Ariel Sharon: Peacemaker, hero… and butcher
Any other Middle Eastern leader who survived eight years in a coma would have been the butt of every cartoonist in the world. Hafez el-Assad would have appeared in his death bed, ordering his son to commit massacres; Khomeini would have been pictured demanding more executions as his life was endlessly prolonged. But of Sharon – the butcher of Sabra and Shatila for almost every Palestinian – there has been an almost sacred silence.
Cursed in life as a killer by quite a few Israeli soldiers as well as by the Arab world – which has proved pretty efficient at slaughtering its own people these past few years – Sharon was respected in his eight years of near-death, no sacrilegious cartoons to damage his reputation; and he will, be assured, receive the funeral of a hero and a peacemaker.
Thus do we remake history. How speedily did toady journalists in Washington and New York patch up this brutal man’s image. After sending his army’s pet Lebanese militia into the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982, where they massacred up to 1,700 Palestinians, Israel’s own official enquiry announced that Sharon bore “personal” responsibility for the bloodbath.
He it was who had led Israel’s catastrophic invasion of Lebanon three months earlier, lying to his own prime minister that his forces would advance only a few miles across the frontier, then laying siege to Beirut – at a cost of around 17,000 lives. But by slowly re-ascending Israel’s dangerous political ladder, he emerged as prime minister, clearing Jewish settlements out of the Gaza Strip and thus, in the words of his own spokesman, putting any hope of a Palestinian state into “formaldehyde”.
By the time of his political and mental death in 2006, Sharon – with the help of the 2001 crimes against humanity in the US and his successful but mendacious claim that Arafat backed bin Laden – had become, of all things, a peacemaker, while Arafat, who made more concessions to Israeli demands than any other Palestinian leader, was portrayed as a super-terrorist. The world forgot that Sharon had opposed the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, voted against a withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 1985, opposed Israel’s participation in the 1991 Madrid peace conference – and the Knesset plenum vote on the Oslo agreement in 1993, abstained on a vote for a peace with Jordan the next year and voted against the Hebron agreement in 1997. Sharon condemned the manner of Israel’s 2000 retreat from Lebanon and by 2002 had built 34 new illegal Jewish colonies on Arab land.
Quite a peacemaker! When an Israeli pilot bombed an apartment block in Gaza, killing nine small children as well as his Hamas target, Sharon described the “operation” as “a great success”, and the Americans were silent. For he bamboozled his Western allies into the insane notion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was part of Bush’s monstrous battle against “world terror”, that Arafat was himself a bin Laden, and that the world’s last colonial war was part of the cosmic clash of religious extremism.
The final, ghastly – in other circumstances, hilarious – political response to Sharon’s behaviour was George W Bush’s contention that Ariel Sharon was “a man of peace”. When he became prime minister, media profiles noted not Sharon’s cruelty but his “pragmatism”, recalling, over and over, that he was known as “the bulldozer”.
And, of course, real bulldozers will go on clearing Arab land for Jewish colonies for years after Sharon’s death, thus ensuring there will never – ever – be a Palestinian state