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Tell the truth, Shimon

By Gideon Levy
Ha'aretz, January 24, 2002

Shimon Peres: All the excuses make no difference.

In the 24 years of  our  acquaintance,  four  of  which  I  spent
working as your aide, this is the third time I have  written  you
an open letter. In 1989, when you were finance  minister  in  the
Shamir government and the first intifada was raging, I used these
pages to write "A letter to a former boss." Then, I told you that
"for the first time in your life, you have nothing left to lose -
except the prospect of vanishing into thin air." This  was  after
you kept silent in the face of the IDF's conduct in the intifada,
in the face of the continuation of the  occupation  and  Israel's
stubborn refusal to recognize the PLO as  the  representative  of
the Palestinians. At  the  time,  I  believed  that  you  thought
differently from Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin (known then  as
the "bone-breaker"), but that you just  weren't  bold  enough  to
speak up.

Eleven years later, in 2000, I wrote  you  another  open  letter.
This was after Oslo and the Rabin assassination,  and  after  you
again had lost  an  election  -  this  time,  to  the  office  of
president. Then, I said: "Many Israelis see you  as  a  different
person now. For them, you represent the hope of something  else."
And now, as I write to you again, I have to say:  You  no  longer
represent hope for anything.

The government of which you are  a  senior  member,  the  foreign
minister, is no longer just a government of last  resort  in  our
history of governments of  last  resort;  this  government  is  a
government of crime. And partnership in  this  crime  is  another
matter. It is no longer possible to  absolve  you,  to  give  you
credit for Oslo, to understand that your heart aches over what is
happening, and to know that you may even be  bursting  with  rage
over what is happening and refraining  from  speaking  out,  from
shouting out, and most of  all,  from  acting,  only  because  of
tactical considerations, which you understand better than anyone.

No, your silence and inaction can no longer be justified  by  any
excuse: Shimon, you are a partner in crime.  The  fact  that  you
might realize this in your heart and, from  time  to  time,  even
utter some feeble words of condemnation, the fact  that  you  are
not prime minister and that America is giving carte blanche right
now, the fact that most of the people think otherwise and that to
quit and "chase after a Ha'aretz  journalist,"  as  you  put  it,
would be pointless - All of these excuses make no difference. You
continue to serve in a government with blood on its hands,  whose
outstretched  hand  is  still  busy  killing  and   jailing   and
humiliating, and you are a partner to all of its deeds.  Just  as
the Taliban foreign minister is a part of the Taliban regime, you
are a part of the Sharon regime.  Your  responsibility  does  not
fall far short of the prime minister's. It is equal  to  that  of
the defense minister and the chief of staff,  whose  actions  you
harshly criticize  in  private  discussions.  Always  in  private
discussions only.

You say you heard about the assassination of  Raed  Karmi,  after
three weeks  of  Palestinian  quiet,  on  the  radio.  From  your
perspective, that's enough to exempt you from responsibility  for
the deed and even from having to express criticism of  it.  While
the IDF was reoccupying Tul Karm, you  were  with  Bill  Clinton.
When asked about it, you mumbled something incoherent.  Following
the house demolitions in Rafah, you bit your lip and kept silent.
One could assume that the blowing up of the radio station was not
your cup of tea either. But you bear the terrible  responsibility
for all of these things, for all of these actions that cannot  be
defined as anything other than war crimes.

Ask your brother-in-law, Prof. Rafi Walden, the head  of  surgery
at Sheba Medical Center, who sometimes travels to the territories
as a volunteer with Physicians for Human Rights, and  he'll  tell
you what you're a partner to. He'll tell you about the  women  in
labor - not just one or two, not just the rare  exception  -  who
can't get to the hospital because of the cruelty of  the  IDF  of
which you were once so proud, and whose babies  die  right  after
they deliver them. He'll  tell  you  about  the  cancer  patients
prevented from getting to Jordan for treatment. No,  they  cannot
even go to Jordan - for "security reasons."

He'll tell you about the hospitals in Bethlehem that were shelled
by the IDF. He'll tell you about the doctors and nurses who sleep
in the hospital because they can't get home. He'll tell you about
the dialysis patients forced to spend hours jostled  about  while
traveling makeshift routes three times  a  week  in  a  desperate
attempt to reach the machines that their lives depend  on.  He'll
tell you about the  patients  denied  crucial  medical  treatment
because of the closure and about the  ambulances  prevented  from
passing  through  checkpoints,   even   when   they're   carrying
critically ill passengers. He'll tell you about  the  people  who
have died at the checkpoints and about those  who  died  at  home
because they didn't dare to approach the checkpoints - which  are
now made up of menacing tanks in  the  middle  of  the  road,  or
mounds of dirt and cement blocks that cannot be budged - even for
someone on the brink of death.

You have imprisoned an entire people  for  over  a  year  with  a
degree of cruelty unprecedented in the  history  of  the  Israeli
occupation. Your government is trampling  three  million  people,
leaving them with no semblance of normal life. No  going  to  the
market, no going to work, no going to school, no visiting a  sick
uncle. Nothing. No  going  anywhere,  and  no  coming  back  from
anywhere.  No  day  or  night.  Danger  lurks   everywhere,   and
everywhere there is another checkpoint, choking off life.

An entire nation already partly outstretched its hand  in  peace,
no less than we have - you know this well - It has had  its  fill
of suffering, from the Nakba in 1948, through the 1967 occupation
and the siege of 2002, and it wants exactly the same things  that
Israelis want for themselves - a little quiet, a little  security
and a drop of national pride. To a man, this  entire  people  now
wakes up each morning to a gaping abyss of despair,  unemployment
and deprivation - now with tanks parked at the end of the street,
too.

You were always forgiven for all this - but  no  longer.  Someone
who is a partner in  a  government  that  deliberately  sabotages
every  Palestinian  effort  to  achieve   quiet,   that   utterly
humiliates  their  leaders,  for  whom  vengeance  is  the   sole
motivating force, which  cynically  exploits  the  world's  post-
September 11 blindness and obtuseness to do as it pleases  -  can
no longer be forgiven. True, you do  not  agree  with  everything
this government wants to do, but what does  that  matter?  You're
inside - you're an accessory, as in any other crime. I  sometimes
see you answering a reporter's question about  your  government's
latest despicable deed. The look on your  face  (and  I'm  pretty
familiar with your expressions after all  these  years)  suggests
unease, even disgust. And then you  give  one  of  your  evasive,
hint-laden and not quite direct answers. You mumble something and
try to extricate yourself by means of some awkward wordplay. Like
what happened this week when you were standing  next  to  Clinton
and were asked about the occupation of  Tul  Karm  and  you  said
nothing - nothing - and just waited for the question to pass,  to
be left alone so you could go back to  talking  about  peace  and
vision.

When  asked  about  the  assassinations,  the  demolitions,   the
humiliation  of  Arafat  and  his  scandalous  confinement,   the
destruction of the  Dahaniya  airport  or  the  festival  of  the
munitions display in Eilat, you furrow your brow and give half an
answer. But that's not enough anymore.

Now is the time for a straight, honest and truthful answer  -  or
nothing. Now is the time to say that the occupation of  Tul  Karm
was a foolish move, that the  assassination  of  Raed  Karmi  was
intended to renew the violence and that the  destruction  of  the
houses in Rafah was a war crime - or to be Ariel Sharon. This  is
not the time  for  subtlety,  for  hidden  meanings,  for  veiled
criticism in private - because, here on the outside,  a  terrible
disaster is underway, and a great ill wind is blowing and  laying
waste to everything.

Shall I give you an example? A few days ago, you were  quoted  as
saying (privately, again) that it was hard for you  to  criticize
the government's actions when the United States wasn't doing  so.
What kind of pathetic excuse is that? What  does  the  fact  that
there is a predatory administration  in  the  U.S.  that  has  no
counterbalancing power in the world, that does as it pleases  and
lets Israel do as it pleases, have to  do  with  your  principled
positions? What does that have to do with  the  good  of  Israel?
What does that have to  do  with  basic  values  of  justice  and
morality?

Perhaps you might take just one day of  vacation,  which  you  so
rarely do, and visit the  occupied  territories.  Have  you  ever
actually seen the Qalandiyah checkpoint, even once? Have you seen
what happens there? Do you think that you can do your job without
seeing the Qalandiyah checkpoint? Do you understand that you  are
responsible for what goes on there? Do you  understand  that  any
foreign minister of a state that puts up these checkpoints  bears
responsibility for their existence?

Then you could go to the village of Yamoun  and  meet  Heira  Abu
Hassan and Amiya Zakin, who lost their  babies  three  weeks  ago
when IDF soldiers wouldn't let their cars through the checkpoint,
while they were in labor and bleeding. Listen to  their  terrible
stories. And what will you tell them? That you're sorry? That  it
shouldn't have happened? That it's part of  the  war  on  terror?
That it's shocking? That maybe it's Shaul Mofaz's fault  and  not
yours? The IDF spokesman hasn't even expressed regret about these
two instances, not to mention any criminal investigation. He only
confirmed that one occurred and said he "didn't know"  about  the
other.

And equally important, what will you say about our  soldiers  who
behave this way? That it's because of national security? That the
Palestinians are to blame? Or Arafat? The truth, Shimon, is  that
you bear responsibility for  the  deaths  of  those  two  babies.
Because you were silent. Because you sat in this government.

These are terrible times. But worse is yet to come. The cycle  of
violence and hatred has  far  from  reached  its  peak.  All  the
injustices and evil perpetrated  against  the  Palestinians  will
eventually blow up in our faces. A people that is abused this way
for years will explode one day in a  terrible  fury,  even  worse
than what we see now. And meanwhile we have  the  soldiers  going
into the radio station, laying explosives and blowing  the  place
to kingdom come - without stopping to ask why.

These soldiers are the bearers of bad tidings, not only for their
victims, but for their dispatchers as well. Soldiers that destroy
dozens of homes belonging to  refugees,  with  all  their  meager
possessions inside, without a moment's hesitation - and certainly
no refusal to carry out such blatantly illegal  orders,  are  not
good soldiers, even for their country. Pilots who bomb targets in
the heart of populated cities, tank  operators  who  point  their
guns at women trying to get to the hospital to give birth in  the
middle of the night and Border Police officers  who  abuse  women
and youngsters are not a good portent of things to come. They all
attest to the loosening of restraint that derives  from  a  total
loss of direction.

Yes, this year we have lost our way. You have joined forces  with
a prime minister who is Israel's most veteran warmonger,  and  no
one can say for  sure  what  your  intentions  are.  And  with  a
brainwashed public that speaks with frightening  uniformity,  you
have it easy. Ever since  another  member  of  your  party,  Ehud
Barak, intentionally shattered the peace camp, you've  been  able
to do practically as you pleased. The IDF no longer  investigates
any war crime and the legal system approves every injustice  that
comes wrapped in the mantle of security. The whole world is  busy
struggling against terror, the  press  hides  its  face  and  the
public doesn't want to hear, doesn't want to see and doesn't want
to know. It only wants revenge. And under cover of this  darkness
and with the backing of a person of your stature, the  occupation
has become a machine of crime and evil.

Naturally, you'll say: What can I  do?  I  wasn't  elected  prime
minister. And I wasn't elected chairman of the Labor  Party.  I'm
not even the defense minister. You're right: In  this  government
you cannot do anything and you are not doing anything.  Which  is
exactly why you never should have become a member of  it.  You'll
say: I have influence - I rein things in, I'm a moderating force,
I'm trying. Nonsense. It couldn't be much worse than it  is  now,
so where exactly have you exerted your influence and what are you
preventing from happening? Did you ever imagine that you would be
sitting in a government that  would  reoccupy  parts  of  Area  A
completely unhindered?

Just think what would have happened had you  got  up  and  loudly
resigned  from  this  government  and  told  the  world  what  is
(perhaps) in your heart. The  Nobel  Prize  laureate  versus  the
crimes of the Sharon government.  Imagine  if  you  had  gone  to
Ramallah, to Yasser Arafat who is under siege there, and taken to
the street together, faced the Israeli tanks and called for their
removal and for a cease-fire. True, the sky wouldn't have  fallen
- the occupation wouldn't have ended and  the  closure  of  Jenin
would not have been lifted,  but  real  cracks  would  have  been
opened in the moral, political and international  basis  of  this
currently immune government. Imagine if you would have said: Yes,
the house demolitions are a war crime.  Yes,  a  state  that  has
lists of assassination targets  is  not  a  state  of  law.  Yes,
installing a checkpoint that causes people to die is  an  act  of
terror. No, the Palestinians are not the only ones to  blame  for
this orgy of blood. Yes, we have a chief of staff who is a danger
to democracy. Yes, we have a defense  minister  and  Labor  Party
chairman who is the government's  contractor  for  assassinations
and house demolitions. Yes, we have a  prime  minister  who  only
wants to occupy, to avenge, to kill, to expel, to demolish and to
uproot and he has no other plan in mind.

That's what you think, isn't it? If it is, then say so, for God's
sake. And if not, then your place really is with this  government
and we who once believed in you  made  a  dreadful  mistake.  And
please don't say that you're  being  made  a  punching  bag  once
again. You're not. Ever since Oslo, you were  the  embodiment  of
our hopes. And these have been disappointed.

Time is short, Shimon. Not just for you, but for all  of  us.  We
are standing on the  verge  of  the  abyss.  If  you  wait  until
Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Ephraim Sneh, Ra'anan  Cohen,  Dalia  Itzik
and their like come up with  another  sneaky  resigning-from-the-
government-for-election-purposes  deal,  you  might   just   find
yourself kicked into oblivion by them. You know that they've been
itching to be rid of you for some time now. And even  if  you  do
make a stand now, it may just be too late. Everyone  may  already
be too disappointed in you and there may be no way to rebuild the
ruin brought about by Sharon.

But  the  only  way  for  you  to   add   one   more   meaningful
accomplishment to your rich biography is not just to get  up  now
and resign from this government, which you may be compelled to do
at some point anyway, but to do it while speaking  out  loud  and
clear, and telling Israelis all that you think  about  everything
that is happening, especially about the evil we are  perpetrating
with our own  hands.  Once  more  in  your  life,  try  to  build
something new - not an atomic reactor or an aircraft industry, of
which we already have more than  enough.  Now,  against  all  the
odds, try  to  build  a  radical  Israeli  peace  camp,  to  make
something out of nothing. Is it too farfetched  to  believe  that
you still see things differently than the rest of your colleagues
in the government? Tell the truth, Shimon.

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