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Middle East pushed to brink of war
Ariel Sharon's reign of terror

April 27, 2001 | Page 7

LANCE SELFA reports on Israel's escalating violence.

ISRAELI PRIME Minister Ariel Sharon showed why he's the most dangerous man in the Middle East in early April. In the space of a few days, Sharon ordered the bombing of Lebanon, threatened war with Syria and ordered an Israeli invasion of Palestinian Authority territory in Gaza.

The assaults caused an international furor--especially the invasion of Gaza. Israel claimed it had to invade to retaliate against Palestinian militants who fired mortars into Israel. Despite the fact that the mortars mostly fell on empty ground and injured no one, the Israeli army occupied a one-mile-wide strip of Gaza.

When it withdrew a few hours later, the Israelis made sure to leave behind wreckage designed to make the lives of Palestinians even more miserable. Returning residents found "a muddy wasteland about a mile long and 100 yards wide gouged out of the landscape," wrote Phil Reeves in Britain's Independent newspaper.

"It was covered with shredded tree trunks, scattered with oranges and punctuated by the detritus of at least eight flattened buildings, including a border police complex...Dazed-looking people sifted through concrete heaps that used to be their homes, some of which had been pounded into pieces no bigger than a fist, searching for anything that could be salvaged. A couple of men showed me two wrecked water wells, and said there were several more, which means the surrounding orange orchards will probably also die."

The Gaza invasion prompted a rare criticism of Israel by the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell issued a statement calling the invasion "excessive and disproportionate."

About an hour after Powell went public with his criticism, Sharon announced the pullout. That provoked criticism from even more right-wing Israelis, who condemned Sharon for buckling to U.S. pressure.

More "dovish" Israeli leaders complained that Sharon didn't inform them of his invasion plans beforehand. But no Israeli politician questioned Israel's right to invade.

Since taking office in March, the Sharon government has greatly escalated Israel's war against the Palestinians. Sharon's aim is not just to stop the Intifada, but to force Palestinians into accepting a rotten "peace" settlement.

Sharon wants Palestinians to believe that they are powerless to do anything about Israel's plans to steal more of their land--and to herd them into a "state" with all the power of an American Indian reservation in the U.S. As Major Gen. Yom Tov Samia said of the Gaza invasion: "[We want] Arafat to get up in the morning and understand that a strip one kilometer long and three kilometers wide, with all its bases and Palestinian police stations, has been wiped off the map."

At the same time, Sharon and his generals have a message to deliver to the rest of the Middle East--that they're to use the region's most powerful military to impose their will. For example, Sharon timed the April attack on Lebanon to coincide with a visit to Israel by Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdallah al-Khatib, who was bringing a joint Jordanian-Egyptian proposal for resuming negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Sharon's Lebanon assault was a backhanded rejection of the proposal. In a phone call to President Bush after the attack, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said his country "reserve[d] our right to retaliate in the manner which we find appropriate." In other words, Sharon's provocations are pushing the Middle East to the brink of war.

The U.S. continues to urge all sides to show "restraint." But Israel, the U.S. watchdog in the Middle East, is the main source of trouble.

In a chilling interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, given before the attacks on Lebanon and Gaza, Sharon explained why. Sharon said that "we cannot leave the Golan Heights"--Syrian territory that Israel has occupied since 1967--even in exchange for peace with Syria. As for the Palestinians, Sharon said he would only allow the Palestinian Authority to control 42 percent of the Occupied Territories.

Forget all the talk about "land for peace." Sharon vowed to build more Israeli settlements. "People today don't get so excited by the idea of 'another dunam and another dunam' [of land]," Sharon said. "But I still get excited."

And if this puts Israel in constant military conflict with Palestinians and surrounding countries, so be it. "A normal people does not ask questions like 'will we always live by the sword,'" Sharon said. "The sword is part of life."

Why the U.S. supports Israel's bloody violence

ISRAEL'S INVASION of Gaza brought a rare warning from the U.S. government. But no one should think that the U.S. has suddenly started caring about justice for the Palestinians.

The new Bush administration is dominated by oil men who want to strengthen U.S. ties with the Persian Gulf oil dictatorships and other pro-U.S. Arab countries. But Israel's warmongering makes it harder for Arab rulers to openly back U.S. policy.

Even the most craven right-wing Arab regime knows that there is mass support for the Palestinians' Intifada throughout the Middle East. That's why the U.S. felt it had to criticize Israel this time.

Yet it continues to support the Israeli government with weapons and political cover. For example, in March, the U.S. vetoed a moderate United Nations (UN) Security Council resolution endorsing a UN-led team of observers to investigate human rights abuses in the Occupied Territories. The Bush White House is every bit as pro-Israel as any administration before it.

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