From Qibya to Rafah: Sharon’s 50 year War Against the Palestinian People

Fifty years ago today, Ariel Sharon, Israel’s current prime minister, first leapt into history’s spotlight. Although his name was probably not yet widely known, his actions earned the condemnation – in the strongest terms – of the United Nations, the United States State Department and huge segments of enlightened world opinion. His own government denied knowledge of his activities. Sharon’s career, and his journey into international infamy, began on the night of 14 October 1953, as he and an ‘elite’ commando squad designated Unit 101 crept into the sleepy village of Qibya in the West Bank (then under Jordanian administration.) They had orders calling for "blowing up a number of houses…and hitting the inhabitants" that eventually evolved into a blanket exhortation for "maximum killing." (Israeli Defense Force orders in IDFA 644/56//207 cited in Morris, Benny. Righteous Victims, New York, NY: Vintage Books 2001 pp. 278)

Today, although his modus operandi remains the same, Sharon can be called a ‘man of peace’ by the leader of the ‘free world’ without raising a public outcry. How is a man who has made a career out of perpetrating atrocities that appall the world still able to hold onto power, even winning elections by a wide margin in a ‘civilized’ country? Why was his madness not contained half a century ago, in order to save countless lives?

Sharon’s Unit 101 had been created and put under his command by the ‘activists’ in Israel’s first government. This was the faction that included such luminaries as David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan who shared the belief that Arabs only understand force, and felt that Israel needed to use that force as often and as aggressively as possible. Sharon’s unit was meant to provide a semi-clandestine means to deliver devastating ‘retaliatory’ attacks against Palestinians and neighboring Arab populations.

The attack on Qibya was ostensibly in retaliation for an attack that had occurred two days earlier inside the Green Line in which a woman and two children had been killed by a grenade. Despite the fact that "the murderers had no know or suspected connection with Qibya" (Chomsky, Noam. The Fateful Triangle, Boston: South End Press, 1983 pp. 383) the village was targeted and Sharon’s men were readied. The UN body that oversaw the border condemned the action, and the Jordanian representatives to this body "took it upon themselves to prevent such atrocities in the future." (Moshe Sharret’s journal, cited in Hirst, David. The Gun and the Olive Branch, New York, NY: Nation Books 2003 pp. 307) The commander of the Jordanian armed forces requested Israeli bloodhounds to help track the perpetrators into Jordan, but was met with silence. Moshe Sharret, Israel’s foreign minister at the time, noted these occurrences in his journal and wondered whether it was "wise to retaliate." But it was too late.

Sharon and his men carried out their mission with aplomb. The UN observers who arrived at the scene only two hours after Unit 101 had finished its murderous attack described "bullet-riddled bodies near the doorways and multiple bullet hits on the doors of the demolished houses" which "indicated that the inhabitants had been forced to remain inside until their homes were blown up over them." Sharon later tried to claim that he and his men were unaware that people were in their houses in the middle of the night and that the inhabitants should be blamed for their own deaths for hiding in "cellars and attics" (Morris pp. 278) from the Unit 101 attackers. But Jordanian pathologists reported that most of the deaths had been caused by bullet wounds. (Ibid.) The UN observer continues: "Witnesses were uniform in describing their experience as a night of horror during which Israeli soldiers moved about in their village blowing up buildings, firing into doorways and windows with automatic weapons and throwing hand grenades." Estimates differ, but no credible source has counted fewer than 60 innocent civilians murdered that night by Sharon and those under his command.

According to the official history of the Israeli paratroopers, of which Sharon’s Unit 101 was a subsidiary, "the operation at Qibya was to be distinguished from other operations by its purposes and its effects. The dynamiting of dozens of houses in Qibya was an ambitious undertaking surpassing anything in the past. Once and for all, it washed away the stain of the defeats that Zahal (the Israeli army) had suffered in its reprisal operations." (Paratroopers’ Book cited in Hirst pp. 308) The language is stunning when one considers it is written about a massacre of civilians in an undefended village in the middle of the night that the New York Post at the time compared to the Nazi massacre at Lidice. It is less shocking however, when put next to Sharon’s statements about the ‘assassination’ of Sheikh Salah Shehadeh of Hamas, which took the lives of a dozen sleeping children as well. Sharon described that operation as a "great success." He has never been inspired enough by the values that he claims to be defending to even adopt the conventional hypocritical Western expressions of regret for deliberate (‘collateral’) murder of innocent civilians. Compare Sharon’s – and official Israeli history’s – gleeful celebration of massacres and terror with the repetitive abject condemnations and denunciations that any Arab, Muslim or other enemy of the week is forced to make after any operation carried out by any other Muslim or Arab. Witness the double standard. Sharon can lead a death squad into a village and slaughter civilians wholesale, or order a bombing of an apartment building that leads to a slaughter of civilians, congratulate himself publicly and unapologetically and still stand as a staunch defender of Western civilization – i.e. a man of peace. But a minute’s delay in the ritual denunciation of the most minor Hamas operation on the part of Yasser Arafat – despite the fact that Arafat does not personally participate in these operations nor order them carried out, and has in the past actually ordered Hamas members attacked and killed – proves his inveterate love of terror, bloodshed and mayhem.

By the morning of 15 October 1953 it should have been clear to any independent observer that a man like Ariel Sharon would have no place in forging a peaceful future for the people of Palestine, Israel and the neighboring countries. If operations similar to his were carried out today – by an Arab or Muslim – there would be no hesitation in describing them as terrorism of the most condemnable character. In allowing and even encouraging this man to continue his climb to the highest levels of power in Israeli society all those involved, in Israel and the United States, are responsible for the tens of thousands [1] of deaths he has caused since his Qibya days. It is only to be hoped that some force, preferably the people of Israel, can end his career of violence and murder and bring the region one step closer to peace.


[1]. Credible estimates of the number of dead during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 1982, led by Sharon as Defense Minister, reach 20,000.