As I write this, Israel’s so called “war against terrorism” is entering its 16th day. Since Israel began its military assault on the towns, cities and refugee camps of the West Bank, its troops have killed several hundred people at least — the majority of whom were civilians — and injured almost 3,000. To call this a war against terror is a lie; Sharon only calls it that to legitimise the violence in the eyes of the international community, and to justify his campaign of bloodshed and destruction.
Two years ago, what is happening now was unimaginable. Who would have thought that a man like Sharon, who has lawyers and legal experts attempting to try him for war crimes, would be able to bring the United States, Israel, Palestine and the rest of the world to this point — teetering on the edge of the abyss of uncontrollable violence and warfare?
But with Sharon’s election as prime minister over a year ago, we could see where we were headed. We warned against it, as bit by bit Sharon ruined everything Israelis and Palestinians had worked towards. This latest aggression is merely his coup de gréce. Sharon has destroyed the peace agreements, is currently destroying the physical foundations of the nascent Palestinian state, and is attempting to destroy the Palestinian Authority.
To justify his attacks by blaming the Palestinians for “the violence” is disingenuous — and completely ignores the peaceful 10 years between the signing of the Oslo accords and the outbreak of this Intifada for independence. For 10 years we waited while more settlements were built in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, more bypass roads were constructed on our land, the transfer of areas to the Palestinian Authority was blocked, Israel violated every agreement, and settlers continued to pour into the settlements. In short, we waited as the occupation continued.
And now Sharon says he is “fighting terror” as he suppresses 3.2 million people, commits a fully-fledged massacre in Jenin’s United Nations refugee camp, attacks ambulances, hospitals and medical workers, destroys the homes of refugees who, not coincidentally, have already been dispossessed twice before by the state of Israel — in 1948, with the creation of the Israeli state, and in 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza. On neither of these previous occasions could the Palestinians resist. This time it is different: they refuse to flee, they refuse to submit further to the Israeli occupation, and they refuse to give up. “The Palestinian Massada” is how some Israeli commentators are referring to the resistance in Jenin camp — Massada, where the Jews fought and chose death rather than submit to foreign rule and slavery. Today’s resistance is occurring because the Palestinians have been offered only two options — death or slavery.
It is difficult to imagine how the massacre in Jenin can be given a public image face-lift and presented to the world as necessary, yet this is happening because of the distortions of the American media. The current debate about what did or did not happen, what Palestinians will or will not claim, is taking place as the Israeli army digs huge holes around the refugee camps and bulldozes houses over the bodies of the injured and dead. As Kofi Annan says, we will only know the full extent of the horrors when we see the pictures.
Furthermore, Sharon is using the fourth most powerful military in the world to impose a complete curfew on a civilian population, destroy their economy, schools, water, sewage systems, electricity networks, roads and homes, and to annihilate the physical infrastructure of the Palestinian state that could have been.
Sharon can use this military power, and all the tools available to him in his propaganda war to try and destroy the Palestinians’ right to freedom from occupation — but might is not right, nor are slogans reality.
Whatever actions Sharon takes, whatever he does, no matter how much violence he uses in attempting to subjugate the Palestinian population, he will never cover up the fact that the violence at the cause of this conflict is the violence inherent in any occupation or colonial endeavour. Nor will he ever destroy the Palestinians’ will, or ability, to resist occupation.
The illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine has been violent for over 35 years. Now, as the occupation continues, and Sharon’s attempts to crush the resistance to this occupation become yet more vicious and extreme, we have to address the underlying reasons for the violence. Then we can put an end to all the rhetoric and solve the problem — the occupation.
As a doctor, I would kill the patient if I treated only the symptoms of the disease and not the cause. Yet this is precisely what Sharon and his national coalition government are doing. The occupation is a cancer eating away at the lives of both peoples. We can “heal” both peoples by ending the occupation, not by expanding the occupation and killing the occupied people. We need reasonable people on both sides to have the courage to say yes — there is a way to peace, we need to move beyond the horrors of today toward a two-state solution. That can only happen, however, if the occupation is ended fully and unequivocally.
The world must understand: there comes a time when people cannot take injustice any longer, and this time has come to Palestine. Palestinians have reached this point, and will never give up their struggle for freedom and independence and a dignified life.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi is President of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees.