Analysis

Barak Apology Preferable to ‘Regret,’ but Punishment Would Be Better

It seems Barak's apology over the death of 12 Israeli Arabs in October 2000 Protests tends to correspond with election season

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak arrives before  delivering a statement in Tel Aviv, Israel June 26, 2019.
Corinna Kern / Reuters

Despite everything, there’s progress. After the horrific 1956 Kafr Qasem massacre, in which 49 residents were murdered in cold blood, no senior official apologized; it was called “a regrettable event.” What’s more, a cruelly cynical sulha [reconciliation] was imposed on them.

“What I remember from the sulha, at which I was present, was that it was a disgrace for whoever organized it. But in those days who could object?” That’s how Othman Salim Badr described the reconciliation ceremony, as reported by Eli Ashkenazi on the Walla website. The article quotes Safwat Freij, whose father, Mahmoud Freij, who was badly wounded in the massacre: “If they don’t apologize, it’s a sign that maybe there was no mistake and there’s nothing to apologize for, and if that’s the case, why wouldn’t it happen again?”

The Israeli Arab community has suffered two additional major bloodbaths: The original Land Day in 1976, when six people were killed, and the events of October 2000, in which 12 Arab citizens of Israel and one Gazan were killed without posing a danger to the security forces, as the committee that investigated the events found.

As such, Ehud Barak’s apology for the killing of Arab citizens in October 2000 is better than simply expressing regret, but punishing those responsible for the death of 13 young Arab men would be even better than an apology. One of the absurdities of the reality in which we live is that when Kahol Lavan head Benny Gantz boasts about the mass killing of Palestinians in Gaza, an apology for the killing of 13 people is considered a harbinger of the Messiah. But – and forgive me for spoiling the party – how will this apology help the bereaved parents when none of those responsible for the killing of their loved ones was brought to trial?

The truth is that this apology is suspect. After all, before the 2001 election, when he ran against Ariel Sharon, Barak also tried to reconcile with the Arab public to win their votes. It was interesting that then, as now, Barak’s apology season tends to correspond with election season. By the way, it was the same when he apologized to Mizrahi Jews for how the Labor Party treated them in the early years of the state.

I must admit that it’s hard to get a handle on Ehud Barak. He was the right-winger in the Rabin government who objected to implementing the next stages of the Oslo Accords, arguing that all the “assets” (that is, the occupied territories) should be kept in Israeli hands until the final agreement stage. On the other hand, despite broad opposition in Israel he kept his promise to withdraw from Lebanon. But when he began negotiating the comprehensive agreement he tried to impose on the Palestinians and the Americans, he carried out a mega terrorist attack by declaring, “There is no Palestinian partner.” We’re not even talking about how he zigzagged within Labor and in the end broke up the party, and his rushing to serve in the Netanyahu government, in which he played the tough guy.

Nevertheless, as the Arabs say, “we are people of the day,” and the mission is to take down the extreme right-wing government that only Monday destroyed dozens of homes near Jerusalem, including structures in the Palestinian areas. And in the struggle against the extreme right-wing government Barak plays a leading role, especially given the shameful positions of the heads of Kahol Lavan.

But the Arab community has lots of doubts about the man. “Someone who’s been bitten is afraid of every rope that moves,” goes the Arab saying. How much more should they doubt the man who got more than 95 percent of the Arab vote in the 1999 election, and then delivered what he delivered in October 2000.