There is general agreement that terrorism as defined by groups like Hamas, Al Qaeda and Hezbollah is a threat. What isn’t so clear, however, is how these groups came to power and why they have widespread support in the Muslim world. This country and others seem content to say that terrorist groups must be eliminated and any action to contain and defeat them is acceptable. Rarely are questions raised about what created the appetite nourished by these factions and what strategies could be undertaken to encourage them to take a more inclusive role in governments wherever they exist.
It is not helpful in the debate and violence that rages in general and now specifically between Israel and Lebanon that the United States behaves in a passive manner that in reality serves to support whatever action Israel decides to take. This was true during the long period of settlement expansion preferred by Ariel Sharon despite the unrest and simmering hatred that policy engendered and despite, as well, efforts by the U.N. to curtail the ever-widening encroachment of Israel into the occupied territories.
And it was likewise the case when Israel surrounded Arafat’s compound in 2002 demanding that those they accused of terrorist acts be handed over. It may be recalled that the compound and surrounding areas in Ramallah were turned into rubble and Arafat held a virtual prisoner. But, whether or not one accepts the reasons given at the time, about which outsiders had scant information to prove or disprove the charges made, the pictures of Israeli tanks and bulldozers rolling into Ramallah destroying infrastructure and Palestinian enclaves became familiar sights in the region highlighting the helplessness of the people there and increasing their bitterness and rage.
Most importantly such actions reinforce the perception that Israel is the only force in the region capable of taking overwhelming military action. And much of that military might is provided by the United States. So when houses are bulldozed and accused militants hunted down and torpedoed in their cars or villages, “The Arab Street” sees all too clearly who has supplied the weapons. Objectively speaking, when you kill off leaders, a rudderless general population left to its own devices, may be more dangerous than one whose leaders might have become partners in finding solutions. This has certainly been true in Iraq where we disbanded the standing army and the vast cadre of government functionaries and left a vacuum that has yet to be filled, followed by an insurgency led by some who are called terrorists but who might better be described as violent, wandering anarchists in search of a national identity and power.
Viewed from the outside it may not be apparent that many underlying issues trigger troubling responses, not the least of which concerns water rights and who will administer those important resources in the Israeli-Palestinian region. That is of course a consideration of utmost importance with respect to whatever final boundaries are drawn and what entity will in fact control access to the region’s most important aquifer. Once again Israel seems to be the decider in the region; independent statehood for Palestine depends upon the acquiescence of Israel in determining just how much and in what condition Palestinians are to be granted statehood and a livable environment.
But what exactly is a terrorist and how does an ordinary person become one? Surely terrorists aren’t born but develop in the course of events. Leaving aside how heinous their actions may be, why isn’t more of an effort made to determine the reasons for such behavior – – not to make excuses but to find explanations and solutions? Much is being made today about Hezbollah and Hamas incursions across the Israeli border. But not nearly as much attention is focused on Israel’s targeting of Hamas leaders in their homes and villages, the Palestinian family killed as they picnicked on a beach and the many prisoners held in Israeli prisons. Should Israelis respond to the acts of militants by crossing borders themselves, to take custody of Hamas political leaders and devastate Lebanese infrastructure?
It is often said that Israel has a right to defend itself, but it isn’t clear that its actions will enhance either its security or ensure a peaceful future for the region. Nevertheless, Israel is supported uncritically by our government, in what is likely to be both country’s ultimate sorrow and the assurance of continuing conflict for years to come.
It is increasingly clear, however, that the current administration has no definitive policy in Iraq, Israel or elsewhere and that at the conclusion of military action it has absolutely no idea what to do next – – no understanding of countries and their populations, no idea of how to promote peace, no vision as to how the future will look. Anyone who questions its non-policy is, simply put in the terrorist camp, as Press Secretary Snow suggested was the case with Helen Thomas the other day. So when Bush proclaims that he is a wartime president, we should all be asking to what purpose and what end? In one of those amusing little asides about our government it is said “The motor’s running but nobody’s at the wheel”- -at least noone who knows how to drive.

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