"We must first strike the Palestinians a heavy blow, before we can begin negotiating peace," Prime Minister Sharon said on March 4th, only a few hours after Israeli security forces killed 17 Palestinians, 5 of them children. One of the adult fatalities was a 55-year-old woman from Jenin; another was Dr. Sliman Khalil, who was slain while evacuating the injured from a nearby refugee camp.
The evening before these recent killings, I went to a peace rally to protest the Israeli military infiltration into two refugee camps, where an additional 24 Palestinians had been shot dead. As I was walking from my car towards the Prime Minister's house, the sound of a loud explosion reverberated through the Jerusalem night.
The ensuing echo of ambulance sirens left little doubt in my mind about what had happened. An hour later, while standing with a peace sign in hand, my mother called the cell phone to check whether I was all right; she told me that a suicide bomber had exploded himself outside a synagogue, killing ten guests who had been celebrating a Bar-Mitzvah.
There is no longer any room for doubt: violence begets violence. And it is within this macabre context that one must interpret Sharon's decision to employ more force.
Sharon, to be sure, is not mad. Yet, he realizes that in the past few days 31 Jews and 52 Palestinians have been killed, joining the over one thousand people -- many of them children -- who have died since the second Intifada erupted in September 2000. At this juncture, then, there are only a few ways to make sense of Sharon's sanguine logic.
Sharon's declaration, which has been rapidly translated into policy, will surely guarantee one thing -- more blood will be spilled. But why, one might ask, does he want to escalate the violence?
The answer is straightforward. Sharon believes in a greater Israel, and the only way to accomplish this objective is through an all out war. For if enough Jewish blood is shed, Sharon might in fact gain the legitimacy needed to embark on such a campaign.
1948 appears to be Sharon's historical reference point. During that war, the fledgling Israeli government decided to ensure a Jewish majority within what would become Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians either fled or were evicted by force from their homes, thus creating the Palestinian refugee problem. The Palestinians accordingly refer to Israel's War of Independence as Nakbah, or "the catastrophe."
Currently, there are about 200,000 Jewish settlers living on occupied land amongst three million Palestinians. One solution to the crisis would be to dismantle all the Jewish settlements, bring the settlers back home, and establish a Palestinian state within the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This solution, however, is antithetical to Sharon's expansionist aspirations. It is thus becoming more and more apparent that Sharon is actually interested in creating a situation whereby he can expel hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their land. In order to do so, he needs a war.