Feb 19, 2001
On February 14, a bus driven by a Palestinian plowed into a crowd of Israeli soldiers and commuters at a bus stop during the morning rush hour. Eight people were killed, of whom seven were Israeli soldiers. Seventeen more were injured.
The person who drove the bus, Khalil Abu Elba, is a 36-year-old father of five, who drove that bus for a living, shuttling Palestinian workers back and forth from the Gaza Strip, where they lived, to Israel, where they worked. In order to hold this job, Abu Elba long held an Israeli work permit that required a stringent security check.
This attack could very well mark a turning point in the Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, which broke out with renewed vigor only five months ago. Up until now, the Intifada had been carried out by young and even very young people. The fact that a Palestinian bus driver, who supports a large family, would choose to carry out this kind of attack could signal that the Intifada has spread to much broader sections of the population. We will see if still bigger parts of the Palestinian population, who supported the Intifada, have been moved to take up the active fight against Israeli oppression.
This may be why Shlomo Ben Ami, the outgoing Israeli internal security minister called Abu Elba's attack "a bolt of lightening on a clear day." For the Israeli government and military may be faced with a much wider and broader uprising than the one which the Israeli state has not been able to keep in check, even by the vicious and brutal repression and the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians and the wounding of thousands more.
It is this inability to stop the Intifada which brought about a recent change in the Israeli government. On February 6, Ariel Sharon easily defeated the current prime minister, Ehud Barak of the Labor Party.
Less than two years ago, Barak himself had been elected in a similar landslide against Likud's former leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. But Barak's government was quickly weakened by its inability to control the latest upsurge of the Palestinian uprising which started about five months ago. So the Israeli political and military establishment now presents the election of a new prime minister as the possibility of a stronger approach to resolving the crisis. If anything, however, this election shows that the Israeli population doesn't have any illusions in this change: the voter turnout was 62%, the lowest ever in Israeli elections.
Throughout his long career in the military and politics, Sharon, a former general, has made a reputation not only as a staunch hardliner but also as a murderous thug. In the 1950s, Sharon led secret raids on Arab villages in which civilians were killed and their houses were destroyed. In the 1970s, he played the same part again, this time targeting Palestinian refugee camps in the Gaza Strip. In the 1970s, as minister of transportation and infrastructure, he oversaw the expansion of Jewish settlements in areas occupied by Arabs. In 1982, as defense minister, he led Israel's invasion of Lebanon, which resulted in the bombardment of cities and massacres of Palestinian refugees.
Sharon has become such a symbol of Israeli aggression that the latest wave of clashes between Palestinians and Israel was sparked off by his visit to the Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem, which Palestinians regarded as an open provocation.
So now this longtime "hawk" is brought in, supposedly because the policy of the "dove," as Barak was presented when he was elected in 1999, has failed.
The irony, however, is that Barak's career has not been any different than that of Sharon. Nineteen years younger than Sharon but also a former general, Barak was involved in the same kind of raids on civilians as Sharon before him. As a member of special commando units, Barak personally participated in the assassination of Palestinian leaders. In 1982, he was second-in-command of the invasion of Lebanon.
In office, Barak the "dove" continued the same aggression that was carried out by all Israeli governments before, whether they were led by Labor, Likud or a coalition of both. He dragged his feet fulfilling the terms of the agreements signed with Palestinians. At the same time, he continued the expansion of settlements. He used the full force of the Israeli military, equipped with helicopter gunships, firebombs and live bullets, against Palestinian civilians, mostly teenagers, armed with stones and home-made Molotov cocktails. He made frequent use of his old specialty, the assassination, against Palestinian leaders –the latest one only last week against one of the top deputies of Yasser Arafat, the head of the Palestinian Authority.
So it's obvious that the "change" at the head of the Israeli government amounts to nothing but a new face replacing an old one. Everything else remains the same, above all the policy of exclusion, aggression and repression against the Palestinian people which the Israeli state has carried out since its very inception about half a century ago, and which has thrown the whole population of the region, Palestinian and Jewish alike, into a permanent state of war.
The answer for the Israeli population lies not in the choice between two politicians upholding the same murderous policy; it can only come from the dismantling of Israel as a religious state and open it to all its people, Jewish and Palestinian.