Ebrahim Moosa – Opinion | 12 Janaury 2014/10 Rabi ul Awwal 1435
It is hard to praise a man whose living, and dying, provoked so much hatred and revulsion.
After the extermination of hundreds of refugees in Lebanon under his watch in 1982, he earned the ire of the world and of Israelis themselves, 400 000 of whom took part in the largest demonstration ever seen in Israel, and called him a murderer.
When, in 2000, he defiled Masjid al Aqsa, the third Holiest site in Islam, he stoked deep-seated Palestinian frustrations giving rise to the second Intifada and a global Muslim uproar.
And when he died yesterday, dozens of Palestinians took to the streets again – this time to celebrate, hand out candy, ululate, and set fire to his portraits.
Yet, lingering somewhere within me, I am forced to admit a reluctant sense of acknowledgement for Ariel Sharon.
No, it certainly has nothing to do with his bulldozing, warmongering and other blood-thirsty ways. But even as someone who would consider themselves a staunch adversary of the Zionist regime, Sharon’s example is a vivid illustration of somebody who, throughout his life, singemindedly pursued a vision he believed in, albeit it be an unjust one.
Over the last few days, I have come to learn that pretty much everything that justice loving people the world over find vile about Israel has the fingerprints of Sharon all over it.
As Kevin Connolly observes on the BBC, Ariel Sharon’s life was intimately entwined with the life of the country he loved from the moment of its birth. Aged just 14, the young Sharon joined the Haganah, the underground Jewish terrorist organisation which was the forerunner of the Israeli army. In the decades that followed, he went on to fight in all of Israel’s five wars, become the country’s minister of agriculture, defence and eventually its prime minister.
In the analysis of Eitan Haber, Sharon was the man who designed Israel’s defense map. He was the one who largely determined the State’s borders and the Israeli way of life as they are today. “The State of Israel was created – more or less, for better or for worse – in his image,” he writes.
So Barack Obama, and the parade of world leaders behind him, who yesterday mouthed eulogies for the former Israeli strongman, are not fundamentally wrong: Ariel Sharon was “a leader who dedicated his life to the State of Israel.”; he was “a hero to his people” throughout “a life dedicated to the State of Israel,” both as a soldier and a statesman (Ban Ki Moon); he was “one of the most significant figures in Israeli history” (David Cameron); he was ”one of the architects of modern day Israel and one of the nation’s staunchest defenders” (Stephen Harper); and he did indeed “give his life to Israel — to bring it into being, to sustain and preserve it.” (Bill Clinton).
But that is precisely where the truth telling ends. There is certainly no veracity to the now oft-repeated mantra(first expressed by the dubious character of George W. Bush in 2002) that Ariel Sharon was “a man of peace”.
The days leading up to the announcement of his death, and the hours that have followed it, have witnessed a sustained campaign to whitewash the ‘bulldozer’s’ blood-stained track-record and cast this merchant of war as somebody who took ”brave and controversial decisions” for the sake of peace.
“Sharon will be remembered for his political courage and determination to carry through with the painful and historic decision to withdraw Israeli settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip,” said the UN’s Ban Ki Moon, referring to the controversial 2005 disengagement initiated by Sharon.
“He sought to bend the course of history toward peace,” US Secretary of State John Kerry would have us believe, “even as it meant testing the patience of his own longtime supporters and the limits of his own, lifelong convictions in the process.”
The primary evidence for suggesting this makeover, in almost all cases, is Sharon’s much feted withdrawal of Israeli settlers from Occupied Gaza. However, Tony Karon (and numerous other commentators) have called this bluff now for almost a decade. The “disengagement” was designed to “freeze,” rather than activate, peace.
Sharon himself described his plan as “a harsh blow to Palestinian dreams” and aspirations, rather than any movement towards fulfilling them. And his top political aide Dov Weisglass fleshed out the strategic rationale in an an interview with Haaretz. The plan, said Weissglass, “supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” By pulling out of Gaza and unilaterally redrawing the boundaries, Weisglass said, “you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem.”
It needs to be remembered that Sharon was a vehement opponent of the deal offered by Ehud Barak at Camp David and was one of the Oslo Accords most effective critics.
According to Robert Fisk, Sharon had opposed the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, voted against a withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 1985, opposed Israel’s participation in the 1991 Madrid peace conference – and the Knesset plenum vote on the Oslo agreement in 1993, abstained on a vote for a peace with Jordan the next year and voted against the Hebron agreement in 1997. Sharon condemned the manner of Israel’s 2000 retreat from Lebanon and by 2002 had built 34 new illegal Jewish colonies on Arab land.
Karon says the disengagement, “was conceived as a way of bypassing any international pressure to resume political negotiations with the Palestinians, redrawing the political map in ways calculated to neutralize U.S. pressure to continue any version of the Oslo process, and most importantly, to create a security, political and diplomatic environment favorable to reinforcing Israel’s long-term occupation of East Jerusalem and its most prized settlements in the West Bank.”
Unfortunately, far too many decision makers and journalists were simply not astute enough to spot this veneer. But they can be forgiven. Ariel Sharon was more shrewd and calculating than many of them would ever imagine. Everything he did was borne out of a deep-seated loyalty and belief in the ‘ideals’ of Zionism that meant that, in his mind, perpetuation of Israeli existence had to reign supreme.
This includes his supposed dabbling in ‘peace-making’.
As Jonathan Cook writes, Mikhael Warschawski of the Alternative Information Centre once described Sharon as one of only two “political visionaries” in Israel’s history, along with the country’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion.
According to Warschawski, Sharon explicitly refused to accept that the 1948 war that established Israel was over. As a result, he rejected efforts to define the extent of Israel’s territorial ambitions.
Instead, Sharon upheld a view that “the borders are wherever Israelis plant the last tree, or plough the last furrow”. It was a philosophy of creating change through ‘creating facts on the ground’ and stealing as much land as possible from the Palestinians.
Cook quotes the late Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling as stating that Sharon’s goal was to create conditions that “lower Palestinian expectations, crush their resistance, isolate them, make them submit to any arrangement suggested by the Israelis, and eventually cause their ‘voluntary’ mass emigration”.
While Sharon would earn notoriety around the globe for his bloodletting, the intimate accounts of his life published over the last few days have afforded me additional cause to despise the extent of evil he epitomized.
Through his founding of a secretive “retribution squad”, named Unit 101 that carried out reprisals against Palestinian fighters in the 1950′s and 60′s, was born the doctrine, still extensively applied by Israel today, that Israel’s enemies including civilians should be harshly punished and that its civil infrastructure is fair game.
This outlook was most candidly expressed by Sharon’s son Gilad during a 2012 Israeli assault on Gaza, when he called for ‘decisive’ action against the Palestinians.
“The residents of Gaza are not innocent, they elected Hamas. The Gazans aren’t hostages; they chose this freely, and must live with the consequences,” he wrote.
“There is no justification for the State of Gaza being able to shoot at our towns with impunity. We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.
“There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a ceasefire.
Were this to happen, the images from Gaza might be unpleasant – but victory would be swift, and the lives of our soldiers and civilians spared.”
The elder Sharon would stop at nothing, not even deceit, to achieve his ideals. In a conversation with the American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg he spoke gloatingly about a false flag mission to Gaza he captained during his fighting days.
“Once, we captured a Lebanese fishing boat,” he recounted. “We filled it with Lebanese food and newspapers and we put our soldiers in it, dressed as Arabs, who spoke Arabic. And they landed on the beach in Gaza, and the Palestinians hid them. They thought they were their people, fugitives. And we were pursuing them ourselves, making believe they were hunted terrorists. The Palestinians took them to meet an important group of terrorists in the northern part of the Gaza district. And when they met them our soldiers killed them. Then they were evacuated out of Gaza. You have to think of things like that. You have to be creative.”
Throughout his political career, Sharon also used various governmental positions to work out his grand vision of entrenching Israeli sovereignty over historical Palestine. In 1998, he urged young settlers to “run and grab as many hilltops as they can” from the Palestinians. His land grabbing connivings eventually earned him the epithet ‘father of the settlements’.
And adding further credence to the allegation that Israel is an Apartheid State, Sharon publicly expressed the view that the South African Bantustan model was the most appropriate solution to the Middle East conflict.
Writes Goldberg, “If there has been one theme to Sharon’s life, it was relentless, aggressive expansion: forward, always forward. I spent enough time with him to know that the manner in which he ate — he could vacuum up vast quantities of food — corresponded to the way he conquered territory.”
For those still wondering what Sharon would have achieved were his life not sapped by his fatal coma, there lies a clear register in what he still managed to perpetuate despite his incapacity and death: An asphyxiating Apartheid Wall, burgeoning illegal settlement activity and unbearable conditions of siege and occupation in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem.
Yet, it is telling that as the bulldozer’s roar now grinds to a whimper, so does the steam of the Israeli occupation seem to be running colder. As Harber attests, Sharon was the person who influenced the shape of the State of Israel as it is today more than any other person of the last few decades. He did it with defense, he did it with the settlements, he did it with relations with the countries of the world and with the relations between Israelis. “Arik Sharon,” he concludes, “was the State of Israel, for better or for worse”.
As things stand, it appears to be more for the worst.
Just this week, it was reported that an international campaign to boycott Israeli settlement products as a punishment for apartheid policies had rapidly turned from a distant nuisance into a harsh economic reality for Israeli farmers in the Occupied West Bank’s Jordan Valley.
“The damage is enormous,” said David Elhayani, head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, which represents about 7,000 settlers. “In effect, today, we are almost not selling to the (Western) European market anymore.
Separately Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid, warned in an interview that “a continuation of the existing situation[of isolation] will hurt the pocketbook of each of us,” particularly by hitting exports.
An award winning journalist whose commentaries have appeared in most major newspapers of the world, Max Blumenthal wrote in the days leading to the announcement of Sharon’s death, that Arik made for a perfect symbol of Zionism: “kept alive…by a complicated network of ventilators and feeding tubes”
In the hours following his passing, many have opined that Sharon’s death is timely reminder to Zionists that the Zionist project itself is similarly at death’s door.
The upbeat Palestinians handing out candy on the streets of Gaza certainly do believe so.
Said Fadi Abu Shab, a Palestinian who took part in the celebration, “today we handed out sweets over the death of the criminal Sharon, the killer of children, women, young people and the elderly. His death is a message to the rest of the Israeli murderers that they will soon face a similar fate.”
Musab al Braim, another Palestinian, also expressed joy over Sharon’s death. “This is the preface for the demise of the Israeli entity,” he declared. “It’s the right of all Palestinians to express joy over the death of this murderer.”