Israel's action in assassinating Sheik Ahmed Yassin early Monday is one more nail in the coffin of any possible peace process, and, as time and events may show, a nail in the coffin of Israel itself.
Israeli spokespersons have pointed out the involvement of Sheik Yassin in a range of bloody suicide bombings, which claimed so many Israeli lives, most of them civilian. The fact that the Sheik was a quadriplegic and in no position to personally throw a bomb, hardly exempted him from moral responsibility for Hamas, of which he was the spiritual head.
However Israeli spokespersons - and the Western media - have not noted that Hamas was supported in its early days by Israel in hopes of undercutting Arafat and the PLO. Nor have these spokespersons explained why, if they had the power to engage in an "extra-judicial murder", they could not have arrested the Sheik and tried him in a court of law.
I have said for some time that Israeli actions have been, almost consistently, acts of folly, giving Israel short term benefits and leaving them with a long term disadvantage. (This goes back a very long way, to the Israeli support for the French side in the Algerian war, and the Israeli/French/British action in invading Egypt when
Nasser took over the Suez Canal. . . which has resulted in the Arab world seeing Israel as a colonial power, and seeing it as a direct threat to national sovereignty of surrounding Arab states).
In the short run Israel has strained US/Israeli relations, which is fine by me, but not what Israel desires. And in the short run there will be some flurry of random attacks which are not likely to do much damage to Israel. But, in part because Israel is, relatively, militarily secure, one must expect that the irrational furies unleashed by Israel will have a fall out in Western Europe and elsewhere, where Palestinians and their supporters will seek vengeance on innocent Jews far from Israel. This is not to the benefit of Jews anywhere, but it will increase the degree of anti-Semitism, which is flowing not from the historic roots of Christian anti-Semitism, but from the much more recent Muslim anti-Semitism.
(Let me anticipate my critics - yes, after the creation of Israel
there was a wave of expulsions of Jews from Arab states - but prior to that, for many centuries, the Muslim countries had a better record of providing a safe haven for Jews than Western Europe).
Internally, within Israel, Sharon's action may be of some immediate political benefit to a Prime Minister facing corruption charges, but surely wiser heads within Israel must realize that they have removed one of the few leaders among the Palstinians who could have made a cease fire work. Apologiists for Israel often ask, sometimes sounding sincere, "we would love to negotiate - but with whom can we negotiate?" Leaving aside the fact that present Isreali leaders have no interest whatever in negotiations, the bitter reality is they are eliminating those who would have had credibility if they had been any negotiations.
Israel depends for its survival on something more important than its "invinceable" military machine - it depends on some respect for law in - that is, some sense that it was created by valid legal processes. If it seems to be an illegal state, world support for its survival will sharply diminish. Any nation as tiny as Israel needs friends - and friends that can offer more than the tainted friendship of the United States, which has little control over Muslim feelings and actions.
Yet Israeli actions - ranging from the massacre at Jenin to the illegal wall being constructed to the present extraordinary extra-legal murder of the religious and political leader of Hamas - undermine not only public sympathy for Israel, but also undermine the sense that the State of Israel is legitimate. (Israel's defenders
argue that Jenin wasn't a massacre and I can only wonder why the bulldozing of a part of Jenin, and the killing of dozens of civilians, doesn't count as a massacre, but if half that number are killed by a suicide bomber in Israel it is a massacre?)
Israel, and its defenders in the US, will use any rise in Anti-Semitism to defend any actions Israel takes and to condemn any critical discussion of Israel as anti-Semitic. (I find myself in the odd position of being considered an anti-Semite because I'm sharply critical of Israel, and a Zionist apologist because I'm not critical enough.) The fact is that Israel today and its actions, are much more directly responsible for a rise in deep hostility to Israel than any efforts by old-fashioned anti-Semites. And those actions that offend a community of world opinion are the shooting of children, the murder of militants, the building of walls on Palestinian territory, and the determined effort by Israel to bypass any real discussion toward a peaceful settlement.
The logic offered for the criminal act today is that Israel wants
to withdraw from Gaza, and the murder of the Sheik and the continued heavy-handed military "intrusions" and killings in Gaza are a way of showing that when, suddenly, one early day in summer, all the Israeli tanks and troops unilaterally withdraw, it will be seen as a victory. I don't know what psychological world Sharon lives in, but it isn't, I believe, a real world. No matter when and how Israel leaves Gaza, the murder of a religious leader beloved by the Palestinians (and
hated by Israelis) will echo through the years to come.
For us on the "ground" in the US, we need to do three things.
1. Never to forget there are good and decent people in Israel who
work and live for peace, who have risked a great deal for peace, and that this is also true of Jews in the United States, many of whom are deeply committed to peace. It is not Jews that pose a problem - it is Israel.
2. At the political level raise the demand for an end of all US military and economic support for Israel. Bring this issue into the political forum everywhere.
3. Change the dialogue so that when we discuss states that have weapons of mass destruction, we include Israel, which has a substantial stockpile of nuclear weapons, and insist that any plans for international inspection must include Israel.