[Introduction by Tom Engelhardt: Talk about plunging a region into a "cycle" of escalating violence -- the Israeli assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin has done just that in a major, completely predictable, perhaps even desired way. Already the rhetoric and the threats have gone stratospheric. Here, for instance, are just a couple of post-assassination comments from top Hamas leaders, as recorded by Bradley Burston in a grimly headlined piece in the Israeli paper Ha'aretz, Background: Who's Next? Israel's Most Wanted... And Hamas' (
"The same day [as the assassination], Hamas leaders issued a statement declaring that '
"Khaled Mashaal, the influential head of Hamas's political bureau, who himself narrowly survived a 1997 Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan, told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper Wednesday that 'Since the enemy has targeted our leadership... and a big symbol like Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, it is the right of the resistance to respond against the big Zionist heads.' Asked if
"In frank imitation - and contempt - of the U.S. campaign against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, Hamas on Tuesday began handing out playing cards showing Israeli officials whom it said would be targeted."
But of course, as journalist Amira Hass of Ha'aretz points out in her latest piece, Another Red Line Is Crossed, Israel's leaders are largely beyond Hamas's reach, though the Israeli public isn't, which is the same as saying that we know all too well what horrors lie in store. On the subject of crossing all lines in that strangely boundary-less land, Hass writes in part:
"You don't need intelligence reports to realize that as far as Hamas is concerned, Yassin's assassination can be considered a 'mega-attack' that will elicit a response of commensurate magnitude. Almost certainly, they will not succeed at getting to a high-ranking Israeli, threats notwithstanding. Conceivably, their objective could be a particularly high number of Israeli civilian casualties, instead. Israeli intelligence efforts are now focusing on exposing attempts to avenge Yassin's blood. These intelligence efforts will generate a succession of new deserving-of-death terrorists. Ten men suspected of planning? Twenty worthy of targeted assassination? Just how many people around them is it permissible to kill or injure? Eighty? One hundred?
"Sooner or later, the next reprisal terrorist attack will come. Eleven Israeli victims, or 19, dozens of wounded, harsh scenes from the hospital, suffering of the families -- these will prove the murderousness of the Palestinians, who kill Jews simply for being Jews. And this terrorist attack, or the one after it, which we will not forget and not forgive, will make it okay to cross another red line. On Monday, they waited for Yassin to leave the mosque. Is the day far off when the helicopter crew obeys an order to launch a missile or bomb at the mosque itself? After which it will be explained: there were four deserving-of-death terrorists inside, each with four armed escorts, and, anyway, the imam there refers to Jews as monkeys and pigs."
In the meantime, as Burston reports in the rest of his Ha'aretz piece, the Israeli leadership is expanding its own hit list and raising the threat level drastically. Though less reported here than the incendiary Hamas statements, the government of Ariel Sharon seems to be readying itself to make a mad dash for those "gates of hell" before they have any chance of closing. Here are just a couple of recent threats made by the top Israeli leadership:
Donald McIntyre began a piece in the British Independent 3/24/04 this way: "The Israeli military and political establishment vowed yesterday to eliminate the entire Hamas leadership as it defended itself against domestic and international criticism over the assassination of the faction's founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin."
While the Australian publication The Age reports ("Arafat Could Be Next Says General,"
"The chief of the Israeli army suggested yesterday that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah would eventually be assassinated by
Bloodcurdling hardly covers it. And escalating "cycles" of violence, while sounding like forces of nature, are, in fact, forces of human choice. This threatens to be a season in hell in a widening arc of Middle Eastern lands -- and, as in
The minute we heard the news, we knew it was bad. It was Monday morning. I was sitting at the breakfast table with our daughter Julia and a visiting friend, and my husband was grabbing a few more minutes of rest in bed. I sometimes have trouble understanding the radio headlines -- the broadcasters talk very fast and often use obscure vocabulary, but unfortunately you can't live here any length of time without learning the words for "assassination," "rocket," and "terrorist leader." Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, the militant, fundamentalist Palestinian movement based in
My husband jumped out of bed and started to curse. Our visiting friend couldn't get over the evil of attacking an 80-year-old quadriplegic cleric. I'm afraid -- because I suppose it's a sign of how living here can deaden one's ethical senses -- that my husband and I were mostly overwhelmed by the sheer, massive, criminal, reckless stupidity of the thing. And underneath it all, but not too far down, was -- is -- the fear. We are all targets now. People are going to die. There is no question about it. All you can do is try to make sure it's not your people. I canceled a scheduled trip to
All over Tel Aviv, the reaction was the same. Everyone we spoke to knew, instantly, vividly, without a shadow of a doubt what would come next. And sure enough, throughout the day the predicted pictures and headlines poured out on cue: thousands of Palestinians march in the streets and call for vengeance; hundreds of young men in the occupied territories sign up to be suicide bombers; world leaders condemn the attack; the Bush White House supports it (sort of). The dance is so predictable that it feels choreographed in advance. But there have been some surprises.
I am surprised at how empty all the buses are. Even after the worst of the bus bombings, Tel Aviv buses still stay pretty full. People actually seem to feel safer the day or two after an attack. But this time it's different. We all know we're now "before an attack"; the only question is whether it's going to be today, tomorrow, or next week.
I am surprised at how upset all our friends still are. Normally Israeli news cycles spin so fast that it takes barely thirty hours for life to return to normal, even after a bus bombing. But today -- three days after the news broke -- our friends continue to be visibly depressed and frightened. And - another big change - people are talking about it. Some indulge in black humor, imagining what the Defense Minister will say when the inevitable terror attack takes place: "This was calculated for. It's all part of our larger plan. We will all be safer in the long run." Others gently ask their friends, "How are you doing? How are your kids? Are you still planning on going to Jerusalem/the play/your relatives' house?" My husband reported that one vegetable seller in the shuk (outdoor market) gloated: "We got him!" But in general swagger seems to be in short supply on the streets of Tel Aviv this week.
I was truly surprised by a speech delivered by Prime Minister Sharon at the
There is surprisingly little outrage being expressed -- by Israelis, that is. (Outrage is all the Palestinians have left; they hug it to their bosoms as if it were their lost loved ones, and nurture it as if it were their children.) Commentators on TV yell until they're hoarse, but Israelis on the street seem more worried and disheartened than angry. I suppose that left-wingers never expected better from
One of the main reasons for the intense fear and distress evident everywhere here is that Passover is only two weeks away. Even if the calendar didn't say so, we would know it by looking out the window: spring has arrived in all its Levantine splendor. The weather mocks us, and the sun shines as if the world were young. But we all feel old. No one can forget Passover 2002, when a suicide bomber killed 28 people at a hotel Seder. My visiting friend, who has long been in despair at the
Sara Lipton, at present on sabbatical in Tel Aviv, teaches medieval history at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. She is the author of Images of Intolerance, a study of the representation of Jews in medieval Christian manuscripts. She's twice previously lived in
Copyright C2004 Sara Lipton
[This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing and author of The End of Victory Culture and The Last Days of Publishing.]