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Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising, Israel's Third Front.

Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising - Israel's Third Front.

Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari. Simon and Schuster, $22.95. When the intifada, or Palestinian revolt, began in Gaza in December 1987, the official Israeli response (and, of course, that of their American "Israel right-or-wrong" supporters) was to blame the Syrians and the PLO. Yet according to Ze'ev Schiff, military correspondent of Ha'aretz, an Israel daily, and Ehud Ya'ari, Israeli Television's Middle East specialist, neither played much of a role. The two Israeli writers believe that these inaccurate characterizations were indicative of the confusion and ineptitude that has beset Israel since the civil war began. "Let there be no doubt about it," they conclude in one of their more dramatic passages, "though it developed into a statement of major political import, the intifada began not as a national uprising to throw off the yoke of foreign domination but as a rebellion of the poor, an awesome outburst by the forsaken and forgotten at the bottom of the social heap."

What this "roar of protest" has led to was entirely unexpected: the embarrassment of the PLO as it has sought - not always successfully - to lead the various factions among the West Bank and Gaza Palestinians. Which is not to say that the PLO has no devoted followers among the overwhelming number of people in the occupied territories. It does, but during the first two years of the uprising at least, many rebels preferred doing it their way.

More significant, though, Schiff and Ya'ari turn a devastating eye at what the intifada has done to their fellow Jews. For one thing, it has destroyed the "veil of hypocrisy and self-deceit that what Israel had practiced for over 21 years was a `benevolent occupation.'" With the Israelis "battering away at defenseless civilians, it is hardly surprising that thousands of Palestinians - many of them innocent of wrongdoing - were badly injured, to the point where some remained handicapped," they write. What has happened? they ask, in horror. The Israeli troops "were brutalizing the Palestinian population because the intifada had brutalized the [Israeli Defense Forces]." But now their nation "was repeating the mistakes made by the British in India, the French in Algeria, and the Americans in Vietnam." Above all, they insist over and over again, Israel must come to terms with 1.7 million Palestinians who do not choose to be governed by them.

The choices available to the Israelis are shrinking. Once it occupied the moral high ground, but it now sits diplomatically isolated, an American client state, economically bankrupt, as immoral as any other sovereign nation. Its supporters have long since abandoned any ethical arguments on its behalf, in favor of the questionable "strategic alliance" fantasy. Yet how long can servicing United States policies stand as justification if the Soviet military threat continues to diminish, if not disappear? And how long can the Israelis deceive themselves into believing that American Jews back their policies on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip? Every poll and survey taken since 1988 - even those by Jewish organizations - reveals that the majority of American Jews are in favor of trading land for peace, provided Israeli security is assured. What American Jews appear to want to see is Israel once again perched on the moral high ground.

Schiff and Ya'ari would surely agree, and they conclude their absorbing and convincing book with thoughtful suggestions that could indeed help lead toward negotiations and perhaps, one day, even reconciliation. Their solutions embrace "administrative withdrawal" from the occupied lands and a "confederative arrangement ... includ[ing] Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian entity ... in the West Bank and Gaza." What is certain is that the status quo is dangerous to all parties. It is, conclude the authors, especially menacing to the moral condition on which Jews have always prided themselves. All the same, they write somberly: "It is not clear that in this bitter battle for the soul of Israel, the forces of reason [will] prevail."
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Author:Polner, Murray
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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