What exactly was Israeli Prime Minister Sharon thinking when he decided to off Hamas’ quadriplegic founder? Did he really think he could slay the Hamas beast with one good stab? Sheikh Ahmed Yassin’s assassination has only further infuriated an already volatile group of militants. At this very moment, everyone is waiting for something to blow up in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv; I doubt the cafes and buses of Israel feel “safer” this week because Yassin has been buried. Was this really the time to get the entire Jewish state agitated and paranoid about a promised mega-attack in its busy streets? Can anyone else see the contradiction between simultaneously evacuating Gaza settlements and throwing fuel on the fires of anti-occupier hatred in the region? The one action nullifies the other.
And now there is talk about the next target on Likud’s wanted list. Sure, Sharon wants Yaser Arafat dead; this certainly isn’t a new development in the Israel saga. But what many of the Israelis who claim that there is little to keep the Israeli Prime Minister from sending Arafat to the same grave as Yassin should understand is that Palestine without Arafat could become a very scary place. If the current images of thousands of armed Islamists marching through the streets of Gaza with dynamite strapped to their chests sends chills down your spine, then wait until you see the territories without Fatah and its godlike leader, Abu Amr, to balance out Hamas’ exploding popularity and fanatical rhetoric.
There is no doubt that Arafat is far from a saint and his mafia-like National Authority has stunted, if not killed, Palestine’s democratic growth, but he nevertheless serves as a relatively secular buffer between the Islamists and the Israeli camp. Moreover, Sharon and his defense team depend on Arafat’s lack of cooperation to keep their own non-negotiation policy with the PA credible. Of course, many speculate that by decapitating the Islamist giant, Sharon can weaken Hamas and open the door for Arafat’s increasingly secular Fatah to take over popular power in Gaza, much as it has in the West Bank. Unlike Sheikh Yassin, Hamas’ new leader, Rantisi, is not willing to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli defense is looking to spark a civil war that would cause the isolated and abused region to self-destruct, saving the Israelis the messy job of decimating both groups. However, if Sharon believes that turning the Middle East conflict into a raging religious war will help secure the lives of Israeli civilians, he is signing up for a long and bloody battle. The Israeli Prime Minister has just given throngs of young Palestinians who don’t believe they have anything to lose but their misery an extra reason to subscribe to Hamas’ radical ideology.
These days, posters of a saintly-looking Sheikh Yassin coupled with messages such as “We shall get our revenge” and “Sharon will pay” watch over the tense streets of Ramallah as signs of coming unrest. Three mandatory days of mourning followed the spiritual leader’s assassination, forcing the main West Bank city into a state of complete self-imposed closure. While protesters came out in the tens of thousands in Gaza City, the sheer lack of numbers in Ramallah shows how this city has grown jaded and lost faith in the power of the popular struggle. Neither the National Authority nor Hamas has brought the Palestinians closer to peace or an independent state, and the U.S.-backed road map is but an embarrassing memory everyone wants to forget. Nevertheless, with demonstrations going on in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, Sharon has just created one of the most prominent martyrs for the Islamists and their cause.
In the end, we must ask if the high-profile assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin has brought Israel closer to a state of peace with its Palestinian neighbors. After all, whether legitimate or illegitimate, Hamas is a popular party in the Palestinian-occupied territories, and Yassin could in no way be compared to Osama Bin Laden on a political standpoint. It is time for Israel to come to terms with the fact that there will always be a “Sheikh Yassin” in Palestine as long as the occupation and daily abuse of Palestinian civilians persists. A recent poll conducted in Gaza found that one out of four Palestinian children are willing to become martyrs; Israel’s own missiles are radicalizing the territories. And now with the international community condemning Yassin’s killing as a grave violation of international law, many might say it is too late for Sharon to kick off a new peace process by at least offering carrots to these popular Palestinian leaders instead of dumping buckets of sticks on the Gaza refugee camps.
Gabrielle Goodfellow is a senior in Trumbull College. She is studying abroad in the West Bank city of Ramallah.