It was by far the most heinous terrorist act of its time. More than 88 people perished in the rubble of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on 22 July 1946. Most were members of the Palestine British Administration. The mastermind of the attackécode-named “Operation Malonchik”éwas a certain Polish immigrant, Menachem Begin. Unlike Timothy McVeighébomber of the U.S. federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995éBegin was neither apprehended nor executed. He lived not only to gloat over the crime in his autobiography, but also to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize and enjoy international acclaim.
Fifty-five years after the bombing of the King David Hotel, Israeli inheritors of the Begin legacy continue their destruction of Palestinian property in Jerusalem and elsewhere with the same impunity and callousness. CIA chief George Tenet chief needed no CNN satellite coverage to witness Israeli oppression in its most naked form. He was present in the Holy City when bulldozers were sent in to destroy the home of two Palestinian brothers, Farikh and Samikh Kharbawi, because they had no “licence” to build in the city over which the Jewish State has no sovereign rights.
Given the failure of his 100-day plan to crush the Aqsa Intifada, Israeli settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories are agitating for more than the destruction of Palestinian homes. To the vast majority of them, not even the expulsion of Chairman Arafat and his National Authority would suffice at this stage. They demand that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon bring about, by whatever means necessary, another Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe). Despite his authorization of 15 new settlements in less than six months while in office, Sharon is fast running out of favour with the settlers. The acrimonious end to his honeymoon with the Israeli electorate demonstrates not just the failure of his 100-day project; it reflects, in historical terms, the failure of an entire life’s work that began before the creation of Israeléa life dedicated to the subjugation and extinction of the Palestinian people.
Courting the extremists
Ariel Sharon’s courtship of the extremist elements in Israeli society is not a marriage of political convenience. Schooled in the Revisionist Zionist ethos of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his successor Menachem Begin, Sharon remained a loyal partner in the pursuit of absurd fantasies like global domination based on belief in the “chosen people” dogma. As he was taught in the 1940s, Sharon still believes in the ideology that seeks maximal nationalist demands, which proclaims that Jewish willpower could triumph over any obstacle and is forever entitled to the goodwill of the international community. Accordingly, then-Prime Minister Begin and then-Minister of Defense Sharon launched the 1982 war of aggression against Lebanon and authorized the massacre of Palestinian refugees, in order to avoid withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza Strip as stipulated in the Camp David Accords.
Whereas in the past the Israeli leadership was prepared to justify its military adventures under the guise of fighting the terrorist threat, today they are forced, albeit reluctantly, to admit that the real danger is not terrorism but in the demographic composition of the land they stole. Despite his promise to resettle all Jews in the Diaspora in “Eretz Israel” by the year 2020, Sharon knows better than most that the once unlimited reservoir of immigrants has all but dried up. While more and more Jews are wary to migrate to a land that is neither at peace with itself nor its neighbours, an even greater number are trickling out to countries that offer greater security, stability and affluence.
Like his mentor Begin, Sharon has no intention of recognizing an independent Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital. Like the former, he also believes that the West Bank and Gaza should remain permanently “frozen” in a state of self-autonomy under Israeli tutelage. In a real sense though, the Israelis are caught between a rock and a hard place. They don’t want to annex the West Bank and Gaza because this would only hasten the process by which Israel becomes a Jewish State with an Arab majority. And, on the other hand, they don’t want to recognize Palestinian independence for fear of setting in motion an irredentist movement. After all, recognition of a Palestinian State would be tantamount to recognition of their ownership of the land. It goes without saying, therefore, that if Israel is forced to relinquish the West Bank and Gaza, it can also do the same for other territory acquired by force. Meanwhile, the Palestinians have affirmed through this Intifada that their struggle is not limited to dismantling illegal Jewish settlements but, moreover, for the attainment of independence and full sovereign rights over their land, territorial waters, air space, natural resources and geographic borders.
The dilemma before the Israeli leadership for the present centres around how much longer can it continue to imprison and repress three million Palestinians who are not citizens of the Jewish State. Even though this policy apparently enjoys the support of the Israeli electorate and the United States of America, it would always remain an illegal one. Consequently, no Palestinian leadership can transform by the stroke of a pen Israel’s de facto status into a de jure one. To the same degree, no Israeli government can transmute the national struggle of the Palestinian “people” into a “community” campaign for civil liberties.
On the whole there is a growing feeling within Israeli society that it squandered the opportunity presented in 1967, that is, it should have pressed for a more sweeping expulsion of Palestinians at the time. According to that logic, the world order upholds the principle that ownership of territories rests with those who inhabit it. Hence, just as they expelled 805,000 Palestinians in 1948 to make a claim for ownership, similarly they aspire to “transfer” (expel) more today in order to reinforce their claim to the West Bank and Gaza.
As he continues to court his extremist constituency, Israel’s Prime Minister is increasingly challenged to enact the racist ideas popularized by Meir Kahane (founder of the extremist Kach party). That if it is possible for Israel to hold on to settlements for three decades despite Arab and international opposition, then it could also expel the Palestinians and expect no resistance. Kahane warned in an interview conducted by Mergui and Simonnot that once the Arabs become a majority, as all the demographic trends suggest, they would no longer accept living in a country called a Jewish State with a Law of Return that applies to Jews only. Hence, this is why he advocated that they should be moved out now.
The current blockade and siege of the West Bank is Ariel Sharon’s response to this and similar propositions. By making life intolerable for the Palestinians, he hopes they would be forced to move out. By destroying their agriculture to the tune of $288 million in the eight months since September 2000, he expects that desperation and battle fatigue will set in. By the destruction of homes, schools, hospitals and factories, he aims to provoke a mass exodus. More ominously, he seeks through the sustained attacks upon the PA’s infrastructure and security apparatus to force an exit similar to the PLO withdrawal from Beirut in 1982.
The Palestinian leadership and people are well aware of the plan. In Khan Younis refugee camp, which was erected in 1949 after the first Nakba, Palestinians are today pitching tents over the rubble of the homes destroyed by the Israeli army. By building tents over their demolished homes, they have delivered an unmistakable message to the Occupying Power and its supporters: they have no intention of going anywhere. They have nowhere to go. In Jordan, the authorities have introduced new measures aimed at restricting the entry of Palestinians from the occupied territories. Despite claims by the Jordanian authorities that their move was not motivated by fear of a mass “transfer”, their move comes against the background of growing calls for expulsion from the Israeli settlers and government officials. That being the case, time appears to be fast running out for the Prime Minister to deliver on his election pledge of peace and security. Any further delay is almost certain to result in his replacement by Benyamin Netanyahu as leader of the Likud party when it holds its election later this year.
A natural end
When Menachem Begin and his co-conspirators blew up the King David Hotel 55 years ago, the world was given a practical lesson about the nature of Zionism. Immediately after the attack by the beast it nurtured, Britain issued a White Paper on 24 July 1946 identifying the Hagana, Palmach and Irgun as terrorist groups. The reaction in Washington was, however, different. At the time it was not yet fashionable for the State Department to keep a blacklist of terrorist organizations. So, it was business as usual with the Zionists. In the aftermath, Britain was betrayed and Palestine was emptied of most of its population to allow the creation of the Jewish State. Despite unwavering support from the United States, Israel has never since enjoyed a moment’s joy of peace or security. And yet it was not for want of money or weapons because the Jewish State has received between 1949 and October 1999 some $91.8 billion from the United States without any accountability. The insecurity and fear that has crippled Israel over the last nine months is, therefore, the natural result of its uninterrupted reign of terror that started long before the bombing of the King David Hotel.
Quite remarkably, there was never any contrition from the Jewish State. Instead of acknowledging the historic wrong done to the Palestinians, Israel now claims from the international community the right to inflict more pain upon its victims. Encouraged by American largesse and protection, it continues to entertain delusions of military grandeur in a manner reminiscent of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Both totalitarian systems by their tyranny and injustice sowed the seeds of their destruction. By its own excesses and arrogance Israel has similarly entered the mode of self-destruction.
This process may be hastened not only by events in Palestine but changes abroad. With the decline of American influence and its growing international isolation, Israel would, by extension, find itself with increasingly less room for maneuvering. Any attempt to “transfer” Palestinians from the occupied territories would meet with the strongest opposition by freedom-loving governments and peoples everywhere. Thus, on a personal level Ariel Sharon need not be tempted, for this would surely be his last military adventure before his belated arraignment at an international war tribunal.
The author is a researcher at the Palestinian Return Center, London, and editor of its Return Review.