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Ariel Sharon’s “War Against Terror”
Is a War Against All Palestinians
by Sandra S. Tamari,
Middle East Research & Information Project
Ariel Sharon wants the world community to believe that his latest actions against the Palestinians aim to root out “the infrastructure of Palestinian terror.” However, examination of Israeli policies in this latest phase of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians reveals a much different reality. The March/April 2002 reinvasion of Palestinian lands and the siege of Yasser Arafat’s compound highlight the major barriers to achieving peace. Settlements remain in place; the United States continues to fail to push for a just peace; and Israel refuses to end its military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel’s recent military campaign was designed to eradicate Palestinian civil society and governmental institutions in order to leave Palestinians with no viable leadership to resist Israeli military occupation. Sharon’s government recently announced a “new policy” of confiscating Palestinian land until terror stops. Instead, Sharon is using Palestinian resistance as an excuse for his well-known goal of reoccupation of the West Bank and Gaza and further repression of the Palestinian people.
Destruction of Palestinian Civil Society
The task of rebuilding Palestinian infrastructure will be hopeless without significant financial and technical aid from the international community. Mainstream US media reports tell us that the infrastructure of life itself and of any future Palestinian state—roads, schools, electricity pylons, water pipes, telephone lines—has been devastated. The World Bank estimates that it will cost $361 million to repair civilian infrastructure and institutions in the West Bank resulting from damage during the March/April campaign only. Reports from Ramallah and other besieged cities describe gratuitous vandalism of government offices, not-for-profit agencies, and healthcare facilities.
…Sharon is using Palestinian resistance as an excuse for his well-known goal of reoccupation of the West Bank and Gaza…
One example of destruction is the Israeli targeting of private radio and television stations. Daoud Kuttab, a prominent Palestinian journalist and manager of a private television station in Ramallah, wrote in the New York Times on April 6, 2002, that the Israeli army trashed the offices and studios of the television station causing irreparable damage. Equipment paid for by World Bank and European Union loans and grants were crushed indiscriminately. Staff of the TV station were arrested and held for questioning. Kuttab’s television station had been an important part of internal Palestinian debates over corruption in Arafat’s regime and about the role of civil society in building a democratic culture. The TV programming included a joint Israeli-Palestinian production of “Sesame Street,” where kids learned respect for one another regardless of religion or national identity. Tens of other radio and TV stations in the West Bank were targeted for destruction in the same fashion. Destroying these institutions has done nothing to aid Israel in eradicating terror, but it has caused serious setbacks to efforts within Palestinian society to build a democratic and modern cultural life.
Kuttab’s television station had been an important part of internal Palestinian debates over corruption in Arafat’s regime…
In addition, the Israelis looted and vandalized the Ramallah offices of Al-Haq Human Rights Organization, Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees, Network of Palestinian Non-Governmental Institutions, and Al-Quds University. These institutions represent Palestinian achievement and self-reliance built over the course of the last two decades. They filled important service gaps for the population, and before the establishment of the Palestinian Authority served as a government entity providing basic services—like healthcare, welfare and sanitation—that most of the modern world takes for granted. Palestinian not-for-profit organizations deal with a variety of social problems ranging from domestic abuse to food distribution. Dozens of other private institutions sustained severe and deliberate damage. One can’t help but conclude that Sharon’s deliberate attacks were aimed, not against terrorism, but against Palestinian achievements toward state-building, specifically achievements carried out by the educated and professional class of Palestinian society. Sharon aims to rid the West Bank of this class depriving Palestinian society of any viable leadership able to resist Israeli dominion.
Annihilation of the Palestinian Authority
Yasser Arafat can hardly be expected to do more for Israeli security. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, Arafat and his Palestinian Authority have become responsible for maintaining the security of all Israelis while Israel continues its military occupation of Palestinian lands. The suicide bombings inside Israel changed Arafat’s standing in Israeli circles. The military raids that began in March 2002 targeted Palestinian security forces. Police stations were destroyed using helicopter gunships. Prisons were destroyed. Security officers, employed and armed by the Israelis and the international community to carry out “justice” in the occupied territories, have been arrested, tortured and executed by the Israelis.
All the while, the Israelis and the Americans insist that Arafat rein in Palestinian terror and stop attacks on Israelis. To accept recent media reports at face value is to believe that Arafat is some kind of superhero with powers beyond the imagination. If the Israelis with all their firepower, money and intelligence cannot stop suicide bombers, how can Arafat—a spent and corrupt leader with no military and a destroyed police force—do it? And why, until recently, did the Israelis and the Americans do everything in their power to make Arafat a strong police enforcer among Palestinian activists, and why did they applaud human rights violations in the Palestinian Authority and encourage stronger Palestinian Authority security measures against Palestinian militants? The Bush administration now says the problem with the peace process is that reform is needed in the Palestinian Authority. There is no doubt that reform is needed, but the double-talk and spin in the media would have you believe that Arafat is solely responsible for Palestinian dispossession since 1948, 35 years of military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and Palestinian resistance to their plight. Does Israel bear no responsibility?
The Palestinian security forces were armed and trained under agreements signed by Israel and the Palestinians following the Oslo accord. Ariel Sharon has made it clear that he does not respect the agreements signed by previous Israeli leaders, and seeks to reverse the little progress made under the Oslo plan. If your blood doesn’t run cold when George Bush calls Ariel Sharon a “man of peace” that is probably because you have bought the spin packaged as news in the American media.
Aside from the security forces, Israel struck at Palestinian Authority offices. The army destroyed the offices of the Ministry of Education in Ramallah and stole computer hard-drives containing irreplaceable and private student records. The damage estimates to Palestinian Authority office computers alone is $9.5 million. It is difficult to draw connections between desperate suicide bombers and student records. How does destroying test score records rid Israel of Palestinian violence? What it actually does is deny Palestinians what every modern society values: education.
Recovery cannot take place without Israeli compliance. Israel continues to block the movement of people and goods throughout the occupied territories, making humanitarian aid and infrastructure repair impossible. Israel must realize that a healthy Palestinian society with a functioning economy and government is the only way to rid the region of the despair and hopelessness that produce the suicide bomber. Ariel Sharon’s policies have pushed Israeli society to think in terms of revenge only, and the only result is continued mutual violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
The way to peace is simple and clear: Israel must withdraw fully from the West Bank and Gaza. It must recognize that the creation of the Israeli state resulted in the dispossession of 700,000 Palestinians, whose descendants now make up 3 million refugees—the largest refugee population in the world. And Israel must dismantle Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. The United States is the only broker capable of exerting pressure on Israel. We Americans have a responsibility to inform our policymakers that we will not allow Israeli aggressions against the Palestinians to continue.
There are several organizations that are providing up-to-date information on Israel’s war against Palestinians. Among the best are Middle East Research and Information Project (http://www.merip.org) and the Electronic Intifada (http://www.electronicintifada.com). I urge readers to take the time to look at these websites and to write to their congressional representatives and local media in the hope that a just peace can be achieved in the region through a more balanced US policy.