Who is the head of the Hamas military wing in Hebron? Last week, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced that soldiers from the undercover unit Duvdevan had liquidated Ahmed Bader, describing him as "the head of the Hamas military wing in Hebron." Seven weeks earlier, on June 22, we were informed that a force of the Border Police and the Shin Bet security service had eliminated "the head of the military wing of Hamas in Hebron." On that occasion the part was played by Abdullah Qawasmeh. Three months before that, on March 18, it was reported that the IDF had terminated Ali Alan, who was also "the head of the military wing of Hamas in Hebron." Seven months prior to that, on August 28, 2002, it was announced that the IDF had arrested "the head of the military wing of Hamas in Hebron," Abdel Halek Natshe. Less than a year before that, in November 2001, the IDF reported that a helicopter-launched missile killed Jail Jadallah - "the head of the military wing of Hamas in Hebron."
Yes, within less than two years Israel liquidated and arrested five people all of whom were described as "the head of the military wing of Hamas in Hebron."
Each of these events was termed a "major operational success" and the Israeli public was assured that the liquidation or arrest would "seriously affect the ability of Hamas to perpetrate large-scale terrorist attacks." Together with hundreds of arrests of Hamas activists in Hebron - 130 in one day - a picture was painted of victory over terrorism in Hebron, and we were promised quiet, at least for a time. The results are known.
It's a farce: either we were deceived about the description of the individuals who were killed or arrested, or the rotation in Hamas is so fast that it raises in its full acuity the question of what the point of the liquidation operations is, apart from a desire to satisfy the instinct for revenge. It's difficult to specify liquidations that prevented terrorist attacks, but the series of such attacks that were perpetrated as a direct result of liquidations is long and appalling. Everyone knows this. There is no one who seriously thinks that such assassinations will put a stop to terrorism. Even one of the officials who initiated this method, the outgoing deputy chief of the Shin Bet (his name may not be made public), last week told Haaretz that he is "not certain" that this method will eradicate terrorism.
So why does the method continue to be used? Because that's what we know how to do. And not only is it continuing, it's becoming more radical, too: from the liquidation of a "ticking bomb" to the eradication of a "ticking infrastructure"; from the killing of terrorists to the killing of spokesmen of organizations, including their relatives and bodyguards. Without a trial, the Shin Bet advises, the security cabinet consents, the IDF does the killing and Israel's citizens continued to be killed in the streets. Nowadays there is hardly anything more certain: A revenge act of terrorism will follow an act of liquidation.
Never before have so many Israeli civilians been killed and never before has the sense of fear been so deep and pervasive and justified. But that's not enough to elicit an admission that this policy has failed. In every other sector, business or personal, a failure on this scale would have long since brought about a change. Yet when it comes to a subject that is so fateful, there is not even the beginning of a discussion of possible alternatives. The few opportunities for change were criminally missed: the road map, the hudna and the government of Abu Mazen. Israel did not restrain itself and continued with the assassinations, which brought the terrorist attacks in their wake. Is there anyone who can make us stop the mad gallop down the path of blood so that we can start thinking about a change of direction?
Even if part of the blame falls on the Palestinians, have none of Israel's actions encouraged the terrorism? What hasn't Israel tried? Liquidations, defoliation, mass arrests, demolition of homes, roadblocks everywhere, a terrifying security barrier - but none of these actions has been victorious over terrorism.
The security barrier will turn out to be illusory. The cruel impact it is having on the Palestinian population will only engender more terrorists. So will the loopy idea of removing Yasser Arafat, the only Palestinian leader who is capable of pushing through an agreement with Israel. Israel has to talk to Arafat, not expel him. A public opinion survey published on Friday by the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth reveals that a majority of Israelis want Arafat either liquidated or expelled, but that the majority also think that this will have no effect on terrorism and may even increase it. How are we to account for this contradiction? It's the result of frightening, knee-jerk thinking.
It's because of this lethal conceptual immobility that there is only one course of action we have never seriously tried: to relax the use of force, to loosen our iron grip on an entire nation, to overcome the lust for revenge even in the face of the worst of the acts of terrorism and extend a true hand in peace, precisely in a period of terrorism, to the nation that is living under our harsh occupation and that for the most part wants peace. A true cease-fire, the immediate removal of all the checkpoints in the West Bank, opening the border to Palestinian workers, and a sincere effort to improve the lives of the Palestinians will unquestionably bear immediate fruit. In any event, there are few greater failures than two terrorist attacks in one day.
It is exactly now, at such a difficult time, when everything seems on the brink of destruction, that a leader needs to come forward and say to the Israelis: We did everything we could. We liquidated, we destroyed, we besieged and we arrested - but none of it worked, and therefore, we will try another road.
But for that more courage is required than to order the IDF to assassinate another "head of the military wing of Hamas in Hebron."
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