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A Blood Red Carpet Welcome

By Praful Bidwai

The Hindustan Times [India]
August 22, 2003

If puerility were the sole criterion of even-handedness, then India
has scored high by inviting Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil
Sha'ath to this country to 'balance' the earlier, infinitely more
important, invitation to Israeli PM Ariel Sharon. This combination of
clumsy afterthought and pure tokenism should not obscure the enormous
policy shift that the government has affected on Palestine-Israel.

India is rolling out the red carpet for Sharon precisely when Israeli
repression of the Palestinian struggle against occupation has reached
new heights, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority are in grave
crisis and the US-brokered road map teeters on the brink of collapse.

Sharon has embarked on a grotesque project of building another, but
bigger, Berlin wall - 8 metre-high and 650 km-long, compared to the
3.6 metre-high, 155 km-long original. This 'apartheid wall'
(officially, 'Separation Barrier') will isolate Israel from the West
Bank, and also cut off the biggest Palestinian inhabitation from
historic East Jerusalem, where 200,000 Palestinians live, and which
is set to be the new Palestine's capital. A joint Israeli
government/settler council even wants to modify the wall's route to
isolate as many as 400,000 Palestinians.

The heavy-concrete wall is being built on confiscated territory on
the West Bank side. In places, it is as wide as 30-150 metres. It
will include electrified fencing, sniper towers, two-metre-deep
trenches, roads for patrol vehicles, electronic sensors, thermal
imaging, video cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles, besides razor
wire. Its function goes way beyond preventing the entry of illegal
immigrants or 'terrorists'.

As if the wall weren't apartheid enough, Israel's Parliament has just
passed a rabidly racist law which forces Palestinians marrying
Israelis to live separate lives or leave Israel. It also bars West
Bank and Gaza Palestinians who marry Israeli Arabs from obtaining
Israeli residence-permits.

It's hard to think of many countries which will countenance such
egregious legislation. But it's equally hard to count the number of
countries (including most OECD States) that would officially dignify
Sharon at this juncture. Sharon recently visited the US and Britain,
but there he was publicly reprimanded for his extreme actions.

The significance of Sharon's presence in India on September 11 is too
'in-your-face' to bear analysis. But such unsubtle, omnibus,
unqualified 'solidarity' based on 'fighting terrorism' fails to
distinguish between State and non-State terrorism, and between
indiscriminate violence against civilians and the right to resist
foreign military occupation, including through the use of arms
against military targets recognised under international law.

The 'solidarity' idea is equally blind to the qualitative difference
between stones and rifles, on the one hand, and tanks,
helicopter-gunships, wire-guided missiles and F-16s dropping
2,000-pound bombs on refugee camps and apartment buildings, on the
other. A mere glance at Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and
Doctors Without Borders reports documenting heavy ammunition attacks
on unarmed demonstrators, medical personnel and children should
clinch the issue.

Israel's Shin Bet security agency has admitted to detaining
Palestinian prisoners incommunicado for weeks at a secret centre in
violation of international law. The blindfolded prisoners are kept in
windowless cells. When they ask where they are, they are told: "On
the moon."

Sharon's Israel and Vajpayee's India have a lot in common as regards
Sept 11. Their officials could scarcely conceal their glee at the
highlighting of 'terrorism' by the twin towers tragedy. September is
an important month for Sharon in two other ways. In September 2000,
he staged his provocative walk at the holy Haram al-Sharif site in
East Jerusalem and ignited the second intifada, followed by
calculated, gratuitous, mind-boggling repression. West Asia has never
been the same since.

Even worse, in September 1982, Sharon, then defence minister,
allowed, or rather conspired with, the fierce Phalangist militia in
Lebanon - then under Israeli occupation following an unprovoked war -
to enter the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps near Beirut, and
massacred 2,000-3,000 Palestinian civilians over three days. Israeli
soldiers, who had lit flares to show the butchers their way, knew
exactly what was going on, but ignored even the US ambassador's
entreaties: "You must stop the massacres. They are obscene... They
are killing children. You are in absolute control of the area and
therefore responsible..."

A high-level inquiry headed by Israel's chief justice held that
Sharon failed to take basic precautions to protect innocent
civilians: "These blunders constitute the non-fulfilment of a duty."
There is as strong a case to try Sharon for war crimes and crimes
against humanity as to prosecute Chilean dictator Pinochet. Take
Sharon's recent role. He delayed the publication of the US-brokered,
Israel-friendly, road map and has raised 14 objections to it. He pays
lip service to it because George Bush ordered him to. But he is loath
to support its deadline for a Palestinian State by 2005 and refugees'
right to return. He is doing everything possible to sabotage a
two-State solution, while splitting the PA's leadership, undermining
the PLO and terrorising and impoverishing the Palestinian population.

Indian leaders will welcome this very man and his extreme-Zionist
Likud Party, which has vehemently opposed Palestinian statehood and
the Oslo accords although these favoured Israel. Likud defends the
occupation in the name of Biblical-era 'Greater Israel'. It's the
biggest obstacle to peace and to rectifying the wrongs done to the
Palestinian people when Israel was established on 78 per cent of the
territory of former British Mandate Palestine, and again in 1967 when
Israel occupied even the remaining 22 per cent land.

'Solidarity' with Sharon totally reverses India's historical support
for decolonisation and creation of a Palestinian State. South Block
rationalises this in the name of overcoming the "handicap" of a
"one-sided relationship" and having "a greater say" and "greater
relevance" in West Asia. The larger agenda was highlighted in
National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra's address to the 97th annual
meeting of the Zionist American Jewish Committee on May 8. Mishra
called for a unique India-US-Israel axis to fight the menace of
'global terrorism' primarily by military means (read, fight terror
with terror).

It's not hard to see the three inspirations behind this special
alliance of 'democracies': a communal perception of the 'common
enemy' (Islam in a demonised interpretation); admiration for the
super-militarised nature of Israeli society and its willingness to
use the most brutal of methods, unlike 'soft State' India's; and a
craving for an exclusive 'partnership' with Washington at Pakistan's
expense, through which to isolate it.

This profoundly misguided approach militates against an independent
foreign policy, commitment to multilateralism and a rational strategy
to combat terrorism not just militarily but by redressing the
injustices and iniquities at its root. It entails collusion with
Empire and perpetration of grave injustice upon the Palestinian

New Delhi has no moral or political mandate to inflict such a
perversion upon Indian policy. It must be prevailed upon through
political action to call off Sharon's visit. This demand has nothing
to do with the repulsive agenda of anti-Semitism or rejecting
balanced relations with entire West Asia, including Israel - leave
alone rationalising the indiscriminate killing of Israeli civilians
by groups like Hamas. It only follows the elementary requirements of
justice and democracy, and of a consistent single standard in dealing
with Israel/Palestine and, above all, with terrorism. Indians should
clearly tell Sharon he is not welcome.