by Gila Svirsky
September 22, 2003
The other morning at 7 a.m., I joined Peace Now for an early morning demonstration to ‘wake up’ Ariel Sharon to the fact that his policy of assassinations only feeds the cycle of violence, and does not end terrorism.
“You’re making a terrible mistake!” said our signs, “Your decisions will only create further havoc!” And yet, it turned out that few of us actually think that this policy is a mistake at all. Questioning the 5 or 6 people standing near me, I discovered that all of us really believe that Sharon’s moves are the product of deliberate policy – that they are carried out in the full knowledge that further death and destruction in Israel would be an inevitable result.
Here is a partial list of Sharon’s decisions that are usually referred to by critics as policy blunders because of their unwelcome consequences:
* Targeted assassinations and attempted assassinations, even during the recent ceasefire, which provoke increased terrorist activity;
* Failure to support the moderate Abu Mazen by meaningful confidence-building measures, thereby leading to his downfall;
* The decision to sideline and then ‘eliminate’ Arafat, whether by expelling or killing him, knowing that, dead or alive, chaos and instability would ensue, thereby delaying indefinitely any peace negotiation until the regime stabilizes and an alternative leader emerges;
* Rejection out of hand of the new ceasefire proposal; and
* Excessive force against the Palestinians at large – limiting access to health, education, and employment, ongoing house demolitions, curfews, harassment, etc. – all of which only serve to fan the flames of bitterness and hostility among the population.
The consequences of these acts seem so dire, commentators cannot believe that Sharon would deliberately pursue them. But analysts have begun to add things up, and some have even begun to alert the Israeli public to the deliberate nature of these moves. Writes Ze’ev Sternhell in Ha’aretz (12 Sept. 2003):
“There’s no reason to complain to the prime minister and the defense establishment. The present policy is exactly what Ariel Sharon, the chief of staff, the government, and the settlement leaders think is correct and desirable. They know this policy has a price and they are willing to pay it with eyes wide open.”
The price? More death and destruction inside Israel. Then why would the prime minister of Israel agree to this price?
Sharon rode into power on a double promise: security and peace. And yet Sharon has not made even one significant act of progress to achieve either. On the contrary, security and peace appear to be the victims of Sharon’s overriding agenda: maintaining the occupation. Although one can deliberate Sharon’s motivations for wanting to maintain the occupation – a commitment to a Greater-Land-of-Israel ideology? a belief that Israel is in even greater jeopardy without control over Palestinian lives? a hunger for power that feeds off fear of the other? Regardless of the reason, one thing is crystal clear: All the abovementioned, so-called ‘errors’ are blatant instances of making occupation the priority, placing it above security and peace.
If maintaining control over the territories is viewed as Sharon’s priority, then all his actions fall into place. Here are a few of Sharon’s impressive accomplishments after only two and a half years in office:
* He killed the Oslo Peace Process (a course begun by Netanyahu).
* He exponentially increased the fear and loathing of Palestinians among Israelis (which had declined during Oslo days).
* He brought the Palestinian economy to ruin.
* He resurrected Arafat’s power and influence among Palestinians by appearing to ostracize him.
* He continues to delay construction of a ‘Security Wall’, because it would de facto create a Palestinian state on the other side of it. And,
* He increased support for settlements by forming the most right-wing government in the history of Israel.
These ‘accomplishments’ all lead to the same conclusion: a dead end to all avenues leading to reconciliation. Sharon’s efforts have destabilized Palestinian society economically and politically, dehumanized Palestinians to an extent not seen even in pre-Oslo days, and destroyed or disrupted all infrastructure that would enable a properly functioning Palestinian society – roads, power and water supplies, health and education systems, even the records and databases. Sharon has sown chaos and misery, and, above all, has kept the Palestinian population in a constant state of turmoil. His scorched earth policy is not a mistake, but a deliberate strategy to grind the population into submission, to prevent the rise of a sovereign state, to allow Israel to continue its domination. And if these cruel measures give rise to belligerent, anti-Israeli activity, all the better. Palestinian terrorism is what gives legitimacy to Israel – both domestically and internationally – to maintain its brutal boot on the neck of ‘out-of-control Palestinians’.
A recent Ha’aretz editorial (14 Sept. 2003) called the resolve to eliminate Arafat “a stupid decision” and remarked, “Once again the government has failed to fathom a reality that any reasonable person readily grasps.”
Is Sharon really stupid, with no grasp of the consequences of his actions? Please. It is not time for Sharon to wake up, but for the rest of us to open our eyes. It is not Sharon who fails to grasp reality, but those of us who buy into his words and fail to account for his deeds. Sharon is deliberately leading the Palestinians into a state of chaos because it leaves Israel in control…and Sharon in power.
Twenty years ago, the prestigious Kahana Commission of Inquiry, empanelled by the government of Israel, found Ariel Sharon indirectly responsible for the massacre of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila, forcing his resignation as defense minister, and urged that Sharon never serve a senior security function in Israel ever again.
The Kahana Commission was right. Wake up, everybody!
Gila Svirsky is an Israeli peace activist living in Jerusalem. She is a founding member of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, a grouping of eight Israeli and Palestinian women's peace organisations.