If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear” – George Orwell
“I think you sent my father into Lebanon. Ariel Sharon, I accuse you of having made me suffer for 16 some odd years. I accuse you of having made my father suffer for over 16 years. I accuse you of a lot of things that made a lot of people suffer in this country. I don’t think that you can now be elected as prime minister”
(16-year-old Ilil Komey, whose father suffered from shellshock in the wake of Israel’s illegal 1982 invasion of Lebanon, addressing Sharon in January 2001).
Much to young Komey’s anger and disgust, Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister of Israel in February 2001. However, his electoral platform of peace and security for Israelis and negotiated settlements with Palestinians has caved in less to his thunderous weight, and more to his policies towards the Palestinians.
During his campaign, Sharon promised to do away with the then five-month Intifadha and the Israeli death toll by:
Combating terrorism in Gaza,
Differentiating between combat against terrorists and the treatment of the local population.
Permitting the local population to lead a normal life in their travel, to the work place, and commerce.
Minimizing the friction at roadblocks and checkpoints.
[On February 21, the IDF adopted the internationally condemned and outlawed policy of attacking Palestinian residential areas with tanks if there is a suspicion that Palestinian gunmen are present]
In the matter of combating terrorism, Sharon’s policy of assassinating Palestinian activists and all who happen to be in the vicinity (Sharon called the October assassination of two children as “collateral damage”) has completely and utterly backfired.
Bombing ‘terrorist havens’ with F-16 fighter bombers and heavy tank fire has enflamed Hamas and Islamic Jihad activities. Following Sharon’s election, Israel and the occupied territories were rocked by some of the most brutal, bloodthirsty and chilling suicide attacks Israelis have ever seen. Instead of stopping these ‘terrorists’ dead in their tracks, Sharon has merely emboldened them.
According to Ha’aretz News, the February 22, 2001 death toll from the five-month Intifadha reached 331 Palestinians, 61 Israelis and 13 Israeli Arabs. By press time, the death toll had reached 825 Palestinians and 223 Israelis. More than 75 percent of the casualties on both sides have been civilian deaths debunking Sharon’s second election promise.
As for points three and four, Ha’aretz News quoted a February 24th U.S. State Department report on human rights: “The human rights report criticizes the measures Israel took in response to the Palestinian uprising in the territories, including assassinating those suspected of planning terror incidents, imposing sieges on Palestinians towns and villages, and other abuses such as damaging Palestinian ambulances. A chapter in the report also deals with the government’s handling of demonstrations by Arab citizens of Israel and the deaths of 13 of them in October 2000.”
Sharon’s record in the past 11 months has been nothing short of dismal. However, this is hardly surprising given Sharon’s military career, which has been ostensibly ignored by mainstream media.
“Our forefathers did not come here in order to build a democracy but to build a Jewish state,” brayed Sharon in answer to his liberal critics (Menachem Shalev, Forward, May 21, 1993).
Despite annoying whimpering in North American media that Israel is a democratic state founded on the principle of civil liberties, U.N. documents and Israeli accounts paint a much more horrid and sinister picture.
Ariel Sharon’s rise to the ranks of world leader are ironically analogous to Israel’s birth in the community of nations. Sharon may have joined Jewish Haganah death squads at the age of 14 and learned to fight the British and Arabs, but it wasn’t until 1953 that he began to ferment his career as a mass murderer. In August of that year, Sharon led a brigade against the El-Bureig refugee camp south of Gaza. U.N. forces commander Major-General Vagn Bennike reported that “bombs were thrown” by Sharon’s men “through the windows of huts in which the refugees were sleeping and, as they fled, they were attacked by small arms and automatic weapons.”
Within two months, Sharon’s reputation as a merchant of death would be sealed. In October 1953, Sharon’s Unit 101 launched an attack on the West Bank village of Qibya, east of Tel Aviv. Sharon’s unit blew up 45 homes and massacred 69 people, more than half of them women and children according to a later UN Security Council report. The Israelis retorted that this was a reprisal attack for the killing of two Israelis earlier in the week. Nevertheless, Israel’s then foreign minister, Moshe Sharett, would go on to describe the “stain [of the attack] would stick to us and not be washed away for many years.”
The U.S. Department of State issued a statement on 18 October 1953, expressing its “deepest sympathy for the families of those who lost their lives” in the Qibya attack as well as the conviction that those responsible “should be brought to account and that effective measures should be taken to prevent such incidents in the future.” (Department of State Bulletin, Oct. 26, 1953, p. 552). History now shows that those responsible never faced justice, were never held accountable for their criminal acts, and indeed have had bloodstained wreaths and praise heaped upon them.
Sharon went on to earn the nickname “bulldozer” as he swept away any criticism of his record and military prowess. During the 1956 Sinai War, ignoring direct orders to the contrary, Sharon ordered a team of elite Israeli paratroopers into an Egyptian ambush. Thirty-eight young Israeli men died that day, the highest Israeli military loss in a single day of combat in that war.
Sharon’s disdain for the Arabs and his thirst for violence was even recorded by the Independent’s Phil Reeves in Gaza. “In August 1971 alone, troops under Mr Sharon’s command destroyed some 2,000 homes in the Gaza Strip, uprooting 16,000 people for the second time in their lives. Hundreds of young Palestinian men were arrested and deported to Jordan and Lebanon. Six hundred relatives of suspected guerrillas were exiled to Sinai. In the second half of 1971, 104 guerrillas were assassinated.” (Sharon’s return puts Wreckage Street in fear, The Independent, 21 January 2001)
Ten years later, Sharon, now as Minister of Defense, would launch the war in Lebanon. He misled the entire cabinet more than once; he declared the clearing of a 40 km strip on the border his primary goal but secretly prepared a broad-based war against Lebanon with the objective of installing a pro-Israeli regime and chasing or destroying the PLO. As history records, the invasion of Lebanon had devastating effects on IDF morale, on its prestige in the international arena, and on the public back home who had enough of Israeli body bags and wanted the war over.
This is not to forget the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacres orchestrated by Sharon’s upper echelons and executed by the Lebanese Phalangist Militia during the invasion of Lebanon. This is not to forget the butchering of more than 2,000 Palestinian men women and children.
The consequent international and Israeli public outcry led to an investigation in 1983 which concluded that “Sharon is unfit to be defense minister. Under heavy pressure from the Israeli public and media, Sharon resigned as defense minister on February 14, 1983.
Nevertheless, Sharon retained a role in Menachem Begin’s government and in the early 1990’s was appointed Minister of Construction and Housing in the government of Yitzhak Shamir. He furiously accelerated the building of illegal settlements in Palestine, today a major stumbling block in any formal peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Sharon has had a long history of ignoring advice from his peers and his closest allies as his polished record shows in 1953, 1956, 1982 and finally in 2001. When the U.S. criticised Israeli policies against the Palestinians for being too harsh, an indignant Sharon “said he would never allow Israel to be sacrificed to Arab “appeasement” in the way that Czechoslovakia was delivered to Hitler at Munich in 1938” (We will never be sacrificed, vows Sharon; The Daily Telegraph, October 5, 2001).
Most columnists and foreign policy experts in the U.S. were shocked at the suggestion that the U.S. was playing the role of moribund Chamberlain on the eve of World War II. Sharon seems to have forgotten that Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. military and financial aid, some 3.1 billion dollars. Sharon also seems to have forgotten that the U.S. has vetoed every single U.N. resolution that criticized Israel and that it is U.S.-made F-16s that his forces have been employing.
Sharon may have forgotten. On the other hand, he may simply not care much for U.S. foreign policy.
In early October, Israel Hebrew Radio reported that Sharon heatedly told his foreign minister Shimon Peres that “every time we do something you tell me America will do this and will do thatéI want to tell you something very clear, don’t worry about American pressure on Israel, we, the Jewish people control America, and the Americans know it” (Israel Hebrew Radio, 3 October, 2001).
An ancient adage says you cannot teach a dog to meow and purr. It seems that Sharon’s warmongering is not likely to undergo metamorphosis into peace-making.
According to the BBC’s Barbara Plett, Sharon is “close to achieving a plan already worked out when he was elected 10 months ago. That plan is based on two assumptions: that his long-time foe Yasser Arafat is not and never should have been a negotiating partner, and that the Oslo accord is a disaster that has to be eliminated” (Analysis: Sharon’s strategy, BBC Online, December 14, 2001).
For young Ilil Komey’s sake, Sharon cannot be allowed to succeed in his push for war and enslavement of the Palestinian people. Too many Israelis and Palestinians have suffered.
Firas Al-Atraqchi is a Muslim Canadian journalist living on the Pacific Coast.