Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Keywords: Israel, Terrorism, Land
The conflict between the Israeli defence forces and Palestinian guerrilla movements is presented in facile and absolutist terms by both sides. Militant Palestinians tend to regard it as, quite literally, a life and death struggle. Zionists, meanwhile, tend to emphasise the danger to the Jewish state's survival and the immediate - and terrible - threat of suicide bombings. Underlying both positions is a dispute over small areas of land and an increasingly profound cultural conflict. The rhetoric of each side, and the emotive media images, makes compromise between the two sides harder to achieve. Worse still, in some ways, it makes world opinion rush to simplistic judgements that reflect only a small part of the truth. Sidney Du Broff is a redoubtable defender of Israel, but he is also aware of the complexity of the Israel-Palestine question. In particular, he seeks to emphasise an issue that is too often overlooked by Europeans - the fact that many Palestinian "freedom fighters" are actual or potential oppressors rather than liberators.
Gaza at this point is our southern security belt. What will we do once we withdraw from Gaza and find, as we inevitably will, that Arafat or his successors have stepped in and that squads of terrorists are again operating from there into Israel, murdering and destroying? What will we do when the Katyusha fire starts hitting Sderot, four miles from the Gaza district, and Ashkelon, nine miles from Gaza, and Kiryat Gat, fourteen miles from Gaza. A Katyusha is nothing more than a metal tube seven feet long, easily transportable, virtually undetectable. The simplest of them has a fifteen-mile range, the more sophisticated can reach twenty-five miles. So wrote Ariel Sharon (appointed Minister of Defence in 1981) in his book Warrior.
As Prime Minster he started singing a different tune. Sharon knows Gaza better than most, probably better than anybody, including even Samson of Biblical fame, who had slain 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. Betrayed by Delilah, Samson nevertheless managed to pull down the pillars of the edifice in Gaza, in which the Philistines had assembled, destroying himself as well as them. There are probably a number of similarities here between the actions of Sharon and Samson.
Gaza has never been an easy sort of place. In the 15th century BC the Egyptians used it as their base in the war against Syria; ultimately it came under the Philistines, conquered by the Assyrians, fought over by Egyptian, Syrian and Jewish armies from the third to the first century BC, fell into Roman hands, was taken by the Moslems in the seventh century, found by the Crusaders in the 12th century, virtually abandoned (the Moslems, then, as more recently, were having a hard time making a go of things there). Napoleon took over in 1799, during the Egyptian campaign. By the Second World War the British and the Turks were battling for possession.
About 180,000 Palestinian Arabs wound up as refugees in Gaza, then ruled by Egypt, as a result of Israel's War of Independence. Never then, or since, has any attempt been made to resettle the refugees in Egypt, or any other Arab country, preferring instead to preserve them as a festering sore, to serve as a propaganda weapon directed against Israel.
From Gaza, terrorists, both Egyptian and Palestinian, staged constant attacks into Israel proper. The Scandinavian UN observers, meant to deter such Arab activity, generally ignored it. But with alacrity they reported Israeli efforts to cross the border in order to retaliate - to the Arabs. They constantly displayed a partiality which belied the humanity they professed, but which manifested a decided proclivity in the direction of Israel's enemies, nothing very different then as now.
The Six-Day War saw Gaza come under Israeli control, with an Arab population that was not hostile, particularly since they fell heir to an economic boom. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine did not want to see an economic triumph as well as a military one, in which the Arab population would find it comfortable to co-exist with Israel. They staged a brutal campaign against their fellow Arabs, meant to terminate co-operation between themselves and the Israelis, which largely failed. They then turned their murderous efforts on to the Israelis.
Sharon was brought in to deal with the situation. "I would have to start," he says in his book, Warrior, "by making myself an expert on Gaza." For the next two months, accompanied by his chief of intelligence, and his chief of operations, he walked methodically through the dense orange groves and refugee camps. The Israelis knew that the PLO terrorists concealed themselves in underground bunkers in the orange groves, as well as in "safe houses" in the refugee camps.
He divided Gaza into small parcels, approximately a mile square, then brought in a relatively small number of top infantry units, which he trained to become intimately familiar with every detail in the parcels he assigned. That which was not familiar, that which did not fit into the routines of daily life they had learned to observe, became suspect. In a seven-month period, from July 1971, they crushed the PLO terrorists, killed 104, arrested 742 others, essentially all who had been operating in the area. In numbers Sharon had done almost as well as Samson, though it was obviously more difficult for him to route out the terrorists, than it would have been for Samson to kill off the Philistines, who were probably considerably more conspicuous.
Samson, however, did not make any arrests, and therefore none of those whom he encountered could be recycled, to terrorise again another day, as would certainly have been the case with Sharon's detainees.
Sharon explained to a visiting Israeli cabinet committee that it was vital for Israel to establish Jewish settlements in Gaza, if they were to retain control, and end the arms smuggling that was rampant. The Committee listened carefully, followed Sharon's advice, and in due course the Jewish settlements were established, making Sharon the proud progenitor of those settlements that exist today, and are under threat - from Sharon. "I felt I had brought quiet to a place that had been suffering the tortures of the damned", he said.
Although Sharon was quite pleased with himself for having brought what he thought was "normalcy" to Gaza, which encapsulated the Arabs, as well as the newly arrived Jews, eventually the situation became abnormal again. It is difficult to see why anybody should think that it would be otherwise.
Meanwhile, there had been Sabra and Shatila, for which Sharon was blamed, in which the Lebanese Christian militia, supposedly under Israeli control, took revenge on their fellow Arabs, who were Moslems. Sharon as Minister of Defence, was forced to resign, encouraged by Prime Minister Begin, and the cabinet generally, who needed to blame somebody. Though in no way involved, "indirect responsibility" was laid at his door.
Sharon had his friends, but more by way of enemies, usually as a result of being correct in his judgements and actions. He was vilified by the Left, though many on the Right would say he was soft on the Arabs. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivilin, a true-blue Conservative, used to call Sharon a "Mapainik," and "Ben Gurion's best pupil," tarring him, if only humorously, with the undesirable stigma of the party and the man of the Left.
In the meantime, with Sharon in the wilderness, others got their chance. Israel's most decorated, Ehud Barak, on the Left, was prepared to give away considerably more than was acceptable to the Israeli populace generally. But, for the Arabs, even this was not enough. They thought they could have it all - all of Israel. It was only a question of time, and a war of attrition, which, they were convinced, would in the end ensure victory - and they could be right. Benjamin Netanyahu was good at talking, but not so good at acting. And there was Sharon, waiting in the wing, who would deal with the Arabs, many Israeli voters thought.
The Intifada raged. Suicide bombers brought Israel to its knees. The first suicide bombing could probably not have been prevented, but there need not have been a second one (suicide bombers generally have families, usually large ones). But Sharon let it happen, retaliating with some more rockets directed toward already-rocketed-out buildings, perhaps doing some damage to the masonry, but none to the terrorists. Maybe his restraint was meant to impress Europe, and create some sympathy there - quite impossible in such a hostile European environment. Targeted rocket strikes against Hamas leadership, while laudable, only motivated the Arab populace to become more fervent in support of the cause - the "cause" being to eliminate Israel. No serious effort was made to prevent the smuggling of arms from Egypt, until it was far too late. By which time there were sufficient Arab arsenals, and Arabs, to employ those weapons in order to engage Israel forces in full battle conditions.
In Gaza, the "peace and tranquillity", which Sharon had engendered was only a memory. Four thousand shells and rockets have been directed at Jewish settlements there. Twelve Gaza Jews have been killed by their Arab neighbours, and many more wounded. Six Israeli army battalions, 2,500 soldiers, guard 7,800 Jewish settlers, up from 7,200 since the Intifada began. Eighty per cent of them are Orthodox. A Palestinian mortar shell struck a Jewish settlement in the south of Gaza, hitting a woman and severely wounding her year-old son; the son, she was told, would die. But instead he was saved by devoted medical personnel: her "miracle", she calls the child, compelled now to wear arm and leg braces. This family, and all of the others have no intention of leaving here. "It is the Land of Israel," and all the others agree. Those 180,000 Gaza Arabs have now become 1.4 million, having as they do, a rather high birth rate.
Sharon sees this place he made as no longer defendable - not worth defending, since the price has become too high. But to pull out before the Arabs are pacified would be to hand them a large victory. On the other hand, were they to be pacified, why leave? The settlers are not going to go to any place. The Party is against leaving, and so is the Cabinet. While 60 per cent of the population outside Gaza are for disengagement, it is felt that they could be otherwise persuaded. The "Father of the Settlements" is in deep trouble, no matter what happens. Perhaps the main difference between Sharon and Samson is that Samson was blinded by his enemies, while Sharon's blindness is self-inflicted. And, perhaps like Samson, Sharon blinded, will manage to pull down the pillars, but, unlike Samson, it will be his own edifice that he is destroying, rather than that of his enemies.
Sidney Du BroffAmerican-born writer and film maker who lives in London. E-mail: email@example.com.