Issue 249 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published February 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review

Israeli election

Not stopping on red

The persecution of the Palestinians will continue whoever wins Israel's election argues Neve Gordon
Israeli invaders of Lebanon
Israeli invaders of Lebanon

In 1982 Ehud Barak was a young major general in charge of strategic development. In this capacity he prepared a detailed proposal for the invasion of Lebanon. He handed the plan to defence minister Ariel Sharon, who launched the attack a few months later.

The results of this alliance were horrific. An estimated 20,000 Lebanese civilians died--including the Palestinians massacred in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps--and hundreds of thousands were wounded and displaced. Israel's death toll was over 1,000.

Now 19 years have passed, and it now looks like the Barak-Sharon duo are preparing a comeback. Current polls show Sharon heading for an easy victory in the 6 February prime ministerial elections. Aware of the Knesset's problematic configuration, Sharon has declared his intention to create a national unity government in which Barak--defeated as prime minister will be defence minister. This may also serve to deflect an unfavourable 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 has already proven his willingness to perpetrate horrendous crimes.

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 the 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. UN 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 Ben-Gurion's biographer, 'Seventy corpses were found in the rubble, including dozens of women and children.'

Sharon, as a popular Israeli song suggests, does not stop on red. As the military commander of Gaza during the 1970s he introduced new methods of brutal repression. Unfortunately neither these atrocities nor the Sabra and Shatilla debacle put an end to his career, so 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 towards catching up. After defeating Binyamin Netanyahu he introduced two issues into Israel's public discourse which had been taboo--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. During his short tenure his government has built as many Jewish settler houses in the Palestinian territories as his right wing predecessor Netanyahu did in twice the time, while dramatically increasing the construction of bypass roads. Given that the Oslo agreement is based on the principle of land for peace, the accelerated construction in the territories is a major obstacle in the quest for peace. When Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo agreement in 1993 there were 110,000 Jewish settlers. Today this number has almost doubled.

The settlement build-up and the ongoing confiscation of land are the backdrop for the second Intifada. Every day since 29 September the death toll mounts, and as of 13 January 329 people have been killed in the occupied territories while over 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 have also been killed. Barak instructed commando units to carry out summary executions. The last victim of this policy was Dr Thabet Thabet, who was well known to Peace Now activists for organising joint political activities as well as dialogue groups between Israelis and Palestinians.

As if the destruction of life was not enough, Barak has attacked the population's livelihood. At the outset he ordered the military to implement a curfew on the downtown residents of 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 workplace 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 short of food and medicine.

Barak strangles and dehumanises 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! Virtually 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.'

Despite the well oiled propaganda machine, many citizens have not been fooled. They recognise 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 Labour, 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 light at the end of the tunnel. Regardless of the election results the near future is likely to be bloody.

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