Winging his way to the depths of hell …
It is just over a week since the earthly remains of this most despicable being were handed over to the worms to devour. There is no doubt that his satanic soul is now burning with the others who dedicated their lives to the destruction of humanity.
Below are two not-so fond misrememberances by others who share my disdain for the ‘Butcher of Beirut’.
MAY HE ROT IN HELL FOR ETERNITY!
IN THE middle of the 70s, Ariel Sharon asked me to arrange something for him – a meeting with Yasser Arafat.
A few days before, the Israeli media had discovered that I was in regular contact with the leadership of the PLO, which was listed at the time as a terrorist organization.
I told Sharon that my PLO contacts would probably ask what he intended to propose to the Palestinians. He told me that his plan was to help the Palestinians to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy, and turn Jordan into a Palestinian state, with Arafat as its president.
“What about the West Bank?” I asked.
“Once Jordan becomes Palestine, there will no longer be a conflict between two peoples, but between two states. That will be much easier to resolve. We shall find some form of partition, territorial or functional, or we shall rule the territory together.”
My friends submitted the request to Arafat, who laughed it off. But he did not miss the opportunity to tell King Hussein about it. Hussein disclosed the story to a Kuwaiti newspaper, Alrai, and that’s how it came back to me.
SHARON’S PLAN was revolutionary at the time. Almost the entire Israeli establishment – including Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Defense Minister Shimon Peres – believed in the so-called “Jordanian option”: the idea that we must make peace with King Hussein. The Palestinians were either ignored or considered arch-enemies, or both.
Five years earlier, when the Palestinians in Jordan were battling the Hashemite regime there, Israel came to the aid of the king at the request of Henry Kissinger. I proposed the opposite in my magazine: to aid the Palestinians. Sharon later told me that he, a general at the time, had asked the General Staff to do the same, though for a different end. My idea was to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank, his was to create it in the East Bank.
(The idea of turning Jordan into Palestine has a generally unknown linguistic background. In Hebrew usage, “Eretz Israel” is the land on both sides of the Jordan River, where the ancient Hebrew tribes settled according to the Biblical myth. In Palestinian usage, “Filastin” is only the land on the West side of the river. Therefore is quite natural for ignorant Israelis to ask the Palestinians to set up their state beyond the Jordan. For Palestinians, that means setting up their state abroad.)
AT THE time, Sharon was in political exile.
In 1973 he left the army, after realizing that he had no chance of becoming Chief of Staff. This may seem odd, since he was already recognized as an outstanding battlefield commander. The trouble was that he was also known as an insubordinate officer, who despised his superiors and his peers (as well as everybody else.) Also, his relationship with the truth was problematical. David Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary that Sharon could be an exemplary military officer, if only he could abstain from lying.
When he left the army, Sharon almost single-handedly created the Likud by unifying all the right-wing parties. That’s when I chose him the first time as Haolam Hazeh’s Man of the Year and wrote a large biographical article about him. A few days later, the Yom Kippur War broke out, and Sharon was drafted back into the army. His part in it is considered by many as pure genius, by others as a story of insubordination and luck. A photo of him with his head bandaged became his trademark, though it was only a slight wound caused by hitting his head on his command vehicle. (To be fair, he was really wounded in battle, like me, in 1948.)
After the Yom Kippur war, the argument about his part in that war became the center of “the battle of the generals”. He started to visit me at my home to explain his moves, and we became quite friendly.
He left the Likud when he realized that he could not become its leader as long as Menachem Begin was around. He started to chart his own course. That’s when he asked for the meeting with Arafat.
He was thinking about creating a new party, neither right nor left, but led by him and “outstanding personalities” from all over the political landscape. He invited me to join, and we had long conversations at his home.
I must explain here that for a long time I had been looking for a person with military credentials to lead a large united peace camp. A leader with such a background would make it much easier for us to gain public support for our aims. Sharon fitted the recipe. (As Yitzhak Rabin did later.) Yet during our conversations it became clear to me that he had basically remained a right-winger.
In the end Sharon set up a new party called Shlomtzion (“Peace of Zion”), which was a dismal failure on election day. The next day, he rejoined the Likud.
The Likud had won the elections and Begin became Prime Minister. If Sharon had hoped to be appointed Minister of Defense, he was soon disabused. Begin did not trust him. Sharon looked like a general who might organize a coup. The powerful new Finance Minister said that if Sharon became commander-in-chief, he would “send his tanks to surround the Knesset.”
(There was a joke making the rounds at the time: Defense Minister Sharon would call for a meeting of the General Staff and announce: “Comrades, tomorrow morning at 06.00 we take over the government!” For a moment the audience was dumfounded, and then it broke out into riotous laughter.)
However, when Begin’s preferred Defense Minister, the former Air Force chief Ezer Weizman, resigned, Begin was compelled to appoint Sharon as his successor. For the second time I chose Sharon as Haolam Hazeh’s Man of the Year. He took this very seriously and sat with me for many hours, in several meetings at his home and office, in order to explain his ideas.
One of them, which he expounded at the same time to the US strategic planners, was to conquer Iran. When Ayatollah Khomeini dies, he said, there will begin a race between the Soviet Union and the US to determine who will arrive first on the scene and take over. The US is far away, but Israel can do the job. With the help of heavy arms that the US will store in Israel well before, our army will be in full possession before the Soviets move. He showed me the detailed maps of the advance, hour by hour and day by day.
This was typical Sharon, His vision was wide and all-embracing. His listener was left breathless, comparing him to the ordinary little politicians, devoid of vision and breadth. But his ideas were generally based on abysmal ignorance of the other side, and therefore came to naught.
AT THE same time, nine months before the Lebanon War, he disclosed to me his Grand Plan for a new Middle East of his making. He allowed me to publish it, provided I did not mention him as the source. He trusted me.
Basically it was the same as the one he wanted to propose to Arafat.
The army would invade Lebanon and drive the Palestinians from there to Syria, from whence the Syrians would drive them into Jordan. There the Palestinians would overthrow the king and establish the State of Palestine.
The army would also drive the Syrians out of Lebanon. In Lebanon Sharon would choose a Christian officer and install him as dictator. Lebanon would make official peace with Israel and in effect become a vassal state.
I duly published all this, and nine months later Sharon invaded Lebanon, after lying to Begin and the cabinet about his aims. But the war was a catastrophe, both militarily and politically.
Militarily it was a demonstration of “the Peter principle” – the brilliant battle commander was a miserable strategist. No unit of the Israeli army reached its objective on time, if at all. The Israeli-installed dictator, Bachir Gemayel, was assassinated. His brother and successor signed a peace treaty with Israel, which has been completely forgotten by now. The Syrians remained in Lebanon for many years to come. The Israeli army extricated itself after a guerrilla war that lasted 18 full years, during which the despised and downtrodden Shiites in Israeli-occupied South Lebanon became the dominant political force in the country.
And, worst of all, in order to induce the Palestinians to flee, Sharon let the barbarous Christian Phalangists into the Palestinian refugee camps Sabra and Shatila, where they committed a terrible massacre. Hundreds of thousands of outraged Israelis protested in Tel Aviv, and Sharon was dismissed from the defense ministry.
At the height of the Battle of Beirut I crossed the lines and met with Yasser Arafat, who had become Sharon’s Nemesis. Since then, Sharon and I did not exchange a single word, not even greeting each other.
IT LOOKED like the end of Sharon’s career. But for Sharon, every end was a new beginning.
One of his media vassals, Uri Dan (who had started his career in Haolam Hazeh) once coined a prophetic phrase: “Those who don’t want him as Chief of Staff, will get him as Minister of Defense. Those who don’t want him as Minister of Defense, will get him as Prime Minister.” Today one could add: “Those who did not want him as Prime Minister, are getting him as a national icon.”
An ex-general, Yitzhak Ben-Israel, told me yesterday: “He was an Imperator!” I find this a very apt description.
Like a Roman imperator, Sharon was a supreme being, admired and feared, generous and cruel, genial and treacherous, hedonistic and corrupt, a victorious general and a war criminal, quick to make decisions and unwavering once he had made them, overcoming all obstacles by sheer force of personality.
One could not meet him without being struck by the sense of power he emanated. Power was his element.
He believed that destiny had chosen him to lead Israel. He did not think so – he knew. For him, his personal career and the fate of Israel were one and the same. Therefore, anyone who tried to block him was a traitor to Israel. He despised everyone around him – from Begin down to the last politician and general.
His character was formed in his early childhood in Kfar Malal, a communal village which belonged to the Labor party. His mother, Vera, managed the family farm with an iron will, quarreling with all the neighbors, the village institutions and the party. When little Arik was injured in a fall on a pitchfork, she did not take him to the village clinic, which she hated, but put him on a donkey and led him for several kilometers to a doctor in Kfar Saba.
When rumor had it that the Arabs in neighboring villages were planning an attack, little Arik was hidden in a haystack.
Later in life, when his mother (who still managed the farm) visited his new ranch and saw a low wall with holes for irrigation, she exclaimed: “Ah, you have embrasures! Very good, you can shoot through them at the Arabs!”
How could a poor army officer acquire the largest ranch in the country? Simple: he got it as a gift from an Israeli-American billionaire, with the help of the finance minister. Several dubious large deals with other billionaires followed.
SHARON WAS the most typical Israeli one could imagine, embodying the saying (to which I modestly claim authorship): “If force does not work, try more force.”
I was therefore very surprised when he came out in favor of the law dispensing with the military service of tens of thousands of orthodox youngsters. “How can you?” I asked him. His answer: “I am first of all a Jew, and only after that an Israeli!” I told him that for me it was the other way round.
Ideologically, he was the pupil and successor of David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan, leaders who believed in military force and in expanding the territory of Israel without limit. His military career started for real in the 1950s when Moshe Dayan put him in charge of an unofficial outfit called Unit 101, which was sent across the border to kill and destroy, in retaliation for similar actions committed by Arabs. His most famous exploit was the massacre of Qibya village in 1953, when 49 innocent villagers were buried under the houses which he blew up.
Later, when requested to put an end to “terrorism” in Gaza, he killed every Arab who was caught with arms. When I later asked him about killing prisoners, he answered: “I did not kill prisoners. I did not take prisoners!”
At the beginning of his career as commander he was a bad general. But from war to war he improved. Unusual for a general, he learned from his mistakes. In the 1973 war he was already considered the equal of Erwin Rommel and George Patton. It also became known that between the battles he gorged himself on seafood, which is not kosher.
THE MAIN endeavor of his life was the settlement enterprise. As army officer, politician and successively chief of half a dozen different ministries, his central effort was always to plan and set up settlements in the occupied territories.
He did not care whether they were legal or illegal under Israeli law (all of them, of course, are illegal under international law, for which he did not give a damn).
He planned their location, with the aim of cutting the West Bank into ribbons which would make a Palestinian state impossible. Then he rammed it through the cabinet and the ministries. Not for nothing was he nicknamed “the Bulldozer”.
The “Israel Defense Army” (its official Hebrew name) turned into the “Settlers Defense Army”, sinking slowly in the morass of the occupation.
However, when settlements obstructed his plans, he had no compunction about destroying them. When he was in favor of peace with Egypt, in order to concentrate on the war with the Palestinians, he destroyed the entire town of Yamit in North Sinai and the adjacent settlements. Later he did the same to the settlements in the Gaza Strip, attracting the enduring hatred of the settlers, his erstwhile proteges. He acted like a general who is ready to sacrifice a brigade to improve his overall strategic position.
WHEN HE died last week, after lying in a coma for eight years, he was eulogized by the very people he despised, and turned into a shallow folk hero. The Ministry of Education compared him to Moses.
In real life he was a very complex person, as complex as Israel. His personal history is interwoven with the history of Israel.
His main legacy was catastrophic: the scores of settlements which he implanted all over the West Bank – each of them a landmine which will have to be removed at great risk when the time comes.
The Whitewashing of Ariel Sharon
It was inevitable, I suppose. The legacy of Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli Prime Minister who died recently after years in a coma, was the subject of much debate and conversation in the Israel/Palestine discourse this week. Some mainstream American media outlets did a particularly poor job, however, in characterizing the life of the man.
My thoughts on Ariel Sharon, for those who might not have already guessed, are here. It is fair to say that in general, Palestinians view Ariel Sharon negatively and, frankly, as a war criminal. But it would be unfair to say that only Palestinians view him in this way, as if Ariel Sharon’s legacy was just some other endless point of debate between irreconcilable Israeli and Palestinian narratives. In fact, anyone characterizing points of debate in this way is probably just to afraid to take an objective stance.
In reality, those authoring critical pieces of Sharon’s legacy have come from a variety of different backgrounds. The New Yorker carried a post by Raja Shahada and another byBernard Avishai. Max Blumenthal’s piece in the Nation was also stellar, as was Rashid Khalidi’s piece for Foreign Policy and Daniel Levy’s piece for Al Jazeera America. Sara Leah Whitson fromHuman Rights Watch made an important contribution as well. There were many more that got it right. The bottom line is Sharon was responsible for some pretty heinous things in his life that included massacres of civilians and the massacre of the peace process through settlement expansion.
Unfortunately, many others failed to get the story right and among them are some of the most mainstream outlets for what is considered serious conversation in the United States. Two particularly egregious examples are The New York Times and The Charlie Rose Show.
The New York Times ran an obituary on Ariel Sharon and a number of opinion pieces all by Israelis (as of now I am not aware that they have run a Palestinian voice on Sharon). Here are a few key gems from the obituary and some notes:
“he stunned Israel and the world in 2005 with a Nixon-to-China reversal and withdrew all Israeli settlers and troops from Gaza. He then abandoned his Likud Party and formed a centrist movement called Kadima focused on further territorial withdrawal and a Palestinian state next door.”
The problem with this narrative is that there is no objective evidence proving that Sharon’s intention with the unilateral disengagement of Gaza was benevolent. We do however, thanks to the very same New York Times, have this tidbit that Mr. Bronner chose not to include in his obituary from Mr. Sharon’s key aide:
”The significance of our disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process,” Mr. Weisglass was quoted as saying in Haaretz, a liberal daily often critical of Mr. Sharon’s government. ”It supplies the formaldehyde necessary so there is no political process with Palestinians.”
”When you freeze the process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state,” Mr. Weisglass added. ”Effectively, this whole package called a Palestinian state, with all it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda.”
Why wouldn’t Bronner include that? Also, there is that other inconvenient truth for Bronner’s narrative. Sharon was perhaps the most pro-colonization Israeli leader ever. I am not only talking about the 1970s and 1980s but all the way through Sharon’s premiership. He presided over the single largest period of expansion in the Israeli settler population, some 75,000, since the Menachem Begin era. That bit of info also didn’t make it into Bronner’s obit. Of course, if it did, it would be hard to reconcile with the unsubstantiated claim that Sharon intended to leave the West Bank to create a Palestinian state. It gets worse in the obit (emphasis added):
”The massacre provoked international outrage, and many Israelis, already despondent that the “48-hour” Lebanon incursion had turned into a lengthy military and geopolitical adventure, were outraged. There were furious calls for Mr. Sharon’s resignation.
Mr. Sharon and Mr. Begin said this was intolerable slander. As Mr. Begin said, using the Hebrew word for non-Jews, “Goyim kill goyim, and they blame the Jews.” Nonetheless, even Mr. Begin started to distance himself from Mr. Sharon, whose political demise began to seem inevitable.
The government established an official investigation of the massacre, led by Israel’s chief justice, Yitzhak Kahan. The investigating committee absolved Mr. Sharon of direct responsibility, but said he should have anticipated that sending enraged militiamen of the Phalange into Palestinian neighborhoods right after the assassination of the group’s leader amounted to an invitation to carnage. The committee recommended his resignation.
Time magazine reported that Mr. Sharon had actually urged the Gemayel family to have its troops take revenge on the Palestinians for the death of Mr. Gemayel. The magazine said Mr. Sharon made this point during his condolence visit to the family. It claimed further that a secret appendix to the Kahan Commission report made this clear.
Mr. Sharon sued Time for libel and won a partial victory in Federal District Court in New York. The court found that the secret appendix, which contained names of Israeli intelligence officers, included no assertion by Mr. Sharon of the need for Phalangist revenge. But it ruled that Mr. Sharon had not been libeled because he could not prove “malice” on the magazine’s part.”
Bronner tells us about Sabra and Shatila toward the very end of a 4,000+ word piece. He presents it in a way where the facts, and Sharon’s role in the events are disputed. He sets up a dichotomy between an official Israeli Government investigation and a US libel lawsuit, as if those two could ever be on equal standing as authorities on actions taken by the Israeli military. He also says that “the investigating committee absolved Mr. Sharon of direct responsibility”, which is very odd since the actual committee’s report says (emphasis added):
We have found, as has been detailed in this report, that the Minister of Defense [Sharon] bears personal responsibility. In our opinion, it is fitting that the Minister of Defense draw the appropriate personal conclusions arising out of the defects revealed with regard to the manner in which he discharged the duties of his office – and if necessary, that the Prime Minister consider whether he should exercise his authority under Section 21-A(a) of the Basic Law: the Government, according to which “the Prime Minister may, after informing the Cabinet of his intention to do so, remove a minister from office.
Why does Bronner tell us that the committee report says one thing when it fact it said the opposite? The entire treatment of Ariel Sharon’s history of war crimes in his obituary in theNew York Times is poorly done, to say the least, and there are several signs suggesting that the reporter intentionally downplays Sharon’s war crimes.
It is important to remember that many questions have been raised about Bronner’s objectivity, in part because his son was serving in the Israeli military as he was reporting about it. That and the public editor of the New York Times saw fit to argue that this conflict of interest should have led editors to take Bronner off the Israel beat. Why editors today saw fit to have him write the obituary is another question all together.
Still another question is what is going through the minds of the bookers and producers at the Charlie Rose show when they were putting together their “appreciation of Ariel Sharon“? Of course, who does Charlie Rose have on to discuss Sharon’s legacy? Ethan Bronner. Who else? Jeffrey Goldberg, the journalist who left for Israel after college in the US to volunteer in the Israeli military as a prison guard during the first intifada.
Is there no one out there without connections to the Israeli military, the very same military that Ariel Sharon committed war crimes while working for, that can objectively discuss the man’s legacy? ANYONE?
The discussion that ensues is everything you’d expect and less. Our helpful interns havetranscribed the segment from last night.
Goldberg calls Sharon “Israel’s greatest warrior hero” , “the sort of tank commander that any Prime Minister would want to have in his corner at a really stressful moment”, “the greatest reckless general Israel had” , “the boldest” , “he was all energy and that energy was always moved forward” , “he wanted to make sure that you were comfortable, that you were happy” . Then, and this is the kicker,in the rare moment of describing Sharon’s barbarism, Goldberg descends into some orientalist drivel. “Ariel Sharon was very Middle Eastern” Goldberg said as he likened the trait of ruthlessness to region, “and I don’t mean that in sort of an enlightened way. “
Yeah, no kidding.
Bronner, for his part, calls Sharon “ruthlessly pragmatic” , “Charming certainly, but a difficult guy who wanted to do it his way” and “a funny guy”.
Funny? I’m sure the victims at Sabra and Shatila didn’t find him funny. Of course Sabra and Shatila was not mentioned at all in the discussion around Charlie Rose’s table. And, even though Bronner mentioned Sharon’s involvement in the Commando Unit 101, whose members he described as “very bright, very capable young people doing these very daring acts” , he never mentions Sharon’s likely earliest war crime as a leader of that unit, the massacre at Qibya. After the Goldberg & Bronner Sharon love fest, the rest of the show featured old interviews with Sharon himself.
What kind of war criminals get this lionizing treatment? The kind, it seems, that get away with it.