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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?mador=4&datee=3/11/01&id=112957

Defining violence

By Gideon Levy, Ha'aretz 03/11/2001


Who's a terrorist? Aida Fatahia was walking in the street; Ubei Daraj was playing in the yard. She was the mother of three; he was nine years old. Both were killed last week by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) bullets, for no reason. Their killing raises once again, in all its horror, the question of whether Palestinian violence is the only violence that should be called terrorism. Is only car bombing terrorism, while shooting at a woman and child is not? Fatahia and Daraj join a long list of men, women, and children who were innocent of wrongdoing and killed in the past five months by the IDF. In the Israeli debate, their deaths were not a result of "terror actions" or "terrorist attacks" and the killers are not "terrorists." Those are terms used only for Palestinian violence.

The right - and the left - in Israel always make that distinction: Palestinian violence is terrorism; Israel only defends itself. The huge gap between the numbers of innocent victims on both sides doesn't change this one-sided definition. IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz, commander of an army that has killed almost 90 children in the last five months, calls the Palestinian Authority (PA) a "terrorist entity," and totally ignores the actions of the army - and the results of those actions.

But the questions must be asked: Aren't massive land expropriations, systematic house destructions, the uprooting of orchards and groves, also a form of violence? Isn't cutting off entire towns and villages from their source of water a type of violence?

Isn't limitation on freedom of movement by slicing whole areas of the population off from each other and denying medical attention to the residents - even when it's a matter of life and death - any less painful than highway shootings?

A pregnant woman whose baby dies or a patient who died because they couldn't get to the hospital - something that has become almost routine in the territories - aren't they victims of terrible violence? What about the behavior of soldiers and police at checkpoints, on the roads, everywhere? The humiliations and beatings, and the settler's own violence against Palestinians - what should that be called?

For most Israelis, the violence is what the Palestinians are doing to us. The Israeli reaction is always just a reaction, much more fatal, perhaps, but a lot less ruthless. They blow up bombs in our markets, and we only shoot at the planners, the inciters, and the terrorists.

So, sometimes chips may fly, as the saying lately goes, and some innocents are also killed, but of course, nobody meant it. That's just the way things are in war. That way, Israel always comes out the winner: It doesn't intend to kill innocent people. But does the intention matter to the many victims?

Israelis don't consider all of Israel's other steps - the sieges and curfews, the expropriations and house destruction - violence, of course. That's why Israel says it wants an end to the violence "and a return to the status quo ante," whether as a condition, by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, or as a demand, by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, for renewal of the negotiations.

When Israel says it wants a return to the status quo before the Intifada, it means it wants the Palestinians to stop their violence, and then Israel's violence, which is only a defensive reaction to the Palestinians', will naturally stop.

In other words, Israel wants the Palestinians to reassume their meek surrender to the brutality of the occupation, while the violence of the occupation continues.

Back in Oslo, both sides agreed to avoid violence, Israel claims, so the current outbreak of violence is therefore a gross violation of the agreement.

Moreover, since the Palestinians initiated the Intifada, - "they started it" - the responsibility for stopping it is on their shoulders. But wasn't the Intifada preceded by a series of violent acts by Israel, which expropriated land, closed areas, uprooted farms, expelled people, tortured suspects, dried up resources and destroyed homes - long before the Intifada, and with no less violence than the Palestinians? Israel is not demanding an end to that violence.

When it's only exploding buses and mortar rounds falling on settlements that is defined as violence, it's easy to blame the other side for violating agreements.

But that's not the whole picture. Israel is not ready in the same breath to put an end to its own violence. The demand for an end to violence is obviously right and justified. Violence - any violence - is wrong, and an end to the violence has to be on the top of the agenda of any political negotiation.

Israel can and should demand that the Palestinians silence their weapons. But it should demand the same of itself, regarding all the various weapons it uses against the Palestinians.

But when, as it did last week, Israel uses bulldozers to create impassable barriers to and from 33 villages, and there's no way for an ambulance or water container to get in, the demand for an end to the violence is outrageously hypocritical. An end to the violence? Why shouldn't Israel, as the stronger side, try being the first.


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