Ariel Sharon: a man without a conscience

Issue 

By Steven Katsineris

Ariel Sharon has re-entered the government of Israel. Sharon is minister of national infrastructure, which includes energy, land management, railways, roads, mines, water and settlement roads in what Israel calls the Palestinian territories.

He was born in Palestine in 1928, grandson of a Russian migrant family and the son of farmers. When he was 13, his father gave him a knife. Sharon remembers, "The knife was symbolic, to protect ourselves from our enemies. It was a lesson I have never forgotten."

His first military experience began when he fought in the underground Haganah, the largest of the Zionist groups that fought to seize Palestine in 1948, creating the state of Israel and dispossessing the native Palestinians.

At the age of 22, he led commando units that specialised in behind-the-lines raids and forcing Palestinians to flee their homes.

By the 1950s, he had become a major and formed an elite "anti-terrorist" group called Unit 101. Operating without uniforms, the group, nicknamed "the avengers", met Palestinian resistance attacks with institutional terror. The group carried out outrage after outrage, in terror raids across the Israeli borders, into refugee camps and villages.

In one notorious attack on Jordan in 1953, Unit 101, under Sharon's command, slaughtered 69 civilians, over half of them women and children, when they blew up their homes in Qibia village.

Two years later he was reprimanded for giving logistical support to four young Israelis who took random blood revenge on Bedouins for Arab attacks on Israeli settlements. By this time Sharon was a lieutenant colonel in the Israeli army.

The independence of Unit 101, its murderous methods and the free hand given to it by the political establishment led to strong resentment among other sections of the military leadership.

In the 1956 Suez war, Sharon disobeyed orders and sent his paratroopers into the Mitla Pass in the Sinai desert. In doing so, he deceived his superiors, sacrificed his men for no apparent military purpose and gained the displeasure of the Israeli chief of staff, Moshe Dayan. Four of his junior officers accused him of sending men to their deaths for his own glory.

Sharon's military career went into eclipse. But in 1964, the then chief of staff, Yitzhak Rabin, resurrected him. Sharon served Israel well again in the 1967 war and afterward was given the job of pacifying the Palestinian resistance in the occupied Gaza Strip. With a brutal policy of repression, of blowing up houses, bulldozing large tracts of refugee camps, imposing severe collective punishments and imprisoning hundreds of young Palestinians suspected of being fighters, he managed to decrease resistance activity dramatically.

In the 1973 war, as a reserve general, he was recalled to command a division. He led a strike across the Suez Canal, behind Egyptian lines, and this made him a national hero.

Like so many Israeli military men, he then went into politics and was elected a member of the Likud bloc in the Israeli parliament. In the first Begin Likud government, he was minister of agriculture and settlements. In politics he applied the same fanaticism and many of the same techniques he used to control the Gaza Strip. Sharon became the champion and architect of Israeli settlement in the West Bank, causing a settlement boom.

Sharon's settlement campaign was one of the keys to Likud's re-election in 1981, as he was credited with making swift and permanent progress in establishing a perpetual Israeli presence on the West Bank. After the election, Begin appointed Sharon defence minister.

It was said in Israel that Sharon was "a war looking for a place to happen". The war in Lebanon was planned and executed by Sharon.

In early 1982, he made a visit to the Phalange Party (Lebanese militia organisation) to coordinate long-held plans for the coming conflict. Israel was to support and supply the Phalangists, an authentic fascist party, formed in 1936 after the founder had returned from a visit to Hitler's Germany.

Sharon believed that the demoralisation of the Palestinians would be complete if he inflicted a crushing military defeat on the PLO in Lebanon.

As for Lebanon, Israeli's aim was to establish a Phalangist government which would then make a treaty with Israel. Phalange Party leader Bashir Gemayel said that his party wanted every Palestinian civilian out of Lebanon, and Israel wanted them scattered among the other Arab countries.

In order to rationalise the invasion and the bombing of civilians, Begin and Sharon went to great lengths to dehumanise the Palestinians. Begin declared emotively, "If Hitler was sitting in a house with 20 other people, would it be correct to blow up the house?". In a speech tot the Knesset, Begin described Palestinians as "beasts walking on two legs". Sharon described Palestinians as "bugs" while their refugee camps were"tourist camps".

On June 5, 1982, tens of thousands of Israeli troops poured across the border and fought their way up the Lebanese coast. Heavy Israeli sea, air and land bombardment had a devastating impact, laying waste to a substantial portion of southern Lebanon.

The cities of Sidon and Tyre were a scene of desolation, with much of the cities levelled by Israeli tank and artillery shells. Palestinian refugee camps around Tyre and Sidon bore the brunt of the colossal destruction.

Ain Hilweh (Sweet Spring), the largest Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon with 25,000 residents, was razed. Nearly half a million people were made homeless by the invasion.

One week later, Israeli forces laid siege to Beirut, shelling, bombing and trying to break stiff Palestinian and Lebanese resistance. By the end of July, the Lebanese government (as well as church and aid groups) stated that at least 14,000 people had been killed and twice that number seriously wounded. Over 90% of those killed were unarmed civilians.

After three months of war, an agreement was reached under the sponsorship of US envoy Philip Habib. The PLO pledged to withdraw its fighters from Beirut, after receiving US and Lebanese government promises that multinational forces would secure the safety of the Palestinian and Lebanese civilian population. And Israel would not enter Beirut.

The last contingent of defenders left the city on September 1, 1982. Two days later, the Israeli army occupied a new position at the southern entrance of the city and thus dominated the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila. The USA did nothing. On September 7, the Israeli army advanced again, and again the USA did not react. On September 15, the Israeli army entered Beirut, just after the departure of the US marines, who had stayed only 16 days.

Ariel Sharon declared that Israel had entered Beirut in order to dislodge 2000 Palestinian fighters who had remained in the city. The task of purging the camps Sharon had given to the Phalange.

The same day that Israel occupied Beirut, the chief of staff of the Israeli army, Raphael Eytan, quoted in the Israeli daily Ma'ariv, stated that only a handful of fedayeen fighters remained with their families, as well as a small staff of the PLO bureau. General Drori telephoned Ariel Sharon and told him, "Our friends are going to the camps. We have coordinated their entry." Sharon replied, "Congratulations, our friends' operation has been approved".

So the massacre of defenceless Palestinian and Lebanese civilians began. Whole families were murdered, many raped and tortured before being killed. Because many bodies were heaped into lorries and taken away, or buried in mass graves, the exact toll will never be known. It was estimated that at least 2000 people were killed.

After an international outcry, Israel established an inquiry headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Kahan. Despite its shortcomings, the commission's report was a damning indictment of Sharon and a number of his colleagues. The commission said that Sharon had received intelligence warnings that the Phalangists might go on the rampage if allowed into the camps. "In our view, even without such a warning, it is impossible to justify the minister of defence's [Sharon's] disregard of the danger of the massacre."

"... responsibility is to be imputed to the minister of defence, for having disregarded the danger of acts of revenge and bloodshed by the Phalangists against the population of the refugee camps and having failed to take this danger into account when deciding to have the Phalangists enter the camps.

"In addition responsibility is to be imputed to the minister of defence for not ordering appropriate measures for the prevention of the massacre." (Kahan Report)

The commission's conclusions constituted the minimum that could be deduced from the evidence. The facts warranted a finding of more than just indirect responsibility:

  • The Phalangists militia was "ordered" into the camps by Israeli chief of staff, Lieutenant General Raphael Eytan.

  • Phalangist commanders met with General Amir Drori, commander of Israeli troops in Lebanon, and General Amas Yaron, commander for West Beirut, to "coordinate the militia's entry into the camps and arrange communications".

  • The Phalange were given logistical support by the Israeli army during the massacre.

  • The Phalange took orders, salaries and training directly from Israel.

Sharon and the Israelis knew that the Phalange leaders planned to expel most of the Palestinians from Lebanon by committing some atrocity.

The Phalangists were at all times under Israeli army orders. "Only one element of Israeli Defence Forces will command all forces in the area", revealed the Kahan report. The Israeli head of intelligence quoted commented, "This means that all forces in the area, including the Phalangists, will be under IDF command and will act according to its instructions".

Sharon had a free hand and was able to do what he did because he ruthlessly executed Begin's and Israel's policies.

Sharon is but one example in the Zionist leadership, a product of a racist ideology that values military and political skills above morality and human rights. Zionism and the establishment of the colonial settler state have required violence in order to remove the Palestinian people from their homeland.

While Palestinians and some Israelis view Sharon as a murderous thug, large numbers of normal Israelis look to him and other Israeli leaders to maintain Zionist control. n