Sometimes you hear people involved in the I/P conflict complain of the other side: "They don't want peace". I think that's a silly thing to say, because everybody wants peace - who wouldn't? It's just that some people want other things a little bit more. "Of course everyone wants peace, but every bugger wants it on his own terms", as Admiral Sir Jackie Fisher once put it.
In Israel too, everybody wants peace, but the one thing that some people want just a little more than peace is land. Somebody else's land. Israelis already have a land, theoretically in the legal boundaries of 1947, but in terms of international consensus, actually within the expanded boundaries of 1967. But some Israelis would like to keep all, or at least the most valuable parts, of the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967. None of this land belongs to Israel, the vast majority (excluding Jerusalem which was to be an international city) was assigned by the UN to Arab Palestine, and Israel's ongoing attempt to colonize it ensures there will never be self-determination for the Palestinians, acceptance of Israel within the region, or peace for either of them (or for us). In its simplest form, the impasse in Arab-Israeli relations since Camp David I comes down to this: "The Arabs wanted their land back and then they wanted peace with Israel. The Israelis wanted peace but wanted to keep some of the Arab land." (Fisk).
This is also the key to why, after 15 years of “peace process”, there is no peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Because, in a conflict over land, Israel used the process not to get out of the occupied territory, but rather to colonize more and more of it. For successive Israeli governments, the peace process simply meant the establishment of a Palestinian "authority" that would stop resistance to Israeli expansion while that expansion continued, and actually accelerated. The PA would be Israel’s security sub-contractor in the Occupied Territories, as Benjamin Netanyahu put it.
Israel’s governments treated the PA with such contempt because Israel enjoys overwhelming military superiority. Judging by Ehud Olmert’s proposed “convergence” of West Bank settlers into the major settlement blocs, the incoming government too believes that this military superiority will allow it to keep control of Palestinian land and have, if not exactly peace, then at least a manageable low-intensity conflict that can be fought mostly out of sight in the Occupied Territories. To successive Israeli governments, managing an endless, low-intensity conflict has been preferable to resolving the conflict by agreement with the Palestinians, because this would involve finally giving up the Occupied Territories.
Meet Arnon Soffer.
Professor Soffer was a confidant of former P.M. Ariel Sharon, and is a leading theoretician behind Israel’s policy of disengagement from the Palestinians. Indeed, his work is believed to have been a key factor in influencing Mr Sharon to remove the vastly-outnumbered Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip, because Prof. Soffer is one of Israel’s leading demographers, and his obsession is the growth of the Arab population and the “time bomb” this represents for a Jewish state. (Hence his nickname, “Arnon the Arab Counter”).
Prof. Soffer is a strong supporter of disengagement from the Palestinians and construction of a separation wall. Not a wall on the Green Line, where it would be a safeguard for Israel’s security within negotiated, recognised borders, but a punitive wall that is used as a weapon to incarcerate the Palestinians in those areas where they are most concentrated, leaving the land itself free for Israeli settlement.
Prof. Soffer is not stupid, and knows there is no hope the Palestinians will accept that their fate is to be penned in enclosures while Israel annexes their land, their future capital, and their water resources. On the other hand, he also knows that as they are vastly outgunned by Israel there is not a great deal that they can do about it. One of the few things they can do from their enclosures is to lob their crappy homemade Qassam rockets in the general direction of Israel, but Prof. Soffer has an answer for that too, and we are seeing that answer in action right now in the northern Gaza Strip, where the IDF is engaged in an ongoing campaign of artillery fire against residential neighbourhoods in the area of Bayt Lahia.
Qassams are portable, low-tech weapons. Even when the IDF was on the ground in the Gaza Strip, it could not respond quickly enough to prevent their launch, and neither could the PA security forces. So Israel's policy now is to bombard the civilian population of the Gaza Strip until their suffering is so great that they will find a way to stop what Israel and the PA cannot. Shaul Mofaz or Dan Halutz cannot come out and say that they are targetting civilians – they would be setting themselves up for a War Crimes tribunal – instead the IDF announces that it will fire shells 100 metres from civilian areas (knowing full well that shrapnel from even the most perfectly-aimed shell has a range of 100 metres from point of impact, and that they are therefore firing on civilians [Footnote 1]). As a mere theoretician behind the policy, Amnon Soffer can be much more open than the Chief of Staff or the Minister of Defence about the fact that bombing civilians is simply something you have to do in order to terrorize the Palestinians into accepting your unilaterally imposed borders:
First of all, the fence is not built like the Berlin Wall. It's a fence that we will be guarding on either side. Instead of entering Gaza, the way we did last week, we will tell the Palestinians that if a single missile is fired over the fence, we will fire 10 in response. And women and children will be killed, and houses will be destroyed. After the fifth such incident, Palestinian mothers won't allow their husbands to shoot Kassams, because they will know what's waiting for them.
Second of all, when 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it's going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It's going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.(Source)
This is why it is a lie when the Israelis call the dead civilians of Bayt Lahia “collateral damage”. Given a choice between negotiating an end to the Occupation or trying to hold on to the choicest Palestinian land by force, Israel has chosen unilateral annexation, in the full knowledge that this will involve inflicting harm on civilians in order to force the Palestinians to accept what they would never freely assent to. This is not “accidental” or “collateral”, it is simply what you are reduced to when you are running out of ways to hold on to land that isn't yours, and mistakenly believe that your military strength will save you from having to negotiate.
So, to sum up, this is Professor Arnon Soffer, Professor of Geography at the University of Haifa, who believes that firing shells at women and children is an acceptable method of enforcing Israel's unilateral annexation of occupied Palestinian land:
And these are the "animals" of the Gaza Strip, who have to be indiscriminately bombed and terrorized so that people like Prof. Soffer can hold on by force to what is not theirs, and continue to evade a negotiated peace:
A Palestinian baby wounded by an Israeli tank shell in Beit Lahiya lies in a hospital bed Tuesday, April 4, 2006. Israeli tanks fired shells at the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday, directly hitting one house and killing a Palestinian and wounding seven others, including a mother and her baby, Palestinian security and rescue workers said . (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra).
The body of Palestinian girl Hadil Ghraben, 8, is taken off a stretcher at the hospital after her family house was hit by Israeli shelling in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya Monday, April 10, 2006. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa).
The wounded Palestinian mother and siblings of four-year-old Hadeel Ghabeen mourn during her funeral April 11, 2006 after an Israeli artillery shell hit their house in the northern Gaza strip. (REUTERS/Mohammed Salem).
Palestinian mourners carry the body of eight-year-old Hadil Ghaber during her funeral in Beit Lahia. (AFP/Mohammed Abed).
Remember: it’s not "collateral damage" if you mean it. It’s a war crime.
1. Recently, the IDF also reduced the size of the "safety zones" artillery batteries must maintain around Palestinian communities. The military was aware the decision could result in civilian casualties, as occurred Monday. The safety zone was reduced from 300 meters to 100 meters. The shell fragmentation range is 100 meters, so the decision clearly endangers civilian lives. (Ha'Aretz, 11 Apr 2006).
2. Photo credit for portrait of Arnon Soffer: Israeli professor [/demographer] Arnon Soffer holds a book containing his forecast that Israel will cease to be a Jewish state unless it withdraws from occupied territories with fast-growing Palestinian populations, in Haifa January 11, 2006. (Philippe Wojazer/Reuters).
3. Related links:
Some methods of dealing with rocket attacks simply not kosher; Ynet, 11 April 2006. (via Dennis Fox)
Genocide continues...unabated and uncondemned; Lefti On the News, 11 April 2006.
Gaza families watch in awe and fear as Israelis pour in 300 shells a day; The Guardian, 12 April 2006.