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Israeli coalition is dangerous


The fact that Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon were the only contenders in Israel’s prime ministerial race is a sign of the country’s moral bankruptcy. That Sharon won by a margin of 25 percent is an indication that many Israelis have forgotten the lessons of history.

Most people may still remember the Lebanon War, but do not know that its horrific consequences were a result of a Barak-Sharon alliance. The year was 1982, and Ehud Barak, a young general in charge of strategic development, prepared a detailed proposal for the invasion of Lebanon. He handed the plan to Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, who a few months later launched the attack. An estimated 20,000 Lebanese civilians died -- including hundreds of Palestinians massacred in Sabra and Shatila -- and hundreds of thousands were wounded and displaced. Israel’s death toll was over 1,000.

Sharon’s criminal record, however, 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 Ben-Gurion’s biographer, “Seventy corpses were found in the rubble, including dozens of women and children.”

As the military commander of Gaza during the 1970s he introduced new methods of brutal repression. Unfortunately, neither these atrocities nor the Sabra and Shatila debacle put an end to his career, so that today a war criminal is occupying Israel’s highest office.

Perhaps the most bizarre part of the elections was that both generals were running on the peace ticket. Virtually every slogan in Sharon’s campaign included the term; one could not drive along Israel’s highways without noticing billboards declaring “Sharon will lead Israel to peace.” All this was reminiscent of Orwell’s chilling political world where Newspeak, the official language introduced by the government, facilitates the manipulation of the population.

But despite the well-oiled propaganda machine, many citizens were not fooled. Forty-one percent of the electorate did not vote and an additional 2 percent cast a blank ballot, in sharp contrast to the regular voter turnout of about 80 percent. Thus, a large percentage of the population considered the choice between two Napoleons a dangerous restriction of the democratic process and refused to legitimate it through their participation.

In the past few weeks Sharon has been working on forming a coalition. Recognizing the Knesset’s problematic configuration, he has declared his intention to create a national unity government, in which Shimon Peres will be foreign minister -- a move that is also meant to deflect unfavorable international reaction to Sharon’s government.

A united front between Sharon and Labor Party can be extremely dangerous, considering that Labor will become a fig leaf for pernicious acts. Accordingly, the peace camp needs to reject a national unity government, and reorganize its ranks so that it can present a forceful opposition to any move that will hinder the struggle for a just and comprehensive peace.

Neve Gordon teaches in the department of politics and government at Ben-Gurion University in Israel, and can be reached at ngordon@bgumail.bgu.ac.il

National Catholic Reporter, March 2, 2001