For well over a year now, the Israeli state has confronted the Palestinian uprising with what Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin calls “the iron fist.” The army’s goal is to restore order, Deputy Chief-of-Staff Ehud Barak said recently, “so that the Israeli government can pursue political initiatives from a position of strength on its own schedule.” In the first month of Year Two, the army’s schedule included, by its own count, 2790 “violent incidents” — an average of precisely 90 each day. At least 26 Palestinians were killed, many with the “non-lethal” plastic and rubber bullets that Israeli troops now routinely employ.
This latest escalation of deadly force constitutes the core component of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s “peace plan.” Yet it has been no more successful this year than last. As a measure of his desperation, the prime minister now offers to pull his troops out of Palestinian cities — if the Palestinians halt the uprising. Defense Minister Rabin is apparently trying surreptitious negotiations with local leaders for a similar end to the revolt in return for some cosmetic “autonomy.”
The uprising continues because it embodies a social revolution that has irreversibly altered relations between men and women, old and young, village, camp and city, rich and poor. And between Palestinian and Israeli. It is this revolutionary dimension which has empowered the Palestinians to fight against awesome odds to break the colonial regime — a regime imposed by Israel but extending back into earlier decades of Jordanian and British rule.
The uprising is also altering relations among Israelis. The displacement of political tension onto the issue of “Who is a Jew” only served as a momentary distraction. Large sections of Israel’ Jewish intelligentsia have defected from the official consensus. On December 9, for instance, Amos Funkenstein published in Ha’aretz a “Monologue on Refusal.” Funkenstein, a leading expert in Jewish history, teaches history of science at Tel Aviv University and is codirector of the Jewish Studies Program at Stanford University. Funkenstein wrote that he would advise his students to consider refusing to do their reserve military duty in the occupied territories, and went on to compare the situation of the Palestinians in the territories unfavorably to the situation of German Jews after the rise of Hitler until Kristallnacht in November 1938. Such, comparisons are of dubious accuracy, even when made by Israeli Jews, but the fact that they more and more resort to this charged rhetoric is a measure of their disengagement from the myths that have sustained policy for decades.
The reports in this issue, written mainly by Palestinian Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel, indicate that necessary changes in Israel have only just begun and that a positive outcome is far from certain. The forces of the right are still dominant, though they do not control the situation. The message of the right, articulated by Shamir and Rabin and their cohorts, is that the uprising must end in order to reach a political resolution. Just the opposite is the case. The uprising is the main positive political force at work. It has already succeeded in breaking the stalemate on a number of levels, and it remains the best lever to transform the situation further towards a solution that meets the demands and needs of Palestinians and Israeli Jews alike. Long live the intifada.