—   The sharp point of dissent   —

Section: Middle East
1 February 2006

Ariel Sharon: an Israeli Caligula

The plain truth is: he was a most intolerable ruffian, a disgrace to human nature, and a blot of blood and grease upon the history of England.

- Charles Dickens on Henry VIII

I must confess that I've almost had trouble keeping up with the events taking place over the last few months in Israel. If Ariel Sharon's decision to quit the Likud coalition was a political earthquake, then it was one quickly followed by the aftershock of his swift removal from the political scene. Watching the travails of the breakaway Kadima party was like watching dynamite go off underwater: explosion, then immediate implosion. So how did it all come about?

By the end of November 2005, the two main political parties in Israel had both lost their leaders. Ariel Sharon gave up on the Likud, and Labour gave up on Shimon Peres. The removal of Peres was both a condign fate and an unedifying spectacle. Peres had originally formed a government with Sharon on the premise that he would be better able to exercise a moderating influence over the Prime Minister in government rather than in opposition.[1] The results were predictable. Peres spent years dithering in Sharon's shadow, while the 'the Bulldozer' rampaged over the West Bank, deliberately escalated the conflict with the Palestinians, dragged Isarel's already battered international standing into further obloquy, and made the violence of the new Intifada a self-propelling engine of hate. Plainly, Peres had no control over Sharon. His torpor would not have been so salient, of course, had it not been juxtaposed with the violent dynamism of the Prime Minister in whose shadow he stood. Peres entered a national unity government with the Likud twice and in between managed to secure a crushing defeat for his own party in 2003. Thus when the Labour primaries came about last November, the party had had enough and wisely (though narrowly) decided against another round of leadership from the dugout.

Peres, however, did not quite get the message. Within no time at all, he had left Labour for the barely-nascent Kadima. Having been dethroned by the Sephardic arriviste Amir Peretz, Peres could not even don the fig leaf of defecting from Labour (and back into the clutches of Sharon) for some 'principled' reason: he was simply kicked out and sulked off to the next inn. In the end we were all treated to the amusing spectacle of ex-Labour seeking refuge among the ex-Likud. (No wonder the word 'centrism' keeps getting hurled around.) Once again, Peres banked all his chances of clinging to a position in government on riding Sharon's coat-tails, and once again he professed that he was only doing so because he wanted what was best for Israel. But this time he got what he deserved.

Within less than six weeks, Sharon suffered a massive stroke and overnight Kadima was without its raison d'être. Peres was orphaned. Ejected from one ship, he had swam to another, but now finds this vessel rudderless, and sinking fast. In some respects, I really do hope that Peres trumps Ehud Olmert and takes the helm at Kadima, but only because it would be entertaining to see both Netanyahu and Peres go up against Peretz and get trounced. Peres is 83 now, and his future looks non-existent for reasons quite apart from his age. But that will not be particularly new for him: he is, after all, the only politician whose wilderness years were spent in power.

Which brings us to Sharon's split with the Likud. Just how awful a party do you have to be to wind up being rejected by the Butcher of Beirut? In forming Kadima, Sharon explained that 'the Likud in its current format cannot lead Israel to its political aims' and that 'remaining in the Likud means a waste of time in political fighting.'[2] He certainly had a point. The hard-core Likudniks are ideologues, not pragmatists. They are territorial maximalists who will never snap out of their 'Greater Israel' fantasy. (David Ben-Gurion used to refer to their forerunners are 'verbal maximalists'[3]) Indeed whenever they have needed to make up the numbers in government, they have simply leaned further to the right, seeking support from Messianic settlers and their political proxies (Gush Emunim and the ultra-orthodox Shas) whose fundamentalism rivals that of the mullahs in Tehran.

As a party who could boast among its leaders two unreconstructed terrorists (Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, both onetime Prime Ministers[4]), Likud would hardly be fussy about placing a war criminal like Sharon at the helm. But now, with the evacuation of the settlers from Gaza, Sharon has betrayed their Yeretz Israel dream, and cannot be forgiven. For the Likud, it's 1999 all over again, when, as the analyst Nur Masalha pointed out: 'the ruling [Netanyahu-led] coalition simply imploded under the burdens of its own contradictions - above all, the tension between a professed commitment to the peace process and its compositions of factions and individuals implacably opposed thereto.'[5] With the ascension of Binyamin Netanyahu to leader of the Likud and Ehud Olmert to caretaker leader of Kadima, both right and centre parties have had to default to leftover leaders - and in both cases the cause has been the departure of Sharon. So could Labour - who have sensibly ditched Peres as political jetsam - have a shot at breaking their losing streak?

Could Labour's Peretz - who hails from the Maghreb - be Israel's equivalent of the Emperor Hadrian? The man from the periphery who took control of the centre, consolidated his holdings and then walled off the dominion? (He has already announced his intention to keep the West Bank wall.) Talk of a new era of peace under his stewardship (or 'Peretzstroika') is probably premature. Simply being in the right place at the right time does not mean that he is the right man. The future of all three parties is difficult to predict, but contrary to what many in the media would have us believe, the future of an Israel that is not being piloted by Ariel Sharon is hardly a cause for worry. That, above all else, is what this essay will seek to remind the reader of. For the collective amnesia that has descended upon the Western world following Sharon's Gaza 'pullout' is something that needs to be remedied before history - and in Sharon's case, a history well worth examining and remembering - is airbrushed again.


Sharon's early military career


Ariel Sharon's first massacre took place in August 1953 during a raid on the Gazan refugee camp of Al-Burg (or El-Bureig). It appears to have been premeditated. In the words of Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling:
When [Sharon] described the details of the operation to his soldiers one of them - according to Uzi Benziman - observed that the obvious objective of the raid was to kill as many civilians as possible. The soldier complained that this was an improper objective, but Sharon ignored the remark. The result was that fifteen Palestinians were killed, most of them women and children. Interrogated by superiors after the raid, he argued that the high casualty rate was necessitated by the need to defend the lives of his soldiers. He explained to his own soldiers that all the women of the camps were whores that served the murderers.[6]
A UN commander noted that during the raid 'bombs were thrown through the windows of huts in which the refugees were sleeping and, as they fled, they were attacked by small arms and automatic weapons' [7]

Next came the notorious Qibya massacre. On 15 October 1953, following the killing of an Israeli mother and child at the village of Yahuda during a raid by Palestinian cross-border infiltrators, Sharon's commando Unit 101 was sent to the Jordanian hamlet of Qibya to carry out a retaliatory attack. Sharon exacted a ferociously disproportionate revenge on villagers who were innocent of the crime, killing a total of sixty-nine civilians, two-thirds of whom were women and children. The conclusions of the UN observer who turned up to examine the scene belied Sharon's absurd claim he had believed that the 45 houses his unit had blown up and machine-gunned were empty: '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'[8] David Ben-Gurion attempted to promulgate a lie that the slaughter had been carried out by Israeli villagers,[9] but it did not last, and the international outcry which followed culminated in a UN Security Council condemnation for Israel on 24 November.[10]

None of this, however, made Sharon at all bashful about carrying out brutal military reprisals, and he soon moved on to another one. Operation Black Arrow was an unprovoked raid on an Egyptian military HQ in Gaza which took place on 28 February 1955. Sharon's unit killed 39 Egyptian soldiers and wounded 31. In the four months prior to this there had been no Egyptian aggression against the Israelis (though Ben-Gurion attempted to disseminate yet another lie to that effect). Following the event known as 'the mishap' (in which Isareli agents had been arrested while trying to set off bombs and incendiary devices inside Western properties in Egypt), this brutal attack ended the tentative rapprochement that had been taking place between Egypt's Colonel Nasser and Israel's dovish PM, Moshe Sharrett.

On 11 December 1955 Sharon led an even bloodier operation which induced an escalation of tension on the Syrian front and added another UN Security Council condemnation to Isarel's collection. During Operation Kinneret, Syrian gun emplacements were attacked at the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. 50 Syrians were killed and thirty taken prisoner. The genesis of the episode was to be the forerunner of a tactic Israel used against the Syrians on the Golan Heights in the run-up to the June 1967 war: territorial infringement by Israel; mild hostile response from Syria; devastating and disproportionate assault from Israel. As the Israeli historian Avi Shlaim describes the incident:
The Israelis were waiting for the slightest pretext to launch their carefully planned assault; when the Syrians proved uncooperative, the Israelis provoked the incident. On 10 December a police vessel was sent close to the shore, specifically in order to draw Syrian fire. A Syrian soldier fired a few shots that scraped some paint off the bottom of the patrol boat. No one was killed or wounded. This was the pretext for the IDF operation. Most observers agreed that the punishment was out of all proportion to the provocation. This judgement needs to be qualified in one respect: there was no Syrian provocation.[11]


The 1982 Lebanon invasion / The Sabra-Shatilla massacre


By the time Israel launched its Lebanon adventure in June 1982, Ariel Sharon had risen to the rank of Minister of Defence. The effects of the ruthless and violent tactics which manifested themselves while he was in charge of a small commando unit would be amplified a hundred fold now that the entire IDF was under his command. The plans for the Lebanon invasion had been drawn up well over a year before the incursion took place:[12] Sharon's 'grand plan' had two main aims. The first was to extirpate the PLO's state-with-state in south Lebanon, thereby removing the sole Palestinian military force constituting a conterminous 'threat' to Israel: it was thought that the success of this manoeuvre would be a killer blow to Palestinian morale and would allow Israel to tighten its grip on the occupied territories. The second aim was to railroad through the coronation of a Maronite Christian (and thus pro-Israel) junta in Beirut. As with Operation Kinneret, Israel attempted to provoke a Palestinian response with repeated and unprovoked air attacks on south Lebanon, during which time the PLO launched no unprovoked strikes and frequently did not even take the bait even when attacked by Israel.[13] In the end, the invasion's ostensible casus belli was the attempted assassination of Israeli ambassador Shlomo Argov in London by Abu Nidal. This explanation was ludicrous not merely because Abu Nidal were openly at war with the PLO and had no presence whatsoever in Lebanon, but because the reason for their split with Arafat was Arafat's increasing moderation towards Israel. In summary, the PLO were targeted because one of their enemies had attacked another of their enemies.

Sharon's Lebanon campaign quickly progressed from fraudulent causes to fraudulent objectives. Having convinced the Israeli cabinet on 5 June 1982 that he wished to advance no further than 40km into Lebanon and that the whole operation would last no longer than 48 hours, Sharon then proceeded without consultation to implement the 'grand plan' of a thrust up the Damascus highway to Beirut and an assault on the capital by land, sea and air - a plan which the cabinet had already rejected on 20 December 1981 [14]. Before surrounding the PLO's final holdout in west Beirut, however, Sharon found time en route to carry out merciless shelling of the cities of Damour and especially Sidon. Robert Fisk, covering the war, reported at one point that
it seemed that no restraint could be imposed upon the Israelis. Sidon was that night under heavy shellfire and air bombardment. Thousands of refugees from southern Lebanon had fled to Sidon on 4 and 5 June on the assumption that the city - 25 miles north of the battleground - would provide some protection. They were tragically mistaken. [An estimated 2000 civilians were killed in Sidon.][15]
Sharon's army then surrounded the PLO in west Beirut, cut off the water and electricity, and subjected it to a relentless two-month bombing campaign from land and air. On June 21, the first morning of the siege, the Israelis 'fired shells at the rate of one a minute into the residential quarters of west Beirut.'[16] On 12 August, after Philip Habib attempted to negotiate yet another ceasefire, 'Sharon, impatient with what he regarded as American meddling, ordered unprecedented saturation bombing of Beirut in which at least three hundred people were killed.'[17] Among the artillery used during the siege were phosphorous bombs, cluster bomblets and special shells designed to penetrate every floor of a building, only detonating when they strike the ground, thereby collapsing the buildings inwards upon themselves and the inhabitants therein (Beirut's skyline is filled with high-rise blocks). [18] Phosphrous, of course, is a substance which ignities spontaneously at room temperature once it comes in contact with the air: when used in a bomb, it creates unquenchable fires and essentially untreatable wounds. Robert Fisk reported that Dr. Amal Shamaa of the Barbir hospital encountered the bodies of two five year-old twins killed in a phosophrous bomb attack. They were still on fire. He continues:
Shamaa's story was a dreadful one and her voice broke as she told it. 'I had to take the babies and put them in buckets of water to put out the flames,' she said. 'When I took them out half an hour later, there were still burning. Even in the mortuary, they smouldered for hours.' Next morning, Amal Shamaa took the tiny corpses out of the mortuary for burial. To her horror, they again burst into flames.[19]
Finally, in late August, the PLO evacuated as part of an American-negotiated deal. Shortly therafter, Bashir Gemayel, the Maronite puppet president hand-picked by the Israelis, was assassinated in a bomb blast. Shlaim remarks that 'with Gemayel's violent removal from the scene, Sharon's plan for a new political order in Lebanon - a plan predicated from the start on Bashir Gemayel personally - collapsed like a house of cards.'[20] The response was not long in coming. The Defence Minister was now about to preside over the most sanguinary massacre of his career. The following day Sharon held a meeting with leaders of the Phalange (Gemayel's Maronite militia), and in full knowledge that this group were mortal enemies of the Palestinians, decided to send Phalange troops (who were armed, trained and even uniformed by the IDF) into the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla on the pretext of cleaning out 'nests of terrorists'. There, for a period of more than two days, the Phalange butchered their way through whole families while the Israeli army, forming a cordon outside the camps, fired flares at night to illuminate their quarry, and by day advised Palestinians trying to leave the camps to go back inside. Did the Israelis know what was going on? Fisk writes:
Yes, the Israelis knew. By now some of the Israeli soldiers who were around Chatila - decent, honest men who could not accept the things which they had heard about or even witnessed - had been telling journalists, in confidence, that yes, they knew what was going on. In some cases, they admitted, they saw the killings. But they did nothing. It transpired that at 7.30am on the morning of Friday, 17 September, Ze'ev Schiff, the military correspondent of the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, heard a report from a source in the Israeli army general staff in Tel Aviv that there was a 'slaughter' going on in the camps[21]
In his book on the Lebanon war (with Ehud Ya'ari), Schiff himself would re-use this noun, describing the events of Sabra-Shatilla as 'the wholesale slaughter of families'[22] which involved - inter alia - 'hanging live grenades around their victim's necks',[23], and (as Fisk reports) 'children with their throats cut, rows of young men shot in the back after being lined up at an execution wall. There were babies - blackened babies because they had been slaughtered more than 24 hours earlier and their small bodies were already in a state of decomposition - tossed into rubbish heaps alongside discarded US army ration tins, Israeli army medical equipment and empty bottles of whisky.'[24]

The total number of unarmed civilians slaughtered in this manner was difficult to determine with accuracy since many of the dead were hastily bulldozed into the earth: it is thought that between 700 and 2000 were killed. As for the 'nests of terrorists', they proved to be mysteriously elusive indeed. The Kahan Commission Inquiry into the events found Sharon 'personally responsible' for the massacre and dismissed him from his ministerial post. This was deemed sufficient punishment and the matter ended there.

The total number of Lebanese/Palestinian deaths during the invasion came to 17,500. As a historical footnote, proceedings took place in a Belgian court in late 2001/early 2002 in which Ariel Sharon was put on trial in absentia for the Sabra-Shatilla massacre. In January 2002, just two days after being visited by Belgian lawyers who had talked him into testifying against Sharon, Elie Hobeika, the warlord who had led the Phalange troops into the camp that day, was killed in car bomb in Beirut. The group who claimed responsibility (by fax) were never heard of before - or since. The reader may draw his own conclusions.


Prime Minister


Less than two decades after the Sabra-Shatilla massacre, Sharon went from being in charge of the army to being in charge of the entire country. It was February 2001. The shock waves which spread through the world's media once Sharon's election victory had been announced are amusing to recall, since the years since (and particularly recent months, in which Sharon was seriously considered by commentators to be Israel's best hope for peace) have demonstrated that there is a great deal to which the world can become inured. Consider the breathless opening paragraph to Jonathan Freedland's piece on Sharon's apotheosis:
It's as shocking as if Jean-Marie Le Pen had become president of France, or Ian Paisley ruled over Northern Ireland. Last night Israel, by a massive landslide, turned to a man who has spent two decades as an international byword for extremism - a global hate-figure - and elevated him to the country's top job. Ariel Sharon, who once seemed destined only for exile into disgrace, is now the prime minister of Israel. For anyone who wishes peace for that nation and its neighbours, today is among the darkest of days.[25]
Subsequent events, of course, have deprived Freedland's analogy of force: Le Pen actually managed to reach the final round of the French Presidential race in 2002, and today Ian Paisley does rule over Northern Ireland. But Freedland's comparison was unfair even to Paisley and Le Pen. These two men are merely ignoramuses, not full-blown war criminals and thus do not deserve to be placed in the same category as Sharon.

The conflict escalated on the Palestinian front as soon as Sharon took office, which was hardly surprising since his September 2000 pre-election visit (accompanied by a huge security apparatus) to the Temple Mount, site of the Al Aqsa mosque, played no small part in triggering the second Intifada. It is fair to say in retrospect that Sharon has presided over the most violent period of oppression in the occupied territories. Not for him the gentle tactics of Yitzhak Rabin's exhortation to 'break their bones' during the first Intifada. After all, the man who once told troops combating demonstrators in the occupied territories to 'tear off their balls'[26] would hardly be squeamish about using live ammunition and worse against a civilian population.

And so from here Sharon's tyrannical reign over the occupied territories took on the characteristics of a slow-burning rampage, which of course fuelled the classic cycle of oppression, resistance (often bloody and indiscriminate on the Palestinian side also), followed by more oppression and violence. Trees and olive groves were uprooted in huge swathes on the pretext of 'security'; house demolitions were a common occurrence which wound up leaving thousands of Arabs homeless; the destruction of Palestinian civilian infrastructure (grocery shops, post offices) took place beneath the umbra of 'counter-terrorism' missions; 'targetted killings' became the latest fad, with utter disregard for the ancillary civilians slain during such operations; normal life was suffocated by curfews, economic strangulation and the arbitrary closure of roads linking towns within occupied territory; thousands were killed by the armed forces and many more injured and maimed; international condemnation of Israel's behaviour rose to screaming pitch; and finally there was there was the most retrograde of all Sharon's neocolonial depredations: the construction of the so-called 'security wall', a barrier - deemed illegal in an 11-1 verdict by the World Court - built around the entire West Bank, effecting a de facto annexation of some of the major settlements and effectively imprisoning millions of Palestinians.

In particular, the practice of 'targeted killings' was often cynically deployed with suspicious timing. Isareli scholar Tanya Reinhart, for example, recounts that:
On November 23, 2001, Israel assassinated Hamas military leader Mahmud Abu Hanoud. Many in Israel suspect that this assassination - just when Hamas was in its second month of respecting an agreement with Arafat not to attack inside Israel - was designed to provoke the appropriate "bloodshed justification" for a counterattack on the eve of Sharon's visit to meet President George W. Bush in the United States. [27]
The very worst of the 'targeted killings' took place on 22 July 2002 when Israel assassinated Hamas commander Saleh Shehadeh by dropping a one-ton bomb on an apartment block in Gaza, killing nine children and eight adults. Sharon praised the operation as a 'great success'.[28] Small wonder then that Columbia academic Edward Said was moved to surmise that 'Sharon wants terrorism, not peace, and he does everything in his power to create the conditions for it.'[29]

And then there was the April 2002 Jenin assault, part of Operation Defensive Shield. During this raid on a West Bank refugee camp Human Right Watch reported that 'at least 22 of those confirmed dead [from 52 total Palestinian deaths] were civilians, including children, the physically disabled, and elderly people.'[30] HRW also documented the use of human shields in both house-to-house searches and during shootouts with the enemy; soldiers laughing as 22-year-old 'Afaf Disuqi lay dying from a bomb which the IDF planted at her door; the extensive and gratuitous destruction of property, noting that 'the bulldozers had done much more than creating paths for the IDF tanks and armoured cars in the Hawashin district: the entire area, down to the last house, had been levelled.'[31] It was not possible to suppress the international outcry following the Jenin raid, but did it prove eminently easy for Sharon to avoid international investigation, and perforce justice. Sharon originally agreed to allow a UN committee to investigate the site, then unaccountably found fault with the personnel on it, simultaneously insisting on immunity from prosecution for his own soldiers. (Clearly a man with nothing to hide.) Assorted haggling ensued, but in the end a contest of wills between Kofi Annan and Ariel Sharon (with US backing) was never going to be a contest at all. The matter was dropped within weeks, and the UN investigation never took place.


The Gaza circus


And so we come to the last chapter, Sharon's 'historic' decision to remove the settlers from the Gaza Strip in August 2005. Despite the fact that the opening moves in this plan were the bloody ariel assassinations of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and later Abdel-Aziz Rantissi (in April 2004), we were asked to believe that the plan signalled a new note of moderation from Sharon, and even more outlandishly, that the withdrawal set a possible precedent for the West Bank. This thesis was believable only by those who knew nothing of the ongoing situation in Gaza, and likewise lacked knowledge of similar developments in the past.

Firstly, it has long been an item of public recognition in Israel that the colonisation of Gaza is a non-runner. Too many Arabs; too little land; too little resources; too little biblical significance; too few hilltops to seize; too much harrassment from the locals; in short, too much trouble for too little gain. As Tanya Reinhart summarised the matter: 'With one million people living in one of the most densely populated and poorest areas of the world, with little water or natural resources, "What do we need Gaza for?" was a common question in Israel for years.'[32] She goes on to describe conditions in the Strip, pre-withdrawal:
The situation in Gaza today is that six thousand Israeli settlers occupy about one third of the area (including the military bases and bypass roads), and one million Palestinians are squeezed into the other two thirds. Surrounded by electronic fences and military posts, tightly sealed from the outside world, Palestinian Gaza has turned into a massive prison ghetto. ...
       If the prisoners try to rebel, as is happening now, the internal roads are blocked and the area is divided into smaller prison units, each surrounded by Israeli tanks. The Palestinian prisoners can be bombarded from the air, with nowhere to escape to; their food supply, electricity and fuel are all controlled by Israel and cut off at the will of the prison guards. Israel has given the Palestinians in Gaza one choice: Accept prison life, or perish.[33]
Secondly, the notion that withdrawal from Gaza would provide a precedent for withdrawal from territories occupied by the Israelis elsewhere is belied by the experience of the 1982 evacuation of Yamit in northern Sinai. Yamit was a town built after Israel's 1967 conquest of the Sinai Peninsula, and was to be returned to Egypt following Anwar Sadat's 1979 Camp David peace accord with Menachem Begin. The settlement itself was constructed with the aid of great brutality from Sharon, who droved thousands of bedouin off their lands. [34]

But then along came the Camp David accords, and the opportunity to neutralise Israel's greatest military foe - Egypt - proved too good to pass up. Making the correct calculations, Begin ordered the uprooting of the Sinai settlements, a task which Ariel Sharon himself took up with some gusto, deliberately carrying out a scorched-earth policy so that nothing would be left behind for the returning bedouins. The 'sacrifice' of Yamit was small change for the opportunity to increase the stranglehold on Israel's biblically vital colonial possessions in the West Bank. Israeli writer Amnon Kapeliouk is quoted as remarking that the Sinai pullout was 'one of the largest brain-washing operations conducted by the government in order to convince the Israeli people that they have suffered "a national trauma the effects of which will be felt for generations."'[35] Kapeliouk added that 'to restore Sinai to Egypt in order to have a free hand in the West Bank and Gaza: such was the precise objective of the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Menachem Begin when he signed the Camp David Accords' and that Begin did so 'not without declaring with insistence that a Palestinian state will never see the light of day in "Judea and Samaria".'[36]

Similary, then, the major gain (perhaps the only gain) to be made from the Gaza pullout was the excellent PR attendant upon the public spectacle of an entirely contrived 'sacrifice'. And so it came to pass. A middle east media circus descended upon the settlements to watch the catharsis. Note that the non-Palestinian denizens of the Gaza strip were fundamentally well-off people from a super-industrialised nation who were zealous enough to plant themselves in one of the third world's most impoverished and overpopulated ghettoes and then proceed to rob the locals of their land and resources. It seems that nowhere else in the world could the long-overdue eviction of such squatters (who were complict in the violation of international law by being there in the first place), be viewed as a tragedy for the evictees. In a plaintive article, Jennifer Loewenstein said it all, and her words are worth quoting at length:
The settlers will relocate to other parts of Israel and in some cases to other illegal settlements in the West Bank handsomely compensated for their inconvenience. Indeed, each Jewish family leaving the Gaza Strip will receive between $140,000 and $400,000 just for the cost of the home they leave behind. ...
       In the 5 years of Israel's brutal suppression of the Palestinian uprising against the occupation, I never once saw or heard a segment as long [as an interview with Neve Dekalim, a young settler] and with as much sentimental, human detail as I did here; never once remember a reporter allowing a sympathetic young Palestinian woman, whose home was just bulldozed and who lost everything she owned, tell of her pain and sorrow, of her memories and her family's memories; never got to listen to her reflect on where she would go now and how she would live. And yet in Gaza alone more than 23,000 people have lost their homes to Israeli bulldozers and bombs since September 2000 -- often at a moment's notice on the grounds that they "threatened Israel's security." The vast majority of the destroyed homes were located too close to an IDF military outpost or illegal settlement to be allowed to continue standing. The victims received no compensation for their losses and had no place waiting for them to relocate. Most ended up in temporary UNRWA tent-cities until they could find shelter elsewhere in the densely overcrowded Strip, a quarter of whose best land was inhabited by the 1% of the population that was Jewish and occupying the land at their expense.
       Where were the cameramen in May 2004 in Rafah when refugees twice over lost their homes again in a single night's raid, able to retrieve nothing of what they owned? Where were they when bulldozers and tanks tore up paved streets with steel blades, wrecked the sewage and water pipes, cut electricity lines, and demolished a park and a zoo; when snipers shot two children, a brother and sister, feeding their pigeons on the roof of their home? When the occupying army fired a tank shell into a group of peaceful demonstrators killing 14 of them including two children? Where have they been for the past five years when the summer heat of Rafah makes life so unbearable it is all one can do to sit quietly in the shade of one's corrugated tin roof - because s/he is forbidden to go to the sea, ten minutes' walking distance from the city center? Or because if they ventured to the more open spaces they became walking human targets? And when their citizens resisted, where were the accolades and the admiring media to comment on the "pluck," the "will" and "audacity" of these "young people"? [37]
Nevertheless, the squatters' absence would have been some slight improvement, if only to the chivvied lives of Gazans. 'So', the Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery asked in March 2005, 'if it is probable that Sharon will implement the disengagement, why not support him?' He explained:
Because I think about the day after. I have no illusions about Sharon's intentions as far as the West Bank is concerned. He plans to annex 58 percent of it and leave the Palestinians in isolated enclaves, cut off from each other by settlements and military installations. At most, in order to satisfy Bush's demand for "contiguity", the enclaves will be connected by bridges and tunnels. Apart from his son Omri, advocate Dov Weissglas is the person closest to him. When this man declared that after the disengagement, Sharon would put the peace process "in formaldehyde", he was - exceptionally - telling the truth. Supporting Sharon at this time means supporting this plan, too.[38]
So it was Yamit Syndrome all over again. Sharon, after all, was the onetime Minister for Housing who aggressively expanded the settlements in his post-Lebanon years, who commanded his legions of settlers to 'seize the hilltops', who once said, apparently in all seriousness, that 'the seizure of Arab land does not increase friction with the Arab population, it will prevent such friction in the future.'[39] Following a clear pattern of decades of support for Israeli expansionism, we are now asked to don blinkers for history and conclude against all evidence, all odds, and even identical precedents (i.e, Yamit) that Sharon's disengagement plan was to be repeated in the West Bank.


*     *     *


A nadir of absurdity (and American partisanship) was reached when George W. Bush publicly described Sharon as a 'man of peace'. His war (and war crimes) record, however, is there for all to see, and quite apart from that, journalist Robert Fisk has assembled this precís of his lifelong ideological and diplomatic stance:
Sharon voted against the peace treaty with Egypt in 1979. He voted against a withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 1985. He opposed Israel's participating in the Madrid peace conference in 1991. He opposed the Knesset's plenum vote on the Oslo agreement in 1993. He abstained on a vote for peace with Jordan in 1994. He voted against the Hebron agreement in 1997. He condemned the manner of Israel's retreat from Lebanon in 2000. By 2002 alone, Sharon had built thirty-four new Jewish colonies on Palestinian land.[40]
In summary then, Sharon's legacy is a squalid one. The Gaza evacuation, his sole contribution to the good, was merely a partial reversal of the bad. The Gaza Strip, overcrowded with in excess of a million Palestinians, is a Calcutta-like slum which would not be worth colonising even if it were possible. Sharon's stage-managed and copiously televised pullout came complete with a cast of lachrymose pied noirs who had just spent the last several years stealing the land and resources of the Arabs they had been planted among, and who bawled all the way to the border because their Halcyon days of lording it over the natives had come to an end. For this, the sole interruption in Ariel Sharon's lifelong career in anti-Arab brutality, is the world supposed to remember him well?


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Notes:

1 See, for example, Baruch Kimmerling, Politicide: Ariel Sharon's War against the Palestinians, Verso, London, 2003, p. 151
2 Quoted in Chris McGreal, 'Israel rocked as Sharon quits Likud to form centrist party', Guardian Weekly, 25 Nov - 1 Dec 2005
3 Quoted in Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, Allen Lane, London, 2000, p. 55
4 In mandate Palestine, Begin led a group known as the Irgun whose most notorious act was the 1946 bombing of the British army HQ at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which killed 88 people, among then 15 Jews. (See David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch, (Third Edition), Nation Books, 2003, p. 234.) Shamir's LEHI distinguished itself by assassinating the Swedish peace negotiator Count Folke Bernadotte in 1948. And in the same year both terrorist gangs collaborated in the massacre of up to 110 civilians at Deir Yassin, an act which is thought to be the proximate cause of the Arab wave of flight from Palestine which followed.
5 Nur Masalha, Imperial Israel and the Palestinians: The politics of Expansion, Pluto Press, London, 2000, p. 102
6 Kimmerling, p. 48
7 Quoted in Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: the United States, Israel and the Palestinians (Updated edition), Pluto Press, London, 1999, p, 384
8 Quoted in Shlaim, p. 91. See also Hirst, p. 307 et seq.
9 According to Seymour Hersh:
Asked by a confidant to explain his action, Ben-Gurion cited a passage from Victor Hugo's Les Misérables in which a nun lies to a policeman about the whereabouts of an escaped prisoner. The nun committed no sin in lying, Ben-Gurion argued, "because her lie was designed to save a human life. A lie like that is measured by a different yardstick."
(Seymour Hersh, The Samson Option: Israel, America and the Bomb, Faber & Faber, London, 1991, p. 78n)
Quite how this analogy was meant to justify a lie which protected the people who had taken dozens of human lives was apparently not vouchsafed.
10 Writing in 1983, Noam Chomsky noted that 'El-Bureig and Qibya launched Sharon's career' and then, with chilling anti-prescience, added: 'Conceivably, the Beirut massacres may end it.' Chomksy, ibid.
11 Shlaim, ibid., p. 149
12 Israeli journalist Jacobo Timerman, writing during the war, relates that after the first week of the invasion 'the minister of defense [Sharon] has declared that for a year he had been perparing the invasion of Lebanon. And the commander-in-chief of the army [Rafael Eitan] has declared that he had been planning the war, including the seizure of Beirut, for eight months' (Jacobo Timerman, The Longest War, Chatto and Windus, London, 1982, p. 65)
13 Kimmerling recounts that 'Between March 29 and July 3, 1981, Israel bombarded Palestinian targets in Lebanon by air and sea. The Palestinians refused to react, recognising Israel's interest in escalating the conflict. On July 9, Israel renewed their attacks on Palestinian targets but this time, after a week of uninterrupted shelling, the Palestinians responded by targeting the Israeli coastal town of Nahariya with Katyusa rockets.' (Kimmerling, p. 84) A subsequent cease-fire negotiated by US envoy Philip Habib was later broken by Israel: when extensively destabilising manoeuvres carried out by Israel between August 1981 and May 1982, including '2125 violations of Lebanese airspace and 652 violations of Lebanese territorial waters' failed to provoke the Palestinians, Israel simply bombed PLO positions on April 21. (See Chomsky, p. 195 et seq.) Timerman also noted that in 'our cities and colonies in Galilee ... peace reigned for nearly a year until General Sharon broke the truce with the PLO.' (Timerman, p. 45) And in his magisterial history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, David Hirst wrote that 'for more than eight months following the ceasefire the UNIFIL forces reorted no hostile acts directed against Israel from Lebanon. Nor could Israel prove any.' (Hirst, p. 537)
14 See Shlaim, ibid, p. 405 and 397, respectively
15 Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War (Third edition), Oxford University Press, Britain, 2001, p. 211; casualty figures: see p. 232, 246
16 Fisk, p. 258
17 Shlaim, p. 413; see also Kimmerling, p. 91
18 See Chomsky, p. 218; Fisk, p. 211, 277
19 Fisk, p. 283
20 Shlaim, p. 415
21 Fisk, p. 381
22 Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari Israel's Lebanon War, George Allen & Unwin , 1984, p. 264 (Quoted in Kirstin E. Schulze, The Arab-Israeli Conflict, Longman, Essex, 1999, p. 67)
23 Ibid.
24 Fisk, p. 361
25 Jonathan Freedland, 'Israel's dark hour' Guardian, 7 February 2001
26 Quoted in Masalha, p. 159; See also Chomsky, p. 129, n111
27 Tanya Reinhart, Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948, Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2003, p. 138.
28 See Hirst, p. 73; Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, Fourth Estate, London, 2005, p. 629, 1117-18. The IDF General Dan Halutz who carried out the attack was known to have said that he had not lost a wink of sleep over the event. However, the event did seem to make him anxious about travelling to Britain after a warrant was issued for the arrest of retired General Doron Almog. (The Israeli government warned Halutz not to travel to the UK after staff from the Israeli embassy in London had to dash onto Mr. Almog's plane as soon as he touched down in Heathrow in order to warn him not to leave the aircraft, thus thwarting the arrest.) Both Almog and Halutz are wanted in Britain for war crimes carried out in the Gaza Strip. (Chris McGreal, 'Retired Israeli general cancels London trip', Guardian Weekly, 23-29 September, 2005)
29 Edward Said, 'Dignity, Solidarity and the Penal Colony', in Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St Clair (Eds.), The Politics of Anti-Semitism, AK Press, California, 2003, p. 152
30 Human Rights Watch, 'Jenin: IDF Military Operations', May 2002. Excerpted in Reporters without Borders (Eds.), Israel/Palestine: The Black Book, Pluto Press, London, 2003, p. 98
31 Ibid.
32 Reinhart, p. 16
33 Reinhart, p. 18-19
34 See Chomsky, p. 105-106
35 Quoted in Chomsky, p. 193
36 Quoted in Henry Cattan, The Palestine Question, Croom Helm, Kent; 1988, p. 145
37 Jennifer Loewenstein, 'The Shame of it All', Counterpunch, August 17, 2005
38 Uri Avnery, 'Paved with Bad Intentions', Reprinted in Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May/June 2005.
39 Quoted in Masalha, p. 85
40 Fisk, The Great War for Civilisation, p. 623