By Nadia W. Awad
Israel has just come back from its latest spending spree. By the standards of your average shopper, its shopping list was quite boring, with only one item on it: weapons. What for? To tackle those pesky Palestinians who will not stop talking about some occupation they claim to be living under. And of course, there’s the need to defend the mighty nuclear state of Israel against the possibly nuclear (maybe, maybe not) state of Iran.
Israel has just spent $15.2 billion on 25 F-35 bombers, each plane costing about $70-$80 million. On the other end of the scale, it has also invested funds into developing a new weapon called skunk gas. The aptly named skunk gas is a concoction of organic but absolutely disgusting ingredients that results in a foul-smelling but harmless liquid which is then sprayed onto the offenders (mostly those pesky Palestinians again). The stench is so bad that most people who are sprayed with it retch and try to rip off their clothes to get away from it. Only – they can’t. The smell lingers for about a week and permeates your skin, your clothes, and pretty much everything you touch. Needless to say, if you get sprayed by skunk, you’ll be a very lonely individual for the following week. Israel has invested in this new invention as a less noxious alternative to rubber bullets and tear gas. Perhaps they’re learning their lesson, even if it is very late in the day. Accused on a daily basis of using excessive force to disperse protests and demonstrations, and scare off rock-throwing children, clearly their poor soldiers are getting sick of shouldering the criticism. After all, there’s nothing like an accusation of human rights abuse to get you down.
I remember when Israel introduced that fancy assault rifle with its little video monitor that can see around corners so you can shoot around them without getting your head blasted off by…a rock. Or a shoe. Indeed, Israel has a great deal to be proud of. Israel Military Industries Ltd., or IMI, is an Israeli weapons manufacturer of some repute. They developed the infamous Uzi, a submachine gun that became very popular with armies, terrorists, rebels, and revolutionaries alike around the world. They manufacture firearms, ammunition and military technologies, mainly for the IDF, more affectionately known to Palestinians as the Israeli Occupation Forces. Interestingly enough, IMI has a history that stretches back to the time of British Mandate Palestine, when Haganah, the Jewish underground paramilitary organization which spawned the IDF, began manufacturing illegal weapons.
Yet despite all these high-tech weapons and the millions of dollars invested, Israel faces the same problem it has faced since 1948. All sarcasm aside, the Palestinians will not be beaten down by any weapon – physical, mental, or emotional. Whether you agree or sympathize with the Palestinian position makes no difference. When a people truly believe they have right on their side, that they have the moral high ground, nothing in this world can convince them to abandon that ground. David Ben-Gurion had the right idea when he gave an interview back in 1956. In a moment of great profoundness, he said:
"Why should the [Palestinian] Arabs make peace? If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, it’s true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?"
Arguably, he did follow that comment up with the statement that Israel should maintain a powerful army, but his initial analysis was correct. He was looking at the situation from a Palestinian point of view.
If Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, could understand that back in 1956, why can Israel not figure it out 60 years later. Sixty years down the road, we Palestinians are still clinging to the hope that we can create a state, though much diminished, on just 22% of our original lands. Even if it were one percent, we would still fight for it because we believe it belongs to us.
Since the beginning of the second Intifada in September 2000, Israeli forces have killed 5,389 Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. This includes 194 women and 995 children. During the same period 135 Palestinian patients died in one of the 630 military checkpoints installed throughout the Palestinian Territories. We have bore all this and so much more. Do Israelis really believe that adding to their already impressive catalogue of weapons will intimidate Palestinians enough to back down? Israel didn’t learn this lesson when it went after Hezbollah in Lebanon back in 2006, nor will it learn this lesson in time to stop an attack on Iran. According to many analysts and Israeli politicians, Israel’s hard power tactics are about to be employed there too, possibly before December of this year, when Iran’s first nuclear electricity generating plant will go critical, and thereafter any air attack would become impossible as it would trigger a nuclear explosion.
You can’t kill a belief with man-made weapons, just like you can’t intimidate the Palestinian youths who throw rocks at tanks. Every person has their boiling point. I have it, and I’ve crossed it too. In fact, every time I’m stuck at a checkpoint, I feel my anger reaching the boiling point. I remember once when Israeli soldiers set up a checkpoint just yards away from my house. I was on my way home from school, and with my house directly in my view, an 18-year old, acne-covered soldier pointed a gun in my face and told me that, for my protection, I could not pass through the checkpoint. After five minutes of arguing that: a. I was 14, b. I was unarmed, and c. my house was RIGHT THERE, I quit arguing. I said to him, fine – shoot me if you have to, but I’m going home. Needless to say, he didn’t shoot me. Otherwise I very much doubt you would be reading this article today.
I’m just hoping, along with millions of other Palestinians, that Israel will come to terms with what it has done to us, and give us our state. End the occupation. Otherwise, we’ll continue to be that nagging tooth ache that just won’t go away. Bring on all your weapons, your F-35’s, your tanks, and your skunk gas, but it won’t do you any good.
Tennessee Williams wrote in his play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof , “There ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the odor of mendacity. You can smell it. It smells like death.” And he wasn’t talking about skunk gas. Mendacity is the system we live in, the system that allows 1.5 million people to be starved because of a democratic decision they made; the system that allows Israel to continue on as a respected member of the international community even though it has violated the most UN resolutions on record; the system that allows apartheid to flourish, and basic human rights to be ignored. Men get drunk on alcohol to escape mendacity. Israel gets drunk on weapons to do the same.
(Originally published in MIFTAH – www.miftah.org – Oct 13, 2008)