Dear Prime Minister Sharon:
You have been prime minister of Israel for a year and have brought
the region to the edge of disaster. But then, disaster is your field
Many Israelis are now calling for your resignation. Last week, on
the eve of the first anniversary of your election to office, 100
Israeli reserve officers and soldiers signed a declaration that
they would no longer serve in the territories where your policies
are so brutally enforced.
Many of these officers served under your command. Now their feeling
is that generals do not make the most democratic or reasonable politicians;
of the armys recent actions, they wrote that the price
of occupation is the armys loss of its human image and the
corruption of all of Israeli society. In the days after the
officers released this declaration Israeli newspapers revealed that,
since the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000, 400
regular Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the territories.
We first met in 1971, when I was serving as a medic in the Southern
Command. The soldiers and officers in my unit, assigned to one of
the Palestinian refugee camps of Gaza, protested a set of orders
that struck us as excessive and unnecessary. Our argument, then
supported by many educated Israelis, was that humiliation of the
Palestinians was bad for Israels security. (That it was bad
for the Palestinians was self-evident, and an issue we didnt
intend to raise with you.) Your reply was to upbraid us, reassign
usand to bring in a unit less concerned with the reactions
or rights of the refugees. These and similar actions in the 1970s
put you on the radar of human rights observers in Israel and elsewhere,
and you have not failed to keep us very busy.
Before you were elected to the office of prime minister, you were
sniping at the peacemakers, and in your government positions of
the 1970s, 1980s and 90s you did considerable harm to Israel
and the neighboring states. Even when out of office or uniform you
had considerable influence in the countrys right-wing constituencies,
especially among the Orthodox. That you were flagrantly non-Orthodox
didnt seem to bother them at all. In 82 you led (many
in Israel would say deceived) Prime Minister Begin to believe that
Israels problems with the Palestinians could be solved by
invading Lebanon and laying siege to Beirut.
The results were an unmitigated disaster for Lebanon, and Israels
introduction to a Vietnam-style quagmire, a quagmire from which
Ehud Barak extricated Israel 18 years later. The casualty countand
here I speak of the Israeli side (the exact Lebanese casualty count
is unknown. The lowest estimates are in the many thousands)
was more than 500 Israeli soldiers dead in the Lebanon War, and
almost 500 more dead in Lebanon between 1983 and 2000.
While you may be a hero to your many wealthy and influential American
admirers, you are a dark figure to hundreds of bereaved Israelis.
For your involvement in the Sabra and Shatila massacre of 1982,
you were censured by the Israeli governments Kahan Commission
and had to resign your post as minister of defense. Your next move:
to put your considerable energies and influence to bear in strengthening
and growing the settlements of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The settlers were wary of you, for you had brutally enforced the
withdrawal of Israeli settlers from Sinai in 1981, but they were
willing to work with you. You were the devil they knew.
With your help the settler population grew to more than 200,000
by the year 2000. The presence of the settlers will ensure that
the vengeful violence of Israeli-Palestinian conflict will endure.
Yesit will outlast you and, to a considerable degree, will
be the legacy of you and your most enthusiastic supporters, those
who dub you Arik, King of Israel.
But perhaps, with the turn of the millennium, you werent yet
assured that your legacy would endure. In September 2000 you payed
an official visit to Jerusalems Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.
You were accompanied by close to a thousand policemen and border
guards. For some inexplicable reasonmight it have been that
the full one-third of Jerusalems population that is Arab felt
some unease at the implications of it?your visit was followed
by riots. These led to the second intifada. In the 16 months since
then, and especially in the 12 months since the national hunger
for security brought you to the prime ministers office, the
cycle of attack and retaliation has spiraled out of control, reaching
new depths of ugliness every week.
Your résumé as a conflict fomenter is a long and distinguished
one. While your current critics condemn you for the Lebanon incursions
and support of the settlers, those of us with longer memories know
of your first efforts, in the early 1950s, to bring the then-five-year
old Arab-Israeli conflict to the boiling point.
In October 1953 you were the young commander of an Israeli strike
force. Charged by the chief of staff to retaliate for the death
of an Israeli family shot by infiltrators who crossed the Jordanian
border near the village of Qibiya, you occupied the village with
a force of 100 soldiers. Then, contrary to orders, you had the village
houses blown upwhile many of the villagers still hid in their
Sixty-nine Jordanian civilians died. Israel was deeply embarrassed
by the international outcry that ensued, and Prime Minister Ben
Gurion was furious. In 1955 you led an attack on the Egyptian Army
base in Gaza City, killing 38 Egyptian soldiers and wounding 44.
Egypts President Nasser was convinced that this attack signaled
a new phase in the conflict, and weeks later he negotiated the first
Egyptian arms deal with the Soviet Union. The Cold War was soon
to find an arena of conflict in the ensuing Arab-Israeli wars.
Israeli politicians despaired of controlling your vengeful impulses.
From the private diary of Prime Minister Moshe Sharett: We
have let Sharons unit elevate revenge to a principle. In that
unit revenge has become a sacred ideal. This can only lead to further
reprisals. Ben Gurion and Sharett made sure that you never
rose to the job you coveted most, chief of staff of the army. They
needed your comand abilities but were frightened of your ambitions.
From Ben Gurions diary: If I were to appoint Sharon
chief of staff I would be constantly worried that Id wake
up to find the government offices ringed with tanks.
The last time we had contact was at one of Tel Avivs premiere
seafood restaurants. You were tucking into a large lobster with
great gusto. Surrounded by an entourage of foreign visitors, you
were expounding your theories of regional and global territorial
Like the high-ranking generals of other countries (Latin American
and Pakistani; for example) you have amassed great power and influence.
Like them you have been able to indulge your whims and appetites,
and over time your personal worth and influence have expanded. Today
you are not only Israels prime minister, you are its largest
single land owner. Your working ranch, Sycamore Farms,
now functions on the Western White House model, allowing you to
entertain lavishly out of the range of the highly vigilant Israeli
print and electronic media. Like your sometime friend George W.
Bush, you enjoy playing the cowboy.
For the sake of Israel and the other states of the Middle East,
please leave the office you tread over so many to achieve, and play
cowboy with your cowhands and admirers, not with the fate of the
Israeli state, its Middle Eastern neighbors, andin the post-Sept.
11 world, the fate of the world.