Forget about the battle of Negba. Forget about the battle of Ammunition Hill. Forget about the Entebbe raid. All these are overshadowed by the latest exploits of our forces. Songs will be sung about them, victory albums will proclaim their glory.
In a daring action, in the middle of the night, the elite units of the border police and the picked commandos of the paratroops stormed the “Orient House” in East Jerusalem and the Palestinian governor’s office in Abu-Dis. In a heroic battle, the two empty buildings were conquered. Our glorious forces suffered no casualties.
Every Jewish heart was filled with pride when the Israeli flag was hoisted over these two fortresses of the cruel enemy. Every man and woman sang the praises of our valiant male and female fighters. And when the generalissimo, Interior Security Minister Uzi Landau, was photographed at the scene of the immortal victory é who did not share his joy at the realization of the dream of generations? The governor’s house conquered! Orient House in our hand!
If there is cynicism in this description, that’s because Orient House is very close to my heart. I was a frequent guest there, I have spent there many many hours, both happy and sad. I love this beautiful building of simple elegance and elegant simplicity.
Minutes after the signing of the Oslo agreement on the White House lawn, I stood, with many others, Israelis and Palestinians, on its stairs. We embraced each other, feeling that it was the right place to be at this moment, because for us Orient House was a symbol of the struggle for peace.
Several times, when right-wing demagogues in Israel tried to achieve a cheap victory by “closing Orient House”, I was with the peace activists who rushed to the building in order to express our solidarity with its defenders. Again we stood on these special stairs, Israelis and Palestinians together, while in the street hate-mongering Cahanists were shouting their blood-thirsty slogans, under the protection of the Border Police,.
How many hours did we spend in this building with the unforgotten Faisal Husseini, talking about peace? About united Jerusalem that will truly be “ours” é ours, both Israelis and Palestinians. About the refugee problem, for which Faisal proposed solutions that were amazingly moderate and sensible. About borders. About the settlements. About a relationship that will last for generations.
How many demonstrations for peace did we plan in this building? Against the provocative settlements in Jebel Abu-Gheneim (“Har Homa”) and Ras-al-Amud. For the release of Palestinian prisoners. How many times did we celebrate there? A joint concert of Palestinian and Israeli musicians. The marriage of a Palestinian cabinet minister. Always together, side by side, with mutual respect and equality.
The “conquest” of this building is a cynical, treacherous, stupid, evil and disastrous act.
A c y n I c a l act, because it utilizes the terrible suicide attack at the Jerusalem restaurant, the suffering of the families and the fury of the public, to do something that has absolutely nothing to do with “the fight against terrorism”. The extreme right, headed by Sharon, Landau & Co., just waited for an opportunity to do what they wanted to do. The blood served as a pretext.
A t r e a c h e r o u s act, because it is a brutal violation of a solemn promise. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres signed this undertaking on behalf of the State of Israel in the wake of the Oslo agreement. It said that Israel will not close any existing Palestinian institution in Jerusalem. Another piece of paper torn by the government in which Shimon Peres serves as a Foreign Minister.
A s t u p I d act, because it officially confirms the fact that East Jerusalem is an occupied city. As long as the big Palestinian flag was hanging from the flagpole at Orient House, it represented the hope of the city’s 200 thousand Palestinian inhabitants that the problem would be solved by peaceful means. This hope has now been struck down. Like their brethren on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, they have now been convinced that “the Jews understand only the language of force”. The teachings of Faisal Husseini will be displaced by the teachings of Hamas. The conquered building will become a symbol of occupation and resistance é much more so than at its times of splendor.
An e v i l act, because it sends an unequivocal message to the Palestinian people and the whole world: this is the end of the peace process. At Camp David the mantra of “Undivided Jerusalem, eternal capital of Israel” was put aside. Even Ehud Barak, who was quite insensitive to Palestinian aspirations, understood that there can be no peace without giving East Jerusalem back to the Palestinians (or at least appearing to do so). Now come Sharon and his henchmen and throw us many years back. What they are saying is: Peace is out! No Oslo, no Madrid, no nothing. War against the Palestinians, War against the Arab world, today, tomorrow, for generations to come.
A d I s a s t r o u s act, because it is a step in a terrible direction. After Orient House, after Abu-Dis, what is left to conquer? Once people start to run amok, they cannot stop. The right-wing demagogues who feed on the occupation will not be satisfied with this. Their appetite is growing. Where to go now? One doesn’t have to search long: just around the corner, the golden Dome of the Rock is shining. No doubt, that is the real aim of this madness: the Temple Mount, the Holy Sanctuary, the Dome of the Rock, al-Aksa. That is where the dance of the daemons started, where Ehud Barak and Shlomo Ben-Ami let Sharon loose. And That is where it will end, in a regional blood-bath. I do not know when this will happen. But as from this week I am convinced that it will come, if the world does not pound on Sharon’s table with an iron fist.
Who will be the accomplices in this crime? Usi Landau, the smiling fanatic, a right-wing bully disguised as a civilized human being. Ehud Olmert, the mayor of West Jerusalem and military governor of East Jerusalem, a mayor making war on half his city, a cynical politician if ever there was one, a man without principles, who treads on human bodies on his way to power (see: the tunnel incident). Defence Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, a man for every season and every policy, whose sole interest is in himself. Shimon Peres, who always objects to Sharon’s actions and always serves him faithfully. Avraham Burg, who hopes to become Labor’s chairman, who was rejoicing with us on the stairs of Orient House on the day of Oslo and is now eager to join the Sharon government. At the head of the pyramid: Sharon himself, determined to close every door and window that could serve as an opening, not only for now but forever, in order to “inherit the land” and fill it with settlements, as commanded by a god he does not believe in. And in the background, Binjamin Netanyahu is trying to outflank Sharon on the right, causing him to move even more to the right.
Indeed, a small step of the occupation, a giant step towards disaster.