Key Israeli Condemns Offensive In Gaza
Deputy Premier Says Images Evoke Holocaust Memories
By Glenn Frankel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 24, 2004; Page A14
JERUSALEM, May 23 -- One of the key political moderates in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet deplored on Sunday the Israel army's offensive in the Gaza Strip, saying television images reminded him of the suffering of his family during the Holocaust.
In stark and emotional language, Deputy Prime Minister Yosef Lapid, who also holds the Justice Ministry portfolio and is a Holocaust survivor, told Israeli radio that the country risked further international condemnation if the army continued its campaign of pursuing Palestinian gunmen, demolishing homes and expelling civilians from the heart of the populous Rafah refugee camp.
"On TV I saw an old woman rummaging through the ruins of her house looking for her medication, and it reminded me of my grandmother who was thrown out of her house during the Shoah," or Holocaust, Lapid said in a radio interview after the weekly cabinet session.
"We look like monsters in the eyes of the world," he added. "This makes me sick."
Lapid also confirmed during the interview that the army is considering destroying hundreds more houses to expand the security corridor between the camp and the Egyptian border to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. Israel has already destroyed an estimated 1,300 houses in the area since the start of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000, uprooting more than 11,000 people.
"The destruction of homes must stop because it is inhuman, un-Jewish, and causes us great harm around the world. In the end, we'll be kicked out of the U.N., we'll be put on trial in The Hague," Lapid said, referring to the site of the International Court of Justice, "and no one will want to have anything to do with us."
Although Lapid denied he was comparing Israeli soldiers to Nazis, his remarks were immediately denounced by some of the more hawkish members of the cabinet, who demanded a retraction. Sharon said Lapid's remarks were "like oil for the Arab propaganda machine," according to Israeli media.
Lapid is a former television talk show host and newcomer to politics who helped guide the Shinui party to a strong third-place finish in last year's parliamentary elections on a platform that placed the party squarely in the political middle on the peace process. With 15 seats in the 120-member Knesset, it is the second-largest party in Sharon's government and a pivotal element in his coalition.
Lapid has been a strong supporter of Sharon's plan to withdraw troops and 7,500 Jewish settlers from Gaza, and he has grown increasingly impatient with the army's continuing presence there. He has warned he would pull his party out of the cabinet if Sharon does not come up with a new proposal by the end of the month to replace the one that was defeated in a referendum of Sharon's Likud party three weeks ago.
Lapid's remarks underscored the political problems Sharon faces as he seeks to steer a new plan through his fractious cabinet. Analysts said Sharon faces a difficult choice: He can present a watered-down proposal and risk a walkout by Shinui, or he can present a stronger proposal and further alienate Likud members.
Earlier on Sunday, Israeli tanks and armored bulldozers returned to Rafah's Brazil neighborhood, searching for militants and weapons. Hundreds of residents fled again, while helicopters and tanks fired, and soldiers and militants exchanged gunfire. At least 42 Palestinians died last week when the army sealed off and invaded several sections of the city and adjoining refugee camp.
[An unidentified Israeli military official said Monday that soldiers had "lifted their encirclement" of the Tel Sultan neighborhood of Rafah, the Reuters news agency reported. The official said troops withdrew as part of a "new deployment" and to "ease conditions for Palestinians," but said they remained deployed in other parts of Rafah along the Gaza-Egypt border.]
In the West Bank city of Nablus, three members of the Islamic Resistance Movement, known as Hamas, were killed when their car exploded. Witnesses at first said the car had been rocketed by an Israeli aircraft, but later accounts said explosives stored in an abandoned vehicle had detonated next to the car. The Israeli army denied any knowledge of or responsibility for the blast.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company