His finest hours: On Sharon’s murderous legacy

From the Qibya massacre, to Sabra and Shatila and the dirty tricks, lies and deceptions that made the West Bank settlements what they are today, Ariel Sharon has caused unimaginable damage to Israel, its army, morality, and political life.

(Translated by Sol Salbe)

His finest hours: On Sharon's murderous legacy
President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon laugh together during their joint press conference in the Rose Garden Tuesday, July 29, 2003. (Paul Morse/White House Photo)

On Saturday night, as soon as  Ariel Sharon’s death became known, our hyperactive education minister, Shai Piron, rushed to announce that teachers would devote part of the following day’s lesson to Sharon’s legacy. These classes would be based on prepared outlines which were supposed to be distributed in the morning. You can get a really good idea of what the minister really thinks of his teachers and how desperate he is for publicity from this announcement. How long would it take a teacher to properly prepare such a lesson? How long would it take teachers to study the material not included in the presentation?

Meanwhile, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich rushed to instruct police to open an investigation into the publication and posting of announcements expressing joy at the death of Sharon. “This is despicable,” fired up the minister, “and I have no intention of letting the matter rest. I strongly disapprove of such criminal behavior and I have requested that the police command address the matter quickly and professionally.” Oy!  The public security minister does not know his job. It is not the role of the police to enforce conformity of thought, but rather to investigate actual violations of the law. Expressing joy over the death of a person is not breaking the law, even if it annoys a lot of desensitized oafs.

So here are a few words about Sharon’s contribution.

This is Ariel Sharon as we must remember him: a killer from his youth. He served as the commander of Unit 101, which carried out a series of war crimes, as its members began to admit years later. One of the most well-known was the “reprisal operation” on the West Bank village of Qibya. (Its official name was Operation Shoshana, named after Shoshana Kanias whose murder alongside that of her children was the reason given for the operation.) The operation command, written by Sharon in advance of the raid, stated that its goal was to “attack and conquer the village of Qibya, and the achievement of maximal killing and damage to property.” His order was carried out in full, and 69 Palestinian civilians were murdered in their homes. Sharon and his men would later contend that they did not notice the inhabitants when they blew up their homes. This argument is, well, somewhat inconsistent with the order’s wording — something that Sharon would only admit decades later.

His finest hours: On Sharon's murderous legacy
Inhabitants of Qibya coming back in their village after its attack by israeli forces, October 1953.

In the beginning of 1955, one of his Sharon’s subordinates, Meir Har-Zion, alongside three other members of Unit 101, went on a private revenge attack in Jordan. Har-Zion murdered members of a Bedouin tribe who were suspected of murdering his sister. Sharon knew about the revenge attack and according to some testimonies, even gave Har-Zion the weapons that he ended up using. Neither Har-Zion nor Sharon were ever tried for the killing.

Around the same time, Sharon sent some paratroopers to rough up Uri Avnery, editor of the oppositional newspaper Haolam Hazeh, which had raised the ire of the Ben-Gurion’s corrupt regime. It isn’t clear whether the latter was aware or unaware of Sharon’s plans, or merely gave a wink and a nod for the attack.

Three years after Qibya, Sharon led the Paratroopers Brigade into an unnecessary battle at the Mitla Pass in the Egyptian-controlled Sinai Peninsula. He never received authorization to attack the narrow pass, so he persuaded the high command to allow him to send a “reconnaissance patrol” to the area. Instead, he sent a whole battalion. The result was a battle in which 38 paratroopers died in vain. The IDF’s well oiled machine rushed to bullshit the public, convincing everyone that it was a heroic battle, which indeed it was, omitting the fact that it was the most unnecessary of that war’s battles.

Away from main focus of the fighting, one of Sharon’s subordinates, Arieh Biro, a company commander in Battalion 890, murdered dozens Egyptian POWs. Later on, he regretted not having bothered to remove the ropes that bound the hands of the prisoners after the murder, which enabled the Egyptians to deduce that they were murdered upon capture. Biro continued his army career and reached the rank of brigadier-general. No one bothered to find out what Sharon knew of the massacre.

On the eve of the Six Day War, when the government showed signs of standing up to the army brass’ pressure to go to war, Sharon proposed that the General Staff carry out a military coup. His impression was that such a coup would be welcomed with a sigh of relief by the government. The proposal was taken off the agenda without any discussion, but Sharon was not tried and executed for treason, as required by law.

The Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War were Sharon’s finest hours, when he was revealed to be a brilliant tactician. Nevertheless, both the government and the General Staff soon discovered, in Ben-Gurion’s inimitable words, that he had not been weaned off telling untruths. The military victories catapulted Sharon into the political arena. No one talks about his deliberate neglect of the Bar Lev line out of personal contempt for static defense during his time as GOC Southern Command.

As agriculture minister, and even more so as defense minister, Sharon became the father of the West Bank settlements as we know them today. He holds the copyright for many of the dirty tricks, lies and deceptions that accompany all Jewish construction beyond the Green Line. He shoved settlements here and there like headless nails, knowing with certainty that the inability to extract them is the very obstacle which would prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. These headless nails, which guarantee eternal conflict, are Sharon’s most indelible legacy.

In 1982, Sharon, with extensive support from the IDF, misled the Israeli government and embarked on a much larger campaign in Lebanon than that envisaged by his colleagues. The goal of the campaign — expelling the PLO from Lebanon and dealing a deadly blow to Palestinian national aspirations — was presented to the public as a quick-fix operation of short duration, with the express purpose of removing the Palestinian Katyusha rockets from the border region. Somehow, the public was duped into forgetting the fact that a ceasefire between Israel and the PLO had been kept for 13 months, and was only violated when Israel attacked PLO bases located in Palestinian refugee camps, from the air.

The war became the most divisive event in Israel’s history until that point. The lies being put out by the IDF, Sharon and the government were so farfetched that they were exposed as ridiculous within a short time. The media, of course, jumped to attention. The best example was the conquest of Beaufort castles: since Sharon informed Begin that Israel took no casualties during that operation – it is not clear if he was mistaken or lied per his usual habit – and Begin repeated it to reporters, no newspaper dared challenge the prime minister’s word. Anyone who wanted to know what happened needed to read the death notices.

As far as large segments of the Israeli public were concerned, the war reached its nadir with the massacre in Sabra and Shatila. The notion that it was a massacre committed by Christians against Muslims has been very well inculcated in the minds of the Israeli public. Technically it is true – but in the process of accepting that interpretation, some critical facts were made to vanish, including: the IDF armed those who carried out the massacre; the IDF surrounded west Beirut; the perpetrators made their way into west Beirut at the invitation and with the assistance of the IDF; IDF artillery fired flares which facilitated the massacre and later on the helped the Phalangists conceal the bodies.

The massacre shocked the Israeli public. Then came that mythological demonstration of 400,000 people, and eventually the government was forced to establish the Kahan Commission of Inquiry. It concluded that IDF officers knew about the massacre in real time and failed to act decisively to stop it. The commission recommended that Sharon be held responsible and resign his post. Sharon declined, and the government considered rejecting the commission’s recommendations. A demonstration calling on Sharon to resign was held in Jerusalem. A lynch mob attacked it with unprecedented violence. Toward the end of the demonstration, small-time crook and right-wing activist Yona Avrushmi, tossed a grenade into the gathering. One demonstrator, Emile Grunzweig, was killed, while seven others were injured. When the wounded were taken to the hospital, the mob attacked them inside the emergency room.

The impact of Grunzweig’s murder forced the government to remove Sharon from office. He spent the next two decades in the party’s backwater, continuously plotting his next move. Following Netanyahu’s resignation as head of the Likud in 1999, Sharon quickly took over the helm of the party. He became prime minister soon after the start of the Second Intifada – of which he, through his provocative tour of the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif, was one of the catalysts.

The years 2001-2004 were years of major bloodletting. More Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks under Sharon’s watch than at any other time. Sharon fought a cruel battle of attrition. His goal was to crush the Palestinian Authority and grind the Oslo Accords into dust. On his orders, every Hamas terrorist attack was followed by an IDF attack on the PA’s facilities and personnel. The blood of Israelis was flowing like water on top of the alter of Sharon’s not-so-quiet population  transfer. His other goal: a body blow to the Palestinian middle class, forcing them to flee.

It was still too early to say whether this strategy has achieved its goal. The amount of blood, Jewish and Palestinian, that Sharon was willing to shed to subdue the Palestinian Authority was phenomenal. But in the middle of it all, Sharon found himself with an unexpected problem: his corrupt deeds over the years were coming home to roost. The State Prosecutor’s Office was trying to find out how the hell Sharon’s son, Gilad, received three million dollars from building contractor Dudi Appel to surf the Internet. Appel was later convicted of bribery.

Hard pressed by the investigations and the erosion of Israel’s international status, and concerned about the increasing popularity of the Geneva Initiative, Sharon hit the road running with his Gaza Disengagement Plan. The goal was a faux withdrawal in order to prove that a withdrawal was impossible. Sharon refused to negotiate with the Palestinians on the issue, even after Arafat died and was replaced by Mahmoud Abbas. He insisted on a unilateral move, and subsequently, a Hamas victory. It was not a bug in the system: it was the central feature.

On that path, Sharon needed to confront the settlers. They, who used to admire Sharon, soon discovered what life was like when a lying, crushing bulldozer turned around over them. Sharon ignored his defeat in the Likud Central Committee. He managed to push the Disengagement Bill through the Knesset – and in the process forced Netanyahu to vote for it four times, after the latter was defeated on the night of the “banana coup” (a failed attempt to remove Sharon) – and simply went on with the implementation. When Chief of Staff Moshe “Boogie” Ya’alon told the media that the withdrawal would aid terrorism by “providing it with a tailwind,” Sharon did not blink, and Ya’alon became one of the few chiefs of staff whose term was not extended into a fourth year.

But fools love power, believe in it and nurture it to grow: following the Disengagement, war criminal Ariel Sharon became Israel’s hero. He was the media’s idol. It rewarded him with one title after another. He was somewhat less admired in the Likud, but then he split the party up, forming Kadima — an ideologically challenged skeleton of a party, tailor made to Sharon’s measurements.

That was Sharon’s last maneuver. Shortly thereafter, following opinion polls showing that Kadima was slated to win about 50 seats in the Knesset, he suffered his first stroke. As usual, his courtiers lied and said everything was fine. A month later, Sharon suffered a second stroke .

And now he has finally died after long years of unimaginable damage to Israel, its army, morality and political life -after long decades of shedding innocent blood. To a large extent, Israel’s media hurried to sweep away much of what is written here. It would annoy readers. They may stop reading. It’s not good for circulation.

Such is the stuff beautiful legends are made of.

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