First Published in The Age, 2002

David Langsam, an Australian-Jew, reported on Israeli-Palestinian affairs from 1985-1997

What is a Jew with a moral conscience meant to do in these dark days of Arik Sharon's Palestinian putsch?

A fortnight ago, my three year old son melted my heart by singing the Ma Nishtana for our Passover meal. The song's four questions call for an explanation of the celebration of our escape from slavery in Egypt. The rest of the evening is spent answering those questions, including the analogy of the four sons: the wise, the wicked, the simple and the one who did not even know to ask.

Should I remain silent - as Pastor Neimoller said he did - as we watch the climbing toll of Israeli and Palestinian civilians, journalists and peace activists?

Do I keep my mouth shut as we witness the amazingly disproportionate use of force by the Israeli Defence Forces against what are essentially the wrong targets?

Does anyone want to know - or would they care - that more Israelis have died in Sharon's 15 months than all his predecessors combined, back to 1982 when he, again, was responsible for a very large number of Israeli deaths?

Is it "breaking ranks" to be Jewish and to criticize Israel's terrible government now that Israel has unilaterally declared war on the Palestinian Authority? Or is standing up for what is right still considered a positive attribute?

I know that by this paragraph, that somewhere a pro-Israel lobbyist will be reaching for his or her keyboard to accuse me of being an anti-Semite, or a self-hating Jew or a traitor. Some will reach for their telephones to deliver hate messages to my 86 year old father - that's always an easy way to respond.

Am I to be intimidated by the pro-Israel extreme right just because Israel is wrong? A friend who inherited a Jewish surname begged me to write this piece because she does not want to upset her former inlaws. She also believes that having reported on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for many years, I may have some knowledge of the subject.

While Sharon spends much of his nation's resources fighting the Palestinian Authority, the facts are that most of the terrorist suicide bombings have been by Hamas and/or the smaller Islamic Jihad. And just as George W Bush's Taliban and al Qaeda were funded by his father, the fledgling Hamas was funded during the first "intifada" by the Israeli security service Shin Bet under the guidance of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Defence Minister Yitzhak Rabin with the aim of dividing Palestinians and creating an alternative to the PLO. Some alternative.

So every time the religious fundamentalists kill a score of Israelis, Israel responds by attacking Hamas's secular rivals. It is, indeed, a bizarre policy.

To claim that Arafat is in control when he is holed up in the Ramallah Ghetto is ludicrous. How is Arafat meant to exert control when every Palestinian town is under seige and the death toll is mounting? What right does Sharon have to declare Ramallah "a closed military area" and prevent the world's media from documenting his abuse of what was once a respected army and is again being used for occupation, subjugation and ethnic cleansing and shooting live ammunition at peace activists? Ramallah is not meant to be under Israeli control at all.

Not that I have much sympathy for Arafat. His complete stupidity in rejecting the December 2000 Taba offer was hard to believe. While outgoing US President Bill Clinton said the deal was a non-negotiable take-it-or-leave-it package, Arafat had plenty of room to agree to the deal with a proviso that the two critical issues of territorial contiguity and the question of refugees be "finalized" or "satisfied" - or any word other than "negotiated". Arafat should not have walked away from that deal. Arafat is wholly and completely to blame for that mistake, which - among other factors - led to Israel's loss of faith in Ehud Barak, paving the way for 30 percent of Israel to elect Sharon-the-bulldozer.

What is happening today was entirely predictable. When you elect a general known as the bulldozer, who has always acted like a bulldozer, then there is a very good chance he will continue to act with all the sensitivity of a bulldozer.

Thumbing through back copies of the Jerusalem Report, it is painful to see what could have been and how it was destroyed, first by Benjamin Netanyahu, and now by Sharon.

From September 1993 when news first leaked of the Oslo accords until the Likud-incited murder of Yitzhak Rabin by Israeli religious fundamentalists, the Jerusalem Report is filled with articles of hope: of Israeli-Palestinian joint ventures, the building boom on the West Bank and Gaza, plans for airports, seaports and trade and education and health reforms.

Then Netanyahu reaped the benefit of Yigal Amir's bullets and attempted to wind back the clock, threatening to dismantle Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, but because he is more show pony than substance, there are photographs of Netanyahu shaking Arafat's hand as he returned even more land to the PA.

The Barak years were difficult to say the least. While he talked peace and progress, he allowed continued illegal settlement building. Whenever there was progress between the two sides, Hamas bombers or Israeli settlers and their right wing religious fundamentalist supporters would blow something up to derail the process.

And Arafat in his domestically-focussed stupidity allowed his Hamas enemies out of jail to commit more barbaric suicide bombings, while Sharon plotted his dirty campaign to incite the same result. What else can one say about Sharon's relentless provocation, starting with his pre-election march on the Temple Mount?

Every time we see Sharon on television claiming he is fighting terrorism, it is worth asking why he is attacking the secular Palestinian Authority when the terrorists are primarily the Islamic fundamentalists of Hamas? The truth is that Sharon believes in Greater Israel. I have not heard him renounce this concept of Israel's borders spanning not just from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, but onward to include all of Jordan as well. The Likud dogma that "Jordan is Palestine" contradicts this concept but Likud has never been much concerned with contradiction. The revisionist descendants or Ze'ev Jabotinksi have a bottom line of "whatever it takes".

They do not see parallels between their behaviour and those of other oppressors and they scream the loudest when the words genocide and ethnic cleansing are applied to their policies, particularly when it is true.

There is a solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Or actually there are two solutions:

The first is to build a 10metre high concrete wall, crowned with three coils of razor wire around Gaza, the West Bank with a connecting highway and surrounded by a dust road, an electrified fence and Israeli sentry posts every kilometre. Any Israeli settlers who wish to remain inside this perimeter are welcome but will have to pay taxes to Arafat and the PA.

The second is to obliterate Palestine once and for all.

But I probably do not have the right to ask these questions or consider these options. I had better keep my mouth shut and let the world believe that all Jews support Israeli atrocities, right or wrong. Loyalty before honesty. Or is honesty still the best policy? Who will pen the first hate letter? Who will make the first abusive phone call?

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