Ariel Sharon, after fighting with the Haganah during the Nakba, went on to head up Unit 101, forces whose activities, in the words of Eyal Weizman, “mostly constituted the slaughter of unarmed Palestinian civilians in villages and refugee camps”. On one occasion, they expelled Bedouin in the Negev by “storm[ing] through the encampment firing their weapons at will”. In August 1953, Unit 101 killed an estimated 19 Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, mostly women and children. Later that same year, Sharon’s forces massacred 69 Palestinians in Qibya village.
In his role as head of the IDF Southern Command, Sharon oversaw the demolition of thousands of Palestinian homes in the then recently-occupied Gaza Strip during the summer of 1971. The same year Sharon deported an estimated 25,000 Palestinians from Gaza’s camps to the Sinai. A decade later, as Defense Minister, he led Israel’s brutal invasion of Lebanon and facilitated the Phalange’s massacre of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila.
In the West Bank, he worked hard to colonise Palestinian land, helping to found more than 60 settlements in the late 1970s and early ’80s – settlements built in defiance of international law and described by Amnesty International as “inherently discriminatory” and themselves a “war crime”.
In the Second Intifada, Sharon as Prime Minister sent the Israeli military into Palestinian towns and refugee camps where they killed and maimed hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including many children. Remember the Jenin massacre? The IDF killed at least 22 civilians “including children, physically disabled, and elderly people”. Sharon also began the Apartheid Wall, the internationally-condemned tool of annexation and segregation.
Given all that, consider the following views of Sharon from liberal Zionists or ‘centrists’ responding to his death:
“The first significant indicator that [Sharon] was finally maturing came soon after his election as prime minister, in 2001, with his relatively restrained use of the army and air force during the second intifada.” David Landau
“Sharon deserves credit for the intellectual journey he took during his life and for having the courage to lead.” J Street
“a bold leader who toward the end of his political career…recognized that Israel’s strategic interests lie in an agreement with the Palestinians.” Americans for Peace Now
“If Israel ever does take down the occupation and make peace with the Palestinians, the disengagement from Gaza will stand as a crucial stepping stone on the way. And it was all thanks to one man…” Larry Derfner
People like Ariel Sharon are “real moral heroes – fighters for peace”. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Sharon showed “outstanding gallantry and flair” whose “final major act demonstrated his vision and political boldness in unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza in pursuit of the peace process”. Board of Deputies of British Jews
“Sharon will be remembered as a great leader” and “a man who knew how to change his world-view and recognize the correct path for the State of Israel.” Isaac Herzog (Labor)
There are many other such examples. A common theme was the idea that the withdrawal of settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005 represented a major concession and gesture for peace. Yet how do so many people continue to get this so wrong?
The ‘disengagement’ plan was aimed at freezing the peace process, getting Israel some international applause, and preventing Palestinian statehood. In the words of his senior adviser Dov Weisglass, redeploying from Gaza supplied “the amount of formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians”.
The second aim, as Sharon himself said, was to protect and consolidate the colonisation of the West Bank. He told the Knesset that “whoever wishes to preserve the large Israeli settlement blocs under our control forever…must support the disengagement plan”. To remove a few thousand settlers from Gaza, Sharon argued, would enable Israel to focus its “efforts” on areas like “Greater Jerusalem” and the “settlement blocs”. As Amira Hass has put it this week, “Sharon evacuated a few colonies for the truly grand vision of establishing Palestinian Bantustans.”
The only way this can be spun as a brave move for peace then, is if you are ignorant of the facts, in denial of the facts, or, deliberately choosing to promote a lie for the purposes of Israel advocacy. From mealy-mouthed hints at ‘controversy’ to outright praise, the death of someone like Ariel Sharon shed light on the priorities of those who plead for peace and denounce ‘extremists’ – but whitewash a war criminal who served the ‘Jewish state’.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.