Monday, August 22, 2005

Gaza - Putting the Spotlight on Extremists

I can say a lot about Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister of Israel. Sharon led the invasion of Lebanon. He was directly involved in the massacre of over 2,000 Palestinian refugees at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Beirut in 1982. He has overseen the building a countless sheltered workshops (known as “settlements”) for Jewish extremists deemed unfit to live in Israel-proper.

These extremists are hated and loathed inside Israel. They are regarded as uncouth and dangerous, their views are seen as ugly and extreme. These religious fanatics regularly escape the compounds of their settlements and attack Palestinian churches, mosques and schools in the West Bank and Gaza.

In Bethlehem and Nablus, Jewish extremists are are a regular feature. They enter Christian and Muslim schools and attack students and teachers using rifle butts. In Khaliliyya (Hebron), these extremists regularly attack Palestinian shops and homes. They are allowed to roam the countryside and towns in the occupied territories, heavily armed and protected by the Israeli military.

One of their number, Dr Baruch Goldstein, settled in the Kiryat Arba settlement near Hebron. He was an American doctor from New York. His idea of spreading good health was to enter the Masjid al-Khalili on an evening during the holy month of Ramadhan. He shot over 50 worshippers in cold blood.

At his funeral, the Chief Rabbi of Israel stood up and announced the official anthem for Jewish extremism, an anthem that would make even Usama bin Ladin cringe with terror.

“The blood of a thousand Arab goyim is not worth even one Jewish fingernail!”

Extremists are very much on the fringe in the Muslim world. Their activities and rhetoric are heavily suppressed. Despite being potential martyrs in Muslim communities, most Muslims regard extremists as a threat.

In Israel, these extremists take up at least 10% of seats in Parliament. They are generally offered sensitive social ministries such as education. The Palestinian Authority appointed a practising Christian female academic (Dr Hanan Ashrawi) as their first education minister. One doubts a Christian woman would ever get to be education minister in Israel.

But times are changing. Israel is realising it cannot afford to flirt anymore with extremists and terrorists. Israel also knows that it can no longer keep accusing the Palestinian Authority of going soft on HAMAS when the PM himself is fostering and sponsoring terrorist settlements.

But Sharon is in a bind. Although Jewish terror has little support in Israel, it has plenty of support in the diaspora. Jewish communities in Australia, Canada, the United States, Europe and other parts of the world actively support and bankroll Jewish terrorists.

I remember attending a dinner at the Royal Automobile Club in Sydney. It was 1999, and Australia’s Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was addressing a select audience of Liberal Party foreign policy types. The news was hot with the words of a prominent Jewish businessman attacking the government for its treatment of indigenous people in Australia.

Mr Downer was asked a question on this. He had little option but to point out that same businessman’s financial and moral support for extremist settlements. Downer was not afraid to identify hypocrisy, to call a spade a spade.

And so, Ariel Sharon has now almost completed the process of dismantling settlements in Gaza. Should he wish to do the same in the West Bank, his task will be much more difficult. But he will make sure the world sees it.

Sharon knows that it isn’t enough to dismantle Jewish terrorist settlements. It isn’t enough to talk about fighting terrorism. You actually have to be seen to be doing something. Hence the world’s media being invited to film the spectacle.

Sharon deliberately invited the international media to film the events. He wanted the world to see Israel doing something about religious fanatics and terrorists. He wanted Arab leaders to see Jewish extremists fight and pour acid and injure Israeli army units.

More importantly, he wanted Jewish supporters of terrorism overseas to witness the true nature of Jewish extremism. He wanted Jewish Australians and Canadians and Americans and South Africans and Europeans to understand why their support for Jewish extremism was in fact a threat to peace in the Middle East.

Extremists crave attention. But when extremists are made to look ugly in front of their support-base and in the eyes of the world, they soon lose the plot. Sharon’s strategy of inviting the world to witness the spectacle was good strategy. And was the Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: “War is little more than good strategy”.

Israel needs peace to survive. So does its neighbours. The time has now come for Arab and Muslim countries to follow Israel’s lead and to openly deal with extremists. Israeli troops were restrained and sensitive. Their restraint was rewarded with acid and bullets. Sadly, Muslim law enforcement officials show little restraint and tend to go in head-first with acid and bullets.

Muslim countries can learn a lot from the Israeli disengagement. Muslim countries and political leaders need to be honest in addressing terrorists and extremists without offending core religious sensibilities.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005