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It's the Occupation



 By Sam Bahour and Michael Dahan*

In the wake of the horrific suicide bombings in Israel over the last 48 hours hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made his address to the nation  as he simultaneously increased, by yet another step, Israel's part of the  violence in the ensuing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Sadly, no  end is in sight and it is likely to get worse, much worse. If this statement  sounds like a broken record, it's because it is. 

The suicide attacks, brought on by the deplorable Israeli policy of yet another state sanctioned extra-judicial assassination of a Hamas member last week, have brought Israelis and the Palestinians to the brink of total war. Unfortunately, neither Israel nor the US Administration has come to their senses to realize that, after 34 years of military Israeli occupation, the  burning question is not why was there another suicide bomb attack, but  rather, why there are not more? 

Some things in life are either right or wrong. Slavery and Apartheid were  wrong. Not wrong until African Americans proved their worthiness of  freedom. Not wrong until South Africans reached the brink of annihilation.  No. These historical flaws were not partially wrong; not debatably wrong,  they were outright outcasts to humanity, each worthy of abrupt termination.  The Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem  joins these ranks, albeit this historic wrong comes during an era of media  clips, political spin, and satellite TV. Nevertheless, the time has come for  the world community to bring Israeli occupation tumbling down, and with its  fall will be the start of the end of the breeding grounds that suicide bombers  feed upon. 

More and more voices are being heard within the Israeli leadership to either  kill Arafat or to remove him from the area, and to 'topple' the Palestinian  Authority. Most Israelis are now firmly convinced that there is absolutely "no  partner" for peace, nor is peace possible. Naively, the Israeli public is taking  security refuge in the graphic missile attacks on Palestinian cities while  forgetting that for each missile fired into Palestinian neighborhoods more and  more potential suicide bombers make the decision to take innocent lives  while taking their own. Destroying Arafat's helicopters will not bring hope to  the growing number of Palestinians who have equated life under occupation  to death. 

The Israeli side must realize that the solution for the occupation is not, nor  can it ever be, more occupation, more bombings, and more state  assassinations. It is the occupation itself and the closures and the resultant  levels of poverty, unemployment and utter despair that provide a fertile ground  for the recruitment, deployment and support of suicide bombings and terrorist  attacks. It is the senseless death of children and adults that are feeding the  flames of hatred on both sides. 

As the legitimate elected representative of the Palestinian people, Arafat  must make sure that his voice and intentions are clear, and that there is a  national, not only personal, strategy for working toward a negotiated  agreement. It is up to Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to convince the  Palestinian and Israeli public that there is indeed hope for an agreement, that  there is indeed a future neighbor on the Palestinian side. Much of the action  needed to make this conviction a reality are the same issues that are being  called for by Palestinians themselves, the establishment of rule of law,  accountability of decision making and collective leadership - in other words,  concrete progress toward the competency to establish a viable state.  Occupation being 100% wrong does not give credence to chaotic, non- transparent development and solo leadership. 

The only way to break the brutal circle of violence is to end the occupation  immediately, unilaterally if need be, institute a peacekeeping force in the  West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and to begin to dismantle the settlements.  The only solution that we can see is the establishment of an independent  Palestinian state along the lines of the 1967 borders, with a capital in East  Jerusalem, and to work toward a just, fair and creative solution for the right of  return for the Palestinian refugees. The occupation, as such, is evil. Further  occupation as being proposed now by senior decision-makers on the Israeli  side would only increase that evil, raise the stakes on both sides, and the  past 48 hours will repeat endlessly. 

December 3, 2001 

* Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American living in the besieged Palestinian City of Al-Bireh in the West Bank. 
 Michael Dahan is an Israeli-American political scientist living in Jerusalem. 

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