Op-Ed

Robert Olson: Israel's 'mowing the grass' in Gaza likely to be an endless task

Robert Olson, a Middle East analyst in Lexington, is author of The Kurdish Nationalist Movements in Turkey: 1980-2011.
Robert Olson, a Middle East analyst in Lexington, is author of The Kurdish Nationalist Movements in Turkey: 1980-2011.

In several announcements by Israel's Defense Department, spokespersons during the first stage of its war in Gaza stated they were "mowing the grass."

This expression is not indigenous to the Middle East, certainly not to Gaza or the West Bank where I have never seen much grass, at least not enough to mow.

The characterization seems much more intended for an American audience of whom many have large lawns that need frequent mowing in order to look nice. Not mowing one's grass, let alone allowing it to grow wildly, is considered an unfriendly act.

But "mowing the grass" is also a euphemism to restrain, control, coerce or oppress — even to eliminate — groups of people who are resisting or in opposition to a group, clan, network, society or enemy who they think is oppressing or controlling them.

It is a strategy Americans who recognize in actions against Native Americans. Very early on, the first European settlers in the U.S. realized that because of early and substantial resistance from Native Americans they would have to use a variety of methods to deter, resist, destroy and kill resistance to their settlements and expansion policies.

Most of the methods used were successful although it took more than 200 years.

By the end of the 19th century, settlers had won the battle and most Native Americans were compelled to find refuge in reservations; 50 million buffalo that were the source of their main food supply had been killed, most of their land taken, their pride destroyed and character diminished.

Native Americans were compelled to make do with a restricted life sustaining themselves on a diet of bacon, hardtack, flour, beans and coffee.

Their conquerors were kind enough to allow them to have access to liberal amounts of whiskey in order for them to find solace for their humiliating loss of land and dignity.

In other words, their grass had been mowed.

Much of the same has now happened to Palestinians. They have resisted in a variety of ways to their dispossession and ethnic cleansing by Israel. Palestinians have used other strategies and tactics in their various resistance strategies, including war and terrorism against Israel. Such strategies might have been more efficacious, although that is doubtful given the fierce opposition faced, especially from Israel and the U.S.

But the challenges of Palestinians are much larger than Gaza, the West Bank, Israel and the U.S. There are now 1.8 Palestinians in Gaza, at least 2.3 million in the West Bank, 1.7 million in Israel, 3.3 million in Jordan, 500,000 each in Lebanon and Syria.

There are also perhaps another 500,000 in Egypt, other Arab countries, Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere.

Altogether, that's about 10 million people. Many are very angry with Israel and the U.S. Some are also angry with many Arab countries and with other Arabs.

As a result, Israel and the U.S. will be compelled to "mow the grass" often. The mowers will have to be ready — blades sharpened, gas and oil tanks filled and plenty of energetic mowers on hand.

Some Palestinians look at the seeming success, so far, of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. They also look at the success of the Jewish State.

There are many challenges ahead for the mowers of grass, and they just keep growing.

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