Anyone but Sharon (Or Ben-Eliezer)

There was a time when Israeli society had yet to descend to the depths of indifference and despair it has reached in the past two years. People took to the streets to protest against what was being done to them; and politicians paid personal prices for their failures. This is no longer the case.

After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, then defense minister Moshe Dayan was ostracized by Israeli society. Bereaved parents demonstrated against him; people kept their distance from him; and he all but faded away in his isolation. In the aftermath of the Lebanon War, Ariel Sharon, defense minister at the time, was condemned and denounced with equal harshness, with the cry of "Sharon is a murderer" heard at left-wing demonstrations. Many kept their distance from him, too, including some of his friends.

That was a time when Israeli society had yet to descend to the depths of indifference and despair it has reached in the past two years. People took to the streets to protest against what was being done to them; and politicians paid personal prices for their failures. Now, however, in the wake of these two bad years, which have seen more civilians killed than ever before in Israel's history, not to mention the number of unnecessary Palestinian deaths, Sharon continues to enjoy legitimacy; and the image of the Mapainik and good-natured grandfather with which he was successfully labeled during the election campaign remains unblemished.

Today, not a single significant group in Israel boycotts or ostracizes Sharon; and among left-wing circles, he is even considered the lesser of two evils: Benjamin Netanyahu, as is commonly believed on the left, is worse than him - and this, despite the fact that judging by results, no prime minister has visited so many disasters on Israel as Sharon. Netanyahu's term in office - during which he did at least make some sort of effort, signing the Wye accord and meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat - was far better. For some reason, however, no one remembers this. Sharon continues to be the (relatively) good guy, while Netanyahu is still the bad one. There is no justification for this attitude: Sharon is the greater of the two evils; Netanyahu the lesser.

Any sane and clear-headed society would have denounced a leader, such as Sharon, who has been responsible for so much unnecessary bloodshed. From his provocative visit to the Temple Mount - another action for which no one settled accounts with him - to the latest liquidations of Palestinians, Sharon, together with Arafat, is responsible for the terrible killing spree of the past two years. He led a government that resorted exclusively to force and, through its actions, intensified and spurred on Palestinian terrorism, thereby making it responsible not only for the killing of numerous Palestinians, but, indirectly, for the killing of Israelis as well. Sharon has never been held accountable for this and Israeli society continues to show its affection for him, as evidenced by the public opinion polls of the past weekend.

But Sharon wasn't alone; he had partners - his defense minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, and the former chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz. Mofaz is already serving as defense minister and Ben-Eliezer is once again a candidate for the leadership of the Labor Party - the alternative, left-wing, pro-peace party - as though nothing has happened. This in itself attests to the deterioration that has occurred in Israeli society.

During the two years in which these three individuals were responsible for policy in the territories, things went from bad to worse, with all the residents of the territories now virtual prisoners in their towns and villages. For the sake of defense in the face of Palestinian terror, appalling things are being done in Israel's name, beyond anything ever done in its name in the past.

For the most part, Israelis don't have the slightest idea of what is going on in their occupied backyard; nor do they want to know. This is the only explanation for the legitimacy being enjoyed by those who are responsible for the things that are happening in the territories. After all, it is difficult to believe that most Israelis - even those who are shocked by the terrorism or espouse a nationalist approach - really want to be partners to such actions against the Palestinians and, indirectly, against themselves.

Sharon, Mofaz and Ben-Eliezer are responsible for atrocities for which not only the Palestinians, but the Israelis, too, have paid the price. Responsibility for the starvation tactics, the closures, the sieges, the liquidations and the denying of medical care for the sick and injured rests first and foremost on these three individuals. They are responsible for the Palestinians' brutal suffering and for the loss of our humanity. If, as reported in Friday's Ha'aretz Magazine, soldiers abuse two dialysis patients - one, a double amputee and the other blind - and no one protests, we have clearly sunken to the bottom of the barrel. Can Arafat and the terrorists be blamed for this too?

Sharon and Ben-Eliezer are now fighting for their political futures. Everything must be done to remove both of them from public life for good. They are tainted with a mark of shame. Even if they do not face trial for their deeds, the Israeli voter must be decisive and not allow them to remain in politics. Is this too much to expect from the Likud voters? Perhaps. But it's certainly not too much to expect of the Labor Party voters: Amram Mitzna or Haim Ramon, yes - anyone but Ben-Eliezer. And, of course, anyone but Sharon.