ISRAEL: Three generals, one martyr
Uri Avnery «View Bio

The picture of Hamas as an inveterate enemy of all peace and compromise is inaccurate, as there are different perspectives within the organization.

The ideological hard core does indeed refuse any peace or compromise with Israel. They consider it a foreign implantation in Palestine. But many Hamas sympathizers do not treat the organization as an ideological center, but rather as an instrument for fighting Israel in pursuit of realistic objectives.

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin announced some months ago that the fight would be discontinued after the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Recently, he offered a hudna (truce) for 30 years. Therefore, the murder of Yassin did not serve any positive aim. It was an act of folly.

The three generals who actually direct the affairs of Israel – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, defense minister Sha’ul Mofaz and Chief of Staff Mosh Ya’alon – maintain that “in the short run” the assassination would indeed increase the attacks on Israeli citizens, but “in the long run” it would help to “rout terrorism.”

I take the liberty to tell these three illustrious strategists: ‘Nonsense in tomato juice!’ (as one says in Hebrew slang). Or rather, ‘Nonsense in blood.’

In the short run, this action endangers our personal security; in the long run it represents an even greater danger to our national security. In the short run, it has increased the motivation for Hamas to carry out deadly attacks. Every Israeli understands this and is taking extra precautions these days.

But the less obvious results are much more threatening. In the hearts of hundreds of thousands of children in the Palestinian territories and the Arab countries, this murder has raised a storm of rage and thirst for revenge, together with feelings of frustration and humiliation at the impotence of the Arab world. This will produce not only thousands of new potential suicide bombers inside the country, but also tens of thousands of volunteers for the radical Islamic organizations throughout the Arab world.

There is no stronger weapon for a fighting organization than a martyr. And Sheikh Yassin was practically born to fulfill the role of a sainted martyr: a religious personality, a paraplegic in a wheelchair, broken in body but not in spirit, a militant who spent years in prison, a leader who continued his fight after ‘miraculously’ surviving an earlier assassination attempt, a hero cowardly murdered from the air while leaving the mosque after prayer. Even a writer of genius could not have invented a figure more suited for adoration.

The murder of Yassin will encourage cooperation among the Palestinian fighting organizations. The lines between the various groups are becoming more and more blurred. Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade members cooperate with Hamas and Jihad saying that ‘since we are killed together, let us fight together.’ This phenomenon will grow and make the attacks more effective.

Hamas’ popularity among the population is rising, together with its capability to carry out attacks. This does not mean that the Palestinian public accepts the aim of an Islamic state or that it has given up the idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. But the admiration of the masses for the attackers and their actions reflects the conviction that the Israelis understand only the language of force, and that experience proves that without extreme violence the Palestinians will not achieve anything at all. Unfortunately, there is no real evidence for the opposite.

In the even longer run, the assassination of Yassin poses an existential danger. For five generations, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was essentially a national conflict – a clash between two great national movements, each of which claimed the country for itself. A national conflict is basically rational, it can be solved by compromise. This may be difficult, but it is possible. Our nightmare has always been that the national struggle would turn into a religious one. Since every religion claims to represent absolute truth, religious struggles do not allow for compromise.

The martyrdom of Yassin pushes even further away the chance of Israel ever attaining peace and tranquillity, normal relations with its neighbors, and a flourishing economy. It increases the danger that future generations of Arabs and Muslims will view it as a foreign implantation, installed in this region by force, with every decent Muslim, from Morocco to Indonesia, duty-bound to strive for its uprooting.

Such Insights are far from the capability of our three generals to absorb. Sharon, Mofaz, Ya’alon and their ilk understand only brute force in the service of a narrow nationalism. Peace does not inspire them, for them compromise is a dirty word.

Uri Avnery is a journalist, peace activist, and former member of the Knesset.