Ariel Sharon, whose 28 September 2000 incursion into Al Aqsa sanctuary accompanied by at least 1,000 armed soldiers and police officers triggered the outbreak of the current crisis that has so far led to the death of hundreds of Palestinians and the wounding of up to 12,000 others, has been elected Prime Minister of Israel by an overwhelming majority. Addressing his supporters, Sharon said: “The country has embarked on a new path, a path of peace and unity at home, and a striving for true peace with the Arabs.” He called on the Labor party to join his government “in a true partnership for security and peace.”
Sharon’s call for ‘peace’ may seem ironic, since he is described by many as a brutal warmonger responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians. It is worth noting that his so-called “Pacification of Gaza” campaign in 1971 involved merciless repression and brutality, bulldozing thousands of Palestinian homes in the Gaza refugee camps and the arrest and deportation of several thousand Palestinians into the Sinai Desert, Jordan or Lebanon. As Defense Minister in 1982, Sharon was the principle architect of the “Peace for the Galilee” operation – the invasion of Lebanon, which caused the death of tens of thousands of civilians and left about a million homeless.
He began his military career at a young age, when he became involved in fighting with the Israeli Haganah, leading commando units specializing in behind-the-lines raids and forcing Palestinians to flee their homes. In August 1953, Sharon founded and led the infamous Unit 101, which carried out a series of terror raids across the Israeli borders into refugee camps, villages and Bedouin encampments. That September, he led the Unit 101 in an attack on Bedouins in demilitarized Al Auja (a 145 square km juncture at the western Negev-Sinai frontier), killing an unknown number.
14 October 1953: Sharon led Unit 101 into an attack on the village of Qibya in Jordan. Under his command, Israeli soldiers moved about in the village blowing up buildings, firing into doorways and windows with automatic weapons and throwing hand grenades, killing 69 civilians (mostly women and children). He later claimed he believed that the demolished houses had been empty of inhabitants, but according to the UN observer who inspected the scene, “One story was repeated time after time: the bullet splintered door, the body sprawled across the threshold, indicating that the inhabitants had been forced by heavy fire to stay inside until their homes were blown up over them.”
18 October 1953: U.S. Department of State issued a statement expressing “deepest sympathy for the families of those who lost their lives” in Qibya, and 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).
On 20 October 1953, the UN Security Council decided unanimously to examine recent violations of the General Armistice Agreements and the Qibya attack in particular. Major General Vagn Bennike, chief of staff of the UN Truce Supervision Organization, reported that on 15 October a UN investigation team had departed for Qibya, where the Acting Chairman of the Mixed Armistice Commission had found between 30 and 40 buildings completely demolished. By the time the Acting Chairman left Qibya, 27 bodies had been dug from the rubble.
UN Security Council Resolution 101, adopted on 24 November 1953 (with Lebanon and the USSR abstaining) found the action at Qibya a violation of the cease-fire provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 54 (1948) and inconsistent with the parties’ obligations under the General Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan and the Charter of the U.N., and expressed “the strongest censure of that action.”
In 1955, Sharon was reprimanded for giving logistical support to four young Israelis who took random blood revenge on Bedouins for Arab attacks on Israeli settlements.
During the 1956 Suez crisis, Sharon, then commander of a parachute brigade, sent his paratroopers into the Mitla Pass in the Sinai desert. Four of his junior officers accused him of sending men to their deaths for his own glory; he incurred the displeasure of Moshe Dayan and was suspended for breach of discipline.
1971 – The “Pacification” of Gaza
Under the euphemistic title the “Pacification of Gaza,” Sharon imposed a brutal policy of repression, blowing up houses, bulldozing large tracts of refugee camps, imposing severe collective punishments and imprisoning hundreds of young Palestinians. Numerous civilians were killed or unjustly imprisoned, their houses demolished and the whole area was effectively transformed into a jail.
In 1972, Sharon resigned from the army, but after helping to form the Likud party in 1973, he was recalled to the army for the October 1973 war, during which he led a strike across the Suez Canal, behind Egyptian lines. In December he was elected to Knesset, but resigned his seat the following year.
In 1977, the Likud party won the general election under Begin. Sharon joined Begin’s first administration as Minister of Agriculture in charge of settlements; an avid supporter of the religious Gush Emunim movement he was one of main facilitators of a settlement boom aimed in part at preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories.
In June 1981, his settlement campaign was one of the keys to Likud’s re-election, as he was credited with making swift and permanent progress in establishing a pervasive Israeli presence in the West Bank. Begin then appointed Sharon Minister of Defence.
1982 – “Peace for the Galilee.”
As Defense Minister Sharon masterminded the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which he dubbed the “Peace for the Galilee.” In all, this operation killed many thousands of civilians and rendered nearly half a million homeless. On 5 June 1982, he sent tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers across the border to fight their way up the Lebanese coast. They eventually occupied Beirut. Heavy Israeli sea, air and land bombardment devastated a substantial portion of Lebanon. By the end of July, the Lebanese government stated that at least 14,000 people had been killed – over 90% of whom were unarmed civilians – and twice that number seriously wounded. August 12 became known as Black Thursday after a massive artillery barrage lasting some 11 hours killed some 500 Lebanese & Palestinian civilians.
After three months of war, US envoy Philip Habib facilitated the agreement that the PLO would evacuate its fighters from Beirut on the condition of international protection for the Palestinian and Lebanese civilians in the region and on the understanding that Israel would not enter Beirut. However, two days after the protection forces withdrew, Sharon began an incremental advance into Beirut, besieging the camps along the way. On 15 September 1982 they invaded Beirut, Ariel Sharon declaring that this was in order to dislodge 2000 Palestinian fighters remaining in the city. The task of purging the camps Sharon gave to the Phalange (Lebanese force armed by and closely allied with Israel since the onset of Lebanon’s civil war in 1975).
Sabra & Shatila
The slaughter in the camps at Sabra and Shatila took place between 6:00pm on 16 September 1982 and 8:00 am on 18 September, in an area under the control of the Israeli army. Sharon’s troops, having held the camps under siege, allowed Phalangists to enter. Israeli searchlights illuminated the camps, while Israeli army personnel watched through binoculars as the death squads spread unchallenged through the camps. Whole families were murdered, many were raped and tortured before being killed. So many bodies were heaped into lorries and taken away, or buried in mass graves, that the exact toll will never be known, but Palestinian sources estimate at least 2000 people were killed.
After an international outcry, Israel established an official inquiry commission headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Kahan. The commission (Fina l Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Events at the Refugee Camps in Beirut, 7 February 1983, chaired by Yitzhak Kahan, president of Israel’s Supreme Court) found him indirectly responsible for the Sabra & Shatila massacres as he did not move to prevent them, forcing his resignation as Defence Minister.
Excerpt from the Kahan Report
“It is impossible to justify the Minister of Defence’s disregard of the danger of a massacre. . . . besides this, the Defence Minister also had special reports from his not inconsiderable meetings with the Phalangist heads. . . The sense of such a danger should have been in the conscience of every knowledgeable person who was close to this subject … It was the duty of the Defence Minister … not to disregard entirely the serious consideration that the Phalangists were liable to commit atrocities and that it was necessary to forestall this possibility as a humanitarian obligation. .. . Regarding [his] responsibility, it is sufficient to assert that he issued no order to the IDF to adopt suitable measures. Similarly, in his meetings with the Phalangist commanders, [he] made no attempt to point out to them the gravity of the danger that their men would commit acts of slaughter.
” . . Responsibility is to be imputed to the Minister of Defence for having disregarded the danger of acts of vengeance and bloodshed by the Phalangists against the population of the refugee camps, and having failed to take this danger into account when he decided to have the Phalangists enter the camps. In addition, responsibility is to be imputed to the Minister of Defence for not ordering appropriate measures for preventing or reducing the danger of massacre as a condition for the Phalangists’ entry into the camps. The blunders constitute the non-fulfilment of a duty with which the Defence Minister was charged.”
The inquiry commission found it “puzzling that the Defence Minister did not in any way make then Prime Minister [Menachim Begin] privy to the decision on having the Phalangists enter the camps.”
Israeli authorities and the international community must shoulder their legal responsibilities and thoroughly investigate and prosecute Ariel Sharon for his involvement in these massacres and other crimes, because article 146 of the 1949 IV Geneva Convention states that each High Contracting Party “shall be under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed” grave breaches of the Convention, “and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts.
Article 147 of the Convention states that the grave breaches noted in Article 146 include wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health… unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person. or wilfully depriving a protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed in the present Convention, taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.