A record of terror

Published : Sep 26, 2003 00:00 IST

"YOU do not fight terror by shaking hands with a terrorist," said a senior Arab diplomat based in Delhi. He was referring to the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to India in the second week of September. Sharon's career-graph bears ample testimony to his predilection to use violence and terror to achieve the goals of the Zionist blueprint for the region. An unabashed votary of `Eretz Israel' (Greater Israel), Sharon was involved in right-wing terrorist activity from the age of 14, when he joined the Haganah, an underground Jewish militant organisation that used terrorist methods against the native Palestinians and the British colonial administration.

Sharon achieved notoriety in 1953, when he was given command of the "Unit 101", which was involved in special commando operations against Palestinian villages. The unit's specific task was to terrorise Palestinian villagers. Many innocent women and children were victims of its killing spree. To the international community, the massacre in the West Bank village of Qibya gave the first inkling of Sharon's ruthlessness. Troops under his command blew up 45 houses, killing 65 civilians, about half of them women and children. The United States State Department issued a statement at that time demanding that the guilty be "brought to account". No action was taken. Sharon's fortunes, instead, was on the ascendant.

He was soon appointed commander of a paratroop brigade, which saw action in the Sinai Peninsula during the Suez crisis of 1957. True to form, the troops under Sharon's command participated in another massacre - this time killing 270 Egyptian prisoners of war. This story re-surfaced in the Israeli media in 1996, after an investigation conducted by the Israeli Army's military history division.

In 1971, Sharon was again involved in acts of ethnic cleansing - this time in the Gaza Strip. Two thousand Palestinian homes were destroyed, uprooting 12,000 refugees who had been displaced earlier when Israel came into being. It was during this time that Sharon, with the approval of the Israeli state, started the practice of targeted assassinations. More than 100 Palestinian guerrillas were killed in 1971, during the Sharon supervised military campaign in Gaza.

However, it was the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 that brought Sharon notoriety on a global scale. As Defence Minister he had orchestrated the invasion of Lebanon, killing over 29,500 Palestinians and Lebanese. It is estimated that around 40 per cent of those killed were children. The massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, which went on for two days from September 16, 1982, continues to be a bleeding wound; although those responsible for the act have not been brought to justice so far. More than 2,750 people, many of them children, perished at the hands of the right-wing Phalangist militia, acting at the behest of the Israeli Army, under Sharon's command. An official Israeli Commission of Inquiry found that Sharon, among others, was responsible for the massacre of non-combatant civilians. A court in Belgium was on the verge of admitting a war crimes petition against Sharon under a law that allowed local courts to try foreigners for crimes against humanity. The petition was filed by relatives of those who perished in Sabra and Shatila. But pressure from the Bush administration forced the Belgian government to amend the law and Sharon escaped trial.

Sharon, in his zeal to achieve the goal of a Greater Israel, which would extend from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, has played a key role in expanding the settlements on the occupied territories.

The first big settlement expansion took place between 1977 and 1992, when the Likud had decisive say in the government. During this period, the number of Jewish settlers in the occupied territories went up by more than 2,000 per cent. The so-called "Falasha" Jews from Ethiopia were smuggled into Israel through Sudan. Sharon also had a cosy relationship with unsavoury African heads of state and controversial political figures like Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and Jonas Savimbi of Angola. He had met both these leaders in the early 1980s during visits to the African continent. Israel was desperate for friends those days. Sharon, using his links with the Reagan administration, helped Mobutu get U.S. aid on generous terms. Mobutu established diplomatic links with Israel in return. Israel also provided security advisers and trained Mobutu's praetorian guards, helping the dictator to hold on to power and bankrupt the country. Sharon used his trips to Angola to aid and advise the rapacious Savimbi and his South African backers, in their efforts to destabilise the legitimate government in Luanda.

The fall of the Soviet Union facilitated the influx of a large number of Russian immigrants to Israel. As Minister of Construction and Housing, Sharon went on a settlement-building spree in the occupied territories. After the Oslo accord, he was again put in charge of accelerating the pace of illegal Jewish settlements in these territories. In the post-Oslo period, under Sharon's supervision, Israel established 30 new settlements, doubling the settler population from 109,000 in 1993 to nearly 200,000 in 1999. While ostensibly trying to "promote" the peace process with the Palestinians, Sharon as Foreign Minister in 1998 advised the extremist right-wing Tsomet Party to keep up the tempo of settlement activities. "Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours... . Everything we don't grab will go to them," Sharon told the Tsomet Party faithful.

Sharon almost single-handedly sparked the second Palestinian Intifada in 2000. In a brazenly provocative move, Sharon, who was the Likud Party's prime ministerial candidate at that time, visited the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest shrine in Islam, accompanied by around 1,000 armed Israeli soldiers. The visit was meant to emphasise Israel's "sovereignty" over Jerusalem, especially the mosque. The United Nations Human Rights Commission adopted a resolution criticising the "the provocative visit to Al-Haram al-Sharif on September 28, 2000 by Ariel Sharon, the Likud Party leader, which triggered the tragic events that followed in occupied East Jerusalem and other occupied Palestinian territories, resulting in a high number of deaths and injuries among Palestinian civilians". The passions that erupted and the bloodshed that followed gave Sharon the political momentum necessary to win the general elections that followed a few months later. Since the second Intifada started, more than 3,500 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis have been killed.

As Prime Minister, Sharon accelerated Israel's annexation programme in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The U.S. sponsored "road map for peace" had specifically called for a freeze on Israeli settlement building activity and the dismantling of newly constructed settlements. Instead, Sharon has given his tacit go-ahead to the settlers to grab even more territory. Sharon had signalled to his supporters that he would never accept the possibility of a viable Palestinian state existing alongside Israel. The Palestinian Foreign Minster Nabil Sha'ath, while on an official visit to Delhi, admitted that there was no possibility of any peace plan succeeding as long as Sharon remained in charge of things in Israel. The Minister said that Israel is perhaps the only country that uses helicopter gun-ships and F-16 fighters to target civilians during times of peace.

The 1,000 km long "wall" currently being built by the Israeli government to separate physically their state from the West Bank and Gaza will take away even more Palestinian land. Targeted killings of Palestinian individuals belonging to radical organisations continues unabated under the Sharon dispensation. U.S.-supplied Apache helicopter gun-ships attack cars carrying Hamas activists. Along with the intended targets innocent people get killed invariably. Recently, the Israeli security forces used a one-tonne bomb to target a Hamas leader in the Gaza strip. He along with his entire family, which included nine children, died in the attack on the apartment complex in which he lived.

Before Sharon departed for India, the Israeli government once again opened up the Al Aqsa mosque for Jewish visitors to pray. Palestinians under the age of 40 are not allowed to pray in the mosque. The Sharon government cites security reasons. Palestinians in the occupied territories find it difficult to make the journey to the Al Aqsa mosque, hampered as they are by innumerable roadblocks, detours and checkpoints put up by the occupying Israeli Army.

There have been calls from the international community demanding that the judicial authorities in Israel start investigating Ariel Sharon. Article 146 of the Geneva Convention ("Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War") states that each High Contracting Party "shall be under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed" grave breaches of the convention. India is a party to the Geneva Convention.

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