By Ramzy Baroud
The death of former Israeli leader Ariel Sharon enlivened US media’s interest in the legacy of a man considered by many a war criminal, and by some a hero. In fact, the supposed heroism of Sharon was at the heart of CNN coverage of his death on January 11.
Sharon spent his last eight years in a coma, but apparently not long enough for US corporate media to wake up from its own moral coma. CNN online’s coverage presented Sharon as a man of heroic stature, who was forced to make tough choices for the sake of his own people. “Throughout, he was called ‘The Bulldozer’, a fearless leader who got things done,” wrote Alan Duke.
In his article, “Ariel Sharon, former Israeli Prime Minister, dead at 85”, Duke appeared to be confronting Sharon’s past head on. In reality, he cleverly whitewashed the man’s horrendous crimes, while finding every opportunity to recount his fictional virtue. “Many in the Arab world called Sharon ‘the Butcher of Beirut’ after he oversaw Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon while serving as defense minister,” Duke wrote.
Nevertheless, Sharon was not called the “The Bulldozer” for being “a fearless leader” nor do Arabs call him “the Butcher of Beirut” for simply “overseeing” the invasion of Lebanon. Duke is either ignorant or oblivious to the facts, but the blame is not his alone, since references to Sharon’s heroism was a staple in CNN’s coverage.
Sharon’s demise however, and the flood of robust eulogies will neither change the facts of his blood-soaked history, nor erase the “facts on the ground” – as in the many illegal colonies that Sharon so dedicatedly erected on occupied Palestinian land.
Following the Israeli occupation of Gaza along with the rest of Palestine in 1967, Sharon was entrusted with the bloody task of “pacifying” the headstrong Strip as he was the head of the southern command of the Israel Defense Forces. Sharon was dubbed the “Bulldozer” for he understood that pacifying Gaza would require heavy armored vehicles, and Gaza’s crowded neighborhoods and alleyways weaving through its destitute refugee camps were not suited for heavy machinery.
Therefore, he resolved to bulldoze thousands of homes, preparing the way for tanks and bulldozers to move in and topple even more homes. Modest estimates put the number of homes destroyed in August 1970 alone at 2,000. Over 16,000 Palestinians were made homeless and thousands were forced to relocate from one refugee camp into another.
The Beach Refugee Camp near Gaza City sustained most of the damage. Many fled for their lives, taking refuge in mosques and UN schools and tents. Sharon’s declared objective was targeting the terrorist infrastructure. What he in fact meant was targeting the very population that resisted and aided the resistance, for they indeed were the very infrastructure he harshly pounded for many days and weeks.
Sharon’s bloody sweep also resulted in the execution of 104 resistance fighters and the deportation of hundreds of others. Some were sent to Jordan, others to Lebanon, and the rest were simply left to rot in the Sinai desert.
Sharon’s violence was part of an equally disturbing logic. He believed that any strategic long-term plan to secure Israel must have at its heart a violent campaign aimed at disorienting Palestinians. He was quick to capitalize on the Allon plan, named after Yigal Allon, a former general and minister in the Israeli government, who took on the task of drawing an Israeli vision for the newly conquered Palestinian territories.
Sharon recounted standing on a dune near Gaza with cabinet ministers, explaining that along with military measures to control the Strip he wanted “fingers” of settlements separating its cities, chopping the region in four. Another “finger” would thrust through the edge of Sinai, helping create a “Jewish buffer zone between Gaza and Sinai to cut off the flow of weapons” and divide the two regions in case the rest of Sinai was ever returned to Egypt. That legacy disfigured and isolated Gaza, even years after Sharon implemented his policy of unilateral “disengagement” in 2005. He relocated the settlers to other illegal colonies in the West Bank and imposed a hermetic siege on the Strip, the consequences of which remain suffocating and deadly.
Sharon was keen on espousing or exploiting the division of his enemies. He moved against Lebanon in 1982, when the country was at its weakest point, exhausted by civil war. And when Israeli forces finally occupied Lebanon in 1982, as Palestine Liberation Organization fighters were shipped by sea to many countries around the Middle East, a triumphant Sharon permitted his Christian Phalangist allies to enter the defenseless Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps.
In the days between September 16-18, 1982, as Israeli troops completely besieged the camps, the Phalangists entered the area and carried out a massacre that gruesomely defined both the Lebanese civil war and the Israeli invasion, killing thousands of Palestinian refugees, mostly butchered with knives, but also gunned down.
Although Sharon was partly discredited after his disastrous war in Lebanon, Israeli voters brought him back repeatedly, to lead the rightwing Likud party in May 1999 and as a prime minister of Israel in February 2001. The aim was to subdue rebelling Palestinians during the Second Intifada. In fact, it was Sharon’s provocative “visit” to one of Islam’s holiest shrines a few months earlier that sparked anger among Palestinians and, among other factors, started the uprising.
Sharon attempted to crush the uprising with the support and blessings of the US, but he failed. By the end of August 2001, 495 Palestinians and 154 Israelis were killed. International attempts at sending UN observer forces were thwarted by a US veto on March 27, thus paving the way for the Israeli army to thrash its way into Palestinian refugee camps and other areas formerly controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
In March and April 2002, Sharon ordered Operation “Defensive Wall”, which resulted in major military incursions into most West Bank cities, causing massive destruction and unprecedented bloodletting. The Israeli operation led to the killing of hundreds of Palestinians, the reoccupation of major Palestinian towns, the destruction of Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah, and the subsequent besiegement of the Palestinian leader in his barely standing office.
Sharon was no hero. It is time for US media to wake up from its own coma, and confront reality through commonsense and the most basic human rights values. It should not be looking through the prism of the most rightwing, if not fascist elements of Israeli society.
Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).
(Copyright 2014 Ramzy Baroud)
As the United States and the United Kingdom sing from Israel’s songbook, the Arab world is again rising up in protest – this time at the Israeli crimes against humanity again being perpetrated against Palestinians – and anyone else who has remained – in Gaza.
Mainstream media tries to bury the truth of the sequence of events and who is to blame, most shamelessly the BBC, who did not even report the civilian deaths of the son and sister-in-law of one of their own staffers, leaving it to the Washington Post to cover – far enough away, they probably hoped, that few UK readers would see it. But that didn’t stop the Washington Post squealing in the chorus.
Despite their best attempts to entomb the truth, the people of the world have also risen up in support of Gaza, and Palestine.
Israel – and its silly songsters – may find that this time they are way off key.
As Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said in his first address to the nation since the assassination of Ahmad al-Jaabari, Palestinians “will remain faithful to our martyrs’ noble blood.”
“It is only the beginning of our journey,” he warned.
“Armed with our faith, we are confident in our resistance fighters standing in defiance. Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, the Territories of 1948 – it is your battle, your own people, blood, and dignity,” he said in a clear call for unity.
“Yes, we rise in revolt. I hail the unity and united action taken by all factions, we are one people, one front.”
Haniyeh said the Government embraces the Palestinian people, and thanked them for their steadfastness. He also praised the resistance, “our victorious defiant brigades” who remain defending the nation on all fronts.
“We appreciate their fortitude in the face of death and of this ferocious assault. I kiss your hands, our noble fighters.”
The Prime Minister extended appreciation to “all free men and women in the Arab world revolting in our support until this belligerent aggression comes to an end.”
Netanyahu may well have tripped over his own red line, wrapped it around his neck and that of his tone-deaf twins – and strangled his own finale.
Expert in Israeli affairs Dr Adnan Abu Amer said at a press conference in Gaza City today that 100 days out from their elections, Israel is again beating the drums of war. With the prospect of US support for a strike against Iran fading fast, Netanyahu is turning his attention to Gaza in a bid to whip up an excuse for a display of strength, and the resulting votes, particularly from the southern settlements.
At the event held at the Government Media Office, Dr Abu Amer noted the increased presence and duration of the activity of Israeli forces on the Gaza borders, in military exercises that normally last four days to a week but which now persist.
Observing that the Israeli government needs something to increase its popularity with voters, he predicted they will resort to their traditional strategy of spilling Palestinian blood in the name of security.
While Syria, Lebanon and Iran have taken up much of Israel’s attention in recent months, muddying the waters in anticipating a possible Gaza strike, the latest attacks on Al Jihad and Al Qassam could well impact on the Israeli/Palestinian equation, he said.
He mentioned Israeli involvement in the Syrian situation, whereby Israel played a secret role when the internal civilian struggle first began, thus guaranteeing that what it wants from Syria is already happening without costing it anything. This has been followed by the second issue on the Israeli agenda, Lebanon, with the assassination of the Lebanese police intelligence chief two days ago – which many have attributed to Israel because of the meticulousness with which the operation was carried out, suggesting the involvement of highly professional state security services.
Abu Amer suggested that Israel may target one of the Al Qassam leaders to provide the justification it needs to start its war against Gaza.
“ Israeli F16 warplanes have not left the Gaza skies for days, and what they are up to we do not know,” he said.
A surprise attack on Gaza would be the “least expensive option” for Israel both economically and politically, but a land-based military operation is unlikely given the proximity of the southern settlements to Gaza, he considers.
A lightning-strike air offensive would be cheaper, more effective, and avoid dragging the country into a prolonged war during the electoral process. It would also serve the double purpose of creating heroes out of the air force, and of Netanyahu, who would be perceived by voters, especially in the southern settlements, as the emperor of security.
Dr Adnan Abu Amer noted the need for the Palestinian resistance factions to form a united operations team to be ready for any escalation of the situation, and to counter the inevitable asymmetrical warfare whereby Israel mobilises excuses and reasons to market in the external media, thus win over world public opinion against the Palestinians.
“Palestinians have several options to take a united stance to ensure Gaza is not left up for grabs by the hands of the occupation by a busy world which considers other regional issues more important,” he concluded.
Translation: Fatma Al Hasham