"The word of Yahweh came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who dwells in Samaria: behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, where he is gone down to take possession of it. You shall speak to him, saying, Thus says Yahweh, Have you killed and also taken possession? You shall speak to him, saying, Thus says Yahweh, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your blood, even yours." (1. Kings 21:17-19)
At the end of March, the Arab League offered Israel full peace in return for full withdrawal from the occupied territories. At the same time (29.3.02), Israel’s best-selling daily Yedioth Achronot published an opinion poll:
"According to a representative sample of 502 Israelis, 47% of the public think all the settlements in Gaza Strip and in the West Bank should be dismantled for a peace agreement with the Palestinians. This is an amazing figure. 66% think all the settlements in Gaza Strip should be dismantled, and a majority of 70% support evacuating settlements in regions densely populated by Arabs."
Note that the poll was conducted without any prior campaign, without an actual peace agreement, and in the very month that saw more terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens than ever. A similar poll published a month earlier in Ha’aretz yielded similar results: 74% of Jewish Israelis supported dismantling at least small isolated settlements in a framework of "unilateral separation", not even a peace agreement.
So the Israeli people knows what it wants: dismantling the settlements in return for peace. The Arab world also knows what it wants: full peace for full withdrawal. Never before has peace in the Middle East been more simple to achieve.
But the ruling Israeli junta knows better. That very day (29.3.02), it launched "Operation Defence Shield", a ruthless total war against the Palestinian people in the West Bank, destroying every single symbol, institution and infrastructure of the Palestinian autonomy (save Arafat’s person): killing hundreds, destroying, vandalising and plundering, securing Palestinian hatred for generations to come. Towards the end of the Operation (22.4.02) Prime Minister Sharon announced in cabinet that his government would not dismantle even a single settlement, and would not even discuss the matter.
Terrorism as Pretext
The pretext for this war was the Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians, culminating in the Passover massacre in Netanya (27.3.02, 28 civilians killed). Pretext? Undoubtedly. To stop suicide bombers, a fence would have been enough.
Yedioth Achronot has recently published a thorough research on that. The cover page of its weekend magazine (26.4.02) reads:
"Precisely a year ago, President Moshe Katzav suggested building a separation fence to stop suicide bombers. The Prime Minister ignored him. In December 2001, the Head of the Shin Bet warned: ‘a physical barrier is a security must.’ The Prime Minister ignored him. Ever since, 205 Israeli citizens have been killed and 1.666 injured in terrorist attacks inside the Green Line. The Prime Minister ignored it." A subtitle reads: "The Prime Minister’s Office admits: the fence is not built because of ‘political aspects’." And the former Chief of Israeli Police, Asaf Chefetz, spells it out: "Separation will destroy the concept Sharon has been employing all his life. He cannot set a fence after he spread the settlements in a way that makes it impossible to separate them from the rest of the country."
Yedioth Achronot also quotes experts estimating the costs of a fence along the 263 km of the Green Line. The most expensive version, with a double fence, a wide patrol road, projectors, electronic detection equipment and cameras, should cost about one hundred million dollars. The direct military costs of "Operation Defence Shield" have already exceeded six times this amount. Not counting indirect economic damage, not counting human lives lost on both sides, not counting the millions of damage inflicted on the Palestinians, not counting future hatred.
Cheap Lives, Expensive Lives
A fence is not my favourite solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; an open peaceful border is much better than a Chinese wall. But the fence issue is indicative for the priorities of Israel’s junta, with, at the top, maintaining the occupation and expanding the settlements.
In the junta’s eyes, there are three kinds of human beings. First Palestinians, whose life is a nuisance one should get rid of. Second Israelis, whose life is a national asset one can liquidate when necessary. Occupation can be served by sacrificing civilians in terrorist attacks and using their death to launch a war. The third kind is settlers: an incarnation of the occupation, hence sacred. "Our Saviours", as former Prime Minister Yizchak Shamir once called them.
Yedioth Achronot (26.4.02) paid a visit to one Gershon Hershkowitz, a 25 year old settler living alone in a detached caravan on a hill in the northern West Bank. The journalist "was appalled to find out that this single settler was protected by several reserve soldiers. They [ironically] called themselves ‘the Unit for the Protection of One Man’." The soldiers have "no fence, no detection equipment, no lighting, totally exposed to the four winds. An Israeli army jeep occasionally came to check if they were still alive."
It is not an exception. In the settlement of Netzarim, in the heart of the Gaza strip, 50 houses are defended by almost one thousand soldiers. Analyst Sima Kadmon, who published the story, adds:
"When the Prime Minister last week promised not to dismantle isolated settlements, it’s those settlements he was referring to."
Since Sharon came to power, 34 new settlements have been built on occupied lands.
"Operation Defence Shield" is over; the next operation, probably in Gaza, is waiting for a pretext. The Israeli junta is already harvesting the crop. Ha’aretz (25.4.02) reports of 31 new housing units to be built in the settlement of Maale Adumim and 480 in the settlement of Elkana. There is also a new Jewish neighbourhood at the heart of Hebron, "behind the facades of shops whose [Palestinian] owners had been evicted after the massacre of Baruch Goldstein."
Yes: in 1994, after a Jewish terrorist massacred scores of Palestinians in prayer, Israel "evicted" the Palestinian owners of the shops which are now given to Jewish settlers. That’s the junta’s game: heads I win, tails you loose. Israelis killed are a good pretext to dispossess Palestinians; Palestinians killed are even a better pretext to dispossess them.
A mother of a reserve soldier turned desperately to an Internet forum for an advice: together with other soldiers, her son was "ordered to protect surveyors who came to mark Arab olive-woods for building a road on them and double the area of settlement Alfe Menashe. Is everything allowed in the name of protecting the house? Evil is evil. My son is a fighter and serves in reserve, but he is now on the verge of refusal. What can I do?"
Compare the desperate e-mail message circulated by Fuad Kokaly, Mayor of the Palestinian town of Beit Sahour:
"Yesterday, 25 April, I received a visit at Beit Sahour Municipality from the Israeli Occupation Forces. The visit was to present me with a new map. This new map shows the new Beit Sahour; a Beit Sahour with even less land than before. They intend to confiscate yet more of our property, property belonging to residents of Beit Sahour. […] More and more is taken by Israel to build settlements, bypass roads and to take control of natural assets that legitimately belong to Palestinians. As a result, we are prevented from building new homes, farming our land and having access to neighbouring villages and towns. For how much longer must we have to accept this plunder of our land?"
"Have you killed and also taken possession?"
So when Sharon comes to Washington next week, don’t wonder about his peace plan: he hasn’t got one. Don’t talk to him about a "peace conference": he doesn’t want peace. Just remind him of the King of Israel whose blood was licked by dogs for killing just one man, for taking possession of just one vineyard in Samaria.