Buh-buh-buh-bye, Sharon-a
What you won’t be hearing about Ariel Sharon this week
by Paul Jones

“In every significant instance [European Jews] were the most powerless of people, treated as insidious, potentially overpowering enemies by leaders and armies whose own power was far, far greater…But it was an accepted idea, since with few exceptions most of Europe turned its back on them during their slaughter. It is only one of the ironies of history that the word used most frequently to describe them in the hideous official jargon of fascism was the word ‘terrorists’…” -Edward Said

“You know sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.” -Bob Dylan

 

Somewhere in Jerusalem, the springs of an Israeli hospital bed are warping under the weight of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s monstrous body. What must it mean to be a Palestinian, especially at a time like this? While the world, which ignores or reviles them in equal measure, keeps vigil for a tyrant. You’re free to court distraction and indulge in Pat Robertson’s biblical fantasy that Sharon was smitten as divine retribution for “dividing Israel.” I shudder to think what omnipotent being would employ a man like Robertson as a spokesperson. Or as anything other than a human toenail clipper. Besides, there are nobler considerations.

Robert Fisk noted recently in a London Independent pre-postmortem on Sharon, President Bush has repeatedly cast Israel’s leader as “a man of peace.” Really, who better to arbitrate such matters than Bush, geopolitical doofus ex machina? Yet, even for the president, a man who surely believes “irony” is something Mexicans do when he’s wrinkled a shirt, this is a perverse joke. This special rubric bestowed on Sharon, reserved for him among all of Bush’s “good friends,” is the hollow, politicized core of the president’s absurdist masterpiece: the “War on Terror.”

Fisk’s article, excerpted from his new book, The Great War for Civilisation, about the Middle East, goes to great lengths to debunk the sordid myth of Sharon as conciliator. The Jewish Virtual Library (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org) claims “Ariel Sharon has been present at or involved in nearly every seminal moment in modern Israel’s history.” That is, as they say, putting it mildly. This same website, incidentally, makes a dour quip of encompassing “everything from anti-Semitism to Zionism.” No matter these are interchangeable watchwords for the same cause—titles in the two-volume “encyclopedia” of acceptable discourse on Israel. A sandwich with no meat.

Fisk neatly summarizes the prime minister’s formidable legacy of pacification:

“[Sharon] voted against the peace treaty with Egypt in 1979. He voted against a withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 1985. He opposed Israel’s participation in the Madrid peace conference in 1991. He opposed the Knesset 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, he had built 34 new Jewish colonies on Palestinian land.”

Impressive, yes, but will it be enough for the Nobel committee?

Fisk’s assertion the prime minister will be remembered as a war criminal by “much of the Western world—save, of course, for the craven men in the White House and the State Department and the Blair Cabinet” is less convincing. After all, how many people in the United States really know the names Sabra and Shatila? It was in those Lebanon camps in 1982 that Ariel Sharon oversaw the slaughter of between 800 and 2,000 Palestinian refugees.

Sharon had worked the Lebanese Phalangist militia into a lather, blaming Palestinians for assassinating their Christian leader. Then he unleashed the Phalange on unarmed civilians. Fisk recalls “clamber[ing] over the piled corpses…of raped and eviscerated women and their husbands and children and brothers.” “[T]he Israelis,” Fisk writes, “had sat around the camps for two nights watching this filth.” He notes, too, that, “While up to 600 bodies had been found inside Sabra and Chatila [sic], 1,800 civilians had been reported as ‘missing.’” Suggesting abductions and summary executions continued under Israeli auspices for days following the militia’s withdrawal from the camps.

Of the innumerable Sharon retrospectives now in heavy circulation, the few bothering to mention his crimes against humanity portray Sabra and Shatila as a bump in the road toward his eventual diplomatic epiphany. They read as though the massacre were something that happened to Sharon. None fails to repeat the canard that Ariel was found “indirectly responsible” for those deaths. The same way, presumably, John Gotti was “indirectly responsible” for every murder that resulted from his coded, sotto voce execution orders. There are no quotes from people like Abu Khalil, who survived the Phalange pogrom and told The Observer Sharon is “the King Kong of massacres.” Or from Hamad Shamus, who was shot three times, but survived and “lay there for three days listening to [the militia] kill the others.” The Observer: “Shamus rises and limps to a wall of pictures showing piles of dead. He points to a body. ‘That is my father,’ he points again, ‘and that leg is my brother.’”

One column by H.D.S. Greenway appeared in the Boston Globe bearing the indecent and nonsensical title, “Peace—on a Warrior’s terms.” Greenway insists “something changed when Sharon became prime minister.” Sharon has certainly morphed over his long political and military career: most notably, his abdomen did not always appear to contain an entire sea turtle. His glacial demeanor, however, has endured. As late as 2001, he told a Guardian interviewer who inquired about Sabra and Shatila, “They can accuse us as much as they want to,” and quickly changing the subject to his farm, asked, “You want to see some sheep?” There is precedent for this in Sharon’s exchange, during the shelling of Sabra and Shatila, with Philip Habib, Ronald Reagan’s envoy to Beirut. Habib later recalled for Robert Fisk Sharon’s denial any assault was taking place. “That damned man said to me on the phone that what I saw happening wasn’t happening. So I held the telephone out of the window so he could hear the explosions. Then he said to me: ‘What kind of conversation is this where you hold a telephone out of a window?’“

Imagine someone suggesting Slobodan Milosevic—with whom Sharon should be enjoying the comity of a prison cell—could be rehabilitated. This is no random comparison. Sharon called NATO’s bombing of Kosovo “brutal interventionism” and “an attempt to impose a solution on regional disputes.” He voiced support for Milosevic’s genocidal campaign against an Albanian state, saying such a sovereign entity would provide succor for “Islamic terror.” “The moment Israel expresses support for the sort of model of action we’re seeing in Kosovo,” the prime minister lamented, “it’s likely to be the next victim.”

Sharon has long eyed every tragedy as an opportunity and no expedient has served the prime minister as well as the “War on Terror.” The specter of Muslim terrorism has now completely obscured for Americans and other international observers the predicate savagery of Israel’s illegal occupation. The Israelis have exploited this to great advantage. Fisk argues that “Within hours of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States, Ariel Sharon turned Israel into America’s ally in the ‘war on terror’, immediately realigning Yasser Arafat as the Palestinian version of bin Laden and the Palestinian suicide bombers as blood brothers of the 19 Arabs - none of them Palestinian - who hijacked the four American airliners.” Toward that end, President Bush and the United States have been both Sharon’s sponsor and his cuckold.

When the Israelis reoccupied the West Bank in 2002, under the insidious banner “Operation Defensive Shield,” they ignored, as usual, demands by the UN Security Council to withdraw. The US, despite publicly siding with the Security Council and dispatching Colin Powell to the vicinity, permitted Israeli forces to level Jenin. It’s an ugly irony, too, that the policies of a man nicknamed “the Bulldozer” resulted in the death in Gaza of American activist Rachel Corrie. Corrie was crushed by a Caterpillar bulldozer, which Israeli soldiers were using to routinely demolish homes near a separation wall Israel was constructing. Even her death did little to raise awareness of Israel’s blatant flouting of international law, the ghastly inhumanity of its enterprise.

When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently expressed his desire to see Israel “wiped off the map,” Sharon’s response was typical. The Israeli was fiery in his public condemnation, furiously angling at the floor the immobile limbs that extend from his Emperor Penguin-like physique. You can admire Sharon’s visible outrage only if you understand he is essentially imperturbable. Why should he worry? Israel is a military juggernaut and covertly nuclear state; Ahmadenijad’s silo dream—certainly a sentiment common and spreading in the Arab world—is an unrealizable fantasy.

Ahmadenijad’s real error was actually announcing his desire to efface an entire race of people—rather than, say, just doing it with quiet efficiency. To a man of Ariel’s icy sagacity and patient calculation, that sort of Arab bombast isn’t so much threatening as it is unseemly. Mind you, that didn’t stop him from issuing his usual hysterical denunciations and pronouncements, including the demand Iran be wiped from the United Nations; the punch line being Sharon’s open contempt for that same organization.

What of this generous gift of the Gaza Strip? Fisk quotes a Sharon spokesman as having stated Israel’s Gaza pullout would “turn any plans for a Palestinian state in the West Bank into ‘formaldehyde.’” Israelis abandoned their illegal settlements there. For the last five months, however, the barely habitable tract—an effective holding pen, with no jobs, few basic necessities and daily electricity shutoffs—has been beset nightly by low-flying Israeli jets. This, again, is cynically portrayed by Israelis as punishment for Palestinian rocket attacks; meant to spur Palestinians—a people without livelihoods or hope—to take action against the militants whose futile escapades account for a grossly disproportionate amount of news coverage.

ABC news reported, as late as December 29, “The massive sonic boom often breaks windows, shakes entire apartment buildings and terrifies the people of Gaza.” A Gaza psychiatrist quoted in the article states the obvious: that the greatest victims of this policy openly targeting civilians, a war crime under the Geneva Conventions, are children. Rannan Gissim, a Sharon adviser, presumably spoke for the Prime Minister when he dismissed the flyovers as a mere “inconvenience that…cannot be measured against the question of life or death for Israelis on the other side.”

Still, in November, Senator Hillary Clinton traveled to Israel and “prais[ed] Sharon as a ‘courageous’ man who had taken ‘an incredibly difficult’ step by withdrawing from Gaza.” A CounterPunch article by Kathleen and Bill Christison repeated Clinton’s contention that the Gaza withdrawal was “a means of demonstrating that he is committed to trying to get back into a process” of negotiating with the Palestinians. Clinton then posed for a photo op in front of Israel’s separation wall, erected on land Israel confiscated in yet another contravention of international law. She adamantly refused to visit “‘Palestinian areas’—by which she meant Palestinian areas where Israelis do not yet live—and her promise was triumphantly repeated in Israeli press coverage of her visit.”

Israel is perhaps the world’s most successful current colonial power: an aggressive annexer that has convinced the world it is perpetually imperiled; Sharon’s repugnant, debilitating corpulence a metaphor for the Israeli government’s voracious expansionism. Israel’s archenemy and its immiserated subjects are one and the same and the press credulously repeats the threats Israel itself manufactures. We are bombarded with tiresome rhetoric about “Israel’s right to exist.” But we hear nothing about the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians languishing under an unlawful, immoral occupation. Instead, a militant minority—the legatees of Yasser Arafat’s corrupt and obtuse leadership—dominates headlines. Edward Said once noted Ariel Sharon’s recurrent assertion that Arabs “only understand force.” Americans, it seems, can only conceive of Arab aggression.

Just this weekend, American television networks reported that the Israeli government had warned Palestinians not to “take advantage” of the occasion of Sharon’s failing health to stage attacks. Take advantage? It was a fitting tribute to Sharon. His own tragedy became an opportunity.

 

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