|Southwest Asia News Digest
Sharon's Disengagement Will Lead to Perpetual Conflict
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seems to be waging a "two-front" war over the Gaza Strip. The first front is against the Palestinians. On July 16, Sharon ordered preparations for a large-scale military invasion of the Gaza Strip, to wipe out the "terror infrastructure" of Hamas. This followed a week that included a suicide bombing in the Israeli city of Natanya, where five Israelis died; and then rocket and mortar shells being fired at Israeli settlements within and bordering Gaza. This situation was further inflamed when Israel conducted two targetted assassinations, including the killing of a key Hamas operative in the Gaza Strip. Sharon's invasion appears to be on hold as he waits for a green light from Washington, which until now has restrained Sharon from invading, but only because Bush is desperate for the withdrawal from Gaza to function as a "victory" to offset the hell his war has created in Iraq.
Sharon's second front is against his own Golem (in Jewish folklore, a figure created out of clay, who turns against his maker, like Dr. Frankenstein's monster): the Israeli settlers, who are trying to stop the evacuation of 7,500 settlers from Gaza. In the same week as the Israeli military invasion, tens of thousands of settlers tried to march into the Gaza Strip to reach the Gush Katif settlements, in an attempt to block their evacuation. The attempt failed when the government closed the Strip to all non-residents (see report below). The settlers' antics have also included burning tires and putting spike-traps on Israeli highways, placing dummy bombs in bus stations with the slogan "disengagement will blow up in your face," and brutal attacks on Palestinians, including an attempt to lynch a 17-year-old Palestinian youth.
On the economic front, hundreds of workers from Israeli Military Industries stormed Sharon's office, protesting the fact that they had not been paid in months, while the government has been in the process of trying to privatize the company. Obviously under duress, Sharon retreated by immediately striking a deal whereby the government transferred 270 million shekels to the company in order to pay 2,900 workers, and the pensions of another 1,200. This conflict could be the most dangerous for Sharon, because working people and the poor are suffering from his economic policy.
All three of these conflicts result from Sharon's so-called unilateral disengagement plan, whereby he intends to evacuate all of the settlements in the Gaza Strip, plus four very small settlements in the northern part of the West Bank. But because it is unilateral, and refuses to move for the existence of a Palestinian state, it is a policy designed to continue the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The settlers' disruptions play into Sharon's hands. Despite the fact that many of these demonstrators are brainwashed fanatics, some of whom are willing to kill Jews as well as Palestinians, they are receiving sympathetic coverage in the international media.
Writing in Israel's largest circulation daily, Yediot Ahronot, former Israeli Foreign Ministry director, Eytan Bentsur, warned that Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan will lead to the collapse of Israeli society. Bentsur, a former peace negotiator and strong advocate of a two-state solution, wrote that Sharon's disengagement policy offers benefits only "in the realm of promises and expectationsnot an international binding agreement." He further asserts it is no substitute for "the dynamic of a resumed, full-fledged peace process."
Sharon has created a political situation where: "The government can get away with everything. There is no opposition. First the Labor Party, and now Shinui, did not function as a genuine opposition, almost to the extent of unconstitutional behavior." With the entire political class surrendering itself to Sharon's promise of disengagement, "corruption can go rampant and unchallenged, crime can remain undeterred, and the virtues of the very ethos of Israel, the welfare state, can dissipate at the expense of the cohesiveness of our society."
Who's Behind the Settlers' Gangs and Israeli Terrorism?
On July 5, Moshe Feiglin, the Israeli Likudnik who once proclaimed that "without Sept. 13 [the date the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993], there would have been no Sept. 11," was leading the paramilitary forces of Jewish settlers to turn the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip into a bloody confrontation, against both the Israel Defense Forces, and the Palestinians.
Feiglin, head of the Likud faction called "Jewish Leadership," in 1995, in opposition to the signing of the Oslo Accords, was the organizer of the violent mass protests that set the stage for the assassination of Israel's peace Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Feiglin is currently living in a tent at the Gaza settlement of Gush Katif, from where he has called for Israelis to invade the settlement en masse, in order to stop Sharon's withdrawal. For Feiglin and his followers, it is the Palestinians who should leave the occupied territories completely.
In concert with Feiglin, who just returned from a fundraising tour in the United States, the Yesha Council (governing body of the Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories), announced plans for a massive march to Gush Katif, to begin on July 18. The marchers were to come from all layers of the "anti-disengagement" crowd: from young teenage girls, to thousands of settlers from the occupied West Bank, to hardened, Arab-bashing IDF reserve officers. But, the march did not go the way the settler camp wanted.
- An 'Army Within an Army' -
One of the most dangerous aspects of the settlers gangs are religious fundamentalists in the military, who have high levels of training. These soldiers have been goaded on by the statements and teachings of radical rabbis, such as Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu Avraham Shapira Beit El, and Chief Rabbi Zalman Melamed. The first two have been calling for soldiers to refuse their orders to evacuate settlers from the Gaza Strip. And, since the Israeli government has allowed separate training units in the army for ultra-orthodox Israeli Jews, the ideas of the radical rabbis have been easily drawn recruits.
Recently, two Orthodox soldiers in their early twenties were arrested for planting a "dummy bomb" in a highly secured Jerusalem bus station. As mentioned above, these "dummy bombs" carry the warning that "Gaza withdrawal can blow up in your face." The message is that these phony devices could be the real thing.
Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, who himself has been accused of atrocities against the Palestinians, wants to see the army programs such as the Hesder Yeshivas, in which recruits combine military service and yeshiva (religious) studies, that are under the jurisdiction of the radical rabbis be dismantled.
Former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, a leading peace-camp member also wants the Hesder Yeshivas shut down. Beilin refers to the Hesder Yeshivas as "an army within the army."
- Radicals Declare 'Time for War' -
Between July 18 and July 21, the settlers' plan to invade Gaza with a mass march began to run into trouble, at which point, the head of the far right National Jewish Front organization, Baruch Marzel declared, "Let's hope that the Yesha Council will finally understand that there can be no dialogue with Sharon. It is time for war."
Marzel was reacting to the government move, in order to prevent the tens of thousands of protestors to go into Gush Katif, to deploy between 15,000-20,000 soldiers and police against the protestors.
The march was supposed to reach Gush Katif, which is a closed-off military zone. But, the farthest the demonstrators got was to Kfar Maimon, where they set up an encampment, which was then encircled and blockaded by the IDF and police. The most the blockade did was to have the demonstrators retreat. They would have stayed, but the town was unable to accommodate them because the blockade was so severe. It is reported in Ha'aretz that the blockade cut off food supply and water for long durations of the day.
The demonstrators used a new slogan geared at the neutralizing police and the IDF. Instead of saying, "Soldier, Policeman, Refuse the Order," the rebels said, "Soldier, Policeman, We Love You, We Love the IDF." Some rebels were speaking into megaphones: "We're not the enemy; we love you. Go fight the real enemy." The anti-withdrawal demonstrators may have been halted by the blockade for now, but when they return, they will be prepared to stay, adding portable toilets, and equipment that cuts fences, to the usual stocks of supplies.
- Violence Next -
But the repression of the march was no clear victory for the government. One senior army officer said, "Their goal now is to stay in the area for as long as possible, to pin large police and army forces down in Kfar Maimon and simply wear us out." The Yesha Council is now planning a second march, reported the Jerusalem Post, and Israeli security forces admitted, on July 21, that the cat-and-mouse games they have been playing with the protesters since July 18 are anything but over.
The call for the next mobilization is even more violent. Gonen Ginat, editor of the National Religious Party's newspaper, regards Sharon as not even human. And, Yesha Council leader, Pinchas Wallerstein agrees, and says, about the State of Israel. "The dictatorship is in a panic and note how it behaves. In my opinion, we are at the beginning of the end of this government."
Other statements by the protestors should not be seen a "anti-Sharon," but as "anti-government," as the settlement camp becomes more and more infuriated by the actions of the Israeli government. But, from those who are heavily under the influence of the radical rabbis, the word is that Sharon is a dictator, that he is no better than Hitler, and anyone what expels Jews from Israel are Nazis and "Judenrats. "
The march might have not met the expectations of the Yesha Council and the participants but another march is planned for next week. Yesha Council Chairman Bentzi Lieberman said, "Tens of thousands came, and we created an all-encompassing platform, taking in all political hues, that came supported us." He said with pride that the anti-pull-out demonstrators succeeded in pinning down security personnel while infiltrating over 1,000 people into Gush Katif, "We could have broken down fences, but that would have risked lives."