Louisville, Kentucky – I have been following with a great deal of interest – like many, I am sure – news and commentaries about the trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes and about the possible trial of Israel’s current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for the crimes committed at Sabra and Shatilla in 1982.
I have two thoughts on the subject, especially as far as Sharon is concerned, for, unlike Milosevic, he is not only still at large, but he is in fact, at this point in time, almost the sole runner of the show in the Middle East (even the Americans are playing by the rules he has set up). And Sharon being the uninhibited, uncurbed and dangerous man he is, the show he is running is not, at present, nor will it ever be, pretty at all.
Thought number one. One indeed hopes that justice, in the two cases just named, will prevail. It has become clear to all, from reading legal literature and from a number of trials in recent history (including trials of Nazis who committed atrocities against Jews in Europe) that human (inhuman, rather) behaviour in war cannot but be regulated. If war erupts, or if you occupy other people’s land, there is (and ought to be) a limit – a clear-cut one – on the degree of violence used against the “other,” the occupied. War or occupation does not entitle the occupier to violate the rights of those under occupation. Human rights need to be protected under all circumstances. That is why we – i.e., those who care about human rights anytime, anywhere – feel heartened when a war criminal (or suspect) is brought to justice, no matter who he or she is.
During my visit to the site of the African Burial Ground in New York city last week, I copied a saying by Malcolm X inscribed on what is called The New Ring Shout: “I’m for truth no matter who tells it; I’m for justice no matter who it is for or against.” I wholeheartedly agree.
With respect to Sharon, in particular, not only his past actions – i.e., the atrocious, also strategic, massacre of innocent Palestinians he directly orchestrated in the village of Qibbya in 1947, as well as the massacres he “indirectly” (so we are told) orchestrated, also strategically, in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla during his cruel invasion of Lebanon in 1982 – but also his present actions, i.e., his deliberately provocative visit to Al Aqsa Mosque which triggered all the present violence and deaths of both Palestinians and Israelis, as well as his determination, now as prime minister, to escalate violence in Palestine and beyond it, testify to the fact that the man is a prime suspect of war crimes against humanity, if not a proven criminal.
Trial of individuals like Milosevic and Sharon is important not only for humanity to feel assured that those who commit crimes are held accountable for what they do (no one is above the law) but that they will also deter others from following the same evil path. If evildoers know beforehand that they will not be allowed to get away with evil deeds, they will, I am sure, think twice and ten times before they commit any wrong.
Why, in civil societies, do we insist on holding thieves, robbers, muggers, rapists and murderers accountable for their actions? It is, essentially, for the two reasons just stated. War criminals are, of course, more criminal, more dangerous and more damaging and harmful than thieves, rapists or criminals. Even more than serial muggers, rapists or killers. Their victims are not one or two or ten; they are in the hundreds or thousands.
Thought number two. Having said this, however, one must hasten to add that punitive actions alone are not sufficient. Though we must continue to seek them (and with all means at our disposal), we must also strive to think of, adopt and enforce preventive measures.?
While this is now too late in the case of Milosevic, it is still possible in the case of Sharon.
One has worried, and continues to worry, about the absence of justice vis-é-vis Sharon’s past atrocities.
How can the direct orchestrator of the Qibbya massacre, the “indirect” orchestrator of those of Sabra and Shatilla, and the direct cause of the present massive cycle of violence in the Middle East (through his infamous visit to Arab East Jerusalem) not only continue to remain at large but also to thrive and prosper, and move from a key position to another until he becomes man number one in Israel? This is upsetting. This is worrying.
What is more upsetting and worrying, still, is the fact that any time now more disasters can happen. It is clear to all (in the region and abroad, including those who, for one reason or another, do not wish to confront the facts) that Sharon is up to no good. An observer of his statements, actions and tactics (past and present) cannot but conclude that the man is dragging the region into an abyss. If his predecessor, Benyamin Netanyahu, succeeded in halting the momentum of peace and sabotaging the peace process, Sharon is intent upon taking us two steps further (backwards, I should say): a) killing the peace process entirely, and b) attempting to change the map of the region, in favour of occupation and in the service of the dreams of the extremists and fanatics.
Such an attempt (and this is really the point) will, of course, be based on war and bloodshed. People like Sharon are, we must remember, masters and experts when it comes to finding excuses or pretexts for war, aggression and violence.
For this reason, whoever (in Israel itself, in the US, in Europe, at the UN and, more than anywhere else, in the Arab world) cares not about the peace process (for it is dead) but about human life needs to think of effective preventive measure, and urgently so.
It is with some relief and consolation that a victim of rape receives the news of the arrest and trial of the rapist, but the relief and consolation would have been more meaningful, much more meaningful, had the rapist been caught before the dreadful act.
It is crystal clear that individuals like Sharon have no hesitation whatsoever to penetrate and usurp not only Gaza and the West Bank, but also Lebanon, Syria and any other Arab country when they feel the urge to do so.
That is why it is essential to think – now before any other time – of preventive measures against Sharon’s sinister plans. Not just for the sake of the Palestinians or the Arabs, but also for the sake of the Israelis themselves, for the acts of fools affect all concerned.
While we have recently witnessed punitive justice done in a number of cases involving crimes against humanity (though we need to see the principle applied to all and not to some), we have seen little at the level of preventive justice. The Middle East today is in need of urgent preventive measures against the violence and bloodshed that appear imminent, due to Sharon’s dark, uncurbed, dangerous vision. Several Israeli writers have already warned against the consequences of letting Sharon have his way.
This is where the efforts of the US (and the Arab states and Europe ought to push in this direction) should be directed – at finding effective ways and means of curbing Sharon and frustrating his dark plans and schemes, and not at pressuring Palestinians (as some present US administration officials, congressmen/women, and ex-politicians are doing).
Let’s seek justice through international tribunals (for past but never forgotten atrocities), but let’s also think of ways of averting disasters that presently loom high on the horizon.