What has happened to the Chief-of-Staff, Lieutenant-General Moshe (“Bogie”) Ya’alon?
Until recently, he was the most aggressive hawk in the army, perhaps in the whole country. Suddenly he is almost turning into a dove.
Has he had a divine revelation like Rabbi Saul of Tarsus, who went to Damascus to persecute the Christians and arrived there as an apostle of Jesus?
Up to now, Ya’alon’s gospel was far from the teachings of the gentle Jewish preacher from Nazareth. His doctrine was: Hit the Arabs on the head and they will give in. If that isn’t enough, hit them harder. Make the life of every single Palestinian unbearable, prevent him from leaving his village or town, destroy the livelihood of his family, take his land away.
This was an almost mathematical formula: when one blow follows the other, the lives of the Palestinians will reach breaking point. They will not be able to resist. They will raise their hands, lower their heads and accept everything the government of Israel is good enough to offer them. They will turn over their fighters (“terrorists” in the parlance of the occupation, “national heroes” in the parlance of the occupied.) They will live in the enclaves Israel allows them, or look for a better life in another country.
Now, suddenly, the C-o-S distances himself from this strategy. He tells the public that the government’s policy–whose staunchest supporter he has been–is “destructive”. Instead of liquidating terrorism, he says, it produces terrorism. The lives of the Palestinians must be eased, they must be given hope.
So what has happened?
The first part of the plan has worked beyond expectation. The life of the Palestinians has indeed become hell. Most of them live below the poverty line, many on the threshold of hunger, some in an actual state of hunger. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children suffer from malnutrition. Every village has become a prison camp, completely surrounded by roadblocks. Traffic is well-nigh impossible. Many Palestinians cannot reach their place of work, hospital, university or school or bring their produce to market. Israeli troops prowl in the towns and villages, demolishing homes, arresting or killing activists and, at the same time, women and children, too. The distant sound of an airplane engine is enough for the whole population to hold their breath.
In this sense, all of Ya’alon’s aims have been achieved. It would be difficult to imagine a more terrible situation, barring actual massacres. According to plan, the Palestinians should have broken a long time ago.
But, wonder of wonders, this has not happened. The Palestinians have not given in. They have managed to exist even in these appalling circumstances. The mutual assistance of all the members of the extended Arab family has helped. Moreover, the great majority of the Palestinians continue to support the violent attacks (“terrorism” in the parlance of the occupation, “armed resistance” in the parlance of the occupied.) The suicide bombers are viewed with pride and admiration. For every “martyr” who blows himself up, a hundred are pressing to follow in his footsteps.
The only discussion among the Palestinians is whether they should go on with suicide attacks inside Israel or limit themselves to attacking settlers and soldiers in the occupied territories.
It seems that Ya’alon and his generals have reached the conclusion that their campaign has failed. Any further pressure on the Palestinians will be counter-productive: producing more hatred, more hostility. So there will be more attacks, compelling the army to mobilize more troops and invest more resources, without achieving anything.
Ya’alon the Hawk turns into Ya’alon the Pseudo-Dove. But his new remedy, too, is based on false assumptions: Instead of “hit them on the head” it is now “ease their situation”. How? Allow some thousands to work in Israel? Let some hundreds of merchants into Israel to buy Israeli goods? (The Israeli economy could certainly use that.) Remove some roadblocks here and there? Use the stick less and the carrot more?
That, too, is a recipe for a predictable failure. Because, like the old recipe and all the false forecasts along the way (Remember Yom Kippur!) it is based on a bottomless contempt for the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular. But, as the extreme right-wing Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky already understood some 80 years ago: you can’t buy the Arabs off. Changing total hell into a less than total hell will not induce them to give up their national goals.
Even if the occupied territories turn into a paradise on earth and the military government provides every male inhabitant with 70 virgins (as promised for the Islamic paradise), the Palestinians would still want an end to the occupation. They want a state of their own in the whole of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
But the “easing” promised by Ya’alon will be far from creating paradise. It will be like a drop of water on a hot stone. And in the meantime, the monstrous “security wall” is daily destroying the livelihood of thousands more people, robbing them of their land and cutting them off from the world.
Ya’alon is not suffering from a sudden attack of humanity. He senses that the Israeli public is gradually turning away from his strategy. Even laymen are starting to realize that he has failed. Ya’alon is changing course because the public is starting to change course.
A man of principle would go to the Prime Minister, put his general’s insignia on the table and declare: “Sir, I have failed. I resign. And, by the way, Sir, I would advise you to do the same.”
URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s hot new book The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He can be reached at: email@example.com.