The Sri Lankans had more or less lived with this horror since 1983. Then 9/11 happened and a new dynamic, promoted by president George W. Bush and the United States, gave the Sri Lankans a new outlook. With a new administration elected on the promise of stopping the LTTE permanently, the country embarked on a full-scale military assault. It sent its army, much stronger than the Tamil tigers, into Tamil-occupied territory and began to take back town by town, going street to street in some cases, and killing anyone who resisted.
Jehan Perera of the Sri Lankan Peace Council said, "This government has taken the position that virtually any price is worth paying to rid the country of terrorism."
The price paid was indeed a heavy one. Many innocent people died. The Sri Lankan government deeply regrets the killing of innocent civilians, but most government officials believe they made a conscious choice to pay that price, and that the alternative status quo was simply no longer acceptable.
It was bloody and dirty, and they took a lot of criticism for it. The UN estimates that during the final months of fighting in Sri Lanka, at least 7,000 Tamil civilians were killed and 13,000 were wounded. But they also wiped out the scourge of terror, not stopping until total victory was declared last May. Today, Sri Lankans can once again walk the streets of their cities, visit the marketplaces and conduct business without the fear of being murdered in such gruesome ways that not even their loved ones can identify their bodies. It is a new dawn for Sri Lanka.
Israel can take a real lesson from this experience. The threat facing the Jewish state from the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon is no different than the threat to the north of Sri Lanka, and its coastline into the south that the Tamils occupied before the Sri Lankan army began its war of elimination.
THE TIME has come to admit that there might not be a solution to the Palestinian problem, but there is a way to end it. The next time terror forces Israel to take military action, this option should be considered. Israel must realize that there will be no peace with an intransigent enemy that refuses to act in good faith. Palestinian rejectionism and Iranian-backed Hizbullah threats to our existence will never be placated; they will not stop until Israel is destroyed. Once the population realizes this unfortunate reality, there is only one way to change it. Israel must take the Sri Lankan initiative and move into these areas one by one, cornering, enveloping and killing off all armed resistance.
We've already discussed how Sri Lanka can be a very instructive example. But I want to take a look at Mr. Hart's particular comparison, because I think it reveals something that is both very dark and very important at the same time.
Mr. Hart's proposal represents a possible future -- call it the Sri Lanka option. It is one where Israel simply abandons the idea of a negotiated settlement, recognizes its superior military might, and crushes all who get in its way. Effectively, it is the path that anti-Zionists seem to suspect Israel wants to take. What isn't clear, though, is why Israel hasn't taken it yet. The uninformed, of course, call Cast Lead (or the occupation generally) "genocide", but clearly they have no idea what the term means. If Israel was attempting to launch a genocide in Gaza, then they are the Keystone Kops of the genre (1,200 deaths out of a population of over 400,000? Please.). Trust me: if Israel was interested in genocide, they could do a far more thorough job of it.
There is a segment of Israel's most passionate critics -- a very naive segment, but perhaps not a consciously malicious one* -- whose political action rests on a simple premise: things can't get worse there. And if they do, the world won't tolerate it. And that's the ultimate check against Israel ever adopting the Sri Lanka option. If you tell them that their actions are likely to give succor to the Israeli right and diminish the prospects of the Israeli left, they'll say "as opposed to what? Israel can't make things worse. And if they do," say, by adopting Mr. Hart's eliminationist proposal, "the world won't stand for it. The whole edifice would come down." There is an upside, and no downside, to increased pressure, isolation, demonization, and hatred. Things can't get worse.
The history of the world (not to mention Sri Lanka itself), alas, does not seem to bear this outlook out. It is quite rare to see a state fall. When they do, it generally is either because of intractable domestic violence or a completely collapsed economy. One thing that almost never destroys a state, however, is wrongful conduct. North Korea is still around. China is still around. Burma is still around. Cuba is still around. Iran is still around. Zimbabwe is still around. Uzbekistan is still around. States don't fall because they do wrong.
We have an incredible capacity to allow the most hideous evils to pass by with only shocked gasps. We have an incredible capacity to look past grievous sins with only occasional tuts. I have an Israeli friend from Sderot, the town best known for serving as Hamas' local firing range and for being mostly ignored by the international left. He told me once that Israel's original sin was not the Nakba, it was not finishing the job. Not because such an act would have been justified -- it wouldn't have been, it would have been gravely evil, just as Mr. Hart's proposal is. But he simply observed that had they done so, they'd have come in for far less criticism than they do today for comparatively far milder harms. This observation, first expressed by Machiavelli, has been made before.
And Mr. Hart seems to be operating under the same logic. If Israel took its advice, it would come under virulent criticism. The trade unions would be outraged. The UN would be outraged. I'd be outraged. And all of our outrage would likely be for naught. States don't fall because they do wrong.
Maybe the rules for Jews are different. It's plausible. The normal standards don't apply to us, after all -- it is quite easy for me to imagine that a world which yawned through countless acts of barbarism, massacre, torture, mutilation, and murder would suddenly see its passions aroused when Jews are the perpetrators -- to the degree that they would be willing to intervene and stop it. But I'm doubtful. I think we'll see what we usually see: angry words, little action, and lots of forgetfulness.
There is, in other words, another option. The choices aren't "status quo" or "just peace". There is also "ethnic cleansing". And the more Israel sees that adopting liberal policies or using the tools of reconciliation yield no quarter from its critics (as when its most integrated, reconciliation-minded soccer team is the target of protest), the more likely these options become.
It can get worse. It can always get worse. And if it does, the world will do what it always does: ignore it.
* There is another segment, of which I genuinely think groups like the STUC belong to, that also does not believe things can get worse but also has no interest as to whether they get better. These groups are fundamentally malevolent, and insofar as they exist in a deliberately symbiotic relationship with Israeli extremists to further their own cynical ends, they ought to be held to account with their partners in Israel if the horrors they stoke come to pass.
UPDATE: A repost to this quote of the evening seems appropriate:
I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed and humiliated, disrespected, and ridiculed, and that did not represent the attempt to prevent or undo this "loss of face" -- no matter how severe the punishment, even if it includes death.... [T]hese men mean it literally when they say they would rather kill or mutilate others, be killed or mutilated themselves, than live without pride, dignity, and self-respect.... The emotion of shame is the primary or ultimate cause of all violence.
JAMES GILLIGAN, VIOLENCE 110-111 (1996).