The Power of the Weak
26 April 2002
Sharon has an uncanny ability to drag this stupid nation to places it never dreamed of going.
|An IDF soldier and a Palestinian woman arguing in the aftermath of the Jenin incursion.
Okay, so there wasn't a massacre. Israel only shot some children, brought a house crashing down on an old man, rained cement blocks on an invalid who couldn't get out in time, used locals as a human shield against bombs, and prevented aid from getting to the sick and wounded. That's really not a massacre, and there's no need for a commission of inquiry or a "fact-finding mission," whether run by ourselves or sent by the goyim.
The insanity gripping Israel seems to have moved beyond our morals and now afflicts all of her areas of life. Professional military commentators have been sitting alongside ad hoc pundits, all telling us how very moral we are. After all, we could have simply wiped them out by dropping bombs from the air. We are as mighty as Samson, but we held back.
Many Israelis believe that as long as we do not practice systematic mass murder, our place in heaven is secure. Every time some Palestinian or Scandinavian fool yells "Holocaust!," we respond in an angry huff: This is a holocaust? So a few people were killed, 200, 300, some very young, some very old. Does anyone see gas chambers or crematoria?
Well, it isn't a Holocaust. But what we are doing in the territories is still a very far cry from the moral standards of human society. The blunt analogy to the Nazi era actually helps us become morally obtuse. As though anything that isn't Nazi is necessarily moral. The crematoria of Auschwitz were the ultimate form of evil. But evil also comes in lesser forms.
The Ariel Sharons of the world flourish during wartime. They can be found on all levels. They don't need instructions from above: They act on their own initiative, and they sleep very well at night, thank you. All they need is a system to understand and protect them. Decent regimes rein in people like Sharon. Other kinds of regimes let them thrive. In violent cultures such as the one around us, the neighborhood bully is always preferable to a skinny intellectual who plays Beethoven and solves chess riddles.
Power is not just power
Sharon had several opportunities this year to change his course. He chose not to. Countless words have been written here about the corrupting effects of power. But the illusion of power seems to be no less corrupting. At the end of the game, it turned out that we were not as strong as we thought.
We have spent the last year drunk on our own strength. Like some Pied Piper, Sharon has been leading us on a journey to a hidden paradise, where 70 brawny virgins await us, munching on Palestinian martyrs for breakfast.
Putting your power to use is a dangerous business. When the threat is realized, the other side may suddenly discover that it can live with the result and even strike back. It won't be long before the Palestinians find that they can rise from the rubble of Jenin, Nablus and Bethlehem and deliver another blow. Ehud Barak was the first to use Israel's military might in the territories. But as always happens, the Likud took a mistake that Labor made on a small scale and repeated it on a huge one.
Since the beginning of the violence, some 1300 Palestinians and about 470 Israelis have been killed. Seventy-one of the Israelis died when Barak was prime minister. About 400 were killed since Sharon promised us peace and security. We sent Barak packing; Sharon remains king. In a drawn-out, long-term, deliberate maneuver of escalating retaliation, and while completely ignoring the Palestinian interests, Sharon has succeeded in dragging us into the current war. And the naive among us even believe that it could not have been avoided.
Some people dream that destruction will be followed by peace. Maybe. Agreements, after all, grow out of a balance of power. But contrary to what our own power-mongers would have us think, power is not only the sum of its military components. It also includes many other factors. That's why it can't be measured. Wars, like strikes, occur when at least one of the parties overestimates its own power. When the struggle ends, someone always claims that it was unnecessary. But some people need war in order to get an accurate sense of their own abilities.
We are not strong enough to win this war the way we would like to. Because more Palestinians than Israelis think that it's great to die for one's country. Because the Western world will only tolerate so much violent conduct on the part of a Western nation. Because we make a good international news stories. Because the world is watching us under a magnifying glass. Because the Palestinians are better liars. Because we really did rob them and push them into a corner. Because we really left them no choice.
The revenge of the poor
Marxist theory used to draw a distinction between two social strata: the exploitative strong, and the exploited weak. But most of the earth's inhabitants now fall into a third category: the expendables. They simply have nothing that can be exploited. This includes most of the Third World, nearly all of black Africa, the residents of Western ghettos, and the Palestinians. If all these died tomorrow, the rest of us would wake up in the morning as though nothing happened, and the world's economy would remain intact.
The power of the weak lies in their very weakness. Slums breed sickness, crime and terrorism. Ignorance and the lack of health care generate diseases like AIDS or tuberculosis. They first afflict the poor, but then they find their way to the rich. The immediate victims of drugs and crime are the residents of poor neighborhoods. They export that crime to wealthier areas. That is their revenge.
The Palestinian campaign of terrorist attacks is a similar act of vengeance. They cannot free themselves of the poverty and oppression to which we have sentenced them. But they can bring destruction, both to themselves and to us. That is the main source of their power.
Hope is strength
The Palestinians' ability to fight is affected by their perception of time. Time perspective is an essential factor in economic and political decision-making. For the Palestinians, peace must be immediate, not some distant vision. They want to see its consequences now. Peace to them means employment and economic well-being. It also means that the heavy yoke of Israeli rule will be lifted. They need this peace tomorrow, today, yesterday morning. The Oslo Accords simply didn't deliver.
War, on the other hand, is perceived by the Palestinians as infinite. They know they cannot win it in the foreseeable future. Many of them therefore settle for an ongoing war and the dream of a distant victory. That is their only hope.
After years of being taught that they had the right to return to their original land, most Palestinians perceive any compromise with Israel as surrender. Any agreement that did not include the Right of Return would badly tarnish the image of the leader who signed it. Seen from that perspective, the marginal revenue of war is very high, while waging it costs Yasser Arafat nothing. This war is pure profit.
Anyone who negotiates a settlement with the Palestinians will have to take this calculation into account. It is not enough to provide them with land and a better life. We also have to give them the illusion of victory. Without it there will be no peace. In order to win a genuine victory, Israel must not win completely. And that is the exact opposite of what Sharon thinks and does.
The world is non-grata
Even more than he is testing the Palestinian stamina, Sharon is putting to the test our own ability to withstand the world's pressures. He thinks that the international community, and even the Arab nations, will agree to follow his lead and obliterate the Palestinian existence. Our prime minister and his ingenious band of cronies suggested this week that U.N. coordinator Terje Larsen be declared "persona non grata." To do so would of course make us non grata as well. A few weeks ago, Sharon pulled a similar stunt with the European Community representative and prevented him from meeting with Arafat. Then he decided to send off the Egyptian foreign minister, and finally sent Colin Powell home empty-handed. A prime minister with a Napoleon complex.
Sharon has an uncanny ability to drag this stupid nation to places it never dreamed of going. As a young man he led us to Kibieh, where his retaliatory operation first brought houses crashing down on their inhabitants. He also led us to the Mitleh Pass, which he conquered against his orders and at the price of unnecessary Israeli casualties. As an old man he first stuck us in Lebanon, then buried us in the West Bank and Gaza. The man who supposedly invented the term "power" has no real understanding of the concept.
After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when the separation agreement with Egypt was being debated, Sharon stood before a desolate hill in the Sinai desert and explained to the camera that our national security depended on retaining that hill. The Israeli government was then headed by Yitzhak Rabin, the man whose life's work is now being gradually undone. Despite Sharon's warnings, Israel withdrew from the hill. No one even remembers where it was. A few years later, Anwar Sadat dropped in for a visit.
Had Sharon been prime minister in those days, we'd be pounding and getting pounded on some hill in Sinai to this very day. Instead, we are pounding and getting pounded on the hills of Judea and Samaria, and deceiving ourselves with the thought of a momentary victory.