The decision Sharon took to block President Yasser Arafat’s passage to Bethlehem by land and air, to prevent him from attending the midnight mass, was a foolish, and at the same time dangerous, decision. This decision shows the narrow-mindedness of Sharon, his lack of wisdom, the extent of his hatred of non-Jews and his racist actions towards them, the extent to which he is drawn to war and bloodshed and away from forgiveness and peace.
At the same time this decision is the clearest proof that keeping the Israeli occupation in control of Islamic and Christian holy sites will mean depriving Palestinians and non-Palestinians, Moslems and Christians, from practicing their inalienable rights to worship and practice their religious rites at their holy sites.
After the world had witnessed how, under direct orders from Sharon, the Israeli occupation forces prevented Moslems during Ramadan from praying at the Haram Al-Shareef, it now sees how, during the celebrations of Christ’s birth, the occupation forces prevented Christians from praying at the Church of Nativity where Jesus Christ was born two thousand years ago. This oppression and this persecution of Christians and Moslems has been present since Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, but it has escalated in the last years in parallel with the plan to judaize Jerusalem and take over holy lands in the areas of Beit Jala, Beit Sahour and Bethlehem in order to build settlements on them, as the occupation forces had done in most of the areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
They turned what is believed to be Rachel’s tomb into a huge camp inside the city of Bethlehem, and a shrine into a settlement area inside the holy city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ. These oppressive and hostile measures fall under the agenda of Sharon and other Israeli Prime Ministers aimed at judaizing the West Bank and taking away other religion’s freedom to worship. In this issue lies the danger that the world must ward off and then put an end to in order to maintain peace and to prevent war from going on for another hundred years.
The Israeli oppression and persecution was not limited to preventing Christians from attending mass and closing the roads to President Yasser Arafat to prevent him from participating in this ceremony. A political official, according to Israeli radio (which usually means Sharon but without mentioning him by name) stated that Yasser Arafat was trying to appear as a protector of Christians while at the same time Arafat was turning dozens of churches into mosques and was persecuting Christians, which forced them to leave Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala.
He said that Arafat was oppressing them and sending his people to those areas in order to prevent Christians from carrying out their religious rites. These statements are an insult to the intelligence of all people, be they Israelis, Palestinians or citizens of any nation on earth, especially the Americans and President Bush.
The entire world saw how the Israelis bombed Beit Jala, its hospitals and holy sites. The world also saw the occupation of Bethlehem, the destruction of its hotels and the shelling it withstood from tanks and heavy machine guns. Not even the Church of the Nativity was spared, it too got its share of bullets. This holy church that had remained untouched by any of the invaders that passed through Palestine throughout history.
Sharon thinks that with this decision of his he can stop the voice of truth from reaching hundreds of millions of Christians and hundreds of millions of Moslems and the fifteen million Jews across the globe. This is the essence of stupidity. The truth cannot be concealed by Sharon just as the sun cannot be blocked out by the mouth of Sharon’s gun, or even by the mouth of one of his cannons, an F-16 fighter plane or an Apache.
This truth, that has undoubtedly reached President Bush, does not, however, seem to affect him or make him honor the United States’ pledges, positions or commitments.
So what more does President Bush want?
President Arafat’s speech to the nation made clear beyond any doubt the Palestinians’ commitment to a cease-fire and to the punishment of the extremists who violate this cease-fire. This was done, despite the heavy and regrettable cost. President Bush should have firmly demanded that the Israelis stop their attacks against the Palestinians, lift the siege imposed on them and withdraw from their territories that were reoccupied by Sharon.
What is President Bush waiting for? Is he waiting for Christians around the world and in the White House to celebrate Christmas, while the Christians in the Holy Land, at the birthplace of Christ, are being prevented from celebrating and praying, and have their houses and churches demolished by the occupation forces? Israel is causing bloodshed, demolishing houses and preventing believers from praying and celebrating their religious feasts. Sharon is Sharon, he has not changed and will not change unless the American administration decides to make a serious effort to put an end to these mass crimes, and this organized state terrorism being carried out by Israeli occupation forces against the Palestinian people on a daily basis.
Sharon deceived the American administration (Reagan’s Republican administration in 1982). The late Philip Habeeb confirmed to me before his death, when I met him at the table of Roger Iddeh in Paris in 1988, that Sharon deceived the American administration in 1982 more than once. The first time was when he told the Americans that operation “Safety of Galilee” would be limited to infiltrating forty kilometers into the south of Lebanon up to the Shqeif fort (Beaufort). Sharon however continued going North and occupied Lebanon, surrounded Beirut and shelled it from land, sea and air with a dark vengeance. Philip Habeeb also told me that the second time was when he went back on an official pledge not to enter Beirut after the Palestinian troops and leadership had left it. He went in so that his military record would state that he was the Israeli officer who entered the first Arab capital with his tanks.
The third deception was a bloody one. He lied to the American administration who, along with multi-national forces, had pledged to protect the Palestinian refugees in their camps. Sharon did not abide by his pledges and those of Israel not to attack any camps or unarmed Palestinian refugees under U.S. and international protection. He engineered the Sabra and Shatilla massacre and supervised its implementation.
This is what the late Philip Habeeb told me. He ended dinner that night at the table of our host by saying that he didn’t know how they could make up for that, and asked me what they could do. That day we had launched a peace initiative announced by President Arafat on December 13th, 1988 before the UN General Assembly, who had moved to Geneva to hear President Arafat because the United States had refused to issue him a visa to give the speech in New York.
So I told Habeeb that they could throw their weight behind establishing peace and stability by implementing international legitimacy resolutions and establishing an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with Eastern Jerusalem as its capital.
If Philip Habeeb is dead, then the files of the U.S. State Department and the White House during Ronald Reagan’s presidency are not; they are still there and are filed on computers. I advise President Bush, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice to go through those files. It wouldn’t take too much time.
I advise them to go through them so that they may know that Sharon’s current actions and practices are no different from his actions in 1982 when he deceived the Americans and lied to them. They are no different from Sharon’s actions when he was a terrorist (according to the official definition of terrorism, not mine). His actions are no different from his actions in any day of his life. From the police station in the city of Ba’abda which he had occupied, while sitting in the place of the head of the station with his feet up on the table in front of reporters and journalists, Sharon announced that he wanted to kill Arafat and the PLO’s leadership, or capture them and try them before an Israeli military court. Sharon destroyed Beirut and committed massacres in an attempt to achieve this, but he failed. Today Sharon is seeking to achieve his dream again while Prime Minister of Israel. He has committed war crimes, killed civilians, assassinated activists, uprooted and damaged trees and has imposed a suffocating siege on an entire people. He is still imposing a siege, and is still committing crimes.This is Sharon – will the Americans not learn from their lessons?
Sharon will fail because he cannot understand that the right of self determination for peoples is a non-negotiable right, and that the Israeli occupation is destined to end as is the fate of any occupation on the face of this earth. The important thing is that President Bush, Secretary Powell and National Security Advisor Rice read the 1982 Lebanon file.
Sharon asked President Reagan for forty-eight hours to eliminate them. President Reagan gave him the hours he asked for, but after three months of shelling Beirut and Lebanon and committing war crimes, President Reagan stopped him to tell him and Israel “Land for Peace”.
Does President Bush want to repeat that?
President Bush gave Sharon a whole year, not just forty-eight hours. Now after sixteen months of bloodshed and destruction is it not time for President Bush to say “an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with Jerusalem as its capital ? for Peace”?
We are waiting for that.
Bassam Abu-Sharif is a special advisor to President Arafat.