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Saturday, July 24, 2004

Sharon's Life

By way of a great post over at Jewschool comes this story from today's Toronto Star on the threats against Ariel Sharon's life mentioned in my previous post.

Israel's deepest spiritual wound was rubbed raw again this week when the country's top security official warned ominously that Jewish assassins are out there on the religious fringe, preparing a bullet for Ariel Sharon.

It was his second such warning in as many weeks, but this time Shin Bet Director Avi Dichter got specific, telling the government's foreign affairs and defence committee the radical threat includes an almost impenetrable core of as many as 200 militant settlers who will stop at nothing to scuttle Sharon's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Even if it means killing the prime minister.

"Incitement is bubbling. It is already here," Dichter told the committee, citing the extremist pockets of so-called "hilltop youth" who have aggressively resisted Israeli army efforts to dismantle illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank during periodic clashes over the past two years.

Some good background and a sense that the threats are very real indeed. Yossi Klein Halevi (who had written a wonderful book, At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for Hope with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land before the Middle East had gone so deep into hell, again), says as much:

"I have no doubt the threat is very real. Anyone who has sat with the farther fringes of the settler movement knows this is not contrived," said Israeli analyst and writer Yossi Klein Halevi, an associate fellow at the Shalem Centre, a Jerusalem think tank. "I've sat on the hilltops and I've seen these people. They seem like something between spiritual seekers and hippies, but with a twist. They admire mass murderer Baruch Goldstein (who killed 29 Muslims in Hebron in 1994). They implicitly hold Yigal Amir to be a hero. These are their patron saints."

But Halevi notes that the reason the most radical of the settlers are at this point now (and the moment is being described around Israel as being very similar to 1995) is because the tide among rank and file Isaeli opinion has been steadily turning against them:

In his view, the single most important difference between the eras of Rabin and Sharon is that a new Israeli consensus is emerging against the settlement movement as a whole.

Halevi's position is borne out by most public opinion polls, including one released yesterday in the Hebrew daily Maariv indicating 61 per cent of Israelis describing themselves as centre-right Likud supporters now agree with Sharon's disengagement plan. Among the general public, 65 per cent favour the plan, versus 29 per cent opposing it.

"There's an old rabbinical expression, `Don't judge your friend at the moment of his hardship.' And I think that's what most Israelis feel about the settlers right now," said Halevi.

"They are facing the breakdown of everything they based their lives on. Their vision is being repudiated by the majority of Israelis because the price of that dream is too high. In fact, it is unpayable. There is a deep and necessary cruelty in that. We are going to uproot Jews because the alternatives are even worse."

The article notes fear that any assassination would simply stall any further movement in either direction regarding the settlements, as was the case in the wake of the assassination of Rabin, but I think if there were an attempt made on Sharon's life, in tandem with any kind of successful attack on the Al Aqsa mosque, it would have far greater implications than simply stalling any progress in the territories. It could very well be the catalyst to open up a much wider war in the region.

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