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Haaretz Op-Ed Piece, Wednesday, June 26, 2002.

Both sides are wrong

by Amira Hass

A radio interviewer asked IDF Spokesman Ron Kitrey on Sunday about the three children killed in Jenin by Israeli soldiers in a tank (who also killed a 60-year-old civilian). The interviewer chose his words carefully. So carefully, that he asked Kitrey about the "youths" who were killed. These "youths" were 6-year-old Soujoud Turkey, Ahmed Ghazawi, also 6 years old, and his 12-year-old brother Jamil. The two brothers had been riding their bicycles in their neighborhood. They, like many others, thought that the curfew had been lifted for several hours. Soujoud Turkey had gone out with her father to buy bread.

The interviewer stammered slightly as he posed his question, perhaps because in these days of suicide bombings it is not considered politically correct to discuss Palestinian casualties. Turning them into "youths" was not a slip of the tongue. It reflects a phenomenon. Even before the suicide attacks became a daily routine, for Israeli society the IDF's Palestinian civilian victims simply evaporated, and they continue to evaporate. They are not perceived as relevant in the political and military contexts.

This is not about appealing to one's sense of morality and compassion, nor is it forgetting the Israeli pain. It is about the ability to analyze why the conflict has become entangled to the point of a bloody cycle of violence beyond control. To analyze - in order to be able to control it. Israel's analytical ability has been impaired because its collective political consciousness is unwilling to take into account the cumulative Palestinian pain in this intifada and during the Oslo years that preceded it.

Israeli political consciousness has rejected and continues to reject any attempt or proposal to grasp the sum total of the details, characteristics and consequences of the continued Israeli rule over another people. When one tries to talk of the "totality" known as the occupation, the media - the social barometer - responds with resentment. This "totality" is too abstract, transparent, academic. Let's talk about "personal stories" instead.

But when one talks about personal stories, that is exactly how they are perceived: as another tear-jerker about an individual suffering Palestinian. Before this intifada, such stories (deaths at roadblocks, Israeli quotas for drinking water, a ban on building schools in Area C, a significant expansion of settlements, movement restrictions) were perceived as exceptions to "the peace process," although they harmed the Palestinian population every day.

Today, reports on "Palestinian suffering" are perceived as national treason. Israelis conclude that the suicide attacks are the result of a murderous tendency inherent to the Palestinians, their religion, their mentality. In other words, people turn to bio-religious explanations, not social or historical ones. This is a grave mistake. If one wants to put an end to the terror attacks in general, and to the suicide attacks in particular, one must ask why the majority of the Palestinian population supports them. Without their support, the Palestinian organizations would not dare to send suicide attackers and "invite" the expected escalating Israeli response. The Palestinians support the attacks, even the cruelest ones, because they are convinced that they, their existence and their future as a nation are the real targets of the Israeli regime - both when it applied rule-by-deceit tactics during the Oslo period, and now, when it uses tactics of military escalation and siege.

Israeli society did not pay heed to Palestinian warnings during the Oslo period, that an imposed arrangement would lead to disaster. Neither did Israeli political consciousness listen at the beginning of the intifada when the Palestinians pointed to the excessive use of Israeli military force against the first demonstrations. Now, 22 months later, one can here and there find comments by journalists and politicians who in hindsight admit that under Ehud Barak and Shaul Mofaz, excessive use was already made of lethal methods. If there was indeed a desire to control the whirlpool of violence, that harsh military response was a mistake. But this excessive use of force has not been erased from the Palestinians' consciousness. And why should they forget their children, who were killed just because they threw stones at armored jeeps, tanks and fortified outposts? Why should they forget the civilians killed by IDF fire at roadblocks and in their homes, not during gunfights?

The Palestinians are now driven by the same misguided notion that directed Barak, Mofaz and the commanders on the ground at the beginning of the intifada, and the entire Israeli society that stood behind them: "More force and more killing and suffering, as quickly as possible, will teach the other side a lesson and foil their plans."

The suicide attacks in Israel indicate an impaired analytical ability on the part of the majority of Palestinian society. They fail to grasp that just as the daily killings by IDF soldiers and unbearable living conditions under the tightening siege policy only strengthen them, the Israeli response to the death sown in their midst by the Palestinians is much the same. Both sides are convinced that only more deadly and devastating force will restrain the opposing force. Both sides are wrong.