There is a social taboo on cursing the dead. But in the case of Ariel Sharon, there is a general consensus that he was a brutal thug and people are saying that openly. I struggle to say something about the man without betraying my utter disgust with his legacy of warmongering and power grabbing. “Brutal thug” is the nicest descriptive I find in the kindness of my heart to fling at the man in parting. I look at the cherubic smile on his bulldog face in this picture and wonder what makes it evoke such revulsion deep in my soul.
The man had a physical presence that was difficult to dismiss, a corpulence of bovine proportions that lent credence to the Palestinian mothers’ usage of his name to threaten their misbehaving babies. I never met Sharon in person. Yet every time I saw him on TV I had the urge to use the standard Boy Scout trick when threatened by a wild boar or an angry bear: to project an expanded body image myself by spreading my arms up with a sheet or a coat hanging from them while banging vigorously on a pot to intimidate the wild animal and drive it back from me.
Then I get an inkling of a rationale for my hateful attitude: Sharon nearly tricked me into choosing to abandon my native home. My wife, an American citizen, and I had another option to living in Israel. With his rapid climb to prominence in Israel’s political life we made a well thought-out plan, or so we thought at the time: If and when Sharon gets to lead Israel, we would leave, we promised ourselves. When the time came and the man’s inevitable rise to Israel’s premiership materialized we sat and reassessed our commitment again. Quickly, we concluded that in making our previous calculations we had evidenced undeserved trust in the Israeli electorate. Israel as a whole was becoming a sinister collective and it was a mistake to have placed our trust in it. In weighing our steps we had made a mistake in giving the reins of decision-making on our future to a society that defined itself as exclusive of us in the first place. We were not Jews and the vast majority of Israel’s citizens saw the state of Israel and its society as Jewish and understood that to exclude the likes of us. Whichever way we looked at it and hard as we tried it was impossible to balance the contradiction of a “democratic and Jewish state.” It just was too heavy at the base for us to balance it on its head so that we would fit in it. It left us out in the cold. So how had we dared put our future in the hands of an apartheid society mired deeper by the day in the violence, blood and slime of occupation of our brothers and sisters. The sweetest recurrent wet dream of Zionism had always been to dislodge me off of my native land. And here I was putting the decision on my sacred right to live on my land in the hands of Sharon and his fascist fans. What an illogical decision had my wife and I made! We reversed that decision on the spot and set ourselves a much more challenging goal: to help expose the falsity of Israeli democracy to the world and to challenge the world to meet its moral responsibility vis-à-vis the lie.
It can be said in Sharon’s defense that he was innocent of any sense of right or wrong. His acts of violence seemed to be like those of an unthinking being, not unlike a slug’s unawareness of what its actions might do to others. Or even like those of an inanimate object, an independent robot programmed to do harm. Not only that the concept of right and wrong didn’t count in calculating the outcome of its actions but that such concept wasn’t there in the first place. It gave the man a certain appearance of innocence, almost like a child’s. Except that a child displays readiness to learn, a quality that invites lecturing, reprimand and punishment. Here there was a self-evident uselessness of such interventions. The man did what he did because violence and harming others was in his nature not because he willed it.
Blood didn’t seem to soil Sharon’s hands. His hands were always that way; it was part of his constituency. Very early in his military career, the grand master of Israel’s independence saw through Sharon clearly and advised him to abandon his studies and to pursue his natural bent for killing. Sharon never forgot or changed the track that Ben Gurion set him on. He went on from Qibya to Gaza to Sabra and Shatilla to Jenin, When his murderous legacy clashed with accepted international standards of behavior, the world had to adjust itself to his reality: Israel’s Labor government under Barak sent a thousand policemen and fired 1.3 million bullets in October of 2000 to guard him on his provocative visit to Al-Aqsa grounds. Belgium changed its laws to get him off the hook of Sabra and Shatilla war crime. And president George W. Bush praised him as a “man of peace.” Sharon just took it all in his stride and continued killing Palestinians and Arabs. His admirers saw all of this in a positive light. To them he was not a scary beast but a step beyond in lacking blame: To them he was a machine: They called him “The Bulldozer.” In my imagination the apt simile took hold when he, in the form of a D-9 Caterpillar, went over Rachel Corrie with the blade once, then reversed to verify the kill.
Clearly, the man lacked a conscience. But what does that say about all the world leaders and media commentators who continue to pile accolades on the dead war criminal? Perhaps it just shows how low the world had sunk in its efforts to observe proper diplomatic protocol. But what does it say about Israel as the country that had chosen him as its leader and that continues to follow in his path to this day? After all, Netanyahu and Lieberman are practicing what Sharon had preached. Except that Sharon’s style of random violence is now being codified as Israeli law and adopted as mainstream policy.
All in all, John Kerry, the American Secretary of State, summed up the man’s legacy accurately: “Ariel Sharon’s journey was Israel’s Journey.” With America, as personified in its current president for example, spouting off its automotive mantra of “Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, has the right to defend itself,” Sharon’s journey has become America’s journey as well. It is on its way to becoming the world’s journey.