A person who died 1900 years ago was summoned this week by Ariel Sharon to
appear before his verbal kangaroo court.
That, in itself, is not
surprising. In Jewish consciousness, there is no clear borderline between
past and present, as there is none between history and myth. This may be the
result of living outside history for thousands of years. Anyhow, in all
debates about the future, Jews are used to involving figures from the remote
better known by his Roman name Josephus Flavius, was the son of a priestly
family in Jerusalem. With the outbreak of the Jewish Rebellion against Rome,
66 AD, he was appointed commander of the Galilee. When the Romans
re-conquered the region, he was holed up in the fortified town Jotapata
(Jodpat), but saved himself by resorting to a clever device. The defenders
of the town decided to kill each other (as the defenders of Massada did
later) and fixed by lot who would kill whom. Joseph managed to be the last
one left alive, went over to the Romans and became a court historian of the
His book “The Jewish War” is the
most important report on the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the
Jewish Temple - a traumatic event, that has left a deep imprint on Jewish
consciousness to this very day. Every year, on the ninth day of the month
Av, Jews are bound to mourn the destruction of the Temple and Israeli law
forbids opening places of amusement. The claim for Israeli sovereignty over
the Temple Mount is even now a major obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace.
A few days ago, on the first day
of the Jewish New Year, Ariel Sharon invited himself to a solemn interview
by two handpicked interviewers of the state-owned Kol Israel radio. That was
not difficult, because Sharon is now the direct boss of all state-owned
(He achieved this by a small
putsch: the Labor minister who was in charge of these media was persuaded to
resign and accept a huge salary as the director of a bank, which collapsed
the next day. Contrary to the coalition agreement, Sharon took the portfolio
for himself. Now he controls the state media the way Stalin controlled his,
with the same results.)
In the course of the interview,
Sharon was asked about the Gush Shalom activists who, as put by the
interviewer, are collecting material about IDF soldiers with the intention
of submitting it to the international war-crimes court at The Hague.
This was obviously an invited
question, since Sharon had brought with him to the interview a testimony for
the prosecution: a quotation from Josephus Flavius.
First, Sharon accused the Gush
activists (including myself) of treason and espionage in times of war.
According to him, we are collecting the names of IDF officers and soldiers,
in order to denounce them to the “enemies of Israel”, namely the judges of
the International Criminal Court at The Hague. “No act is more despicable
than that,” he pronounced.
After claiming that the
Gush activists want to sow discord within our ranks, he read the long
passage from Josephus that he had brought with him: “They (the defenders of
Jerusalem) fought against each other, and their actions delighted the
besiegers. Indeed, the evil that the Romans brought upon the city, was not
worse than the evil the defenders brought on each other. After that, the
fall of the city could not add to the disaster. The calamities that befell
the city before its fall were so terrible, that one may say that the quarrel
conquered the city, and the Romans conquered the quarrel, which was stronger
than its besieged walls.” (My translation.)
The trouble with this quotation
is that it is quite irrelevant, to say the least. The assistants who
prepared it for Sharon are, it seems, ignorant of history.
First, nobody is besieging us.
We are besieging the Palestinians. In this story, we are the Romans and the
Palestinians are the Jews.
Second, the terrible civil war
that broke out inside the besieged city was not between those who supported
the rebellion and those who objected to it, between extremists and
moderates, or, in today’s terms, between right and left. It broke out
between the Zealots themselves, or, to use today’s language again, between
the extreme right (Sharon) and the even-more-extreme right (Effi Eitam and
his ilk). The moderates, those who argued that a war against the Roman
Empire was hopeless, were liquidated by the Zealots long before that. The
Rabins of those days were murdered, one by one.
Third, the crazy Zealots
did indeed kill each other inside the besieged city, they destroyed the
remaining foodstuffs and demoralized the starving population. But the city
did not fall because of the quarrels inside it. Even if the defenders had
behaved in an exemplary way and united like one man behind Sharon and
Ben-Eliezer (sorry, behind Jochanan of Giscala and Shimon Bar-Giora), the
Romans would have breached the walls. Nobody was able to stop their immense
military might for long.
It was the
itself that was an act of madness. The end of the Jewish commonwealth in
Palestine became inevitable when the Zealots took control of it. The more
so, since the Jews outside Palestine - already numbering at that time two
thirds of the Jewish people - turned their backs on the rebels.
By the way, Sharon’s attack on
Gush Shalom was so important to his minions, they saw to it that it was
announced in five consecutive news broadcasts throughout that morning. All
his other statements in the interview, such as the scoop about his
forthcoming visit to India and the session of the Palestinian parliament,
That may be a hint of what’s to
come. Sharon plans a full-fledged attack on Gush Shalom and all the serious
peace camp, in order to silence all criticism and frighten other opponents
into silence. His words are not only designed to pressure the state
prosecution into putting the Gush activists on trial, but are also a simple
incitement to murder, very much like his speeches on the eve of Rabin’s
What frightens Sharon so
much? It seems that the Gush Shalom activity causes many soldiers to think,
for the first time, about the possibility that certain actions are not only
immoral and sabotage all chances for peace, but also violate Israeli and
international law and might constitute war crimes. After all, the great
majority of the soldiers are reasonable persons. Sharon hears the echo. In
order to silence the message, he chooses to silence the messenger. I believe
that even Josephus Flavius will not help him to achieve that.
statement by Gush Shalom published in Haaretz, August 9, 2002):
The whole truth about
Gush Shalom activities against war crimes
Warning against war crimes is an act of patriotism
Die Friedensbewegung Israels:
Stimmen die noch immer zu hören sind
Gush Shalom, Naschim beschachor, Uri Avnery, Eda
Tandler, Joel Tandler, Josef Walk, Kurt Lubitsch, Hans Lebrecht, Pnina
Feiler, Schmuel Amir, Jeremias, Hanna Jeremias...