You can’t fight terrorism with the military,” Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh, from Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, told the World Dec. 4. “Israel has tried to do that for 53 years. It’s an example of what not to do.”

Al-Awda is the largest network of grass-roots activists dedicated to Palestinian human rights.

Qumsiyeh said the recent suicide bombings and Israel’s military attacks are “part of the cycle of violence.” The violence is a symptom, he said, of an underlying cause: the disease of occupation.

The violence in the Middle East reached even more dangerous levels after three suicide bombings and a shooting by extremists killed 26 Israeli civilians and injured 200 over the Dec. 1-2 weekend.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon retaliated Dec. 3 with a massive military response, including firing nine missiles at the offices of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Yasser Arafat. The military strikes killed two Palestinians and injured 150. Much of the world has condemned the suicide bombings and cautioned restraint on the Israeli response.

However, the Bush administration has given the green light to Israel’s new round of military attacks against the Palestinian people. Israel declared the PNA a “supporter of terrorism” and unleashed what The Detroit News called “the second front in the terrorism war.”

The heightened drive to demonize Palestinians and their fight for a homeland is in lock-step with the Bush administration’s “war on terrorism” here and abroad. The recent suicide bombings are also being used as an excuse to clamp down on pro-Palestinian groups in the United States.

The past week’s violence threatens to wreck any hope for a peace effort and has increased concern that 14 months of violence, which resulted in the deaths of at least 850 Palestinians and 222 Israelis – many of them children – is spiralling out of control.

Arafat, speaking to CNN after the air strike on his Ramallah compound, accused Sharon of trying to undermine his efforts to combat terrorism. Another Palestinain Authority spokesperson asked how they can be expected to crack down on terrorists when they are under direct attack by the Israeli Army.

“The Israelis don’t want me to succeed and for this [Sharon] is escalating his military activities against our people, against our towns, against our cities, against our establishments,” Arafat said. “He doesn’t want a peace process to start.”

Sharon is facing genocide and crimes against humanity charges in a Belgian court for his role in the massacre of several thousand Palestinian refugees in Beirut in 1982. In Geneva, 100 Geneva Convention countries are meeting to look into Israel’s violations of the Convention in their treatment of Palestinians. The U.S. and Israel are both boycotting the meeting.

“This weekend’s attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa are morally unjustifiable and politically counter-productive, however, these attacks did not occur in vacuum,” American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) President Ziad Asali said in a Dec. 3 press release.

“Fourteen months of economic siege, collective punishment and death squad killings by Israel, resulting in more than 850 Palestinian deaths, including 77 assassinations, and 20,000 injuries have produced an environment of hatred and violence. These tactics have clearly failed to provide greater security for Israelis or Palestinians.”

The Bush administration’s actions are in direct opposition to international and American desires. The ADC called on the U.S. “to direct all their diplomatic efforts to put an immediate end to the cycle of violence and impress upon the parties to return to the negotiating table to find a prompt and permanent end to Israeli occupation and the creation of a fully independent Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel in internationally recognized borders.”

The ADC also noted that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s recent declaration that “‘the occupation must end’ should be more clearly reflected in U.S. policy towards Israel and the Palestinians.”

Dr. Nurit Peled-Elhanan is an Israeli peace activist and recent recipient of a European Parliament peace award whose daughter, Smadar Elhanan, was killed by a suicide bomber in September 1997.

“But anyone who can remember back not even one year but just one week or several hours knows the story is different, that each attack is a link in a chain of horrific bloody events that extends back 34 years and has but one cause: a brutal occupation,” she wrote Dec. 1.

“An occupation that humiliates, starves, denies jobs, demolishes homes, destroys crops, murders children, imprisons minors without trial under appalling conditions, lets babies die at checkpoints and spreads lies.”

Many religious-based peace organizations, like the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), have been working for years on a just peace in the Middle East. Kathy Bergen, the national coordinator of AFSC’s Middle East peace program, told the World, “Nothing can condone violence and terrorism.”

Unfortunately, Bergen said, “the U.S. media is not reporting the complete picture. Referring to the unabated build-up of Jewish-only settlements by Israel, she said, “There isn’t a level playing field. Violence is also land confiscation.”

In Bergen’s opinion, “Most people support peaceful negotiations.”

A growing “just peace” movement among Jewish Americans is an important part of any Middle East peace coalition. Elliott Bat Tzedek, from the Jewish Mobilization for a Just Peace in the U.S., said the new round of violence is “heart-breaking.”

“A majority of Israelis – a silent majority – want to end occupation and have peace, she told the World. “The majority of Palestinians want a homeland to raise their kids, work and live in peace. Extremists on both sides prevent that from happening.”

Sarah Staggs, chairwoman of the Communist Party’s peace and solidarity commission, said, “The American people can pressure the Bush administration to seriously pursue the peace process.” This demand should include that Israel stop its attacks and call for a cease fire by all parties, she said.

“Congress should cancel the $7.6 billion military aid package to Israel until they end the occupation of and halt and dismantle the Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory,” Staggs added.