Nov. 18, 2002
Let me tell you a story of dangerous intrigue, one Americans should keep in mind when they consider both the looming war with Iraq and the upcoming Israeli elections.
The year was 1991, and George Bush (the first) was assembling a coalition to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. On board were a number of Arab countries, including Egypt and Syria. The Americans asked Israel’s Shamir government to keep a low profile in case of war, because the White House was concerned that Israel’s involvement might break up the coalition.
Since Israel gets over $ 3 billion in U.S. aid each year and sees the U.S. as a strategic ally, there wasn’t a lot of opposition, except from then Housing Minister, Ariel Sharon. According to Yossi Sarid and the Financial Times, Sharon wanted to attack Iraq in order to break up the American coalition.
His argument, according to Sarid, was that if the Americans won with a coalition, Washington would then pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. And indeed, the Gulf War did lead to the Oslo peace accords, which Sharon opposed (and recently declared “dead”).
While Sharon talks in general about accepting a “Palestinian state,” his actions as Prime Minister over the past 20 months suggests that he is the same man who was willing to undermine an ally in order to prevent any such viable entity coming into being. Look at the record:
When Palestinian legislators led a September revolt against corruption in the Palestinian Authority, Sharon put Arafat under siege, forcing the Palestinians to circle the wagons.
When it looked like Palestinian reformers might force a major overhaul of Arafat’s cabinet, Sharon blocked 13 reformers from attending the meeting in Ramallah. As a result, all but a few legislators voted for the handpicked cabinet. The failure to reform the cabinet was then used as an excuse by Sharon to shelve any talk of negotiations.
In late August, a debate over non-violence sprang up among Palestinians. Some 55 leading intellectuals signed an ad calling for an end to suicide bombings. Instead of welcoming the debate, Sharon unleashed his army Chief of Staff, Moshe Ya’alon, who described Palestinians as a “cancerous manifestation” and military action as “chemotherapy.”
A week after Ya’alon’s remarks, an Israeli Apache helicopter rocketed the West Bank city of Tubas, killing 10 civilians, including two children. The missile silenced the “non-violence” debate, although a recent poll by Common Ground found a majority of Palestinians support non-violent resistance.
That Sharon, and those around him, are not the slightest bit interested in peace with the Palestinians should come as no surprise. His new Foreign Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, opposes any Palestinian state, and his new Minister of Defense, Shaul Motaz, was in charge of the recent invasion of West Bank cities. The latter recently had to flee England to avoid indictment for war crimes.
These are the people the White House has allied itself with, in spite of the fact that Sharon has been an unmitigated disaster for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Just like peace activists predicted last year, the economy has tanked, inflation has jumped from 1.4% to 8%, and unemployment is 10.3% (and much worse among Arab Israelis). “The economy can no longer bear the onerous combination of domestic recession and war,” says economist Pinchas Landau. Among Palestinians, unemployment is 60 percent and, according to the World Bank, 70 percent make less than $2 a day.
There is indeed opposition to this madness, but don’t look for it in the Administration or the U.S. Congress.
Some 500 Israeli reservists have openly stated they will not serve in the Occupied Territories; over 150 of them have been jailed. Organizations like Gush Shalom, B’Tselem, Machsom Watch, Bat Shalom, Women in Black, and Kvisa Sh’hora have demonstrated against the policies of occupation. Despite being tear gassed, almost a thousand Jews and Palestinians, chanting “Build trust, not walls”, marched on Abu Dis to protest the erection of a “security wall” between Israel and the West Bank.
Rabbis for Human Rights and the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace organized leading writers, like Amos Oz and David Grossman, to harvest olives alongside Palestinians, who had been attacked by right-wing Jewish settlers. “It is a human and Jewish obligation to stand by the abused, against the abusers,” Oz told Associated Press.
All over Israel, Israelis are resisting the oppressive occupation and the subsequent ruination of Israel’s economy and society. So too are a growing number of American Jews, though they too are largely ignored in the press.
Endless curfews, military occupation, and constant violence is the only program Sharon and his allies offer. It is a formula for never ending war and further destabilization of the Middle East. It is time for Americans, particularly in the Congress, to stand with the courageous Israelis who have said, “Not in our name.”