Gideon Levy
Selected Articles from Ha'aretz


Tell the truth, Shimon

January 25, 2002

Shimon Peres: All the excuses make no difference. 
(Photo: Miki Kratsm) 
 

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 And now, as I write to you again, I have to say: You no longer represent hope for anything.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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levy@haaretz.co.il

 

 

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