by Uri Avnery
TEL AVIV -- The real aim of "Operation Defensive Shield"
was not to "destroy the infrastructure of terrorism".
This was merely a good slogan for uniting the people of
Israel, who are angry and afraid after the suicide bombings.
It is also a good political device, allowing Sharon to ride
on the bandwagon of President Bush's "war against
international terrorism". Under the umbrella of "destroying
the infrastructure of terrorism" one can do practically
If Sharon had really intended to "destroy the
infrastructure of terrorism", he would have acted very
differently. He would have given the Palestinian masses hope
of achieving their national freedom in the near future. He
would have fortified the position of Yasser Arafat, the only
effective partner for peace. He would have strengthened the
Palestinian security forces and radically improved economic
conditions in the Palestinian territories.
But destroying the infrastructure of terrorism is not
Ariel Sharon's aim. His program is far more radical: to
break the backbone of the Palestinian people, crush their
governmental institutions, turn the people into human
wreckage that can be dealt with as he wishes. This may
entail shutting them up in several enclaves or even driving
them out of the country altogether.
As Sharon sees it, this would be finishing off the job
started in 1948: to establish the real Israel, from the
Mediterranean to the Jordan river; a state inhabited solely
by Jews. It was no accident that he openly supported
Slobodan Milosevic, the inventor of "ethnic cleansing".
When I wrote this a year ago, it sounded like malicious
slander. Sharon was still pictured as a man determined to
fight terrorism, not as a person using the fight against
terrorism as a means to achieve quite different aims.
Four days ago I was in Ramallah. I sneaked into the town
(Israelis are forbidden by the military commander from
entering the Palestinian territories) in order to see it for
myself. I visited the Palestinian ministries. A shocking
Take, for example, the Palestinian Ministry of
Education. It is housed in an imposing building, probably
going back to British times, a mixture of neo-Classic
European and oriental styles. In front of it there was a
rose garden--"was", because a tank has crisscrossed it, for
no apparent reason, leaving only one purple rosebush in all
its glory. Just so. To teach them a lesson.
On the upper floor, where the archives and computers
were housed, the destruction was total. The computers were
taken apart and thrown on the floor, the safe blown open,
the papers strewn around, the drawers empty, the telephones
crushed . Some of it was just plain vandalism. The money in
the safe was stolen, the furniture upturned, the papers
dispersed. But when one looked closer, the real aim of the
operation became clear. All the hard disks were taken from
the computers, all the important files taken away. Only
empty shells remained. All the important contents of the
ministry were taken: the lists of pupils, examination
results, lists of teachers, the whole logistics of the
Palestinian school system.
The Ministry of Health suffered the same fate. The hard
disks that contained all the information, state of diseases,
medical tests, lists of doctors and nurses, the logistics of
the hospitals had been taken.
Even the people most critical of the Palestinian
Authority admitted that these two ministries--Education and
Health--had been functioning well. They have been utterly
This happened to virtually all the Palestinian
government offices. Gone is the information pertaining to
land registration and housing, taxes and government
expenditure, car tests and drivers' licenses, everything
necessary for administrating a modern society.
The lists of terrorists were not hidden in the land
registration books, the inventory of bombs was not tucked
away among the list of kindergarten teachers. The real aim
is obvious: to destroy not only the Palestinian Authority,
but Palestinian society itself: to push it back with one
stroke from the stage of a modern state-in-the-making to the
primitive society of Turkish times.
This is true for the civil society, and even more so for
the security system. The headquarters of the security
services were destroyed, files burned, computers crushed,
the information concerning armed underground organizations
and all other details pertaining to the war against
terrorism were obliterated. There is no better evidence of
the aims of this operation: not war on terrorism, but
destruction of organized Palestinian society.
By the way, on that day I passed, with a group of
Israeli peace activists, through the center of Ramallah
--from the mass-grave in the hospital parking lot to the
besieged headquarters of Yasser Arafat. We carried Hebrew
posters and encountered much sympathy and not a single sign
of hostility. Even at this time, the Palestinians know the
difference between the Israeli peace camp and those who
responsible for this brutal attack. Here, perhaps, lies the
only glimmer of hope.
Copyright © 2002 Uri Avnery -- a writer and
former member of the Israeli Knesset. While a member of the Jewish underground
he fought against the British, and was wounded twice in Israel's wars against
the Arabs. In 1992 he helped found the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom.