When a child is the enemy

Israel is currently facing a wave of violence unknown for more than a decade. Both unnamed and undefined, it has been characterized by bodies of Israelis lying in the street alongside bodies of Palestinian children who have been “neutralized” by Israeli security forces. In this critical time, when US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives to advance the promises made by Bibi Netanyahu to Barack Obama in Washington, the Israeli media have trouble showing interest, while the American media don’t mention the visit. Bibi reneged on the promises, leaving Kerry without function. It seems as if he was here to take in the surreal scene, peer into the eyes of the Palestinians and Israelis, mumble a few words for protocol, and report back to the president.

Obama, for his part, is much more concerned about another wave of terror raging in Europe. The insanity of the Republican presidential candidates competing amongst themselves as to who is more racist towards immigrants is driving Obama crazy. Kerry could recommend that Obama read Blindness by Jose Saramago to better understand what is going on in Israel. Because of his pressing schedule, it is unlikely that the president would accede to this suggestion until his term has ended.

Even before Kerry’s arrival in Israel, Netanyahu said in his blunt way that the US Secretary of State’s visit is undesirable and even harmful. If Kerry wants to speak about concessions to Palestinians, Netanyahu said, he should recognize the settlement blocs. This is the same obstructionism put forth by Netanyahu when he insisted that Abbas recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a condition for diplomatic talks. Netanyahu sets conditions which distance us from a political settlement but helps him to preserve his coalition, while the citizens of Israel pay the price in the form of stabbings and car-ramming.

Not only on the issue of peace, but also in matters of security, Netanyahu sanctifies the “do-nothing” approach. He rejected the demand to embark on “Operation Defensive Shield II,” alleging that it’s not necessary because Israel is already in Palestinian cities and can do as it pleases. Palestinian security forces are no longer a target. After all, they were “destroyed” during Operation Defensive Shield and resurrected by Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton in order to carry out a “sacred” security coordination with Israel. Netanyahu says there’s little point in laying siege to Abu Mazen, because he, unlike Arafat, opposes the intifada and, in any event, he has no replacement.

The problem is that Israel currently suffers from an excess of victories. Arafat was defeated during “Operation Defensive Shield”, Hamas was routed during “Operation Protective Edge”, Fatah is on the ropes, and Hamas is licking its wounds. Military operations have been exhausted because there are no targets left. It’s an ideal situation that allows Netanyahu to dream of an “economic peace”; right-wing Education Minister Naftali Bennett to dream of annexing Area “C”; and Defense Minister Ya’alon to dream of coexistence with an autonomous Palestinian Authority. All of them fantasize about crushing an opposition that talks about a two-state solution as if we were living in the nineties (according to Bennett). Now the right wing has pure power, for no leftist coalition partner is there to restrain it. Netanyahu will prove to the world, at last, how to tame the tiger and turn it into a kitten. If we remove the idea of an independent Palestine state from their heads, the Palestinians will finally agree to an economic peace. Because after all, what do people want? A livelihood! And what about independence and equality? These are luxuries that the Palestinians will just have to forego.

But they haven’t. From out of nowhere, rebellious girls and boys have popped up and channeled their youthful rebellion into indiscriminate, pointless attacks on Jewish citizens. It appears that it’s easier for Israel to defeat Fatah and clobber a fanatical movement such as Hamas than subdue the Palestinian youth’s desire for freedom. It can beat Khaled Mashal and Hassan Nasrallah, but it’s harder to beat Mark Zuckerberg.

These boys and girls are not Israel’s problem alone. They are equally worrying for the Palestinian Authority and its leadership. Children are not meant to set out on stabbing campaigns with knives and scissors. The Palestinian Authority needs to ask itself how it happened that, twenty years after the signing of the peace accords with Israel, Palestinian youth feel they have nothing to lose. This is more than a ‘badge of shame’ for Palestinian society, and especially its leaders. These children are not “heroes” but victims, victims of the failure of the Palestinian leadership to deal with the occupation. It is an indictment against those who marketed the illusion and false peace of Oslo. It is also an indictment against those who claim that Israel can be eliminated by Qassam rockets and tunnels. They now stand in their nakedness eulogizing the dead children and praising their bravery. What else is left to say when all they care about is prolonging their rule and fighting against each other?

How does Netanyahu deal with these kids? He punishes the families and those around them in the same way that impelled them in the first place to take to the streets armed with knives. He separates roads from roads, bus station from bus station, neighborhood from neighborhood, Jew from Arab by setting up concrete barriers and erecting more fences. Thus, inadvertently, the much touted “economic peace” and the fantasy of co-existence evaporate into the fog of the occupation. Some 800,000 Palestinians live from what their breadwinners earn in the settlements, in Israeli cities, and in Israeli agriculture. Although transparent, they are an integral part of the Israeli economy. And now what? Expel them to Gaza? Revoke work permits? Demolish homes? Stop and search indiscriminately? If there’s no peace, economic or political, then what’s left? The military occupation and a return to the nineties, a decade the right wing despises.

And what about Abbas? He’s not relevant. Without negotiations, all that remains for him to do is to sit in Ramallah and behold what is happening. He doesn’t encourage violence but he also doesn’t condemn it. He refrains from steps that might anger the US, or even the Israelis, and his police continue their war against Hamas in an effort to maintain their power. They do not go to the checkpoints to confront the Israelis and disappear when the Israeli army enters the cities and refugee camps. Israeli undercover units invade hospitals while shooting family visitors, but this is not the problem for Abu Mazen and his police force. It’s the problem of the hospital that didn’t bother to check the identity of an injured patient and did not alert the Israeli army to come and arrest him. Indeed, hospitals in Tel Aviv are committed for humanitarian reasons to helping Palestinians wounded in violent actions, but hospitals in Jerusalem or Hebron are not permitted by the IDF to do so.

No matter what you call it – Intifada, a wave of violence, an outburst of rage – it is clear that we are dealing with a new reality. In his heart of hearts, Netanyahu hopes that this wave will pass quickly, and be forgotten, as all wars and victims are eventually forgotten. Abbas is also waiting for the wave to pass, like a man condemned to death with a rope tightening around his neck. Fate is decided not only by Netanyahu but also by Palestinian children who have lost all hope for a better future.

Abbas hopes a miracle will happen, that the Israelis will understand finally that the right wing is leading them to disaster, and the Israelis will have their own intifada. Or alternatively, Knesset member Oren Hazan will freak out and finally bring down the government, or Netanyahu will decide to return to a partnership with the Labor Party and resume the peace process, which is the Labor Party’s sole reason for existence. However, judging by Kerry’s recent visit, there is little Abu Mazen can expect. Israelis and Palestinians are approaching the moment of truth. Their leaders have failed to lead them toward a solution and, sooner or later, all of us will have to live with the consequences.

– Translated from the Hebrew by Bob Goldman

About Yacov Ben Efrat