As fighting between Israelis and Palestinians reaches horrible new heights, many are asking whether the time has not finally come to stop tolerating an intransigent leader who refuses to put an end to the violence. Not that he should be killed, or even arrested, but wouldn’t exile be an appropriate response?
The case seems rather compelling. This is not simply an inept leader, but one whose commission of horrendous atrocities going back many years has been well documented. Despite the signing of the Oslo Agreement in 1993, he has in fact opposed the accords, believing that only one people — his own — is entitled to national rights in historic Palestine. For many months he has allowed the slaughter of innocent civilians and today he is authorizing the slaughter of even more.
Indeed, the case for exiling Ariel Sharon is a strong one.
Yes, I have been referring to the crimes not of Yasser Arafat — though these are real too — but of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. It was Sharon who was responsible for the massacre of some seventy civilians in the Jordanian village of Qibya in 1953. It was Sharon who served as Defense Minister during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which led to the deaths of 17,000 civilians. It was Sharon who an Israeli commission found to bear indirect responsibility for the killing of hundreds of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shitila refugee camps. It was Sharon who has publicly denounced the Oslo Accords at every opportunity and is determined to block any Palestinian state except one that is equivalent to a Bantustan, totally dominated by Israel. And it is Sharon who presides over massive attacks on Palestinians, attacks which, according to reports from international — and Israeli — human rights organizations, have often involving the use of lethal force against unarmed civilians, extra-judicial assassinations, firing on medical personnel, and the denial of medical care to the wounded.
The case is strong, but in fact it would be wrong to focus just on Sharon. The underlying cause of the current crisis is that Palestinians have been denied their basic right of self-determination. They have been forced to endure a cruel Israeli occupation for thirty-five years. Under both the Labor Party and Sharon’s Likud, Israeli settlements illegal under international law have grown in the Occupied Territories. Under both Labor and Likud, Palestinians have been subject to daily oppression and humiliation. And Labor’s Shimon Peres is part of the Sharon government that is today laying siege to Palestinian cities and refugee camps.
And the responsibility goes beyond Israel. Washington has backed the Israeli occupation with military, economic, and diplomatic support for years. Sharon’s present ruthless offensive was given a green light by the Bush administration and is being carried out with U.S. planes, helicopters, and armored vehicles. The press criticizes Bush for his "arms-length" approach to the current crisis, but the problem is not arms length, but arms shipments.
Peace in the Middle East would be enhanced by the exiling of Sharon, Peres, and Bush. In lieu of these admittedly unlikely prospects, the American people need to bring pressure to bear on their government to withdraw its support for the Israeli occupation.
Stephen R. Shalom teaches political science at William Paterson University in New Jersey.