The Israeli campaign to sanitize Ariel Sharon is on. At the New York Times, the Likudniks have answered the call of “Grandpa Ariel”, whom Deborah Sontag informs us is “ready to bounce the nation on his lap.” (NYT, 1/17/2001). In the same issue Thomas Friedman, casually mentions that the first story he ever got published was in his high school newspaper about Sharon: “an Israeli general who had been a hero in the Six-Day War”. That is the only mention of Sharon in the article.
Friedman did admit in the same editorial that his study of journalism is limited to a 10th grade course he took with Ms. Hattie Steinberg in 1969. Even back then, his “favorite teacher” realized that little Thomas “didn’t come up to her writing standards, so she made me business manager, selling ads to the local pizza parlor”. Ms. Hattie, his late teacher, was that good. She saw him as a classified ad man from day one. Friedman’s specialty is to market any and all Israeli policy in tidy packets for American consumption. These days, you can find him repackaging and reselling Ariel Sharon in one-sentence “hero” bites.
Now, Friedman has been given this particular assignment before. Back in September 1982 he went on a mission of damage control for Sharon after the Sabra and Shatila Massacre. It is perhaps time to revisit a Friedman classic from the archives of the New York Times (The Beirut Massacre: The Four Days, 9/26/1982). The article could well be titled “Believe me, Ariel Sharon knew nothing”.
It was only ten days after the grotesque scenes of carnage had been broadcast to the whole world. Against a backdrop of international outrage and detailed reporting by major international news outlets, even Friedman hesitantly acknowledged that “some conclusions may be drawn” about what took place at Sabra and Shatila. In his own words:
“First, the Christian militiamen entered the camp with the full knowledge of the Israeli Army, which provided them with at least some of their arms and provisions and assisted them with flares during nighttime operations.”
“Second, the Israelis had to have known that there was deep and pervasive fear of the Christian militiamen among the Palestinian residents of the camps because of past atrocities committed by the Christians and Palestinians against each other during the Lebanese civil war.”
“Third, the Israeli Army began to learn on the evening of Thursday, Sept. 16, that civilians were being killed in Shatila, since the moment these armed men entered the camps, they began murdering people at random, and those who fled told the Israelis what was happening. By Friday morning, there was enough evidence of untoward acts by the militiamen to move the senior Israeli commander in Lebanon to order their operations halted, according to the Israeli Government. Yet according to Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, the militiamen doing the killing were told by the Israelis they could stay inside the camps until Saturday morning and the murders continued until they left.”
Friedman also reported that the Israeli Army had completely surrounded the camps and had coordinated with the Phalangists and that “Mr. Sharon says the attack began at night. The Israeli Army had an observation post, equipped with binoculars and a powerful telescope, atop a five-story apartment building in the northwest quadrant of the Kuwaiti Embassy traffic circle. From that position it is possible to see into at least part of the Shatila camp, including those parts where piles of dead bodies were found later.”
Reviewing this particular New York Times article is instructive. Every plausible Israeli denial is woven into Friedman’s tale. First, he pins it all on the Christians. Let the Pope and the 700-club worry about defending the actions of their militiamen. Second, minimize the number of victims to hundreds. The Palestinians and Lebanese reported that as many as 2,000 men, women and children perished in the three-day Israeli supervised assault. The survivors repeatedly narrated to Friedman that some of the attackers belonged to Israeli trained Lebanese militias delivered to the camps from Israeli controlled barracks in South Lebanon, via the Israeli controlled Beirut Airport. Yet Friedman reports that the presence of these militias is based on “a sizable body of circumstantial evidence.” Who were those people who did this dastardly deed?
Even the five-story Israeli observation post with a naked eye view of the carnage is not enough evidence of the Israeli Army’s complicity. Friedman has an incredible spin on that count. “Whether the Israelis actually looked down and saw what was happening is unknown.” How much time did he spend on that little bit of conjecture? Or did he borrow it from IDF press releases? So, for Friedman, it is plausible that Israelis encircled the camps on Wednesday, transported the murderous militias with ample provisions on Thursday, provided them with night time flares and other amenities for three days, forced fleeing victims back into the deadly grasp of the vicious murderers and than never bothered to look down from their observation post until Saturday.
The massacre began on the second day of a major Israeli military sweep to occupy West Beirut, contrary to the Israeli and American pledges in the agreement brokered by American envoy Philip Habib. Sharon’s forces acknowledge that they had a tight noose around both refugee camps. The militiamen who participated in the three-day killing spree went in through Israeli lines and left through Israeli lines. Yet, Sharon claims he just didn’t know what was going to happen and didn’t get the details until later.
But there are facts about the massacre that were so widely reported and Friedman is obliged to admit them before doing the ‘fix’ on the story. “At 4:30 PM Friday afternoon, after General Drori was said by Sharon to have ordered the end to the operation, he and General Eytan met again with the Phalangists. At that time, Mr. Sharon said, it was “agreed that all of the Phalangists would leave the refugee camps on Saturday morning.” We are left to wonder how exactly Sharon phrased that military order. I suspect it went something like this: One more night of carnage, send up the flares and make sure they have enough munitions, and if the refugees try to get through Israeli lines, send them back to the killing fields.
Seven hours after the massacre started, Hirsch Goodman of the Jerusalem Post reported that a cablegram was received by the Israeli command stating “to this time we have killed 300 civilians and terrorists.” Zeev Schiff, military correspondent of Ha’aretz, had notified the Israeli Communication Minister Mordecai Zipori, who promptly relayed the information to Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir. True to form, Shamir indicated that he already knew and asked if there was any other news. That was on Friday morning. The massacre continued for another 24 hours.
Zeev Schiff wrote in Ha’aretz that the Sabra and Shatila massacre was “a premeditated attack which was designed to cause a mass flight of Palestinians from Beirut and the whole of Lebanon.” Yet Sharon still claims he knew next to nothing about those three days of serial killings.
For anyone who has studied Sharon, this much is certain, he would not have been absent from a major operation. This is a man who likes to get his hands dirty. There were Israeli aircraft flying over the camps and dropping illuminating flares to assist the militiamen. It is highly probable that they transmitted visual feedback to the Israeli commanders of the operation.
Invading Lebanon and laying siege to Beirut was not another ‘Six-Day’ war for Sharon. The Palestinian resistance and their Lebanese allies had put up a valiant defense of Beirut. The PLO had withdrawn at the request of their Lebanese allies to spare the capital from the daily indiscriminate Israeli bombardment. It had been an orderly withdrawal under the American negotiated “Habib” agreement that included explicit assurances that Israel would not invade West Beirut and harm their families. Sharon would have none of that. The whole invasion had been a fiasco and the Palestinians were going to pay a high price for his blunders. It would take another eighteen years and thousands more Lebanese, Palestinian and Israeli casualties before this particular Israeli misadventure was put to rest.
At Sabra and Shatila, an otherwise indifferent world tuned in to witness the carnage inflicted by Sharon’s men in collaboration with Hadad’s militias. It is worth noting that Israel created these militias as a renegade gang of mercenaries to promote Israeli ambitions in Lebanon. They were, for all practical purposes, an auxiliary force of the Israeli army. They were recruited, trained, armed and paid by Israel.
There are international rules governing the conduct of foreign occupation armies and one of them is that the safety and welfare of the civilian population living in areas under their control is their responsibility. It is unfortunate that Israelis and American Jews need to be reminded that many of these rules were made to ward off any repeat of the criminal Nazi persecution of civilian populations that came under German occupation in World War II. To this day the exact identity of the assailants is unknown because the Israelis did not arrest any of them. They let them enter the camp, do their dirty work for three grizzly days and just walk off without so much as a citation.
The gruesome aftermath is worth revisiting, especially for Israelis who are considering voting for “Grandpa Ariel”. Before any Israeli is bounced on Sharon’s lap they should pause a moment to reflect on the images of Sabra and Shatila. They should focus on the piles of contorted bodies, of frozen limbs sticking out of hastily dug mass graves, of dead infants strewn where they had been slaughtered, of the petrified faces of some survivors and the hysterics of others. These vivid images of the dead and the bereaved are etched onto the collective psyche of the Palestinian people. Yet even these images fail to convey the abominable stench or the eerie silence, pierced by only by the shrieks of wailing women.
One of the first Americans on the scene was the Rev. Donald Wagner, Director of the Palestine Human rights Campaign. An extract of his account follows:
Neither the initial news reports nor descriptive accounts by relief workers returning from Sabra and Shatila Camps were adequate to orient us for our visit. The shantytown camps I had known as bustling centers of activity for the Palestinian and Lebanese refugees were now reduced to a Dante-esque scene of death and overkill.
We entered Shatila Camp from the south, having passed at least a dozen Israeli tanks at the Kuwaiti Embassy and the seven-story apartment building of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) used as a military outpost for the area. We could see Israeli soldiers looking down at us through binoculars and could not help but note their proximity to the camp and their vantagepoint to activities within Sabra and Shatila.
It is nothing short of disgusting that the Likudniks and their American partisans are trying to pass off Sharon as “conservative” or “pugnacious”. They have gotten away with murder before, but Sharon is a mass murderer and a “serial arsonist” with criminal tendencies and a history to prove it. If Sharon is elected, it will reveal to the world that the Israeli public remains as chauvinist and callous as their leaders. Imagine if Lieutenant Calley of My Lai fame was running for dogcatcher? His own dog would not vote for him. This is Sharon of Sabra and Shatila running for the post of Prime Minister. And the Israelis are bouncing on his knees like he was some kind of Santa Clause.
The only Jewish majority country in the world may shortly come under the rule of a war criminal who is always on the prowl for a new path to war. Sharon is a dangerous and impulsive man who still subscribes to the notion that he can coerce the native Palestinians with ever-larger doses of lethal carnage. His solutions will always be military solutions. Indeed, given his life long penchant for unrestrained military force, he will always be quick to consider unleashing an unpredictable level of violence. Men like Sharon should long ago have been consigned to the dustbin of history. A man that sullied with the blood of innocents should find an obscure retirement or find a room at The Hague. It is only because of the American Media’s indulgence that he still gets to prowl the stage.
Americans and Europeans should also be quite alarmed at who gets his hands on the buttons of the well-documented Israeli nuclear arsenal. Haider is a mere nuisance compared to a nuclear Sharon. Somebody at State should raise an alarm about an unbalanced egomaniac like Sharon having access to nuclear bombs. This is one Israeli election that demands American intervention.
If Sharon gets elected, the Middle East might go from being a powder keg to being reduced to powder. This guy is a nasty piece of work and should long ago have been tried for war crimes. It is one thing for Israeli public relations committees to white wash his murderous escapades at Sabra and Shatila and elsewhere. It is quite another for the American government to just sit there and pretend it does not see the dangers of allowing this lunatic access to the bomb.
“You don’t have to be a political genius or a decorated general, it’s enough to be a village policeman to understand ahead of time that these militias – in the wake of the murder of their leader – were more liable than ever to sow destruction, even among innocent people. Is this surprising? Was this something unprecedented?” The words are those of Shimon Peres, in a speech delivered to the Israeli Parliament after the massacre at Sabra and Shatila.
If the current polls are on target, Israelis have deluded themselves into thinking that Sharon can be rehabilitated in the eyes of the world, especially in the eyes of the Palestinians. They should wake up and smell the potent brew that this man is cooking up for the Middle East. Sharon will be looking for any excuse to go to war.
In the International arena, the welcome rugs that were used for Haider and Waldhiem are being taken out of storage, in preparation for Sharon. One suggestion being discussed by political activists in Cairo is to create a memorial of all the Palestinians killed during the Sabra and Shatila and put it right across from the Israeli Embassy in Cairo. I would suggest that they add another memorial to list the American “journalists” who tried to cover-up Sharon’s crimes.
Let the Israelis pretend that they have no memories of Sabra and Shatila. Self-induced collective amnesia is an Israeli national trait that is essential to making the past deniable and to create an environment where hysterical Zionist mythologies constantly trash the historic record.
On this subject, one must be blunt. Let every Israeli and every Sharon apologist in the American press, including Sontag and Friedman, be aware of one simple fact. The Palestinians will never forgive Sharon and the IDF for their role in the massacre at Sabra and Shatila. Further, Arab-Americans will remember all those “journalists” who tried to white wash his crimes. There is not enough soap in New York to scrub Sharon clean.
The whole world will be watching the lords of the mass media and wondering why Sharon is being treated any more favorably than Haider or Waldhiem. So, before Sontag or any Israeli stands in line for a bounce on the knees of Grandpa Ariel, ask him this question “what did you do in the war, Grandpa?”.
Mr. Ahmed Amr is Editor of NileMedia.com in Seattle and a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN)