War brings out the darkest thoughts and the deepest fears. It's impossible to guess now how the war on Afghanistan will develop and how it will affect our region and our country. Still, because of the war, this is the time to clearly ask the following question: is Israeli society immune to an idea such as the transfer of the Palestinian population as a "solution" to the protracted conflict? Are there enough restraints in the Israeli society to prevent such a twisted idea - which, after all, has a proponent within the Israeli cabinet - from evolving into an "emergency plan" that will take advantage of a propitious moment in a war without limits? Wars, by their nature, release bottled-up genies.
Skepticism that Israel may try to expel the country's Arabs at the beginning of the twenty-first century is natural and encouraging. It shows that the majority of Jewish Israelis accept as an unequivocal fact that the Palestinians are natives of this land. The question is how much strength the majority of the Jewish Israelis have in the face of those Jews who want to change that fact. The experience of the past year in general and of the past month in particular suggests that deep cracks have appeared in the immunity of most Jewish Israelis to the attraction of military "solutions."
After a year of confrontation, the more vociferous sectors of the Jewish-Israeli public view the Palestinians as an integral part of the Islamic terror map.
During the Oslo years in general and in the past year in particular, the majority of the Jewish-Israeli public has disregarded the fact that it is an occupying power in every part of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It interprets the bloody clash as a war between two equal entities in terms of their political and international status, and, like its government, ignores the responsibility the State of Israel bears for the welfare and safety of the occupied population.
The transfer idea has a living progeny: the shunting of the Palestinian and the Arabs who hold Israeli citizenship into separate "pales of settlement," whose demarcation lines are continuously shrinking under expropriation orders issued "for the good of the public" - the Jewish public, that is. Discriminatory land laws and more than 50 years of deprivation have pushed the Palestinians who are Israeli citizens into enclaves of overcrowding, poverty, unemployment and want. On the other side of the 1967 Green Line, Area C (under Israeli administrative and security control) occupies 60 percent of the West Bank. It is depicted by the Israelis who control the area (settlers, the Civil Administration, soldiers) as "Israeli territory" which must be protected against a possible Palestinian "takeover." This is the clear-cut conclusion from the impotence of the authorities in the face of the piratical and official expansion of the settlements in Area C, and from what soldiers posted at roadblocks between Palestinian locales (and not between the West Bank and Israel) say. The soldiers explain that they are "protecting our territory, Israel's territory."
Bureaucratic pressure on a ruled population, combined with a process of separating it from the numerically and militarily dominant nation, reflects undercurrents that desire the disappearance of that population. In wartime, such bureaucratic pressure could evolve into military pressure.
The American response of a massive attack on an entire nation, in whose sovereign territory Osama bin Laden encamped, is automatically compared to what is perceived as an "insufficient" Israeli reaction to Palestinian terrorism. This is a constant pressure on the Israeli right-wing government by its natural electorate. Indeed, under the pressure of the expectation of a fierce American reaction, the Israeli army, immediately after the September 11 attacks, escalated its activity in Jenin and Rafah, causing a large number of deaths among Palestinian civilians, without any discernible Israeli protest.
There is good reason to suppose that the American counterattack is in fact liable to create a convenient atmosphere for stepping up the military pressure on the Palestinians. If the war continues and expands, and if the Palestinians continue their terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, the "solutions" inherent in military pressure, including the expulsion "solution," could acquire even more advocates at both the military and civilian levels.
The information that the Jewish public receives about what is going on in the occupied territories is meager, limited and seeps into its consciousness slowly (that is, information not related to attacks on Jews). Even what is reported is serious enough (for example, dozens of Palestinian civilians who were killed by Israeli army gunfire in the first weeks of the intifada, even though they did not endanger soldiers); but the information does not generate a sufficiently powerful and swift Israeli mobilization to restrain the political and military levels. What has restrained Israeli operations is mainly external, not domestic, pressure. Yet even this external pressure is fading, and in a world that is preoccupied with a general war, the fear mounts that it will disappear altogether.
In the course of the Oslo years, the large major peace camp in Israel abandoned the concept of the importance of nonviolent resistance to the occupation. It lost touch with the Palestinian public (to instead form ties with the Palestinian leadership). In the year of the intifada, it broke off ties with the Palestinian leadership, with which it is angry. Will the dormant sensors of the Israeli peace camp awaken in time if the bottled-up Israeli genies are released?
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