The Hollow Echo of Silence

Gershon Baskin*


March 8, 2004


Today, Palestinian news sources report that 27 Palestinians, including four children, have been killed in Gaza in less than one week. Brigadier General Gadi Shamni, the outgoing commander of the IDF in the Gaza Strip said to Haaretz newspaper “We are winning in this conflict. In the military arena we are winning every day, several times." Palestinian political leaders from various camps such as the Al Aqsa Brigades state that they “vowed to retaliate violently to the Zionist entity’s massacre in the Gaza refugee camps of Breij and Nusseirat”.  Hamas statements also promised: “that Zionist terrorist premier Ariel Sharon would pay dearly for his crimes in the Gaza Strip. Hamas officials asked all Palestinian military wings to escalate resistance raids against occupation targets in all areas of occupied Palestine.”


Are we winning, as Gadi Shamni assures the Israeli public? In my view the answer is firmly: NO! The war against terror, I say to my Israeli friends, colleagues and leaders - will not be won on the military front. This past week’s actions in Gaza will not decrease the will of Palestinians of all ages to hate Israel and to fight Israel with every last drop of blood in their bodies. Palestinian and Arab television stations throughout the Arab world broadcasted in very vivid red colors the blood dripping from the head of the young Palestinian child who was killed yesterday in the gun battle between Israeli forces and Palestinian forces. Even moderate voices in Palestine could not hold back the burning desire for revenge while viewing the shocking pictures.


Since the beginning of this intifada in September 2000, I have stated over and over again that you cannot win a war against a people who are fighting for liberation and freedom against an occupying power. We should know that from our own history and experience better than most other nations and peoples. It is clear that the Palestinians will in the end be free and the Israeli occupation will end. It is mainly a question of time and at what price. The day-to-day battle of killing is nothing more than futile.


There are those who would say: What do you want us to do, lay down our arms and let the enemy kill us? To those I would say: we need to change disks in order to act differently.  In the current paradigm of Israeli-Palestinian relations the only logic is the one of mutual destruction. That logic is voiced clearly in the kinds of statements that are made everyday by people on both sides:

We cannot lay down our arms because they will not lay down theirs.

We must fight against terrorism because you cannot compromise with terrorism.

We must continue to fight the occupation because the only language they understand is the language of force. 

We must fight against terrorism because force is the only language they understand.

If we declare ceasefire they will understand that we are weak. 

There can be no victories for terrorism because that will increase terrorism.

Withdrawal is a victory for terror.

They are all terrorists from birth; they drink the hatred with their mother’s milk.

Anyway, there is no one to talk to on the other side.

They don’t want peace, they only want to destroy us.

Etc. Etc. Etc. 


It doesn’t matter who says it. In a conflict where there is so much asymmetry it is amazing how much symmetry there is in the rhetoric.  The very same things that we think about them, they think about us. And the circle continues over and over, round and round. And with each day more death, more blood, more destruction. And the entire resources of two peoples, human capital, financial capital and the land that we both love is being thrown into the garbage bin of the logic of military, security, weapons, and defense futility.


In the past I have been attacked by Israelis who would stay that I and those like me are quislings and self hating Jews for even stating that there is an occupation. But now even Prime Minster Sharon himself has spoken about occupation “I think the idea that it is possible to continue keeping 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation - yes it is occupation, you might not like the word, but what is happening is occupation - is bad for Israel, and bad for the Palestinians, and bad for the Israeli economy. Controlling 3.5 million Palestinians cannot go on forever. You want to remain in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah and Bethlehem?” (May 26, 2003)  Sharon is planning for unilateral disengagement. I am fully behind the idea of Israel ending the occupation in Gaza and I support any move that will prepare the people of Israel for the eventuality that we must withdraw from every centimeter of Gaza including all of the settlements, and the sooner the better. But this will not bring peace.  It should be clear to everyone, especially to Sharon himself, this will not put an end to the killing.


In a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, Israel will not be leaving Gaza for the last time. Israel will return, IDF troops will re-enter, Apache helicopters will continue to launch missiles against Palestinians in the streets of Gaza. Law and order will not reign in Gaza. The one constant variable that we can all be sure about under this scenario of unilateralism is that hatred against Israel will continue to grow. And Israelis will respond with equal levels of hatred against Palestinians.


Palestinians are not born terrorists and there is nothing about their genetic makeup that turns them towards terrorism.  Israelis too are not born hating Palestinians and they too are not terrorists from birth. These are learned behaviors. The main stay of learning these behaviors is fear. The spread of fear is the fuel of generals and military minds and politicians who were in their pasts from the same mind set – Israelis and Palestinians alike. There is firm reliance on the spread of fear for constant demands for increased military budgets or for continued smuggling of weapons and paying the salaries of “freedom fighters” with badly needed scarce resources that should be used to build, not to destroy. And fear has taken hold. Only we are all too proud to say that we are afraid.  Only cowards are afraid. But I am not a coward and I am afraid. I am afraid that the killing and destruction will go on and on, and the well known wish that maybe my children won’t have to fight will be heard over and over again, generation after generation, and all of our children will have to fight. And the publics are taken hostage and their voices are silent.


Where are the voices who say enough killing? Where are those who know in their hearts and in their minds that there is no way to break the will of the other side? I am burning with anger. I am angry at my compatriots and I am angry at Palestinians – why do we remain silent? I have no hopes that our leaders, or their leaders, or the leaders of the world will save us from our own demise. I am not angrier at the leaders than I am at ourselves. I no longer have expectations from our leaders. They will continue to do what they know to do best – and we all will continue to pay the price with more and more casualties – Israeli and Palestinian.  How many dead bodies will it take before common Israelis and Palestinians take to the streets and say: ENOUGH!?  5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 100,000? Each new casualty is lost for nothing. They are not heroes, they are suckers as we all are, and if we will be honest with ourselves, we will recognize, Israelis and Palestinians, that they were killed in vain.


Don’t believe the myths.  We are fighting for nothing – all of us – Israelis and Palestinians. This war will bring about no achievements.  There are no victories and there are no victors.  There are only losses and losers. We are all losing and we are all losers. Israelis and Palestinians alike will continue this futile foolishness and recklessness until we, the people, Israelis and Palestinians, stand up with courage and go against the tide. As it continues and as more and more people lose their lives, on both sides, we are all responsible and we must all take the blame. 


I speak with Israelis and Palestinians everyday – from all walks of life. I know that there are people to talk with on the other side.  I know that it is possible to reach agreements and to arrive at solutions that would guarantee life with dignity and freedom. I have been doing this work for too long to give into fear and despair. We must demonstrate our compassion for their suffering and for our own. There is hope and there must be hope.  There are enough reasonable Israelis and Palestinians who, like me, are fed up.  It is now up to us, we must make the difference.



Dr. Gershon Baskin is the Israeli-Co-Director of IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information