and acceptable forms of resistance,
thereby generating greater support for peaceful, popular resistance
and civil disobedience.
The return of a direct Israeli military occupation has also given rise
to the more constructive forms of resistance, including the establishment
of popular/support committees and other forms of community empowerment.
These certainly would be essential in any war scenario and regardless
of the course(s) of action adopted by the Israeli military forces and
With all that in mind, however, the most effective means of protection
and of preventing Israel from resorting to any drastic measures and
forms of insanity remains in the hands of the international community.
It has become imperative that European and American decision makers
finally reach the inevitable conclusion that a policy of more positive
and engaged intervention is required. Rather than piecemeal handling
or selective crisis management and partial damage control, the time
has come to fully engage in a comprehensive programme of on-the-ground
control. "Control" is translated as forces or troops along
with an army of civilian experts and professionals to carry out the
dual task of peace making/keeping and nation building.
Sharon, last week on yet another visit to the US to enhance his most
frequent White House visitor status, should have been given by the American
president a timely and unequivocal message: UN resolutions are adopted
to be implemented; violence against civilians will not be tolerated;
the last remaining military occupation cannot be allowed to last forever;
there are no unilateral or military solutions to the conflict; the US
"vision" of a two-state solution and the end of the June 5,
1967, occupation will be decisively carried out; Israeli military measures
(including the reoccupation, incursions, assassinations, mass detentions,
siege, daily killings and all other human and economic violations) must
cease; a global rule of law means full Israeli compliance.
Both Bush and Sharon must be called upon to understand that the question
is not a temporary and artificial calm before the new storm in the Gulf,
but a comprehensive and just resolution of the underlying causes of
conflict and instability that should have been addressed yesterday but
definitely must be addressed today if a disastrous breakdown is to be
Contrary to the scare tactics of the ideological right, the apocalypse
is neither an option nor an inevitability now.