Ariel Sharon – myth and reality

A comment on the background of Ariel Sharon, an army man involved in terrible crimes against the Palestinian people who went on to become Prime Minister of Israel. From this position, which he still holds, he continued to oppress the Palestinians, while also attacking the workers of Israel.

Whether he lives or dies Ariel Sharon has now departed from the Israeli political scene. To use an Americanism, "He is the last of the 48ers". What does that mean? Well, he is the last of the last of the soldier/politicians that took part in the so-called Israeli war of independence, or as it is called in Hebrew the war of liberation. The liberation was from the rule of the British mandate over Palestine, or the liberation of the land of Israel from non-Jewish hands. It was also the war that meant the throwing into refugee camps of many of the inhabitants of that land, the Palestinians, where they remain to this day, in occupied Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon.

Ariel Sharon's background, like all the others of that clique who took part in the 1948 war, was in the so-called left of Israeli politics, not of the right, as many perceive, because of his ultra-right wing stance.

Sharon was part of the offspring of what is known in Israel as the first Aliya or immigration to Palestine in the late 19th century. His mother was Russian, and I'm sure it was at her knee that he learned his Zionism of arrogance and superiority that shaped him for the rest of his life.

His record as a soldier is well known, his utter belief in himself, and his disregard for any other opinion other than his own stopped him from attaining the post that any other Israeli general with his bloodstained war record would have obtained, that of Chief-of-Staff of the Israeli army. The Prime Minister of the time, Golda Meir (who's job it was to make such appointments), famously said, "If I make him (Sharon) Chief-of-Staff, he will surround my office with tanks!" He famously retorted "Those that did not want me as Chief-of-Staff will get me as Prime Minister." He was to be proved right!

I remember, before I knew anything about Sharon's history, my first reaction on seeing him on TV. The man bothered me, and if it is possible to detect evil through a television screen, then I did. I recall a Thursday [in September] during the 1982 Lebanon war, when Sharon as defence minister tricked the then Israeli PM Menachem Begin into starting the offensive, promising that it would be a limited war that would only go 40 kilometres into Lebanon, to flush out Yasser Arafat and his PLO fighters.

Well Beirut is a lot further than 40 kilometres from Israel's border. And on that Thursday Sharon had Israel's air force pound that city relentlessly. The small air force that Lebanon had, consisting of some old British Hawker Hunters, had been long shot out of the sky by what is without question one of the best air forces in the world. It was a slaughter.

As the Israeli army advanced so did Israel's media. The reporters appeared on TV in army uniform because as army reservists they had been drafted into military service. The radio was giving graphic, on the spot reports of what was going on in the skies above Beirut. Here was this totally defenceless city being pounded, apartment block after apartment block. It took a call from the president of the United States Ronald Regan, to Begin to stop that terrible bombardment, but of course, as is well known, worse was to come.

It was a Saturday, the BBC World Service said that, '' Reports are coming in of a number of deaths at a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon." [not a direct quote]. This was how I, the world and Menachem Begin first heard the name Sabra and Shatila, the name of this refugee camp that will forever be linked with the name of Ariel Sharon. The images of those blotted bodies lying in the ruins of that refugee camp are forever engraved in my mind.

The Sabra and Shatila massacre was carried out by Lebanese Maronite Christian militias. The Maronite forces were under the direct command of Elie Hobeika, who later became a member of the Lebanese parliament, reaching the position of cabinet minister in the 1990s. The militias had been sent in by Israel to seek out PLO members. While the massacre was taking place, the camps were surrounded by Israeli soldiers. The commander of the Israeli forces was Ariel Sharon. He allowed the massacre to take place, and had clearly worked closely with the Maronite militias.

An inquiry was held recommending that Sharon be dismissed from his post as defence minister and that he should never again hold ministerial office. Sharon refused to go, forcing Begin to dismiss him from his post something Begin hated doing. For Begin, despite Sharon having lied and deceived him, he was still an Israeli hero, because in the 1973 Yom Kippur war he directly disobeyed orders and crossed the Suez Canal, a move that was seen as saving Israel from defeat.

I have heard it said that if such a direct ignoring of an order had happened in the British army the soldier in question, no matter what the outcome of his action or his rank, would have been court marshalled. But Sharon got away with it. In the same way, his threat to become Prime Minister was a direct ignoring of the judicial recommendation that after Sabra and Shatila, he should never again hold political office. Israel is heralded all the time as the only “democracy” in the Middle East, and in democracies no one is supposed to be above the law, except it seems as far as Israel is concerned, when you are a bully and your name is Arik Sharon.

The Lebanon war left over 600 Israeli families missing a husband, a father, a brother and countless terribly maimed, plus thousands upon thousands of Lebanese civilians dead or injured. For Israel the incursion into Lebanon achieved absolutely nothing, for the Palestinians not much either. Despite all the bloodshed on both sides, the Oslo Accords and so on, they are still stuck in the refugee camps and Israel has no peace.

Every goal that Sharon has attained has always been at the cost of the lives of others, be they Jew or Arab. And so it was that on September 28, 2000 the final chapter in the saga of Ariel Sharon began. On that day Sharon, the then opposition leader, heavily guarded by Israeli soldiers and policemen, walked into the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

It was a move calculated to provoke an angry reaction from the Muslim population, who hold the mosque to be the third holiest site in Islam, and it produced exactly the reaction that Sharon wanted, more violence, and the fragile peace that had prevailed between Israel and the Palestinians erupted into the Second Intifada or “uprising”. This eventually led to elections in Israel, and the promise that Sharon had made nearly 30 years before that he would one day be Israel's head of government came to fruition.

The years of Sharon as the leader of Israel have been some of the worst in this young country’s short history. The Palestinians have suffered hell. The list of atrocities committed against them is long and has been well documented in previous articles on this site. They have been battered into submission to accept Sharon's will for a two state solution to their plight that will not work. Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza has left the residents there with no real gain, but has led the capitalist world to hail Sharon as "A man of peace". All the terrible things that he has done in his past have conveniently been forgotten, simply because in this post 9/11 world any one who in the bourgeois world is perceived as fighting terrorism is OK and any past transgressions are conveniently forgotten. As one commentator sarcastically said, if he had been able to continue with his policies he would no doubt have received the Nobel peace prize!

On the home front things have not fared well either during Sharon's term of office. The economy has almost ground to a halt. The rich have become much richer and out of Israel's six million population, one and a half million now live below the poverty line, creating the biggest divide between rich and poor in the western world. Soup kitchens have sprung up all over the country. 75% of the poor cannot afford the medication they need. Jewish children go to bed hungry every night in this land that is suppose to flow with milk and honey.

Yes, the milk and honey is there in abundance, but only for those who can afford it. In the UK where I grew up, I was often told by non-Jews, "What we admire about you people is the way you care about each other". This I'm sure is still true abroad but no longer in Israel. The introduction of a fully-fledged free market economy, with widespread privatisation, under the Sharon regime has led to a very selfish dog-eat-dog society.

Ironically, this attitude may be the reason Sharon is in the medical state he is in. The very arrogance that he has shown all his life has become the norm here. For a short time after Sharon's stroke some doctors alleged that it was a misdiagnosis after the first stroke that he had some three weeks earlier that may have led to his present condition.

However, the myth surrounding this man still continues. A friend of his said, "There is no way Arik will end his life like this. I'm sure he will bounce back and finish his days on his ranch, no not like this". Children are told to write letters to him in school wishing him to get better.

This reminds me of how the people of the former USSR cried when they heard that Stalin had died. Those people could have been forgiven, because in that paranoid society that Stalin had created, the majority at the time of his death did not know the truth about him. They, as the majority here, saw him as the “father of the nation”.

Israel, on the other hand, is a very open society and everyone knows the history of this man, but it is the fear that Zionism has instilled in them that makes them blind to who and what he really was. Like all tyrants, history will judge him, and one can only hope that the people of the state of Israel will come to see this man for what he really was and make sure his like never rises again.

January 11, 2005

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