Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Rumours of Peace.

Few satirists could have conceived of such a scene. It was too perfect in its surreal edge. With Ariel Sharon lying entombed, Tony Blair took his position at the nearby podium and gave one of his usual performances. Sporting a yarmulke, most unnaturally, Tony oozed counterfeit solemnity “The same iron determination he took to the field of war he took to the chamber of diplomacy. Bold. Unorthodox. Unyielding.”

I wander what kind of ‘iron determination’ it takes to slaughter 69 unarmed and defenceless villagers of Qibya. Sharon later claimed that his men had no idea there were still people living in the homes that they were bombarding with gunfire and grenades. It was this sort of conduct that led David Ben-Gurion to dub the young man “a pathological liar”. No doubt the twenty to fifty unarmed and defenceless refugees killed at al-Bureig were witnesses to similar displays of iron. Both took place in 1953 at the hands of Unit 101 led by the departed commander on ‘reprisal’ attacks. We’re talking retaliation for the deaths of two or three people probably. Today the Israeli military still lacks a sense of proportionality, let alone any comprehension of the immorality of revenge. It was just the beginning for young Arik. He would soon be storming across the Sinai alongside Anglo-French forces determined to snatch back the Suez Canal.

Wherever the man went there seemed to be Arabs falling to the ground dead. At the battle of Mitla 260 Egyptians were left dead. The battle became a subject of controversy (a euphemism in common usage) as some claimed Sharon deliberately engaged in unauthorised aggression. General Sharon would later return to the Sinai with Israel’s most powerful forces in 1967 at the battle of Abu-Ageila. Then in the Yom Kippur War, Sharon disobeyed the orders of his superiors and instead set out to engage the Egyptian army across the Suez Canal. In doing so the General initiated a turning point in the war and was set in time as a hero of military might from then on. The fact that the General had graduated by then to terrorizing the inhabitants of Gaza and north-eastern Sinai isn’t so heroic. It went as far as expelling 10,000 farmers, bulldozing their homes, and destroying their farmland to make way for settlement. This is how Sharon earned the title of Bulldozer.

Around this time the Bulldozer had become enamoured with an array of right-wing forces taking shape into what would become the Likud Party. Ever mercurial, Sharon jumped at the chance to advise a Labour Zionist government before attempting to stand as the Likud candidate for 1977 only to find he wasn’t the favourite. He had been refused any support by mainstream parties, so he founded a small party to win himself a seat, and managed to barter his way into Begin’s Likud government. Sharon was the Minister of Agriculture for 4 years before being promoted to Minister of Defence. That was his proper place after all. Notably, as right-wing as Menachem Begin was he did believe in the rule of law to some extent and torture almost stopped for 4 years. The hiatus came to a close when the Bulldozer became Defence Minister.

The new Defence Minister had his priorities in order. Time interviewed Sharon and he showed no time for throat-clearing and spoke bluntly “I believe that the starting point for a solution is to establish a Palestinian state in that part of Palestine that was separated from what was to become Israel in 1922 and which is now Jordan.” He had known from early on that the Palestinians had to be restricted to cantons in order for settlements to be expanded further and further. The end was an Israel with its territory stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. But he knew he could not do this alone.

When it came to regional power Lebanon became the battleground for Israel and Syria and the various forces aligned to either side and those caught in between. The General took the side of the Maronite Christian militias and especially the Phalange Party founded by Pierre Gemayel out of admiration for Hitler. The aim of a client state in Lebanon was what spurred Sharon to action. Then came the massacre at Sabra and Shatila. It just so happened that the camp of Palestinian refugees was under Sharon’s watchful gaze when the Phalange came to flush out the “terrorists”. The Israeli troops stood by and watched for nearly 3 days as the rampage snuffed the life out of 1,700 human beings. Bold. Unorthodox. Unyielding.

This is a rather light overview of the atrocities Sharon committed. Why then would he be heralded as a ‘peacemaker’ exactly? Anyone with this record would expect to never hold such a prominent position ever again. He lost his job after much protest, but he bided his time. After the failures of the Labour governments of the 1990s and amidst the Second Intifada the old man took advantage of the rightward lurch overtaking the country. He pledged no negotiations with the Palestinians until the Intifada ended. The so-called “peace plan” that Sharon proposed, and partially initiated, amounted to relinquishing 42% of the West Bank and establishing a ‘security barrier’ (longer than the Berlin Wall) to annex around 50% of the occupied territories. To this end Sharon reinvented himself as a man of peace and transferred around 9,000 Gaza settlers to the Negev and the West Bank. It’s clear what the real prize was in his mind.

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