Sharon's road to more vengeance

IN GILLO Pontecorvo's brilliant film reenactment of "The Battle of Algiers," there is a scene in which some Muslim women in the Casbah put on European clothes and have their hair cut short in the European manner. It is 1957, and the Arabs of Algeria are up in arms, intifadah-like, against their French colonial masters. The Arab women are each given a package to take into the European quarter, and each leaves her parcel in a crowded cafe, which then explodes in mayhem as scores of French men and women are blown to bits.

It seems that Hanadi Jaradat, 27, a Palestinian woman and a lawyer, followed the same course, donning Western dress so she could pass more easily among Israelis on her way from the West Bank to Haifa. There she killed 19 Israelis, some of them Arabs, not with a bomb left behind, as in Algiers, but strapped to her waist, the new symbol of resistance for the Palestinians, of terror for the Israelis.

And what carnage she caused on the eve of the day most sacred to Jews. How many circles of ruined lives rippled out from that dreadful deed? Who could not feel sorrow for these victims of unending violence?

Hanadi's father would not speak of his own pain. But he did say: "I can tell you that our people believe that what Hanadi has done is justified. Imagine watching the Israelis kill your son, your nephew, destroying our house -- they are pushing our people into a corner, they are provoking actions like these by our people." Hanadi had been distraught over the death of her brother, shot dead four months ago in an Israeli sweep.

Hanadi's deed was not justified. But Palestinians increasingly believe it was, just as Israelis increasingly believe their retaliations and assassinations are justified. Revenge begets revenge.

Besides the destruction of Hanadi's family home, the official response of Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, was -- on the surface -- mild. Bombing an empty camp inside Syria that may or may not have once housed Islamic Jihadis did minimum damage. And Syria has been known to harbor terrorists. But by this act, in clear violation of the 1974 cease-fire agreement that the Americans helped broker, Sharon announced that he feels free to advance death's pale flag into other countries. A dangerous new threshold has been crossed.

The question is not whether bombing Syria was justified but whether it will make Israel and the world safer. Will it bring peace a step closer? All of Sharon's life he has reached for a military solution to Israel's problems: deadly cross-border commando raids in his youth, his disastrous war in Lebanon 20 years ago, his attempts to crush Palestinian national aspirations. To give Sharon his due, he is also trying to protect his nation from violence, but he sees force and repression as his only weapons.

It should be clear by now that there is no military solution to Israel's troubles, only a political one. No Syrian Army threatens Israel as it did 30 years ago at Yom Kippur. Acquiring an explosive vest in Haifa does not require training in Syria.

And what of US interests? Syria is a difficult country. Its intelligence services have helped the United States against Al Qaeda, but not in America's efforts in Iraq. It has scrupulously maintained peace on the border with Israel but not on Lebanon's border with Israel. Syria voted with the United States in the United Nations to put Saddam Hussein on notice and force arms inspectors back in the country. It also joined George Bush senior's grand coalition against Saddam in the Gulf War. But the internationalist days of coalitions and consensus of the first Bush administration have given way to unilateralism and neoconservative dreams of changing the entire Middle East in concert with Israel.

It is a tragedy of our times that the present Bush administration also sees solutions in military terms while diplomatic and political solutions and opportunities are ignored. Even Bush's own initiatives are undermined by the unending struggle between unilateralists and multilaterialsts within his administration, a struggle that the unilaterialists usually win. It came as no surprise, then, when Bush made it clear that he would not object to anything Israel does to Arab countries beyond its border as long as it is done in the name of antiterrorism. The doctrine of preemption has its own logic; with the "road map" to Middle East peace abandoned, we are seeing the first few steps along a new, unmapped road to more Middle East tension and violence.

A majority of Israelis and Palestinians would still be in favor of territorial compromise, but the uncompromising on both sides think they can get their way by force. The Islamists will not destroy Israel, and Israel will not bring peace by force or by striking out against its neighbors.

The French tried military solutions to maintain their colony in Algeria, and they won the Battle of Algiers. But their troubles did not end until their settlers were gone and their occupation ended.

H.D.S. Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe.