Sharon’s Preemptive Zeal

by NEVE GORDON

No more than a month ago I sat with a friend drinking coffee at the Hillel Cafe in Jerusalem. Today it is a shattered edifice, with blood stains on the floor. Indeed, this was the first thought that crossed my mind after hearing the news about the horrific suicide attack that left another 7 Israelis dead and 45 wounded. "I could have been there," I said to myself.

It is a frightening thought, one that has crossed the mind of many an Israeli, particularly since the eruption of the second Intifada in September 2000 — a period in which 244 suicide attacks have been carried out. Just as disturbing, though, is the thought that this bloody reality has been accepted by the Israeli public as part of their daily routine; so much so that the same people who are terrified to leave their homes now consider Israel’s gory mode of existence as their karma, as if the political realm were in some odd way predetermined.

But politics, as the great Jewish thinker Hannah Arendt repeatedly stated, is the realm of freedom, where humans actually have the opportunity to begin something new through speech and deed. Even "in the epochs of petrifaction and foreordained doom," she claimed, the faculty of freedom, "which animates and inspires all human activities and is the hidden source of production of all great and beautiful things" usually remains intact.

What Israelis and Palestinians have been witnessing in the past few weeks is a concerted effort to destroy the road that might have led the two peoples out of a foreordained doom and into a new beginning. Notwithstanding the impression some people might have, this myopic effort has been led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, not only by Hamas. His strategy is one of preemptive strikes.

Approximately two months ago, the different Palestinians factions decided to implement a houdna (ceasefire in Arabic) and to stop attacking Israeli targets. Despite the fact that numerous militant groups operate without a central command in the Occupied Territories, for almost a month and a half the houdna managed to hold up. While one assault was perpetrated in the West Bank by a small splinter group, the violence had subsided and it appeared as if serious negotiations would resume.

Then, suddenly, as if out of the blue, the Israeli military invaded Askar refugee camp, killing four Palestinians, including two members of Izzeddin Al-Qassam, Hamas’ military wing. The operation was a preemptive strike, the Israeli spokesman explained.

The Palestinians decided not to retaliate.

Less than a week later, on August 14, Israeli troops entered Hebron and killed a member of the Islamic Jihad. Another preemptive attack. Only this time the Palestinians did respond, and on August 19 a suicide bomber exploded inside a public bus. Israel, in turn, used its forces to carry out a series of extra-judicial executions, and now a month after the preemptive assault on Askar camp, the streets between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean Sea are once again covered with blood.

The logic of preemptive strikes, however, does not merely inform Sharon’s policy of extra-judicial executions; it is the logic that has informed his actions throughout his military and political careers.

Three examples will have to suffice: the Jewish settlements, the Lebanon War, and the separation wall.

Sharon is considered by many to be the father of Israel’s unruly settlement project. He earned this title while serving as Minister of Agriculture during Menachem Begin’s first government. Sharon had hoped to become Defense Minister and was disappointed when Ezer Weizmann received the appointment, but minor details of this kind have never stopped him from pursuing his goals.

Weizmann opposed the settlement project and opined that Israel should withdraw from the territories within the framework of a peace accord. Sharon, on the other hand, believes in the Greater Israel, and, in order to preempt the possibility of any future agreement based on land for peace, he initiated, as the chair of the government’s Settlement Committee, a massive settlement enterprise. Whereas Israel built 20 settlements between 1967 and 1976, within less than four years Sharon managed to build close to 50 new settlements, totally changing the landscape of the West Bank.

In August 1981, Sharon became Defense Minister. Four years earlier, he had told an Israeli reporter that "the Arab states are swiftly preparing for war, and we are sitting on a barrel of explosives wasting our time on nonsense. The Arabs," he continued, "will launch a war in the summer or the fall." The war did not come, at least not until Sharon assumed office.

The story of how Sharon led Israel into Lebanon, hoping to establish a puppet government in order to preempt attacks from the north, is by now well known. When Israel finally withdrew its forces 20 years later, thousands of civilians and soldiers lay buried in the ground, hundreds of thousands of people had been displaced, and much of Lebanon was in shatters, but Sharon held on to the logic of the preemptive strike.

Not unlike the settlement project, Lebanon War, and extra-judicial executions, the separation wall should also be conceived as a preemptive attack. While Sharon declares that the wall is being built solely for security reasons, he neglects to say that it is not being erected on the 1967 borders, and is actually being used as an extremely effective mechanism to expropriate Palestinian land and create facts on the ground so as to preempt any future agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Its effect is not less violent than the assassinations and suicide bombings. Already in this early stage, the wall has infringed on the rights of more than 210,000 Palestinians, some of whom now live in ghettos between the wall and Israel.

The crux of the matter is that Sharon’s preemptive logic undercuts all form of dialogue and negotiations. Its rule of thumb is violence, and then more violence, whether it manifests itself as a military attack or as an aggressive act of dispossession. So while it may seem that the bloody routine is in some way preordained, it is actually Sharon’s preemptive zeal alongside Hamas’ and Islamic Jihad’s fundamentalism that has clouded the horizon and concealed, as Arendt might have said, the possibility for a better future.

NEVE GORDON teaches politics and human rights at Ben-Gurion University, Israel, and has written about the outsourcing technique within the Israeli context for the Journal of Human Rights. He can be reached at ngordon@bgumail.bgu.ac.il

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 04, 2015
Vincent J. Roscigno
University Bureaucracy as Organized Crime
Paul Street
Bernie Sanders’ Top Five Race Problems: the Whiteness of Nominal Socialism
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is White Supremacy a Mental Disorder?
Ramzy Baroud
The Palestinian Bubble and the Burning of Toddler, Ali Dawabsha
Pepe Escobar
Reshuffling Eurasia’s Energy Deck — Iran, China and Pipelineistan
L. Michael Hager
The Battle Over BDS
Eric Draitser
Puerto Rico: Troubled Commonwealth or Debt Colony?
Colin Todhunter
Hypnotic Trance in Delhi: Monsanto, GMOs and the Looting of India’s Agriculture
Benjamin Willis
The New Cubanologos: What’s in a Word?
Matt Peppe
60 Minutes Provides Platform for US Military
Binoy Kampmark
The Turkish Mission: Reining in the Kurds
Eoin Higgins
Teaching Lessons of White Supremacy in Prime-Time: Blackrifice in the Post-Apocalyptic World of the CW’s The 100
Gary Corseri
Gaza: Our Child’s Shattered Face in the Mirror
Robert Dodge
The Nuclear World at 70
Paula Bach
Exit the Euro? Polemic with Greek Economist Costas Lapavitsas
August 03, 2015
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington