by Amos Harel and Avi Isacharoff
Yediot Ahronoth Books, 2004. 400 pp..
. 88 shekels. ISBN:
The book is called The Seventh War because, say Amos Harel and Avi Isacharoff, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that began in September 2000 does not yet have a name. The Palestinians call it the Aqsa Intifada, or “Jerusalem Uprising,” though it was neither a popular revolt against Israeli military rule in the territories, nor was it fought over the holy city. Conducting some 300 interviews, the two Israeli journalists explain how a religious riot turned into a war and what four years of suicide bombings and air strikes accomplished, if anything.
That this book has not yet been translated into English is a crime. Every possible angle of the conflict is covered – from how much Palestinian factions got paid by the Lebanese Hizbullah to commit terrorist attacks (2000 shekels, or $460, plus $1150 per dead Israeli) to how the generational gap within the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) command played a role in the debate over invading West Bank refugee camps. Interestingly, the late Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Yasser Arafat comes off badly in this well-researched account, but the authors find no proof that he masterminded a strategy to throw Israel from the territories without signing a peace treaty.
In May 2000, the Hizbullah pushed the Israeli army from southern Lebanon, which encouraged Palestinian militants to wage a guerilla war of their own. After the failed peace summit in July and Ariel Sharon’s controversial visit to the Temple Mount, site of the venerated Aqsa Mosque, two months later, Fatah party activists marched on Israeli checkpoints and settlements. PA officials like Abu Mazen tried to keep the intifada a popular uprising, but the televised death of 8-year-old Muhammed al-Dura, killed during a firefight in Gaza, ensured that it would turn into a full-blown war.
Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, the head of the IDF Intelligence’s Research Department, argued that Arafat instigated the fighting, but the Shin Bet believed that the PA chairman just rode the tiger – and perhaps fed it a little along the way. In October, Fatah militants formed the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades to make their shooting attacks look like the work of rogue operatives, but it was not long before Arafat was funding them through West Bank strong man Marwan Barghouti. Violence ensured that the world did not forget the Palestinians after the diplomatic debacle in July.
A poor strategist, Arafat operated in his own little world of yes-men, secret bank accounts and delusion. He told his PA confidantes that he did not fear an election victory by Sharon, claiming, in a marvelous reversal of reality, the PLO had beat him in the 1982 Lebanon War! Equally daft, he predicted that George W. Bush would be a more pro-Arab president than Bill Clinton and failed to see how scores of indiscriminant suicide bombings would hurt the peace camp within Israel. His constant lying also lost him credibility with the Americans, British, and even UN envoy Terje Larsen.
Of course, Israel made its own mistakes. Most notably, then-prime minister Ehud Barak’s negotiating under fire and conceding territory without getting anything in return only encouraged PA intransigence. When Israel finally struck back against the terrorists, it struck hard – perhaps too hard. Soldiers fired 850,000 rounds in the first month alone, leading to lopsided losses among the Palestinians, many of whom were civilians.
While assassinations generally had a desired effect, the January 2002 killing of Raed Karmi, a PA General Intelligence officer and part-time terrorist, only escalated the fighting as Fatah started to field suicide bombers, which, until then, had been a monopoly of the fundamentalists. The Sharon government also failed to support beleaguered PA prime minister and Arafat rival Abu Mazen in his short-lived bid to end the war in 2003.
The war killed over 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis, and it destroyed th