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March 15, 2002
Sharons Lessons In Terror
t was on March 4, the day Israeli security forces killed 17 Palestiniansfive
of them childrenthat Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called upon security
forces to increase the number of Palestinian casualties in order
to teach them a lesson. One of the adult fatalities was a 55-year-old
woman from Jenin; another was Dr. Sliman Khalil, who was slain while evacuating
the injured from a nearby refugee camp. We must first strike the Palestinians
a heavy blow before we can begin negotiating peace, Sharon said.
Declarations of this kind are uncommon in Israel, if only because leaders rarely
say, with such brutal honesty, what they intend to do. Sharons call for
the escalation of violence should also be understood within the larger framework
of President George W. Bushs war on terrorism, a war that
has destroyed all sense of shame. Bush, Sharon understands, has changed the
rules of the game.
But the war on terrorism has not only altered political discourse; it has also
dramatically increased the violence within Israel/Palestine. The evening before
the March 4 killings, I went to a peace rally to protest the Israeli military
infiltration into two refugee camps, where an additional 24 Palestinians had
been shot dead. As I was walking from my car toward the prime ministers
house, the sound of a loud explosion reverberated through the Jerusalem night.
The ensuing echo of ambulance sirens left little doubt about what had happened.
An hour later, standing with a peace sign in my hand, my mother called my cell
phone to check whether I was all right; she said a suicide bomber had exploded
himself outside a synagogue, killing 10 guests who had been celebrating a bar
It is within this macabre context that one must interpret Sharons decision
to employ more force. The Israeli premier is, to be sure, not mad. Yet he realizes
that in a fortnight about 200 Israelis and Palestinians have been killed, joining
more than 1,000 peoplemany of them childrenwho have died since the
second intifada erupted in September 2000. The Israeli invasion of Tul-Karem,
Bethlehem, Ramallah and an additional five refugee camps in early March is its
largest military operation since the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
But why did Sharon want to escalate the violence? The answer has to do with
control and domination, the underlying objectives of the war on terrorism. To
put it differently, the annihilation of terrorism is not the ultimate goal of
either Bushs or Sharons wars.
Sharons true objective is a greater Israel. 1948 appears
to be his historical reference point. During that war, the fledgling Zionist
government decided to ensure a Jewish majority within what would become Israel.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians either fled or were evicted by force from
their homes, creating the Palestinian refugee crisis. The Palestinians refer
to Israels War of Independence as Nakbah, or the catastrophe.
Sharon realizes the only way to accomplish his expansionist aspirations is
through all-out war. If enough Jewish blood is shed, he might gain the legitimacy
needed to embark on such a campaign, and he will then have the opportunity to
expel hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their land. This measure is
not without public support. Many of the 50,000 right-wing protesters who gathered
at Rabin Square on March 11 carried banners calling for the transfer
of Palestinians from Israel.
Preparations for the current escalation have been long in the making. Immediately
following September 11, Sharon, sensing the public mood in the United States,
drew a parallel between Arafat and bin Laden. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
he suggested, is a war on terrorismwhich, according to Bushs new
rules, provides a perfect excuse for perpetrating the most pernicious acts.
Ironically, it is the other war on terrorismthe one Bush is wagingthat
may very well obstruct Sharons plans, at least for the time being.
Gen. Anthony Zinni, U.S. envoy to the Middle East, arrived in the region March
14, for diplomatic purposes. His mission, however, has little to do with U.S.
shock at the current level of violence. Zinnis job, it seems, is to smooth
the way for Vice President Dick Cheney, who is also in the Middle East to muster
Arab support for Bushs impending attack against Iraq. The administration
realizes that with Israel bombing Arafats headquarters and killing scores
of Palestinians each day, there is little chance Cheney will receive the backing
he wants from Arab countries, who have almost unanimously spoken out against
Bushs megalomania might bring some calm to the areabut this calm,
even if it does come, will last only until he launches the attack against Iraq.
At which point, all hell will probably break loose.
Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University and can be reached at email@example.com.