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How can they call Ariel Sharon a "man of peace"?
The history of "The Bulldozer"

January 13, 2006 | Page 4

HADAS THIER looks back at the history of a war criminal.

THE LIKELY imminent death of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his certain departure from political life has been the occasion for a flurry of media-sponsored whitewash and hypocrisy.

George Bush jumped at the opportunity to lavish praise on this supposed "man of peace."

Characterized by the mainstream media as a "strong-willed pragmatist"--or at worst, a "controversial figure"--the kid-gloves treatment for Sharon is in stark contrast to the abuse piled on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat when he died just over a year ago. "In a better world, the PLO chief would have met his end on a gallows, hanged for mass murder much as the Nazi chiefs were hanged at Nuremberg," wrote right-wing Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby at the time.

But today, no one in the mainstream media is commenting on Sharon's long record of what can only be described as war crimes. Instead, the speculation is on the fate of the "peace process" without Sharon, which has opened up further opportunities to take potshots at the Palestinian Authority's failure to lead a state on slivers of land that are barely under their jurisdiction.

Even some progressives who always opposed Sharon seemed to be pulling their punches.

In a confusing statement through the Institute for Public Accuracy, liberal Middle East expert Phyllis Bennis, "Sharon's passing from the political scene will likely result in a virtually complete stall in diplomatic action in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--and certainly an end to any pressure on Israel from Washington to construct a true peace with Palestinians...The Bush administration [is losing] its closest and most reliable ally in the region, and the future of Palestine and Palestinians remains at risk."

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SHARON IS being seen today as the man who led Israel's "disengagement" from Gaza and who left the right-wing Likud Party to form the "centrist" Kadima Party. But if it can really be said that Sharon has moved to the "center" of political discourse in Israel, this only highlights how narrow the debate is in Israeli politics.

Sharon was praised for his "courage" in standing up to the fanatical settlers who he had removed from Gaza. In reality, disengagement left the Palestinian population of Gaza sealed off, with Israel still in control of its land, sea and air. Meanwhile, thousands more housing units were built for settlers in the West Bank, with settlements to be annexed under the very same disengagement plan.

Rather than a step towards peace, disengagement deals the final death blow to the "peace process" begun by Israel and the Palestinians a decade earlier. As Sharon adviser Dov Weisglass put it, the disengagement plan allows Israel "to park conveniently in an interim situation that distances us as far as possible from political pressure."

For those with a memory that goes back even five years, the chief signal of Sharon's return to mainstream Israeli politics was a march on the Muslim holy site al-Haram al-Sharif in 2000. Flanked by more than a thousand armed police, Sharon wanted to provoke a response--and give Israel the pretext to crush Palestinian resistance in the current Intifada. or uprising.

Sharon's subsequent election as prime minister began years of stepped-up repression. In one of many vicious assaults, an unknown number--possibly hundreds--of Palestinians were killed in Jenin in 2002 as part of Israel's "Operation Defensive Shield." Human Rights Watch documented the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) use of Palestinians as human shields, bulldozers razing entire districts, helicopter strafing civilian homes and ambulances barred from entering the killing zone.

Then there's illegal construction of the apartheid wall through Palestinian lands in the West Bank. In Jerusalem alone, the wall will permanently cut off 55,000 Palestinians from their jobs, schools and hospitals.

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BUT IF the U.S. media have amnesia about Sharon's current tenure as prime minister, memory loss about the more distant past is much deeper. Sharon--nicknamed "the Bulldozer," after his preferred method of clearing Palestinians off their land--has an extensive and brutal record of war crimes spanning more than 50 years.

Before the state of Israel was formed in 1948, Sharon joined the Haganah, an underground military organization formed by the Labor wing of the Zionist movement.

In 1953, he was given command of the infamous Unit 101, whose official mission of leading "retaliatory" strikes resulted in the terrorizing of Palestinians.

Unit 101's first documented assault took place in August 1953, when 50 refugees were killed at the El-Bureij refugee camp. The following October, Unit 101 descended on the Jordanian village of Qibya, where 45 houses, a school and a mosque were blown up, killing 69 people.

According to United Nations observers, "Bullet-riddled bodies near the doorways and multiple bullet hits on the doors of the demolished houses indicated that the inhabitants had been forced to remain inside until their homes were blown up over them."

Sharon would later write in his biography, "While civilian deaths were a tragedy, the Qibya raid was also a turning point...[I]t was now clear that Israeli forces were again capable of finding and hitting targets far behind enemy lines...[W]ith Qibya, a new sense of confidence began to take root."

Sharon continued to be a major player in the IDF during all of Israel's wars. In the 1956 Suez War, he led the initial attack through the Sinai Desert. Though Sharon's paratroopers were accused of executing prisoners of war and he was disciplined for disobeying orders, by 1967, he had become a top general.

With the 1967 war--the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Sinai Desert and the Golan Heights--Israel had succeeded in furthering its territorial goals of a "greater Israel."

But not without resistance. The highest level of Palestinian organization against Israel's occupation was in Gaza--and as the head of the IDF's southern command, Sharon was charged with "pacifying" the area.

As Phil Reeves wrote in the Independent newspaper, "In August 1971 alone, troops under Mr. Sharon's command destroyed some 2,000 homes in the Gaza Strip, uprooting 16,000 people for the second time in their lives. Hundreds of young Palestinian men were arrested and deported to Jordan and Lebanon. Six hundred relatives of suspected guerrillas were exiled to Sinai. In the second half of 1971, 104 guerrillas were assassinated."

In 1977, the newly formed right-wing Likud Party won the national elections. Sharon served as minister of agriculture, where he was in charge of confiscating Palestinian land and developing Israeli settlement policy. By 1981, Sharon's policies had taken over 31 percent of the land area of the West Bank. Forty new settlements were built, tripling the Jewish population to 18,000.

Settlers were given a high level of autonomy--and were able to transfer from their army units to the settlements, creating militias with an "extensive array of government issue weaponry." This fanatical population grew up with Ariel Sharon as their hero.

Sharon was promoted to Defense Minister in 1981 and wasted no time in taking charge. By 1982, he was leading Israel's invasion of Lebanon, with 80,000 troops, 1,240 tanks, 1,520 armored personnel carriers, and heavy air bombardment, including the use of napalm. Sharon told his officers that Palestinian neighborhoods in Beirut should be "utterly destroyed."

During the three months of the invasion, the IDF, working with the right-wing Phalangists in Lebanon, slaughtered as many as 40,000 Lebanese and Palestinians. Some 100,000 were seriously wounded, and half a million were left homeless.

At the end of the war, with the PLO clearly routed, Israeli forces surrounded the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps for Palestinians. Israel's Phalangist allies--using Israeli equipment, and with IDF soldiers looking on--killed every man, woman and child they could find. About 3,000 Palestinians were butchered in three days.

Later, an official Israeli board of inquiry found Sharon "indirectly responsible" for the massacre and urged his resignation. Sharon resigned his defense post, but maintained a position of "minister without portfolio," which allowed him an ongoing and prominent presence in Israeli politics.

On the eve of Sharon's election as prime minister in 2001, journalist Robert Fisk--one of the first reporters to enter Sabra and Shatila after the massacre--wrote: "Yes, those of us who got into Sabra and Shatila before the murderers left have our memories. The flies racing between the reeking bodies and our faces, between dried blood and reporter's notebook, the hands of watches still ticking on dead wrists.

"I clambered up a rampart of earth--an abandoned bulldozer stood guiltily nearby--only to find once I was atop the mound that it swayed beneath me. And I looked down to find faces, elbows, mouths, a woman's legs protruding through the soil. I had to hold on to these body parts to climb down the other side.

"Then there was the pretty girl, her head surrounded by a halo of clothes pegs, her blood still running from a hole in her back. We had burst into the yard of her home, desperate to avoid the Israeli-uniformed militiamen who still roamed the camp; coming in by back door, we had found her body as the murderers left by the front door."

These are the words with which Ariel Sharon ought to be remembered. Every tribute paid to him as a "man of peace" is an insult to the untold number of Palestinians whose lives he's ruined.

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