by Uri Avnery,
Testimony of Israeli Journalist in Ramallah
The real aim of "Operation Defensive Shield" was not to "destroy the infrastructure of terrorism".
This was merely a good slogan for uniting the people of Israel, who are angry and afraid after the suicide bombings. It is also a good political device, allowing Sharon to ride on the bandwagon of President Bush's "war against international terrorism". Under the umbrella of "destroying the infrastructure of terrorism" one can do practically anything.
If Sharon had really intended to "destroy the infrastructure of terrorism", he would have acted very differently. He would have given the Palestinian masses hope of achieving their national freedom in the near future. He would have fortified the position of Yasser Arafat, the only effective partner for peace. He would have strengthened the Palestinian security forces and radically improved economic conditions in the Palestinian territories. But destroying the infrastructure of terrorism is not Ariel Sharon's aim. His program is far more radical: to break the backbone of the Palestinian people, crush their governmental institutions, turn the people into human wreckage that can be dealt with as he wishes. This may entail shutting them up in several enclaves or even driving them out of the country altogether.
As Sharon sees it, this would be finishing off the job started in 1948: to establish the real Israel, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river; a state inhabited solely by Jews. It was no accident that he openly supported Slobodan Milosevic, the inventor of "ethnic cleansing".
When I wrote this a year ago, it sounded like malicious slander. Sharon was still pictured as a man determined to fight terrorism, not as a person using the fight against terrorism as a means to achieve quite different aims. No more.
Four days ago I was in Ramallah. I sneaked into the town (Israelis are forbidden by the military commander from entering the Palestinian territories) in order to see it for myself. I visited the Palestinian ministries. A shocking sight, indeed. Take, for example, the Palestinian Ministry of Education. It is housed in an imposing building, probably going back to British times, a mixture of neo-Classic European and oriental styles. In front of it there was a rose garden - "was", because a tank has crisscrossed it, for no apparent reason, leaving only one purple rosebush in all its glory. Just so. To teach them a lesson.
On the upper floor, where the archives and computers were housed, the destruction was total. The computers were taken apart and thrown on the floor, the safe blown open, the papers strewn around, the drawers empty, the telephones crushed . Some of it was just plain vandalism. The money in the safe was stolen, the furniture upturned, the papers dispersed. But when one looked closer, the real aim of the operation became clear. All the hard disks were taken from the computers, all the important files taken away.
Only empty shells remained. All the important contents of the ministry were taken: the lists of pupils, examination results, lists of teachers, the whole logistics of the Palestinian school system. The Ministry of Health suffered the same fate. The hard disks that contained all the information, state of diseases, medical tests, lists of doctors and nurses, the logistics of the hospitals had been taken.
Even the people most critical of the Palestinian Authority admitted that these two ministries - Education and Health - had been functioning well.
They have been utterly destroyed.
This happened to virtually all the Palestinian government offices. Gone is the information pertaining to land registration and housing, taxes and government expenditure, car tests and drivers' licenses, everything necessary for administrating a modern society. The lists of terrorists were not hidden in the land registration books, the inventory of bombs was not tucked away among the list of kindergarten teachers. The real aim is obvious: to destroy not only the Palestinian Authority, but Palestinian society itself: to push it back with one stroke from the stage of a modern state-in-the-making to the primitive society of Turkish times.
This is true for the civil society, and even more so for the security system. The headquarters of the security services were destroyed, files burned, computers crushed, the information concerning armed underground organizations and all other details pertaining to the war against terrorism were obliterated. There is no better evidence of the aims of this operation: not war on terrorism, but destruction of organized Palestinian society. By the way, on that day I passed, with a group of Israeli peace activists, through the center of Ramallah - from the mass-grave in the hospital parking lot to the besieged headquarters of Yasser Arafat. We carried Hebrew posters and encountered much sympathy and not a single sign of hostility. Even at this time, the Palestinians know the difference between the Israeli peace camp and those who are responsible for this brutal attack. Here, perhaps, lies the only glimmer of hope.
transcript of the war crimes panel available on the Gush site