Bombing Syria

Israel made a wise decision when it decided to bomb Syria on October 5th. As a result, the Palestinian terrorist organization Islamic Jihad has called a halt to all suicide bombings. The parents of the 29-year-old female suicide bomber who blew herself up inside Maxim’s restaurant in Haifa on Saturday have sent a letter of apology to the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, and to the Mayor of Haifa. In their letter they state explicitly that they would have expected no more fitting a punishment than the demolition of their family home, the measure taken by the IDF after the bombing, and that they are saddened and bewildered by their daughter’s action. “We accept our displacement with dignity and take upon ourselves full responsibility for our daughter’s senseless action,” they wrote. In response to this unprecedented letter, Israeli military authorities stationed outside Jenin offered relatives of the dead woman a thirty-minute reprieve from all travel restrictions, issuing them temporary passes for free travel throughout the northern West Bank if curfew is lifted within the next 24 hours.

For its part, Syria has issued an ultimatum to Palestinians residing within its borders. They must shut down all media offices and possible terrorist training camps within the week. Failure to take immediate action will result in a house-to-house search and arbitrary arrests in order to clamp down on any suspected or potential terrorists. A poll taken just after the bombing outside Damascus this past weekend revealed that more than 90% of the Syrian public has softened its stance towards Israel. Surveys showed they admire the militancy of Ariel Sharon and the no-negotiations policy he has pursued with their government. More and more Syrians believe that normalizing relations with Jerusalem would be a welcome step as their acceptance of the Jewish state has increased dramatically especially in the last three years. Issues such as Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights and its military presence on the Syrian-Israeli border no longer create resentment in the popular mind. Some of the respondents even suggested that an Israeli-sponsored coup against Syrian President Bashar al-Asad with a corresponding restructuring of their government along the lines of the United States’ backed governing council in Iraq could help pacify and stabilize the entire region.

In an unprecedented move at the recent United Nations Security Council meeting in New York, Damascus offered to deploy troops along Iraq’s northwest border and to begin joint military exercises with the Israeli Defense Forces to combat Palestinian terror in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.

Other developments have been equally encouraging: Speaking to an audience of thousands in Beirut, Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah condemned its members’ firing of rockets across the border into Israel. The time had come, he reportedly said, to move forward. Though a relatively small political organization with limited representation in the government, Hizbullah would henceforth seek to establish diplomatic ties with Israel, Nasrallah announced. It also hoped to send delegates to the Knesset in the near future for democracy and civil liberties training courses.
In a rare display of Arab political savvy, Nasrallah publicly refused further monetary aid from any rogue elements in Syria and from Iran asking instead that Tehran take the next step towards regional peace by shutting down its two nuclear facilities known to be producing weapons-grade plutonium. “One nuclear power in the region is sufficient,” he said. Al-Manar television, owned and operated by Hizbullah, broadcast Nasrallah’s speech throughout the Middle East causing jubilation in places as far away as Yemen.

Hizbullah negotiators in Beirut have meanwhile introduced a resolution calling on Lebanese president Emile Lahoud to offer Israel exclusive water rights to the Litani River and direct access to areas north of Baalbek. International observers are expecting a positive response from Lahoud now that Damascus has voluntarily begun pulling its troops out of Lebanon. At the same time, President Lahoud has begun talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri approving Hariri’s desire to seek bids from outside contractors eager to aid in the post-war reconstruction of Beirut. A new, four-lane highway lined with luxury resorts and old-style Lebanese villas along the Mediterranean is being planned to replace the unsightly, run-down and overcrowded refugee camps poisoning the landscape from the Beirut airport on into upscale West Beirut. Investors are convinced that Lebanon’s economy will benefit greatly from an increase in tourism and a beautified and sanitized infrastructure.

While it is too soon to know for certain, analysts are projecting equally positive developments within the territories still disputed by Israel and Palestinians as a result of last Saturday’s bombing. Reports from inside Gaza indicate that Hamas leaders have initiated a political restructuring that could result in the abolition of their military wing. The recent escalation of Israel’s targeted assassination policy against terrorist leaders caused widespread Palestinian anger towards the Strip’s largest and most popular Islamic organization. Many former Hamas members voluntarily turned in their weapons renouncing Hamas leaders for their failure to concede the justice of Israel’s cause and its armed incursions, shootings, and destruction of property throughout the Gaza Strip. “Attempting to stop acts of self-defense sends the wrong message,” commented one man whose family now live in a temporary UNRWA-provided tent at the edge of a destroyed neighborhood in Khan Yunis.
In a separate act of defiance, Palestinian farmers near Deir al-Balah went out every night for a week to uproot their own olive and citrus groves so that the over-worked teams of Israelis could have a short reprieve. The villagers are donating produce left on the trees to the Jewish settlers in nearby Gush Katif, an effort to demonstrate genuine Arab hospitality.

Further south, scores of young men daringly approached the Rafah-Israel border this week offering outstretched hands to Israeli soldiers patrolling the area. Although soldiers shot and killed six young Palestinian men and wounded 14 others before realizing why the latter had come, they were happy to learn that the local municipal leadership in Rafah had organized teams of men to search the remaining homes on the Rafah-Egypt border and to fill in any tunnels still used for weapons’ smuggling. Chagrined that they had killed six of the peace-seekers, an Israeli officer ordered one of his bulldozer operators to bury the bodies under the rubble of nearby destroyed homes, saving their families the time and expense of elaborate funerals.

Not surprisingly, in his wrecked compound in Ramallah, Yassir Arafat is said to be holding high-level meetings with his closest advisors. Israeli intelligence sources claim to have tapped into one conversation in which the Palestinian leader expressed bewilderment that his people were disobeying his orders for the immediate escalation of terror throughout Israel. A high-ranking Israeli military official, who wishes to remain anonymous, announced that Israel would nevertheless proceed with steps to expel Arafat to the Spanish Sahara. Mossad operatives stationed in the West African nation are scheduled to return to Tel Aviv by the end of November making Arafat’s transfer there in the near future imperative.

But in Gaza City, Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi spoke on Al-Jazeera after relieving his newest bodyguard of duty. Rantisi offered to give himself up to Israeli authorities at Erez if they promised to leave Hamas’ spiritual leader, Sheikh Yassin, alone. Rantisi now faces a life sentence in an Israeli prison close to Nes Tsiona. Family members might be allowed to visit him, we are told, but have been cautioned to purchase gas masks before entering any ward since prison guards, practicing state-of-the-art subduing techniques on their prisoners, routinely spray an agent similar to nerve-gas into the prison cells before beating up unrepentant convicts. [The Israeli Supreme Court recently ruled that these guards, however, must not kill any unconscious victims as that constituted cruel and unusual punishment inconsistent with the Jewish State’s humanitarian track record. Pundits in the US have uniformly lauded this case as yet another example of Israel’s moral and legal superiority over its Arab neighbors and even some western European nations.]

Reporters have confirmed that the elderly Sheikh Yassin will pay tribute to Rantisi by organizing “civil obedience” measures at all checkpoints in the disputed territories. Adult males are to line up and voluntarily strip themselves submitting to searches as they pass from blockade to blockade. In order to help stimulate the Israeli economy deliberately ruined during the Intifada, hundreds of men and boys plan to accept low-paying construction jobs within the West Bank in order to speed up completion of the giant security wall. A well-known scholar at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah has begun a detailed report on the advantages of isolated, walled-in villages for maintaining civic pride and good behavior. His study, “The Palestinian Archipelago” may serve as the model for the next US-sponsored peace initiative aimed at reconciling Greater Israel with Palestinians.

As expected, neo-conservative leaders in Washington are applauding the simultaneous successes of the Bush-Sharon power consolidation efforts in the Middle East. Incidentally, government officials are using the occasion of their overseas achievements to urge the public to support the re-examination of outdated civil liberties codes such as the Bill of Rights and to consider having a national referendum on the so-called Constitution. The National Security Council in conjunction with the Israeli military leadership are meanwhile drawing up contingency plans for the co-bombing of Cairo, Sana’a, Amman, Tehran, and Riyadh, an act of superpower-client sponsored self-defense unprecedented in modern history.

JENNIFER LOEWENSTEIN lives in Madison, Wisconsin. She spent a good part of the last three years in Palestinian refugee camps in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Lebanon. She is a member of the Palestine/Israel Peace & Justice Alliance (PIPAJA) and a founder of the Rafah-Madison Sister City Project. She can be reached at: jsarin@facstaff.wisc.edu



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Jennifer Loewenstein is a human rights activist and faculty associate in Middle East Studies at at Penn State University.  She can be reached at: amadea311@earthlink.net

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