Without even watching the news (our satellite dishes were buried in the snow 48 hours ago) we can imagine that newspapers and TV stations around the world are running pictures of a snowy Jerusalem and Ramallah. Pastoral pictures of a snow covered Dome of the Rock and Wailing Wall, or perhaps a snow covered Israeli tank in Hebron, or Palestinian children throwing snowballs at Israeli soldiers.
What you won’t see on prime time are the thousands of Palestinians sitting in frozen homes and makeshift shelters (for those that have had their homes demolished by the Israeli military), economic deterioration in the Occupied Territories and insane levels of unemployment. For them, the snow is neither pastoral nor uplifting. Even if heating oil can get through the military blockades, people still can’t afford to heat their homes. Many are forced to scavenge wood and other combustibles in order to provide at least a minimal amount of heat in a vain attempt to thwart the sub zero temperatures.
Considering the coalition government that is being created following the elections in Israel, this bleak lifestyle for thousands of Palestinians is not likely to change any time soon. Thirsty for power, the ultra- secular Shinui Party has joined forces with the ultra-religious National Religious Party (NRP) whom are supportive of the settlers and uncompromising in terms of peace with Palestinians. In the past the leader of the NRP has been quoted as calling Palestinian Israelis (Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship) “cancer”. They are to be joined by the even further right “Nationalist Union”, a party that supports “transfer” (read ethnic cleansing) of Palestinians within Israel and the re occupied Palestinian Territories. Ten of the 120 Knesset seats will be filled by settlers, in spite of the fact that settlers make up only 3% of Israeli citizens. Together with Sharon they will make sure to bury any hopes of peace underneath blood stained snow covered rubble. One should not expect Sharon and his soon to be finalized government to move one inch further toward any solution that is not a military solution. It is now clear to anyone who had a doubt; a change in the miserable situation on the ground is not likely to come from within Israel. A leopard does not change its spots, neither will Sharon.
What we don’t understand, and apparently millions of people around the world don’t understand, is why focus on Iraq when the core regional conflict is solvable? Here and now, without war, without tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers, without the loss of thousands of lives, a conflict that can be ended by simple and firm U.S. pressure on Israel to move forward, similar to the pressure that has been relentlessly applied to the Palestinians. The four corners of the world know the endgame: two independent nation states, each free from military domination of the other, is not only possible, but inevitable.
If the U.S. wants to show true leadership of the “free world” then they should not be pushing for war in Iraq, a war that seemingly only serves the business agendas of certain individuals within the Bush administration. If they want to show leadership, they must rise to their moral, economic, and most of all, political responsibility to stop the Israeli-Palestinian cycle of violence and the systematic destruction of the Palestinian society by Sharon’s war machine. Annihilating a people has never worked in the past; waiting on the sideline to see if it can succeed today is the epitome of failure for the world community.
The snow will soon melt and the destroyed homes, bullet riddled walls, tank-rippled roads will re-appear, only to jog the collective memories of those Palestinians that remain the victims of this thirty-six year man- made tragedy called Israeli Occupation.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American living in the besieged Palestinian City of Al-Bireh in the West Bank and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is co-author of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994). Dr. Michael Dahan is an Israeli-American political scientist and professor living in Jerusalem and can be reached at email@example.com.