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KNOW YOUR ENEMY:  The militant Islamic terror faction Hamas has come under increasing pressure from the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, the United States and European Union in recent weeks to agree to a temporary ceasefire in the armed intifada in order to allow for progress down the ?road map? to Palestinian statehood.

Israel has been reluctant to accede to such a move, saying it would merely create a veneer of calm that would trigger demands for Israeli concessions, while allowing the Palestinian terror militias a ?breather? to regroup and rearm.

While Israel may accept such a limited truce for now, it prefers sticking to the road map?s express terms, which require as an all-important first step that the PA ?undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain? terrorists in order to eventually dismantle their infrastructure.

But new PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has sought to avoid at all costs a ?civil war? with the Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah terror militias, and instead has pleaded with them to back a temporary truce, or ?hudna,? a radical departure from the roadmap.

The reticence of Israeli officials to accept a hudna is based on their clearer understanding of its origins and implications in Middle East culture, and the bitter experience of the failed Oslo process.

Simply stated, Muslims are allowed to enter into a ?hudna? or temporary ceasefire with a non-Muslim enemy and then break it at any time, once they have gained enough strength to resume hostilities.

THE PROPHET?S PRECEDENT:  When Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chief Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo accords on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993, the international community hailed it as an historic breakthrough towards peace. In the exchange of commitments under Oslo, Israel recognized the PLO as a negotiating partner for reaching a permanent solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while Arafat pledged to end terror and violence and seek a resolution through peaceful means only.

But Arafat assured the Palestinian people and the greater Arab world the very next morning, in an interview with Jordanian media, that what he had signed in Washington was merely a ?hudna? that could be abandoned at any time. Thereafter, he consistently used that term in reference to Oslo whenever addressing Arabic-speaking audiences, while in English he spoke of the ?peace of the brave.?

In his secretly recorded 1994 speech in a Johannesburg mosque and elsewhere, Arafat repeatedly belittled Oslo as a mere hudna, and cited the precedent set by none other than Muhammed the Prophet to back his position.

Arafat explained how Muhammed had signed the truce of al-Hudaybiyah in 628 with the infidel tribes of Quraish in Medina at a time when he was not strong enough to defeat them. The truce was to last for a term of just under ten years, but within two years his army had grown and he broke the truce and slaughtered the Quraish, eventually capturing Mecca and its lucrative idol worship center.

Arafat even reminded Palestinians and all Muslims how Muhammad erased part of his signature from the truce document (he did not want the words "Messenger of Allah" to appear after his name), thus making it an expendable ceasefire, or "hudna" in Arabic.

This was a seminal event in the founding of the religion that is well known to Muslim faithful as a precedent permitting Islamic rulers to violate accords they sign with infidels as soon as it becomes opportune. According to this precept, Arabs view an enemy?s readiness for peace as a weakness to be exploited.

AN OLD TRIBAL CUSTOM:  Actually, the concept of hudna has even older, pre-Islamic origins in the Middle East, dating back to biblical times and Arab tribal notions of honor and shame that remain in practice to this day, as seen for instance in the ?honor killings? of Muslim women for shaming their families by not going through with arranged marriages.

In a typical case, if a member of one tribe or clan were to kill someone from another tribe or clan, the deceased?s relatives were duty bound to restore their family honor by exacting revenge on the killer?s family. Otherwise, they brought a mark of shame upon themselves. But any revenge attack then obligated a return attack, and so on.

This produced long running tribal feuds and vendettas and a custom developed for breaking the cycle of tit-for-tat killings ? called a ?sulha.?

A sulha was the last step of a reconciliation process for declaring an inter-tribal feud finally over, and usually consisted of elders from the two warring tribes sharing a big meal together to symbolize the end of the bloodshed.

We can see something of this millennia-old concept in the 23rd Psalm, where King David says, ?You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.? In other words, the Lord makes my enemies to be reconciled and at peace with me.

The first step in this reconciliation process was a hudna, an agreement to cease any revenge attacks for a certain time period until a more permanent sulha can be achieved. An interim step was called an ?attwah,? a non-time bound or long-term ceasefire on the way to the full resolution of grievances.

One party initiated the process by asking for the hudna, something akin to the Western concept of suing for peace. But by doing so, that party was deemed to be admitting fault for starting the feud.

On two occasions in recent years, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon demonstrated his awareness of this aspect of Arab tradition and stopped other Israeli leaders from accepting invites to address the Palestinian legislature in Ramallah to express a desire for peace and request a ceasefire. Sharon knew the Palestinians would interpret this as Israel?s admission that it started the current intifada.

With the rise of Islam, the hudna-to-sulha process was altered in that these were still valid agreements as between Muslim parties, but the Koran removes any duty on the part of Muslims to keep their word with infidels. For Hamas and even the PA, that means any agreement with Israel ? whether a temporary ceasefire or a permanent status agreement ? may be discarded at any time.

While on the subject, it is interesting to note that Yasser Arafat comes from the prominent al-Husseini clan in Arab east Jerusalem, which has had a long-running feud with the rival Nashashibi clan. Reliable biographical sources attest that this in-fighting forced Arafat?s parents to flee to Egypt in the 1930s, before he was born, thus making him a refugee of inter-Arab violence and not ?Zionist aggression.?

On a final note, most media have adopted the mantra that Israel and the Palestinians are locked in a ?cycle of violence,? suggesting that both sides are avenging the latest attack on them with a revenge attack, leading to the next attack and so on.

This unfairly draws a moral equivalence between Palestinian suicide bombings that deliberately target civilians and Israel?s surgical strikes on ?ticking time bombs? to prevent even more carnage.

While there does seem to be a ?pattern? to the violence, there is no revenge ?cycle? at play in the armed intifada. Israel does not adhere to the tribal ways of the Arab/Muslim world, but Western concepts of contract law, self-defense, justice and peace.


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