Sharon’s Right of Return–to Violence

Against the Current, No. 106, September/October 2003

Joel R. Finkel

ARIEL SHARON’S RIGHT of Return, or shall we say his Return to the Right, has led Israelis and Palestinians full circle in their cycle of violence. Sadly, they are now one level closer to hell, and it will be even more difficult for them to survive.

While almost entirely predictable, it is instructive to review the steps and strategies that have led to the current horrific disaster, which will claim the lives of many more Palestinians and Israelis.

The motor force that propelled events along this path was, as always, the Israeli leadership’s unwillingness to sacrifice a single square millimeter of land and its undying commitment to the Zionist project of colonizing the entire Palestinian homeland.

Talk Peace, Give Nothing

As always, it faced the resolute commitment of the indigenous population, which has now been relegated to but eleven percent of its original homeland, to resist this plan.

Superimposed on this familiar backdrop was the reemergence of an enormous corruption scandal, which would have brought down any other government. Sharon’s trustworthiness among Israelis has dropped precipitously. It is not surprising, therefore, that distractions would be created.

These first came in the form of increased activity on the Lebanese border. Ordering Air Force planes to fly over Lebanese air space, Sharon was able to provoke Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon to fire some scattered anti-aircraft fire, which landed near Israeli border settlements.

Claiming these to be intentional attacks, Sharon started to attack Hezbollah positions in Lebanon, which he hoped would provoke them into serious reprisals. As this failed, he sent aircraft to break the sound barrier over Beirut.

Worse still, the United States was not only becoming annoyed with the Israeli government, it was, for the first time in years, talking about freezing loan guarantees. The result needs to be examined closely.

In doing so, we need to keep in mind this theory: The strategy of the Israeli government is to make it appear that it wants peace, raise the Palestinians’ expectations, and then give them absolutely nothing.

In this way, the moderate Palestinian leaders lose credibility. This, in effect, destroys Israel’s negotiating partner, allowing it to claim that the only solution is a military one.

Indeed, according to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, a top polling agency on Palestinian public opinion, seventy-three percent of the Palestinians supported the ninety-day ceasefire declared in June. However, this ceasefire was unilateral, as Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom stated in a radio interview:

“This ceasefire is not an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The ceasefire is an agreement among the Palestinians themselves. We have a security agreement with the Palestinians.” (Israel Radio, “Reshet Beit,” August 10, 2003)

That the ceasefire was effective was admitted by Shaul Mofaz, Israel’s Defense Minister, who reported that terrorism alerts had dropped by about seventy-five percent. (The Washington Post, 7/23/2003) Yet Israel kept claiming that the Palestinians were not fulfilling the requirements of the road map as they were not actually dismantling Hamas.

Israel knew this demand was unrealistic. It was akin to demanding that the Republicans dismantle the Democrats. It was a demand that the Palestinian Authority (PA) start a civil war.

The United States came to understand this. On August 4, 2003, the U.S. State Department began talking about speeding up the delivery of $300 million in aid to the PA, and was already backing off its demands that they simply crush the Hamas leadership:

“We’ve emphatically stated in public and private what needs to be done,” a senior American official said. “It is clear that it cannot be done instantly. It requires planning, a strengthening of security forces and a unification of those forces under Abbas and Dahlan.” (New York Times, August 2, 2003)

Obviously, what was possible was to negotiate a ceasefire under which Hamas and Islamic Jihad stopped their attacks within Israel. In return, it was expected that Israel live up to at least some aspects of the road map and reduce its level of violence against the Palestinians. Instead, Israel violated every principle of the road map and announced its intention to continue to violate them.

More Fraud

Israel made a public show of releasing some prisoners, many of whom had never been charged with any crime, many of whom had been arrested for simply crossing into Israel in search of work, and many of whom were common criminals about to be released in any case.

Ha’aretz reported (8/6/2003) that “an examination of the records since the ceasefire was declared on June 29 shows that the army has arrested nearly as many Palestinians [as it has released].”

Israel made a show of removing some “outposts.” But while nine were re<->moved, eleven were established. (Los Angeles Times, July 25, 2003)

Further, transcripts of Israeli radio (July 24, 2003) released by BBC Monitoring revealed that settlers of the “outpost” Tel Hayim were assured by the military that if they evacuated they would be allowed to move into the illegal settlement they were building in Givat Artis.

“The removal of settlement outposts is stalling at best, and at worst it borders on fraud,” wrote Nahum Barnea of the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot. (Quoted in the Christian Science Monitor, 7/31/2003)

Since the beginning of the year, almost 5500 new settlers have moved into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. According to the Housing Minister, this brings the total in these two territories alone to 231,443. (Ha’aretz, July 24, 2003)

As reported by the Foundation for Middle East Peace:

“One day after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon described Israel’s rule over the West Bank and Gaza Strip as an ‘occupation that cannot continue indefinitely,’ the Ministry of Housing revealed plans for the construction of 11,806 dwelling units in settlements, including 1,054 in Givat Ze’ev; 3,271 in Ariel; 3,200 in Betar Ilit; 1,512 in Givat Benjamim; and 4,281 in Ma’ale Adumim. The necessary administrative approvals for this continuing expansion are expected to be finalized by year’s end. In the meantime, construction is expected to commence in coming months on 2,000 new units.”

Israel completed its prison wall around the Qalqiliya Ghetto, and continued the construction of the prison wall around the Tulkarim Ghetto. This wall does nothing but breed hatred:

“The barrier also takes an emotional toll. Residents point to the watchtowers, with silhouettes of Israeli soldiers outlined against the sky, and say their town has become like a prison.

“Fatima Subuh’s three-story apartment house is only yards from the towering 24-foot-high wall. “In the past, at least we’d be able to look out the window and see open space, see green fields,” Subuh said as her grandchildren played on the roof. “Now every morning I wake up and I look at a concrete wall.

“Townspeople say instead of making Israel more secure, the barrier feeds hatred and violence, fueling support for extremist militant groups and making peace even more remote. “I raised this land like I raise my children,” said Amer, the farmer. “Then the Israelis come and take it, and they talk to me about peace? This is no way to make peace–this is a way to make enemies.” (Associated Press, July 31, 2003)

Israel continued to confiscate vast amounts of fertile land from Palestinian villages. It continued to demolish homes. It continued to kill and injure scores of Palestinian men, women, and children.

The number of Israeli violations of both the ceasefire and the road map numbered in the hundreds–far too many to enumerate here. Some of the highlights for July alone, compiled by the Palestine Media Center:

46 military roadblocks established

21 incidents of razing of Palestinian-owned houses and lands

7 Palestinians shot dead

306 Palestinians injured

332 Palestinians detained

8 governmental or public institutions partially or completely damaged

1 mosque and 1 church partially destroyed

3,510 dunums (3.3 million sq. meters) of Palestinian agricultural land razed

10,057 fruitful trees uprooted (many taken into Israel to be replanted)

10 greenhouses destroyed

From August 11 to August 17, 2003, Israel shelled Palestinian areas in Bethlehem and Gaza Strip ten times, bulldozed lands, demolished five houses, launched three wide-scale arrest campaigns, and closed Palestinian cities three times. [Source: Palestinian National Authority (PNA)]

Palestinian security vehicles have not escaped attacks, as Israeli soldiers, stationed at the Abu Holi checkpoint, opened fire randomly on a Palestinian security patrol as well as other civil Palestinian cars crossing the Abu Holi checkpoint. [Source: PNA]

All these are acts of incitement, which the road map prohibits. On the other hand, the Palestinians made serious attempts to reduce incitement.

As reported by BBC News (7/9/2003), “BBC Monitoring has observed that the official Palestinian television channel has cut back substantially on anti-Israel rhetoric since the ceasefire. Palestine TV had toned down its programming during several previous ceasefires, but this time, it has also aired a new music video aimed at showing Palestinian aspirations for peace with the Israelis.”

The Palestinian population supported the ceasefire, as witnessed by a report from Agence France Presse (7/16/2003), which told of a woman settler stranded by a flat tire at night in the West Bank. Approached by a Palestinian who stopped his car, “I was terrified,” she said. “But he immediately told me not to worry and started changing the wheel, explaining that it was his duty to help Israelis because of the truce.”

The first clue that the end was near was on August 3, 2003, when the PA offered Israel an extension of the ceasefire. As reported by Reuters:

“Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath told his Israeli counterpart in a meeting on Sunday that he would urge militant groups to extend a temporary truce if Israel implemented its part of a ‘road map’ to peace.

“But his proposal was rejected by Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom who demanded the Palestinian Authority (PA) dismantle the ‘terror infrastructure’ in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including the disarming of militant groups.”

In other words, Israel did not want a ceasefire, and was certainly unwilling to have “implemented its part” of the road map even to maintain one.

Then, on August 4th, Israeli papers reported that the United States had begun to draw up plans to cut loan guarantees to Israel in an attempt to halt construction of the wall, against which the Bush administration had raised its level of opposition. Israel’s entire project of settlement and occupation is underwritten to a large extent by Washington through direct grants and loan guarantees. The control of this purse string is the real power wielded by the U.S. government. For the first time in over a decade, it threatened to use this power.

Israel’s leaders were faced with a choice. They could either capitulate to U.S. desires and show at least a modicum of compliance with the road map, or seek to justify the continuation of their previous policies, which they have always based on “security.” Predictably, they chose the method of violence.

Destroying the Ceasefire

On August 9th, the IDF invaded the Askar refugee camp, east of Nablus, to assassinate two Hamas activists. Missiles, fired from helicopters, destroyed the third floor of the apartment building where the IDF had surrounded them.

Using residents as human shields, they entered the building and removed the body of Khamis Yousef Abu Salem. The IDF then blew up the building and bulldozed its remains. Residents found the bullet-riddled body of Farid Hamed al-Sader.

As they retreated, the IDF fired on civilians. Mahmoud Tayseer al-Tak, 18, was fatally wounded by a rubber coated bullet in the abdomen. Fawzi Ahmed Fawzi al-‘Alami, 41, died from the inhalation of tear gas. (Palestine Center for Human Rights)

It was entirely predictable that Hamas would return fire, which they did two days later in two attacks, one within Israel and one within the West Bank. Just as predictably, Israel responded by assassinating an Islamic Jihad activist, Mohammed Sidr, the following day. It was necessary to provoke them, as well.

Also predicable was the announcement by Israel’s Defense Minister who, in keeping with a long-held strategy of blaming everything on the secular movement, claimed that Arafat was behind the renewed violence!

The horrific targeting of orthodox Jews, among them many children, and the rapid closures and assassinations, marked the return to the beginning of the cycle–with just one difference.

Whereas seventy-three percent of the Palestinians supported this ceasefire, because they were offered exactly nothing, because they continued to see their land and homes confiscated, and because they continued to see their villages imprisoned by the wall, far fewer are likely to support the next one.

This is what the military leaders of Israel wanted all along–with every turn of the wheel, the secular leaders get weaker and the Islamists get stronger–and now they can have the pleasure of dancing on the graves of many more innocent Israelis and Palestinians. –August 23, 2003

ATC 106, September-October 2003