Tuesday, April 2 2002, 1:24 PM
Sharonism is the political philosophy that military force decides all questions and politicians are no better than the armies at their command. Sharonism believes that the Middle East's future can be formulated through tank gun-sights, that a new regional political constellation favorable to Israel can be assembled by divisional maneuvers.
Palestinians represent a permanently insubordinate and threatening presence in the Sharonist worldview, and the purpose of Israel's army is to suppress their continued resistance. Towards this end, Sharonism operates with a keen eye on Washington's permissions, explicit and implicit, and takes no serious heed of other international opinion. Above all, Sharonism believes that absolute military hegemony over Arab military forces represents the only possible guarantee of Israel's survival.
Twenty years ago, the trio of Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon and Rafael Eitan planned and executed a criminal war against Lebanon with these ideological terms for guidance. Their policy goals were to re-shape Lebanon entirely by installing a government dominated by the Christian Phalange and to expel Palestinian forces. Today the Phalange is gone and Israel has been expelled by force.
An assassination attempt by the Abu Nidal faction against Shlomo Argov, Israel's ambassador in Britain, served as the pretext for this long-planned invasion of Lebanon that cost approximately ten thousand lives. Argov, a humane and liberal intellectual who never fully recovered from his wounds, later wrote a scathing denunciation of Sharon's militarism that used his own suffering as an excuse to make so many other people suffer and die.
As Sharon brings early '80s Lebanon back to Israel and Palestine, this is a good time to remember Argov's ethical rejection of the logic of endlessly repeated chains of suffering. When suicidal theo-fascists explode themselves and proximate company in order to demand creation of an Islamic republic and extinction of the Jewish homeland, this provides Sharonism with the same excuse that it needed twenty years ago. The victims of the atrocious Passover massacre in Netanya become justification for the siege of Ramallah.
Sharon's imagined political architecture for a new Middle East collapsed entirely in Lebanon. He will fail just as certainly with this invasion of the Palestinian territories, which insofar as it represents coherent policy, aims to prevent any resurrection of the Oslo peace process. Defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer yesterday admitted to a Knesset committee that "Terrorism cannot be stopped with military maneuvers."
Any attempt at military pacification would require re-occupation of all Area A territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority, which is as impossible for most of the Israeli electorate as it would be for Arab and international opinion. Palestinians, having finally tasted minimal independence, will fight back fiercely in a guerilla struggle that has barely begun.
Thus the Sharon government faces the classic problem of colonialism, the problem of how to force native subjects to acquiesce to their foreordained fate. Advanced weaponry has never been able to solve this problem; it can carry the immediate day, no more. However, colonial subjects need only draw blood to obtain victory, and only to continue existing to win. Palestinians will continue to reside in Palestinian towns and villages once the current wave of tanks has returned to base and the Israeli reserve brigades have returned to their civilian lives.
One consequence of the current assault will most likely be the opposite of Sharon's desires, an international drive for the establishment of a full-fledged Palestinian state sooner rather than later. Another consequence, already looming in Cairo and Amman, is the dismantling of Israel's current peaceful relations with Jordan and Egypt. The battles in the occupied territories are a gift to Hezbollah, which has sought to open a northern front but lacked -- until now -- Syrian political permission.
Sharonism is a permanent state of hostility, one that regards opposition to Israel's existence as a governing inevitability of the Middle East, so peaceful relations with the Arab world are desirable but dispensable. This isolationism, characteristic of Israeli right-wing ideology, reinforces its domestic political power. Deepening international isolation only revives Sharon's recently-plummeting domestic popularity.
There is still another level of isolationism at work here: a refusal to acknowledge Palestinian culture, a Sharonist belief that this is the realm of the savage. Yet a Palestinian refugee camp, the central target of Sharonist hatred, is a creation of the imagination that belies its material poverty. Cinderblock walls become a vernacular of their own, carving tightly limited spaces into ever-smaller living areas. What seems uninhabitable misery gains a warmth and hospitality that owes to spirit, little more. A neighborhood emerges out of a warren of walls, alleys, and roofs. Its architecture comes to serve as a metaphor for Palestinian culture, one that builds from misfortune to shelter a vibrant interior.
Even if breeze-block walls are meaningless in front of any serious ballistics, they represent a cultural armament that defies Israel's occupation and US policy goals in the Middle East. It is near-inevitable that the Palestinians have located themselves as the central problem for the Bush administration, and that the Al-Aqsa intifada has silenced US attempts to assemble a regional coalition to oust Saddam Hussein. US policy in the Middle East has repeatedly sought stable guarantees for its own economic interests, while at the same time ignoring the centrality of Palestinians to regional stability. The Palestinians are an un-temporary people living contingent lives, many in temporary quarters, and cannot grant a stability that denies their own historical needs.
As in 1982 under the Reagan administration, Sharon has moved his tank divisions forward under cover of diplomatic shrugs and implied permission from a right-wing US government. This is an extension of the post-9/11 social environment where antagonism to Arab cultures is widespread, and where anti-Arab state violence by proxy is more feasible.
It is one of the barbarisms of the age that Arabic cultures are today under attack, that their riches and elegance lie so unattended beneath the cultural suspicion that now governs the West. There is a barbarity in the precise sciences of death that the United States and Europe export as munitions, a barbarity that exceeds by far any claims laid against feeble imitators and mere consumers among the anti-democrats in power in Arab capitals. Sharon's militarism is in the end only a local manifestation of its makers in the West.
So long as the Palestinians do not have a stable national home and prosperity, then the Middle East will continue to live in instability. So long as an archipelago of settlements sponsored in the main by Israel's theo-fascist movement continues to exist, then peace will remain a chimera. So long as Sharonism prevails, death wins.
Joe Lockard is a member of the Bad Subjects Collective.