Israel’s Death Wish

By Joe MacAnthony

As described in our interview with Joe MacAnthony, the following article did not appear in the Sunday Independent in 2001.

Joe MacAnthony on the increasing possibility of a region wide war in the Middle East

As funerals ended at the Givat Shaul cemetery in Jerusalem for victims of the latest suicide bombing carried out by the extremist Islamic group Hamas, another cemetery on the Jewish state’s border with Lebanon was taking in 300 bodies as part of a ghoulish operation that hints at the expectation of more casualties in Israel’s ongoing conflict with the Palestinians and its other neighbours.

The bodies, neatly named and labelled by district are being re-interred near the village of Amiad after being dug up from two graveyards close to the more frequently shelled settlement of Kiryat Shemona. The cache of bodies consists of Palestinians and Lebanese guerrilla fighters who were killed in bloody border battles and in fights within Israel itself over the past few years.
The army spirited away this impressive array of corpses for use as buried hostages in the bargaining for the bodies of Israelis who have themselves been killed in combat. While the Israelis are currently trying to get back three captured soldiers whom they now believe are dead, the present large-scale move suggests they are preparing for more casualties in the months ahead.

This coffined transfer is only one more indication of just how dark the mood is in present day Israel. The country is now in what an Arab commentator calls ‘the worst pickle of its existence.’ The use of masked policemen yesterday to close down Orient House, the Palestinians only peace driven institution in Jerusalem, shows just how disoriented the Israeli government has become. The Middle Eastern cultural ritual of blow for blow continues to dominate policy even as it threatens to bring the house down in the process.

For the first time in present memory, the Israeli’s famed intelligence community is predicting a region wide war in 2002. Already, the Sharon Government has clashed with Syria, brushed off Egypian mediation and continued interference in Jordan. Now it has warned Lebanon that any further trouble along the border will lead to attacks on Beirut itself. The self defeating consequence of this approach – it usually involves wrecking the power grid, knocking out the water supply and thrashing an already frail road network – can already be seen in the reaction evoked when such attacks occur on the West Bank. It will fuel the Hamas intransigance, further weaken the moral underpinning on which the Israeli state depends and ultimately impel the reluctant Arab leaders of the surrounding states into a common resistance. Thus, we are pushed into self-fulfilment of that prophecy put forward by Israel’s own intelligence service.

There are many reasons why Israel has gotten itself into its present pickle. The primary and fatal mistake has been to mix a specious morality with reason. You cannot sustain a policy that justifies killing children on the West Bank on the one hand while condemning it when the murders occur in Jerusalem. Nor can you support Jewish settlers who seize Arab land on the West Bank while arresting Arabs who appeal peaceably for the return of their land on the other side of the line in Jerusalem.

And nowhere, under no law or circumstance, can you justify officially sponsored assassination. Its effect, given time, will come to haunt every member of the government that stood with it. Already it has blackened the good name of that honourable man, Shimon Peres, and turned him into the Albert Speer of the Sharon government.

Having said that, it remains necessary to offer a qualification. Inside Israel, I have seen and even today marvel at the remorseless and undeterred heroes who want the best not only for their own families but for their neighbours, the Palestinians. There are none braver than the Israeli lawyers, social workers, politicians, – men and women – who continue to work on in the face of terrible hostility to defend the Palestinian community against the continuous inroads on their rights and way of life. But talking softly and reasonably cannot be heard above a clamour like today’s. It takes a long time and periods of silence for the truth to sift through.

Today, every time Sharon sends out the assassination squads or orders the tanks to hurl their shells into Palestinian housing complexes, he has to know that this ritualistic practice of human sacrifice will not only bring death to those he regards as the enemy but also to those he loves. For when he condemns the Hamas extremists to death, he cannot ignore the fact that he is handing over his own Israelis, often women and children, to the same agonising deaths. It makes no sense, this ritual of an eye for an eye, when those who die have no say in the matter, when entire families are wiped out. But now it has a momentum of its own.

It’s enough to make one wish for a Second Coming. Or on a lesser scale, for that mythological figure in Jewish lore – the Just Man – to appear, preferably inside the present government.

Either way, you get the feeling that the tide is running the wrong way. And that sooner rather than later, something terrible is going to give.

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