John Chuckman

At this writing, since the beginning of December, Israeli soldiers have killed about 70 Palestinians. These homicides, committed by some of best armed and equipped soldiers in the world, included children and an old woman. They came after Israel’s wanton destruction of basic day-to-day civilian infrastructure in reoccupying much of the West Bank and suppression of economic activity, acts that have generated conditions comparable to a Great Depression.

Under these circumstances, how is anyone surprised that once again some Palestinians blow themselves up in Israel? Can there be the smallest doubt that Mr. Sharon’s policies are “a one-way trip to nowhere?”

In news of Israel’s reprisal measures, I read that some buildings in Gaza were destroyed, supposedly containing weapons-making facilities.

I could only shake my head. Is it remotely plausible, in the course of his many destructive rampages, that Mr. Sharon has left standing even a potential weapons-manufacturing facility in Gaza?

Would it have been left standing on the promise of good behavior? Perhaps Israel’s policy of “pinpoint targeting” – that is Israel’s euphemism for assassinating mere suspects, a policy only this week given another ringing public endorsement by Mr. Sharon – had wiped out every person capable of running the facility, and it had been spared?

Or was it discovered only within hours of the bombing? Can it be possible that Israel’s army has anything less than the most exquisitely detailed maps of every building, bomb crater, and broken water pipe in Gaza?

In the scheme of things Middle Eastern this seems an insignificant point, but it is a revealing one. Common sense tells us that the report is glaring nonsense.

What of Mr. Sharon’s other reprisals, although one hesitates to use a word that implies the Palestinians still having anything worth destroying?

He closed down three Palestinian universities.

The mysterious connection between higher education and hopeless people who blow themselves up is one understood only by members of Likud and a few gifted clairvoyants. Lynne Cheney, America’s Second Lady, might qualify in light of her venomous campaign against American academics opposed to a vicious, pointless war in Iraq. Perhaps Mr. Sharon should consider putting her on a retainer to explain his idiotic measure.

Israel has also forbidden Palestinians to attend British-sponsored peace talks.

Even Mr. Bush’s official foreign-affairs door-mat, Tony Blair, lost his temper over this measure. A discussion involving Jack Straw and the poisonous Mr. Netanyahu reportedly ended in an ugly shouting match. The British, quite understandably, cannot see why forbidding peace talks is counted a suitable reprisal measure. Perhaps here Mr. Sharon requires the contract services of Jerry Falwell, a man with a remarkable record at trying to explain the irrational.

One despairs of anything sensible happening in the Middle East. Israel’s population is whipped into a menacing hysteria. The Palestinians endure the most terrible privations and endless humiliation. Mr. Bush adopts the more vicious practices of Mr. Sharon and prepares for a meaningless war with Iraq, something that can have only the most de-stabilizing and dangerous consequences for the world.


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