w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m - October 4, 2004


By Avraham Tal

The reality is that what Israel is waging in Gaza today is a defensive war against paramilitary organizations whose goals go beyond those of a war of national liberation.

Critics of the tactics that the Israel Defense Forces are employing against the terrorists of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al-Aqsa, which have also caused casualties among Palestinian civilians, ignore the fundamental change that has taken place in the nature of the war. One can continue to define the IDF as an army of occupation and the Palestinians as "fighters," or even "freedom fighters," as certain Israelis and foreigners do. But the reality is that what Israel is waging in Gaza today is a defensive war against paramilitary organizations whose goals go beyond those of a war of national liberation.

There are people who claim that murderousness is embedded in the Palestinians' blood, but it is not necessary to resort to this explanation to understand the nature of the struggle they are conducting against Israel in general, and in particular since the historic turnabout took place in the government's policy: the decision in principle to leave the Gaza Strip and evacuate all the Jewish settlements there, and also the implications of the exchange of letters between Israel's prime minister and President George Bush in April 2004 - that in the future, the West Bank will also be evacuated, except for areas in which there is a heavy concentration of Israelis, and a viable Palestinian state will be set up.

The decision to remove the Jewish settlers from Gaza - backed by the credible steps that the government is taking in terms of preparations and legislation - should have brought about an end to the acts of violence, at least in the area destined for evacuation. After all, the Palestinian "freedom fighters" have achieved their goal in this area: In less than a year, they will be able to rule the entire Gaza Strip, free of Israelis, and inherit the infrastructure that the Israelis will leave behind. So why do the Palestinian organizations continue their campaign of murder against civilians and soldiers in Gaza, with even greater intensity than before?

The accepted explanation is that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al-Aqsa - each organization individually and all of them together - want to prove that they, and only they, succeeded in expelling the Israelis from Gaza via "the resistance." But this is not the whole truth. The organizations - and certainly Hamas and Islamic Jihad - view the continued fighting against Israel in the Strip as an additional stage in their effort to expel it not only from all of the territories, but also from the 1948 borders. As Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaida's number two, said last week: "The liberation of Palestine is an obligation incumbent upon all Muslims."

Even if it is possible to assume - with very grave reservations - that Fatah might perhaps someday be willing, through lack of choice, to accept the existence of Israel in the 1948 borders, there is no doubt that the organizations now waging the terrorist war in Gaza do not intend to make do with the evacuation of the territories. No Hamas or Jihad spokesman has ever declared the intention of recognizing Israel in its 1948 borders; in practice, it is also hard to hear such willingness from the heads of the Al-Aqsa gangs and the Popular Resistance Committees operating in the Strip.

It is no accident that peace initiatives by various Israeli governments, and particularly that of Ehud Barak's government, have met with Palestinian rejection. The Islamic movements reject any such initiative for Islamic reasons (all of Palestine is part of the Muslim waqf, and no infidel entity can be allowed to exist in it).

But the secular Palestinian movements also have difficulty accepting the existence of a Jewish state in Palestine. Granting legitimacy to such a state would make it difficult to justify the struggle against it in the future, both on the ground and in international forums. Therefore, the Fatah leadership prefers to postpone the establishment of the Palestinian state, in the hope that the unceasing armed struggle against the Jewish state will undermine its foundations and perhaps even lead to its disappearance from the stage of history.

Israel is currently waging an existential war against forces that wish to eradicate it: There is such a thing as the genocide of a state. In this existential war, Israel is fighting murderous gangs that operate from behind or from the midst of Palestinian civilians, most of whom, unfortunately, support these gangs and their murderous tactics.

Even though the IDF's orders to refrain from harming civilians are clear, and are also generally obeyed, in this war, there is no way to avoid injury to some noncombatants, as well. There is no place here for tortured consciences, because our existence, both as individuals and as a state, is in danger, and our own protection therefore deserves to be given more priority than their protection. Palestinians who are harmed in IDF operations are paying for the murderous intentions of the terrorist organizations. Their blood is on the head of their own leaders.