In recent days, the IDF and armed groups of Palestinians have displayed a common interest in presenting a distorted picture of reality. Both sides are greatly exaggerating when they talk about “Palestinian military resistance” to the IDF incursions into the refugee camps – and yesterday into Ramallah – referring to “battles” and “firefights.”
But in Qalqiliyah and Deheisheh, where a conscious and level headed decision was taken not to take part in the show called “resisting and repelling the military invasion,” the military could not talk about a “battle” or “combat.” Nonetheless, when it was reported that two Palestinians were killed in Qalqiliyah, there was an automatic slip of the tongue and it was said they “died in a fire fight.” But there were no such battles in the town.
That doesn’t mean that in some of the camps, and now, in Ramallah, armed Palestinians did not try to respond with fire to the Israeli forces. But the heavy price paid by the families of those IDF soldiers killed in the recent raids helps erase the real picture – the IDF is not conducting battles in the territories. At most, the IDF, with all its sophisticated advanced weaponry, has encountered a few groups and individuals armed with much inferior weaponry and with only the most elementary military training in combat tactics.
For the armed groups, it is important to present their actions as an “uprising.” They confuse their desire to pick up weapons and die for what they are convinced is their war of independence, and the results of their readiness to battle one of the strongest armies in the world.
For the IDF and the Israeli government it is important to speak about fighting, and to give the impression that both sides are equals, thus burying the fact that most of the Palestinian dead are civilians or members of the security forces, who, even if they were armed, stayed out of the fighting. And it is especially important for the army and government to bury the fact that the IDF in the territories is an occupying power. Only thanks to its far superior strength is Israel able to continue controling the lives of three million Palestinians, guaranteeing the existence of the settlements on the Palestinians’ land.
The gap between the bragging by both sides – the IDF’s and the armed Palestinians – and the limited achievements, on the Palestinian side, of their guerrilla attacks on soldiers, is what pushes most Palestinians into support for the suicide bombers inside Israel and against Israelis. These lethal attacks are perceived as the only significant response to IDF actions deep inside civilian Palestinian populations. But they are also an admission of the limits of the armed resistance to the Israeli occupation.
Most Palestinians know their youths are bragging. But apparently in Israel, the belief that the IDF is indeed involved in a war, in other words, in something “symmetrical,” is based on the fact Israelis like to regard the Palestinian Authority as a sovereign political entity.
That wrong impression has deep roots in the years of the Oslo process, and a distorted view of reality that was fostered in Israel during those years. Israel very quickly got rid of its civic duties to the occupied population, which remained occupied because the IDF remained the sovereign in all the 1967 areas. It was called “transferring civilian authority.” The PA was given responsibility for civic affairs, like sewage, education, and road building, for three million Palestinians. Thus, the Israeli and Western public could believe there had been an “end to the occupation.”
But Israel – and the West – paid no attention to the fact, it was administrative control over people, without authority over most of the area in which they lived, and without any room for development, a requirement for every government. Israelis and the West also did not notice – or know – that nearly every administrative function by the PA required approval by the Israeli authorities. Israel and the world saw the outer trappings of sovereignty – a flag, an airport, jails, security forces, and show trials – as proof that Palestinian sovereignty had been established. Forgotten was the fact that Israel controled – and continues to control – all the external borders, the passages inside the West Bank and from it to Gaza and back, the water sources, the economy, the movement of population into the territories, and the registration of the Palestinian population.
Like the partnership between the IDF and the armed Palestinian fighters who make claims of “battles” when there were none, so did the partnership between Israeli governments and the Palestinian leadership want to present the PA areas as politically independent, describing Area A as “free of occupation.” The second intifada was a direct result of that false portrayal of reality.
Continued Israeli control did not disturb and still does not disturb the Israeli public from regarding the “autonomous” areas of the limited, fragmented, cantonized, territory, which has been splintered into enclaves cut off from one another, as a “state.” A “state” with equal responsibility – indeed more – than its “neighbor,” Israel, but without equal rights. A “state” that is perceived as an aggressor. Thus, we’ve reached the point where the occupied are being told it is up to them to guarantee the peace and security of the occupiers.
Amira Hass writes for the Israeli daily Ha’aretz.