The first Ehud Barak-Ariel Sharon alliance began in 1982. At the
time, Barak was a young general in charge of strategic development;
in this capacity he prepared a detailed proposal for the invasion
of Lebanon. He handed the plan to Sharon, the defense minister,
who launched the attack a few months later. The results were horrific.
An estimated 20,000 Lebanese civilians died--including hundreds
of Palestinians massacred in Sabra and Shatila; hundreds of thousands
were wounded and displaced; Israel's death toll was more than 1,000.
Nineteen years later, it looks like the Barak-Sharon duo is preparing
a comeback. Polls show Sharon heading for an easy victory in the
February 6 elections with a 20 percent lead over Barak. Aware of
the Knesset's problematic configuration, however, Sharon has declared
his intention to create a national unity government in which Barak
will be defense minister--a move that may serve to deflect an unfavorable
international reaction to Sharon's government.
Whether the two candidates will actually join forces remains a
matter of speculation.
But the fact that they are the only contenders in the race is a sign
of Israel's moral bankruptcy. Each already has proven his willingness
to perpetrate horrendous crimes.
Ariel Sharon: war criminal
Israel's next prime minister?
For those who have not followed Sharon's career it is important
to note that his criminal record did not begin with the Lebanon
fiasco, but can be traced back to 1953 when the military unit he
commanded attacked El-Bureig refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. An
estimated 50 refugees were killed in that operation.
A few months later, the same unit carried out a massacre in the
Jordanian village of Qibya. U.N. observers who arrived at the scene
stated that the "bullet-riddled bodies near the doorways, and multiple
bullet-hits on the doors of the demolished houses indicated that
the inhabitants had been forced to remain inside until their homes
were blown up over them." According to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion's
biography, "70 corpses were found in the rubble, including dozens
of women and children."
As the military commander of Gaza during the '70s, Sharon introduced
new methods of brutal repression. Unfortunately, neither these atrocities
nor the Sabra and Shatila debacle put an end to his career, and
today a war criminal is running for Israel's highest office.
While Barak's history is not as appalling, in the past few months
he has gone a long way toward catching up. After defeating Netanyahu,
he introduced two taboo issues into Israel's public discourse--Jerusalem's
division and Palestinian refugees' "right of return." In this way,
Barak actually contributed to the peace effort. Yet it is crucial
to consider not only what Barak has said, but what he has done.
As Edmund Burke once wrote, in politics conduct is the only language
that rarely lies.
During Barak's short year-and-a-half tenure, Jewish settlers in
the Palestinian territories have built as many houses as they did
under his right-wing predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu. When Rabin
and Arafat signed the Oslo agreement in 1993, there were 110,000
Jewish settlers; this number has almost doubled. The construction
of bypass roads also has dramatically increased. Given that the
Oslo agreement is based on the principle of land for peace, the
accelerated construction in the territories is a major obstacle.
The settlement build-up and the ongoing confiscation of land is
the backdrop for the second Intifada. As In These Times went
to press, 360 people had been killed in the occupied territories
since September 29, while more than 11,000 have been wounded. The
Palestinians have buried 288 people (80 of whom were under the age
of 17), and the Israelis 37; four foreign nationals were also killed.
Barak has instructed commando units to carry out summary executions.
The latest victim of this policy was Dr. Thabet Thabet, who was
well known to Peace Now activists
for organizing joint political activities as well as dialogue groups
between Israelis and Palestinians. No one knows exactly why he was
As if the destruction of life were not enough, Barak also has attacked
the Palestinians' livelihood. At the outset, he ordered the military
to implement a curfew on the residents of downtown Hebron. For almost
four months, the houses of 37,000 Palestinians have been turned
into prison cells so that a few hundred Jewish zealots can live
out their fundamentalist aspirations. In other Palestinian cities
and villages, hundreds of thousands of people are prevented from
reaching their workplaces due to the hermetic military siege. The
Gaza Strip has been divided into three sealed zones, and in some
isolated villages unemployment rates have soared to 70 percent.
Acres of orchards and fields have been destroyed, thousands of olive
trees uprooted and hundreds of houses demolished. The grinding poverty
is so severe that people are beginning to run out of food and medicine.
Barak strangles and dehumanizes the Palestinian people while continuously
stating that he will do everything in his power to bring peace.
Perhaps the most bizarre part of the upcoming elections is that
both generals are running on the "peace" ticket. Nearly every slogan
in Sharon's campaign includes the term; one cannot drive along Israel's
highways without noticing billboards declaring "Sharon will lead
Israel to peace." All this is reminiscent of Orwell's chilling political
world where "Newspeak," the official language introduced by the
government, facilitates the manipulation of the population.
Despite the well-oiled propaganda machine, many citizens have not
been fooled. They recognize an impossible situation and consider
the limited choice between two Napoleons as a dangerous restriction
of the democratic process. According to current polls, unless a
miracle occurs and Barak reaches a peace agreement, more than 20
percent of the electorate will either cast a blank ballot or not
vote at all. This has created considerable pressure within the Labor
Party, and rumors have it that Barak may quit the race, allowing
Shimon Peres to take his place. Be that as it may, a tragedy is
unfolding with no end in sight. Regardless of the election results,
the near future will likely be bloody.
Neve Gordon teaches in the department of politics and
government at Ben-Gurion University, Israel.