[[ Jerusalem Times : Opinion ]]


September 23, 2005


This week in Israel….. Behind the news with Gershon Baskin


This week ended with the terrible news of a huge explosion in Gaza. Right now there are nineteen reported dead and eighty others wounded. It happened in the Jabalya refugee camp – a place that has already known too much suffering.  A vehicle carrying Qassam rockets exploded. Palestinian reports indicate missiles fired from the air that hit the vehicle.  All Israeli reports so far deny Israeli involvement. Israel is claiming that the explosion came either from the mishandling of the dangerous cargo itself or it was attacked from within Gaza by other forces.  The total death toll will probably rise, the first reports document many innocent bystanders as being victims.  Gaza, after this explosion is even more volatile that it was prior to the explosion.  There is a huge quantity of explosives, weapons and ammunition available on the open market.  My friends in Gaza that I spoke with this past week all mentioned a sense of a lack of security, law and order. This is not a new situation in Gaza and tonight’s explosion will only support their overriding fear concerning the difficulties that the Palestinian Authority faces in restoring its control.

External threats issued to the Palestinian Authority by Israel, the US or the EU only strengthen the position of the Hamas. The Palestinian Authority is not strengthened by external dictates. I am sorry to say that at this moment the Palestinian Authority is not strong enough to disarm the Hamas.  There is a direct correlation between the level of external intervention in this question and the support that Hamas will gain. The more that Israel and the US make demands on Mahmoud Abbas, the more limited are his abilities to take action against the armed opposition. There must be public support for the PA to take real and decisive action against the Hamas.  

If tonight’s explosion was in fact the result of a faulty fuse or an internal operation of one organization against another, the public demand to disarm the Hamas and other armed factions will rise. If this was an Israeli operation, as the Hamas is already claiming, then this together with the killing of 3 Islamic Jihad people in Tulkarem this morning will most likely bring an end to the tadi’a – or the calm. It will be almost impossible for Mahmoud Abbas to prevent attacks against Israel by Hamas and Jihad under these circumstances and even more impossible for him to disarm the Hamas at anytime in the near future. Those in Israel who believe that they can do the job any better are playing with fire that will hit buses, cafes and shopping malls.

The most important 3000 people

Three thousand people (or less) think that they will be determining the fate of the Israeli political map this coming week. The three thousand members of the Likud central committee have been the most sought after people in the country this week. Every television channel, news program, radio station, and newspaper has been employing every single pollster in the country to get an idea how these 3000 will vote on the question: should primaries for the head of the Likud be moved up to November or should they be held as scheduled? In addition to all of the phone calls from the pollsters, the 3000 lucky likudniks have been courted by activitists and staffers from all three of the main camps: Landau, Netanyahu and Sharon.  Each one of these has spent countless hours on the phone seeking to persuade the members to vote the “right” way.  This is not a contest of personalities – of Sharon against Netanyahu. This is a vote concerning the power of the right wing and the settlers. It is believed by many that the results of this vote will determine the future of Israeli politics. I believe that the old map of Israeli politics has already been changed and the Likud party vote is only one additional step to the rearranging of the political map which was sent into turmoil by the disengagement.

It seems to me that regardless of the outcome, the disengagement from Gaza has been the event that has changed the political map. Even if Sharon wins the vote next week, Sharon is no longer the leader of the Likud and the Likud is no longer the same Likud. When the primaries in the Likud finally take place, those people elected to run on the list in the highest positions are most likely to be those who are in the strongest opposition to Sharon.  It is very unlikely that Sharon will be running on the same list with Binyamin Netanyahu, Uzi Landau, and company. Sharon has said that he will not be number 2 to anyone. If Sharon wins does he think that Netanyahu will be number 2 to him? The Likud as we have known it no longer exists. Sharon will have to create a new political home for himself in the center of the map.  Sharon will have no problem in building that home, there is a whole list of former Generals waiting in line to own a piece of the new property.  Sharon has learned the lesson of the central council politics. This time around, it will be Sharon making the decisions of who’s in and who’s out – and not some 3000 people who need to be courted, wined and dined.

Having a party costs money

The new wining and dining began at the end of Sharon’s NY visit in the luxurious flat of an old time Sharon friend.  In fact a whole group of Sharon’s friends came for dinner and left some two-hundred thousand dollars in the hat that was passed around to help Sharon fund his new party. Immediate charges of corruption and illegal campaign funding caught the headlines in Israel and in New York. Sharon, of course claimed that he had no knowledge of fundraising activities.  He certainly wasn’t asked by the host to write a check! The legal experts in Israel got underway making their cases – no it wasn’t illegal because the formal period of elections is still far away and therefore the campaign fundraising limitations are not in effect; or yes it was -  this is outside intervention and the money raised from each individual was some $2000 more than allowed according to law. These are nice arguments, but they won’t stick. With such a large majority of Israelis in support of Sharon, the man is made of Teflon now, certainly with regards to such light-weight charges – who cares about a few thousand dollars?

But Tommy Lapid, the chief rabbi of Shinui, cashed in on the campaign fundraising mini-scandal by getting the Shinui executive council to decide that Shinui would not accept any campaign donations from anyone. Shinui will have enough money to wage their campaign, whenever that is, because of the large number of MK’s they have – funding is given by the State per MK. But watch out Tommy Lapid, in the elections after the next ones, Shinui’s finances will not be as strong as they are now.

Shame on the Ministry of Justice

There is no shame in the Ministry of Justice. The final report issued by the Department for the Investigation of the Police (DIP) on the criminal responsibility of the police for killing 13 Palestinian citizens of Israel in October 2000 was that there was not enough hard evidence to bring about the conviction of anyone involved.  Thirteen citizens killed, a national investigation committee headed by a Supreme Court Judge, thousands of pages of testimonies and evidence, four autopsy reports, television footage of the events and not sufficient evidence to bring about even one conviction????  This in itself is a criminal indictment of the Ministry of Justice and the DIP! Why didn’t DIP begin investigating immediately after the first shot was fired? There is a standard directive, a policy that all police shooting that lead to physical injury, or God forbid death, must be fully investigated.  Where was DIP? The Orr Commission’s report makes specific mention of criminal activities, illegal orders being given, it mentions names, dates, times, weapons, circumstances, and results. Not enough evidence????

At least two things must happen now: (1) the DIP must be dismantled, all of its personnel sent home, it must be reconstituted. It should not be run by former police personnel; it should not have active duty police on loan from the police who will go back to the police after their service. It must adopt the strictest procedures for investigation and gathering evidence, and (2) the victims’ families should begin to flood the courts with civil suits against the police, against the DIP, against the officers in charge, against the politicians who sent in the police, against anyone that is mentioned in the Orr Commission report as having been connected to the crimes committed. A civil judgment requires a lower level of a chain of evidence than a criminal proceeding. If those guilty for the killing of thirteen Israeli citizens cannot be brought to justice in criminal proceedings, let them pay and pay in civil proceedings.  There must be some form of justice here.  We cannot simply excuse the guilty parties and then allow them to freely display their disdain for the Orr Commission and its members – as they did this week. Shame on them, shame on the Ministry of Justice, shame on the absence of justice!