February 19, 2004 - The Halifax Herald Limited

Sharon, Arafat wrong leaders for peace

THE FOLLOWING, which I read on the Internet, is an adaptation of a famous quotation attributed to Martin Niemoeller, a German Protestant theologian who was imprisoned during the Second World War years for his opposition to Hitler: "When they came for the Jews, I didn't speak up; I wasn't a Jew. When they came for women, First Nation people and other minorities, I didn't speak up, since I wasn't any of them. When, finally, they came for me, there was nobody left to speak up for me."

Inspired by the above quotation, I'll revisit the Israeli and Palestinian conflict and, probably, get taken to task again by both sides for doing so. This happens because large blocs of people on both sides want everybody in the world to agree with the policies their governments undertake, no matter how reprehensible they are. When one doesn't, wham!

Regardless, here goes.

I don't know how much control the Palestinian Authority has over Hamas and other suicide-bombing terrorist groups - not much, I imagine; but the practice is reprehensible. (The idiocy is now spreading to other countries and is also killing many Muslims.) The wanton slaughter and maiming of innocents, in the hope of terrorizing them into submission, or just for blind revenge, is not going to help the Palestinian side. It will not produce a Palestinian state, only create more hate and violence.

On the other side of the coin, can anything less be said for the "collateral damage" that kills and injures dozens of innocent Palestinians, when Israeli missiles are used for the "targeted killing" of alleged terrorist figures in the midst of heavily populated Palestinian civilian areas? What applies to the Palestinian side applies here. The wanton slaughter and maiming of innocents in the hope of terrorizing them into submission, or just for blind revenge, isn't going to help the Israelis either, only engender more hate and assure future violence.

The leaders of both sides don't seem to be overly interested in finding peace. However, even if they wanted to, could either Ariel Sharon or Yasser Arafat stop the cycle of violence that is taking the lives of hundreds of innocents, and maiming hundreds more? It's doubtful. Neither man seems to have the moral authority, wisdom or courage needed to accomplish the task.

And, no question about it, because there is personal danger for both, courage is needed. Arafat would risk assassination and a civil war if he strongly undertook such an effort. For Sharon, the risk of being assassinated by radical settlers would increase substantially. But the other reason he has for not doing so is not defensible: loss of power. The small, fundamentalist, right-wing parties that prop up his government would desert en masse if he did so, an event that would cause his government to fall. It's created a situation in Israel where the tail is wagging the dog.

This situation, where a small minority is calling the shots over the wishes of the majority, is caused by proportional representation. If not for that, many of the small political parties that call the shots wouldn't have a seat in parliament and, most important, wouldn't be able to hamstring peace efforts. Those Canadians advocating such for this country should keep this in mind: Proportional representation can actually stymie democracy by giving minor parties powers far beyond what their numbers warrant.

The mayhem seems endless. In the past month alone, many horrendous events have resulted from the Middle East conflict. The inhuman act of a suicide bomber who recently took many innocent Israelis' lives was one. And this quote from a recent story illustrates another: "An Israeli helicopter fired a missile . . . that killed a Palestinian militant (Islamic Jihad member) travelling in a car and a 12-year-old boy who was walking by on a busy street in Gaza City, Palestinian doctors and the Israeli military said. Nine other Palestinians were injured."

If the Israel government is going to use targeted killings, then it must be sure they will not kill and injure innocent bystanders. On busy streets, never!

Then last week, on TV news, I saw a video of the "wall" that Sharon's government is putting up to block off the Palestinians. He states that the hideous structure is being constructed to stop suicide bombers from entering Israel. It may, in fact, be helpful in this regard, but many Israelis and Palestinians, and many other informed people around the world, view it as a land grab since it doesn't follow the 1967 border.

To me, it represents a failure of the Israeli government's occupation policies. Enhancing and building more settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, destroying properties, separating families, and so on, are not the actions of a government seeking peace. Take it from someone who hails from a race of people who have been humiliated by a powerful military force for centuries: You don't win love and respect by doing so.

The United States and the United Kingdom have taken it upon themselves to impose freedom and democracy in Iraq. One would think that they would also take an active role in finding a solution for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which is just as important. George Bush and Tony Blair should do the right thing: Enough innocent people on both sides have been killed or maimed; if the combatants can't be persuaded to find a peace on their own, it's time to impose it.

Daniel N. Paul


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