June 18, 2003

Mid-Eastern Terms

Commenting on the Aqaba Summit, in an atmosphere of peace and reconciliation, a senior member of Israel's ruling junta said it all. Major General Amos Gilad the Government Coordinator in the [Occupied] Territories told Yedioth Achronoth (5.6.03): "In Mid-Eastern terms, we have not inflicted any suffering on the Palestinians".

Yes: Merely 2.500 Palestinians killed in two and a half years, only tens of thousands injured, just 12.000 made homeless by house demolitions, nothing but economic plight on the verge of starvation, continuous siege, regular orderly humiliation and countless "exceptional" abuses (from theft to murder) and no suffering whatsoever. "In Mid-Eastern terms", that is. All the colonialist arrogance, malicious gloating and bestial savageness of the Israeli junta in a single phrase.

How about the 700 Israelis killed by Palestinians in the same period? What are they "in Mid-Eastern terms"? A petty trifle? A token of love? Imagine a Palestinian official saying that at a peace conference.

Mid-Eastern Reality

Journalist Meron Rapoport of Yedioth Achronoth (23.5) published an extensive, horrifying research on the Israeli Apartheid Wall. My own column on the subject had underestimated the extent of the atrocity: not only for the Palestinians sealed off behind the Wall, but for those squeezed between the Wall and the Green Line, denied access to Israel and cut off from the Palestinians behind the fence clearly a target to a "soft", economic ethnic cleansing.

Moreover, Rapoport's article now available in a fairly complete English translation shows that the Wall is identical to Sharon's age-old "Cantons Plan", aimed at annexing most of the West Bank to Israel while pushing the Palestinians into disconnected enclaves on about 40% of it. As Ron Nahman, mayor of the settlement of Ariel, says: "The map of the fence, the sketch of which you see here, is the same map I saw during every visit Arik [Sharon] made here since 1978. He told me he has been thinking about it since 1973."

Describing how next month the town of Qalqilia, having lost 50% of its lands, will be fenced all around, Rapoport concludes: "One can call it cantons, or Bantustans, or simply a prison. A 10 metre narrow gate will be the only access to the outside world for 40.000 inhabitants."

Mid-Eastern Virtuality

But no reality could confuse the main-stream Israeli columnists in the last weeks: they, like most of the Western media, live in virtuality. Israel endorsed the Road Map; almost unnoticed went its numerous reservations attached, which "turn the document from a diplomatic initiative into an Israeli diktat of a Palestinian surrender agreement" (Akiva Eldar, Ha'aretz, 27.5). Sharon uttered the word "occupation"; unnoticed went his withdrawing the term the very next day. And then came the spectacle in Aqaba, and the columnists lost the little sanity they may have had.

The entire chorus Yoel Marcus, Amir Oren and their ilk now praise Sharon's courage, moderateness and "potential for historic greatness" (Ari Shavit in Ha'aretz, 29.5). The latter a loyal mouthpiece of any leader in power was rewarded an interview with a "close political ally" of Sharon, MK Rivlin (Ha'aretz, 5.6), who explained "with great sorrow" that the PM intended to dismantle 17 settlements. Pay attention to Sharon's cheap propaganda tricks: a junior ally is sent to do the work of cheating, too dirty for the leader himself; "sorrow" is expressed to increase credibility; a sharp number is used for the same purpose: "17" sounds much more reliable than any round number.

The far right plays its usual game of tears: Sharon behaves "as if he converted", mourns Jewish-orthodox settler Israel Harel (Ha'aretz, 29.5). Settlers' rallies follow, with massive incitement against the PM, including repulsive abuse of the Holocaust: the Road Map and Sharon allegedly push Israel into "Auschwitz borders".

This miraculous change-of-heart is "supported" by baseless historical analogies: Sharon is compared to PM Rabin, who signed the Oslo accords, or to PM Begin, who returned Sinai to Egypt. Yizchak Shamir, the one Israeli PM truly similar to Sharon, is missing from the analogy list for obvious reasons: both he and Sharon are Likud hard-liners, both were summoned to a Peace Conference by a President Bush following a Gulf War. But Shamir later admitted that he had gone there determined to hold years and years of fruitless "peace talks", while at the same time expanding the settlements.

Mid-Eastern Blindness

The media and the entire political arena, right and left, have thus joined the national project of turning Sharon into a newborn dove: the far right by attacking him, the left wing by embracing him. Within days, contrary to all tangible evidence, they all propagated the absurd idea that Sharon had experienced a spiritual conversion, turning from the blood-thirsty warrior he had been all his life into a peace-loving leader embraced by Peace Now.

When Jupiter wants to destroy a nation, he first makes it blind. Precisely like during the Oslo years, the entire Israeli main-stream, right and left alike, backs the Israeli government by propogating its alleged will to end the occupation, contrary to any fact on the ground. No lesson at all was learned from the great Oslo deceit, of which the only thing left the Palestinian Authority having been virtually destroyed and its "autonomous" areas reoccupied is the number of Israeli settlers, which doubled within less than a decade. The only existing discussion is whether Sharon is making peace because he himself wants to, or merely thanks to the great peace-maker (cf. Iraq, Afghanistan etc.) President G.W. Bush.

Mid-Eastern Gestures

Thus, Peace-Maker Sharon (banned from serving as Defence Minister for his role in the 1982 massacre of Palestinians) started honestly (having cheated PM Begin during the Lebanon War) to dismantle illegal outposts (having urged settlers to "grab the hills" in 1999) because he believes in the Rule of Law (while both he and his two sons are subject to criminal investigation).

More than 100 "illegal outposts" (illegal even under Israeli law; under international law all settlements are illegal) are spread throughout the West Bank. Sharon now changed the adjective from "illegal" to "unauthorised", and reduced the number to 15, eleven of them unmanned: an empty container, a deserted caravan. Repeating the comedy of his predecessors, Sharon is indeed evicting this rubbish, probably under a confidential agreement with the settlers, just like PM Barak, who had left the infrastructure intact, authorising their return a year later. A totally insignificant measure, mourned by the far-right as the destruction of the Third Temple combined with a Second Holocaust, hailed by the "peace camp" as the end of 36 years of colonisation.

Sharon also set free 100 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture to Peace. No journalist bothered to remind the readers that many weeks before the Road Map was even launched, Defence Minister Mofaz had announced an intention to release "several hundred" Palestinian detainees simply "to ease prison overcrowding" (Ha'aretz, 14.4).

And then came the promised "gestures" in easing living conditions for the Palestinians as if basic human rights or freedom of movement were an act of grace. Here is Arnon Regular's report (Ha'aretz, 3.6):

The picture that emerged yesterday after a day of driving up and down and back and forth across the West Bank is of tens of thousands of people who have seemingly been thrown back into the Middle Ages, when the only mode of transport was by foot. Nobody is allowed to take a vehicle from a village to a city. Instead, they must get off at checkpoints, walk the extra few hundred meters, and then, if they have the money, take a cab to the next checkpoint, where again they have to walk the few hundred meters sometimes more to the next point where they can get a taxi. The Palestinians might have heard about Israel's easing conditions for travel, but they haven't seen this on the ground. In fact, there are signs that nothing at all has changed.

Take the little checkpoint at Ein Ariq, west of Ramallah, used by hundreds of villagers from the area. It's a relatively small checkpoint, consisting of a couple of jeeps that sometimes are there and sometimes not. On Friday, less than 24 hours after the summit of prime ministers in Jerusalem and announcements of abatements, an Israel Defense Forces bulldozer showed up for the first time in the intifada and dug a channel across the road, ending the possibility of using a car to get through the checkpoint, even if the jeeps aren't there. Thus, the thousands of villagers in that area yesterday joined their brethren at checkpoints elsewhere in the West Bank, lined up at the blockade. A line of about 1,000 people lined up in front of the checkpoint, on their way by foot to Ramallah.

Mid-Eastern Surprise

And then, in the midst of the Great Peace Festival, came the "surprising" assassination attempt of Hamas political leader Rantisi; as revenge, a terror attack on the Jerusalem bus the next day; and the growing escalation. Is it Sharon the Peace-Maker, or Sharon the Blood-Thirsty? The answer is simple: there is only one Sharon.

– Ran HaCohen

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Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and grew up in Israel. He has a B.A. in Computer Science, an M.A. in Comparative Literature and is currently working on his PhD thesis. He teaches in the Tel-Aviv University's Department of Comparative Literature. He also works as a literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth. Mr. HaCohen's work has been published widely in Israel. "Letter from Israel" appears occasionally at Antiwar.com.

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