Let us not mourn the 'Butcher of Beirut'
For every leader such as Tony Blair, Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu who are praising the life of Ariel Sharon, there are countless ordinary people for whom his name is synonymous with ruthless, brutal anti-Palestinian policies.
The story of Sharon, who died on Saturday aged 85, was in many ways, the story of the state of Israel itself. During the British Mandate, Sharon was a member of the paramilitary Haganah group along with other Israeli leaders to come, including Yitzhak Rabin, Moshe Dayan and Yigal Allon.
The Haganah was instrumental in the 1948 catastrophe, or Nakba, which forced a million Palestinians into refugee camps. It was later re-packaged as an “underground resistance movement” when in fact it carried out a terror programme. It was aimed at both the British and the indigenous Arab inhabitants of Palestine, as Abdel Bari Atwan has noted.
After the Haganah was integrated into the Israel Defence Forces, Sharon headed up its infamous Unit 101, which instigated a rule of terror against Palestinian villagers. In 1953 Sharon led a massacre of 69 Palestinian civilians in the village of Qibya.
During the 1960s when the Palestine Liberation Organisation emerged as a major force, he viewed its leader Yasser Arafat as his nemesis and continued on his mission to destroy any Arab opposition to the state of Israel.
He sent bulldozers into the Gaza strip, uprooting 16,000 people. Hundreds were executed and hundreds more deported. But it was Sharon’s role as defence minister under prime minister Menachem Begin that saw him commit the greatest atrocity of his career.
Expelled from Jordan, thousands of Palestinian refugees and their PLO leadership lived in south Lebanon where they had set up a mini-state. Sharon ordered the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and a massive bombardment of Beirut in which 20,000 Palestinian and Lebanese lost their lives.
Sharon now masterminded the encirclement of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut, fully aware that the fascist Lebanese Phalangist movement would massacre their residents. Some 3,500 Palestinians were slaughtered. For some, Sharon was henceforth known as the “Butcher of Beirut”.
A year later, amidst international outrage, an Israeli tribunal set up to investigate the crime found him “indirectly” guilty of being responsible for the massacre and he was forced to resign his post.
But the words “indirectly” were a whitewash since during the Phalangist attack, BBC monitors picked up an IDF Radio broadcast which said:
The intention is that the IDF will not operate tonight to purge the areas of Sabra and Shatila and the nearby refugee camps. It was decided to entrust the Phalange with the mission to carry out these purging operations.
It would have been impossible for the IDF leaders not to have become aware quickly that the intended “purge” of a small part of Beirut had turned into an indiscriminate massacre. It is documented that the IDF fired flares to help the Phalangists identify their targets.
Sharon was also responsible for assassinations by Israeli security organisation Shin Bet of Palestinian leaders, which he termed Israel’s "continuing war of independence".
By 1996, he had managed to rehabilitate himself, becoming foreign minister under Benjamin Netanyahu. He was elected as prime minister in 1999 and made a provocative visit to the Al Aqsa mosque in occupied Jerusalem, sparking the second Intifada of 2000.
Sharon never disguised his desire to see Arafat dead. He was responsible for surrounding Arafat's compound in Ramallah with Israeli armour. As we know, the PLO leader later died in suspicious circumstances, with plutonium poisoning a strong possibility.
Sharon performed a surprising U-turn and pulled Israeli troops out of Gaza. But rather than any “peace making”, his vision was, as one Palestinian writer notes, of a “total surrender on the Palestinian side and its submission to the dictates of a militarily stronger Israel”. It thus has the effect of making real peace impossible by perpetuating the crimes of past occupation.
Occupied Palestinian land is now criss-crossed with Jewish settlers – over 350,000 in the West Bank while another 300,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem. The Zionist dream of a Greater Israel has become a Palestinian nightmare. Along with the Palestinians, we do not mourn Sharon’s passing.
A World to Win secretary
13 January 2014