In This Edition: A Winter Of Discontent
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Sludge Report #92
A Winter Of Discontent
Of course in the Northern hemisphere it is not winter at all (but it is where Sludge is, hence the use of the quote). And there can be little doubt that the dogs of war are currently out and about, baying to be allowed back to their games of destruction and evil, nor that discontentment is on the prowl.
In Northern Ireland the Good Friday accord is under threat by a display of jingoistic behaviour from the Unionist party leadership seemingly timed to coincide with the annual Orange Order marching season.
In Macedonia meanwhile another group of conflict lovers, this time Albanians and Macedonians, have decided to take advantage of the warm weather to mount a traditional Balkan summer offensive, during which huge amounts of ordinance are lobbed at one another with the primary result being the creation of large numbers of civilian refugees. And it appears that no matter how much they are discouraged from their course they are unwilling to change their path.
But it is the latest developments in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (ceasefire/peace process) which have sparked this latest missive.
The resumption in violence in the West Bank, Lebanon, Gaza and Israel proper over the last five days is nothing short of disastrous.
For the rest of the world, including Northern Ireland and Macedonia, the quest for peace in the Middle East is potently exemplar. Tentative moves towards peace in the Holy Land are a source of both encouragement, and occasionally of despair, for those fighting for peace throughout the globe.
This is so in part because the Holy Land is central to the spirituality of so many peoples, and partly because it is thought, rightly or wrongly, that if peace can be achieved in the Holy Land then it can be achieved anywhere.
The picture today in the Middle East is highly confusing as there have been numerous, apparently unconnected incidents in recent days.
Adding to this confusion has been the reporting of events, which on occasion has figuratively put the cart before the horse, misleading news consumers as to the order of events.
Therefore this report begins with a summary of what has actually happened in the last four days – arranged chronologically:
- On Friday the Lebanese group Hezbollah mounted an attack in the disputed Chebaa Farms that wounded two Israeli soldiers.
- On the Lebanese border on Sunday an Israeli air-strike on a Syrian Air Defence radar, in response to the attack on Friday, was reportedly answered by a Syrian missile test in which a Scud missile landed short of the Israeli border. Syria denies firing any missiles. Last week Israel also conducted a successful ballistic missile test.
- Also on Sunday, Israeli Defence Forces shot and killed an alleged Hamas terrorist and a Palestinian policeman, who they claimed were on their way to set a bomb. Elsewhere on Sunday Palestinians shot at an Angel bakery truck travelling on the new road between Psagot and Beit El, wounding the 26-year-old Israeli Arab driver. The IDF also claim that on Sunday there was mortar fire and gun fire in the Gaza Strip.
- Late on Sunday an Israeli helicopter gunship fired a missile at a car in the West Bank, killing three Islamic militants Israel said were responsible for attacks against Israelis.
- On Monday morning a pair of car bombs exploded in Yehud, inside Israel proper near Tel Aviv. No one was injured. Later the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the blasts.
- Later on Monday near the town of Tulkarm, very close to the West Bank, Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli motorist.
All this might be seen as somewhat typical of events over the last nine months if it wasn’t for the fact that US Secretary of State Colin Powell has just completed a visit to the area, during which both sides agreed to maintain a seven day ceasefire.
Hopes of a positive resolution to this crisis had been high.
Now n the wake of this latest round of attacks, diplomatic observers from both sides have been expressing the view – as if it wasn’t already apparent – that the tenuous truce agreed on June 13th is now close to falling apart.
It is understandable in the circumstances that following the latest round of violence, the two sides to this conflict have immediately started blaming each other for the breakdown in the ceasefire.
From the Palestinian side it is asserted that the two car bombings were a response to the helicopter attack on a car in the West Bank.
Meanwhile the Israeli government meanwhile maintains that the helicopter attack was made in self-defence.
The sponsor of the ceasefire, the US, has responded to the latest developments calling for “maximum restraint” and criticising the Israeli policy of assassination, which is clearly illegal in international law. However in doing so it did not make clear whether it believed the helicopter attack was an example of this.
In the circumstances the decision by the Israelis to attack a Hamas militant with a helicopter can only be described as at best, extremely ill timed. It is undoubtedly an extra-judicial killing, and if it is possible to attack the car by helicopter, it ought to have also been possible to follow it.
While Israel may want to hold on to its right to self-defence, exercising it so violently during a period in which a ceasefire is supposed to be in effect seems rather odd.
Meanwhile from a Palestinian perspective, while the urge to respond in kind to such provocations as the helicopter attack must be extremely intense. It is in reality counter-productive.
In the wake of the gun battle on Sunday that left the Hamas activist and policeman dead, Palestinian spokesmen accused the Israelis of seeking to undermine the cease-fire so as to avoid having to withdraw their forces, an event that seven violence free days would trigger.
By responding to violence with violence, the Palestinian cause plays into the hands of those who would undermine the path peace. The situation has a large degree of symmetry to that faced by Israel in the wake of the Tel Aviv nightclub bombing. By retaliating to the bombing with an extreme act of violence themselves the Israelis would have neatly delivered precisely what the bombers sought, destruction of the peace process.
Rather than competing on the gutter level of tit-for-tat exchanges, both sides would be a far better off to fight over the moral high-ground of restraint.
In the process they would also score considerable victories in the international public relations arena.
Reports of calls from the Palestinians for an explanation from Israel as to why it is undermining the ceasefire would carry far more weight if they were not accompanied by reports of car bombings.
The only positive thing that can be said about recent events in the Holy Land is that the rising level of hostilities between Syrian and Israeli forces on the Lebanese border gives a very clear picture of the alternative to seeking the path to peace.
It involves missiles, and it is not a pretty picture at all.
Anti©opyright Sludge 2001