“HE’S NEITHER ALIVE NOR DEAD”: THE RESURRECTION OF ARIEL SHARON
By William A. Cook*
Raanan Gissin, Sharon’s former advisor, made the above comment last month as quoted in the Jerusalem Post (20-10-2010) upon the exhibit of a lifelike sculpture by Noam Braslavsky in Tel Aviv. The wax figure shows the comatose Sharon’s chest move up and down “to depict Sharon’s dependence on a breathing machine.” Some have found the work unsettling. “It’s very tragic,” Gissin noted. It’s “only sickening voyeurism,” Kadima MK Yoel Hasson declaimed. Braslavsky created “the sculpture because Sharon has been absent from the public eye for so long,” according to the Post’s article. Regardless, the exhibit has stirred up the Israelis as they are forced to revisit the former PM who is not yet dead.
Coincidentally, this week Christoph Schult published an article in Spiegel Online titled “The Israeli Patient: Searching for Ariel Sharon’s Political Legacy.” While noting that the former Prime Minister has been in a coma now for 5 years, “his presence looms over the country’s political course.” In an effort to explore whether or not the comatose PM would have taken Israel into peace negotiations with the Palestinians or not, he decided to interview Sharon’s sons and selected friends. Sharon’s sons offer little, indeed nothing worth recounting if the article’s lack of quotes is true. But Schult makes this point, “the entire country is living with the consequences of a policy that the former Prime Minister began but was never able to end. It was Sharon who ordered the construction of the security wall … and withdrew the Jewish settlers from the Gaza strip…” But Braslavsky got it wrong; Sharon breathes but lives via a gastric feeding tube. Can he hear? Can he see? Will he recover? No one seems to know for sure. His sons hope he will eventually wake.
So why the curious renewed interest in the former Prime Minister? It seems that the current policies of the Netanyahu administration, the increased vigor in the Knesset as it rams through a series of “thought” legislation, and the uncertainty that surrounds Obama’s ambiguous thrusts and withdrawals regarding his negotiations have shed klieg lights on what Sharon wrought before he fell into the coma. Five years ago I wrote an article, “Hope Destroyed, Justice Denied, The Rape of Palestine,” (11-29-2005) that reflected then, when Sharon first went into the coma, what legacy he left to the Jewish state. It is a legacy of calculated carnage both of the people of Palestine and Judaism; it is imaged in his Wall of Fear that physically imprisons the Palestinians on one side and psychologically imprisons the Jews in fear and victimhood, a true legacy of isolationist tribalism as their efforts to control thought symbolizes. Magnify and multiply the abuses this man inflicted in 2005 by the atrocities of the 2006 Lebanon invasion, the Christmas invasion of Gaza, and the attack on the Marmara, added to those reported in B’Tselem since 2005, and one can understand why this state needs to hide behind thought control and the insulation that protects ruthless self interest. This passage from that article illustrates the point:
“As we moved through month after month of 2005, Sharon’s forces have continued their illegal “targeted killing” of Hamas militants, a short hand way of saying Israel has disbanded the basis of law in the West to reintroduce the law of the ancient barbarian states that granted license to the tribal chief or local tyrant absolute authority to determine guilt without arrest, without issuance of a charge, without counsel, without a plea, and without a court resulting in illegal assassination that goes unnoticed and unpunished in Israel and the United States, the self-extolled bulwarks of Democracy in the world. What hypocrisy. Thus have we come full circle in the mid-east as a new barbarian horde inflicts its merciless power on the innocent as well as the condemned for it inevitably happens, as it did this week, that innocent bystanders suffer the same fate as the object of the extrajudicial execution. The IDF record as reported by the Palestine Center for Human Rights as of January 2004 shows 309 civilians killed as a result of 157 executions. Rule without law, an action approved by the US government and supported by the American tax dollar. Yet no one objects. The above litany of Sharon’s brutality constitutes what is countable in the way of deaths attributable to the illegal actions of the IDF. But there are other consequences to this occupation that are lost to the non-observant eye…”
“The decline in the well-being and quality of life of Palestinian children,” reports Human Rights Watch, “[in the occupied territories] over the past two years has been rapid and profound according to CARE, 17.5% of children in Gaza are malnourished.” Thirteen percent of children between the ages of six months and five years “have moderate to severe acute malnutrition.” Nearly half of Palestinians live below the poverty line. Hospitals are in dire need of basic supplies including water and electricity. Almost ninety percent of the Rafah population depends on food aid. And while malnutrition and poverty imposed by the Israeli oppressors seems hideous enough, it pales in comparison to the reality facing the children as they grow up in the occupation. Dr. Shamir Quota, Director of Research for the Gaza Community Mental Health Programs, makes this observation: “Ninety percent of children two years old or more have experienced some many, many times the [Israeli] army breaking into the home, beating relatives, destroying things. Many have been beaten themselves, had bones broken, were shot, tear gassed, or had things happen to siblings and neighbors.”
Contemplate that statistic, ninety percent of two year olds growing up have witnessed soldiers bursting through the door of their home, rifles pointed at their mother or father, pushed against walls, beaten perhaps, shouted at certainly, cursed we might assume, and left in fear knowing another raid is imminent. What torture is here? This is intentional, calculated, psychological torture, genocidal “mental harm” as described in the UN Convention.
But there’s more. I left Palestine shortly after the “disengagement” from Gaza, a word that masks the reality of that “peace” move by Sharon. There is no disengagement: Sharon’s government owns the sky above Gaza; it owns the fence around Gaza; it owns access and exit from Gaza; it owns sea passage and use of the sea that borders Gaza; and it owns the missiles that it hurls from F-16s into the cities and refugee camps inside of Gaza indifferent to the innocent incinerated by its savagery. The only real disengagement that Sharon authorized in Gaza is disengagement from responsibility under the Geneva Conventions for occupying powers to provide adequately and humanely for the people so occupied. That means Israel does not have to pay for the care of the people who are locked into their prison in this most heinous apartheid on the face of the planet.”
But lest the disengagement plan be observed as an Israeli weakness in light of world opinion against its occupation policies, Israel redoubled its efforts to punish the Palestinians in Gaza.
“Israel’s policy of assassinating wanted Palestinians continued in Gaza following the unilateral withdrawal. The policy was reaffirmed by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Military Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, at a meeting on 8 November 2005. According to statistics from Al Mezan, 47 targeted assassinations took place from 12 September 2005 to 10 September 2006, usually in the form of air strikes on a moving vehicle. Such attacks killed and wounded a total of 25 bystanders; for instance, an attack on 27 October 2005 killed seven Palestinians, including three children, and injured 19 more. Based on Al Mezan statistics, 362 Palestinians in Gaza died as a result of Israeli military attacks in the year following the unilateral withdrawal: 151 from 12 September 2005 to 27 June 2006, and 211 in Operation ‘Summer Rains’ between 28 June and 10 September 2006. The majority of casualties were civilian. The number of attacks escalated over the course of the year. Between 12 September and 31 December 2005, 544 artillery shells were fired into Gaza, and there were 124 air strikes. Between January and April 2006, more than 3,600 artillery shells and 63 air strikes were launched. Most recently, in June alone, there were 1,376 shells fired and 122 air strikes, as well as an explosion on Beit Lahiya beach which a Human Rights Watch investigation attributed to Israel; these recent attacks resulted in the deaths of thirty-six people, including 12 children, and injured 110. (The Disengagement Plan and Israel’s Status as Occupying Power, NGO in Consultation Status with the Economic and Social Council of the UN).
Following Sharon’s withdrawal into the coma, Israeli politicians were faced with determining what actions to pursue: continued disproportionate and ruthless military attacks against Gaza and the West Bank in keeping with Sharon’s policies or withdraw to a more conciliatory posture to appease growing international criticism of that behaviour. It didn’t take long for the world to witness Israel’s answer. The fall 2006 invasion and razing of Lebanon’s infrastructure followed by its merciless killing of over a 1000 Lebanese including the second destruction of Qana village (the first occurred ten years earlier) where 63 Lebanese refugees including 42 children were hunted down, chased from home to home until destroyed. Again, the savage behaviour executed by Israel was meant to demonstrate to the world that Israel was not defeated by world opinion.
But world opinion appears to be having an impact. Neve Gordon notes in “Thought crimes in Israel” (Redress.cc/palestine11-5-2010) that Israel’s Knesset has a raft of laws before it that will “seal Israel’s transformation into a fully fascist state that persecutes and marginalizes everyone who does not subscribe to the official racially-oriented ideology.” (quote from the introduction to Gordon’s article). These measures include swearing an oath of loyalty and allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and to its laws and symbols as a condition for receiving public funding for film projects; for newly naturalized citizens to declare loyalty to the Jewish character of the state (similar Gordon notes to Jews and Muslims in Britain to swear to loyalty to the Church of England); for those protesting against or denying Israel’s Jewish character incarceration can be levelled effectively denying political freedom of speech; for those desiring to live in settlements who do not accept the settlement committee’s political views or religion no recourse is allowed to achieve their end thereby making it legal for settlements to deny access to non-Jews and Palestinians; for those who wish to mark the anniversary of the Nakba, public funds will be denied thus preventing expression to citizens of views that are critical of Israeli actions; for those who wish to encourage boycotts or disinvestment actions against the state monetary penalties will be imposed effectively silencing free speech; for all these measures the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has warned that they would effectively make an alternative political ideology, such as the idea that Israel should be a democracy for all its citizens, a crime.
This then is the legacy of Ariel Sharon: a retreat into self-righteousness that finds fault with all who oppose the Zionist ideology, the isolation within that fears anyone who does not accept the Zionist mindset of force that ensures adherence to rights determined by them to be rights. It is imaged in Sharon’s Wall of Fear that would visually erase their neighbours whom they have erased from their minds as people, to force their citizens to walk the streets, roam the highways, bathe in the sea yet not see one who is different from them though they live in the same land, raise their families under the same sun, drink from the same aquifers, and retire in rest as they watch the sun set over the same sea. But they are not the same if they do not believe what the Zionists believe for there is cemented into that mindset an absolute understanding that they alone determine what will be at any cost regardless of international law or international agreements, and they will use whatever means at their disposal to control all who could or would find fault with their desires and will.
Ironically, the conditions imposed on the Palestinians in their tomb, the benumbed state of their being, the years upon years of isolation and alienation, the loss of sensitivity to the rising and setting of the sun, the loss of friends and family, the loss of consciousness to all that surrounds them since it has been turned to ashes and waste, the loss of memory that gave identity to their being since none know now that they even exist behind the Wall, the loss of their very purpose to live, the loss of hope that has been entombed with them, their dependency on strangers to sustain what life breathes in their lungs is mirrored in the metaphor of Sharon lying in his sheeted shroud as day crowds on day, unable to respond to anyone or anything, entombed in his own flesh, unconscious, as the indifferent are unconscious, to his own plight or that of those he has buried alive.
Shortly after Sharon went into his coma, I wrote a novella (The Chronicles of Nefaria) using this very image of the Prime Minister in his tomb of flesh as a morality tale capturing him in his immobile state reflecting on his past life, suffering the pain that attends all who are indifferent to their brothers and sisters, those who have lost all sympathy for the human condition. Here is a passage from the General as he cries to his attendant nurse, a young girl from the occupied territory (called Elusia in the novella), following a dream:
I hear yet I have no life; everything flows around in sound: the silence, the warm air from the vent, the noise of a car on gravel, the boom of a jet engine, wind outside the window, voices, so many voices, booming ones from down the hall, soft ones like Humilia’s, harsh ones that demand she do this or that, voices I’d like to stifle. Sound, sound only sound. What reality is that? No response; I can make no response. I’m alone, so alone. Oh, if I could only see! Even move a finger, utter a sound, anything to show I’m here, alive, conscious … to touch another.
Humilia! My Angel, where are you? I’ve suffered such a dream, a hellish vision seared into my soul so deeply … my life now, reduced to unending reflection, transforms me into an image of human depravity, decades of days devoted to destruction, desolation and death, the sum purpose of my being … I cannot recall a day when I did not cause the death or torture or demolition of an Elusian life. I travel now in this hellish pit through fields of Elusian dead, their bodies form moguls on which I walk, their eyes staring up at me in disbelief and, yet, with sorrow for me. I move through fields of loss where the air stirs, surrounding me like the gentle pulse of a person’s breath, the breath of life never lived. Nightmarish visions of countless days of thinking without interruption … mutilated faces stare at me, children, children as far as I can see shrouded in the shadows of the massive gray wall, never to see the sun, or know the thrill of running through the hills of Elusia … to have to live in this rumination of my atrocities hour upon hour, to face the punishment of the Almighty, to see and feel the pain and suffering I have inflicted on others … that is a hell beyond comprehension … to live to remember and never die, to relive the insidious toxic beliefs I’ve infested our children with that will be their inheritance forever, a mental and emotional tomb in which they live every day of their life. And, God forbid, to never speak to another, to confess to those deceived and destroyed, to bear witness to this understanding in the awful silence of this vault where I lie alone, the sole arbiter of my acts – without comfort, without compassion, without forgiveness, without end. Oh, God, Humilia, what have I done?
Even as her Patient laments the agony of his abandonment, his awful, never ending torment, the ever recurring images of his brutality toward the Elusians flows forth from some unexplainable depth within, where despair and hopelessness reside, and he cries out to Humilia to talk to him, to sing to him, to touch him, to forgive him that he may rest, relieved of the horrific retribution thrust upon him.
But while Humilia cannot see his torment, she feels the anguishing cry that tears at his mind unable to erupt from his throat, the ancient wail of all who suffer beyond the ears of their sisters and brothers, lost, forgotten, the dying detritus of human waste, known to none, abandoned and forlorn in the shifting sand where even the wind whines like a banshee’s cry drowning the lone lament of the suffering Patient in the abyss into which Nefaria sinks to become only the last of all the glorious empires that live and die in these middle kingdoms where human desire and greed meet their ineluctable end.
Consider what Sharon and now Olmert have constructed. The Wall rests entirely within Palestine while it snakes over hills and valleys, down the middle of streets, carves towns and villages into parts separating people who have lived together for decades, centuries even, confiscates to the Israeli side the aquifers and wells belonging to the people of Palestine, as well as the olive groves and crops belonging to the people, and the arable land that will become the settlers fields and additional settlements for those who never lived a day in Palestine and have no history here, no memories, no culture that is indigenous if two thousand years is considered a measure. Completely surrounded, without access to their fields or mosques or friends or hospitals or employment, they have but two choices, leave or die. They are indeed buried alive by the Jews, a fate less absolute than the gas chamber since they can choose to leave, and leave behind two thousand years of history and land that has given life to generations of family embodied in 1000 year old olive trees summarily ripped from the ground by Israeli bulldozers, leave mosques in which they have worshiped decade upon decade, and leave their memories as those driven from their homes in 1947 lost theirs when their towns were razed and all that had been was no more.
Or they die; a living death that drags on day after day in poverty and need, dependent on those not indifferent to their plight: Israelis that have not capitulated to the wanton waste of human life because they know what victim hood is and recognize it; friends from all countries of the world who care enough to come as witnesses to the humiliation, the degradation, the racism that permeates the settlers and is embodied in the Israeli government; Jews from around the world who decry the inhumanity inflicted by their own on another; and Americans who care because they have faced the same threatened fear that enabled a corrupt and amoral administration to invade and occupy countries against international law. That is their fate.
*William A. Cook is a Professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California. His works include Tracking Deception: Bush Mid-East Policy, The Rape of Palestine, and most recently The Plight of the Palestinians.