With the recent reports of Ariel Sharon’s deteriorating condition, I was looking forward to his ultimate demise, but not out of morbid anticipation of seeing the end of a truly evil man. Sharon left this world years ago in a most undeserved manner when he fell into a coma at a reasonably old age without ever facing genuine punishment for his long list of murderous crimes. At least Pinochet suffered the indignity of house arrest in London for more than a year and an aborted criminal prosecution when he returned to Chile.
Sharon’s effective death in 2006 notwithstanding, his long vegetative state delayed his obituaries for years, and I was most anxious to see how his death would be covered in mainstream outlets like the New York Times. I expected the Times to embellish his “courageous” 2005 Gaza “withdrawal,” but how would the Times treat the “highlights” of Sharon’s mass murdering terrorism, such as Qibya in 1953 and the 1982 Lebanon War? As it turns out, Ethan Bronner’s Times obit was worse than I could have imagined.
Let’s take Qibya, about which much has been written since Sharon’s death. Sharon led a unit of Israeli soldiers in a “reprisal raid,” also known as mass murder, in revenge for an attack that killed an Israeli mother and her two children in Tel Aviv. Rather than make any attempt to track down the actual perpetrators, Ben-Gurion opted for random lethal violence. When Sharon’s unit massacred 69 civilians in Qibya, earning condemnation from all corners of the globe, including the US, Ben-Gurion falsely denied any involvement of IDF troops, invoking, you guessed it – the Holocaust – to justify the mass murder. He claimed it was Israeli civilians, many of whom were “survivors from the Nazi concentration camps,” who understandably wreaked revenge on Qibya after enduring cross-border raids. Sharon added the lie that he thought the destroyed houses were empty and was shocked to learn afterward that people had been killed. According to Wikipedia, Israeli historian Benny Morris reported that contemporaneous documents reveal that Sharon personally ordered his troops to achieve “maximal killing and damage to property”, and there were post-operational reports of clearing houses with grenades and gunfire.
Bronner, in his Sharon obit, whitewashes this atrocity, actually referring to it as “the battle of Qibya.” Where did he come up with that? There isn’t even a dispute about whether this was a “battle” rather than a massacre. It wouldn’t have surprised me if Bronner gullibly believed Sharon’s claim that his intent was to teach the Arabs a lesson by blowing up empty buildings, but to describe an army’s slaughter of civilians as a “battle” is gratuitously perverse.
As an aside, Sharon’s lame excuse should sound familiar. When Sharon as PM in 2002 ordered that a one-ton bomb be dropped on a Gaza building to kill Selah Shehadeh of Hamas, the bomb predictably killed 14 others, including eight children, who also happened to be sleeping in the building. Sharon initially expressed no remorse, calling the operation “one of our greatest successes.” After international outcry at the collateral damage (what a horrendous phrase!), Sharon allowed that if he had known about the children sleeping in their own home, he would have “postponed” the assassination. I guess he “checked” the building for other occupants just like he checked the 40-plus houses in Qibya.
As for the 1982 Lebanon War, Sharon was slapped on the wrist for his role in the Sabra/Shatila massacre (Ethan Bronner – was it the Battle of Sabra and Shatila?), but earlier that summer Sharon’s army relentlessly pummeled Beirut in an act of premeditated mass murder that indiscriminately slaughtered untold numbers of civilians. Bronner’s sole reference to this terror-bombing speaks of “saturation bombing of Beirut neighborhoods”–a five-word phrase in a much longer sentence not about Sharon’s brutality, but the Reagan Administration’s disenchantment with Sharon and Israel.
What a whitewash! There is a word that is commonly used for indiscriminate attacks against civilians to make a political point. It’s called “terrorism.” In fact, it is impossible to fashion a coherent definition of the word that would not include the Qibya massacre, the shelling of Beirut, and any other number of Sharon’s crimes. Of course, there is not a single reference even to an allegation of Sharon’s “terrorism” in the Bronner piece. (The only use of the word is when Bronner says: “And there were many episodes of Palestinian terrorism inside Israel.”) It’s not as though the Times has a policy of refraining from use of the word because it necessarily breaches some code of objectivity. In her 2004 NYT obit for Yasser Arafat, the not-yet-disgraced Judith Miller used “terror”-related words at least 11 times, all in descriptions, hers or others’, of the actions of Arafat and Palestinians. (And now Miller eulogizes Sharon as a “lion”).
Bronner descends into outright historical fiction when he claims that in October, 1973, there was “a shocking invasion by Egypt and Syria.” Invasion? Of Israel? Not quite. Egypt and Syria did launch this attack, but it was upon Israeli troops located in occupied Egyptian and Syrian territory. It was not an invasion of Israel. The distinction is not a mere technicality. Sadat had famously offered to discuss a land for peace agreement with Golda Meir, who rejected the idea out of hand. The Yom Kippur War to regain the territory lost six years earlier in ’67 was the result. Bronner was similarly sloppy a few years ago, when his Times article stated that Israel launched its 2006 invasion/bombing campaign against Lebanon after “an Iranian-backed Islamist group was lobbing deadly rockets into Israel with apparent impunity.” That, too, was completely untrue. These are important mistakes about the causes of wars that should not be made, and it is hardly surprising that Bronner’s mistakes are all in the same direction.
Bronner refers to Sharon’s role in constructing the “security barrier” in the West Bank, giving it high marks on two grounds: “It not only reduced infiltration by militants into Israel but also provided the outline of a border with a future Palestinian state, albeit one he envisioned as having limited sovereignty.” The barrier’s role in “reducing infiltration” is extremely dubious at best, but how could Bronner laud the achievement of “providing an outline of a border with a future Palestinian state”? The barrier cuts deeply into land universally recognized by almost every country on Earth to be Palestinian, not Israeli. To the extent that it provides a future border, it is an act of naked aggression and brazen land theft.
As expected, Bronner praises Sharon’s withdrawal of settlers and troops from Gaza as a “Nixon-to-China” move. But Sharon’s top aide, Dov Weissglas, famously explained:
The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress. The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.
This revealing quote has been repeated over and over again through the years. Is Bronner really unfamiliar with it? Or did he think it not relevant to put Sharon’s Gaza “withdrawal” in context?
Relatedly, Bronner has nothing but glowing praise for Sharon’s transformation from warrior to statesman and the legacy that was cut short by his stroke. However, it is clear to him who would have been at fault had Sharon not been felled. It would not have been Sharon himself, whose record in opposition to negotiation was matched by only by his love of brute force. No, according to Bronner, it would have been Arabs and Persians who would have posed obstacles to Sharon’s peace-making:
“But even if he had stayed healthy, his plans might have been interrupted by the rise of the militant Palestinian group Hamas, the 2006 conflict with the militant group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and increased concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.”
Of course, it would have been shocking to read an all-out condemnation of Sharon in the Times obit. But Bronner owed his readers, and Sharon’s victims, a more accurate assessment of the accusations against him and better attention to historical truth.
Finally, let me quote Alan Dershowitz. He loves to make the “joke” that Arafat’s death was “untimely”: “If not for Arafat’s untimely death — I say untimely because if he’d only died four years earlier, there might be peace today in the Middle East and there might be a Palestinian state.” LOL, Alan. It would be just as tasteless to talk about Sharon’s untimely death – untimely because if he’d only died 68 years earlier, many thousands of ordinary citizens might have lived out their normal life spans, and perhaps tens of thousands of their descendants would be alive today. At least that statement would have the virtue of being arguably true, as opposed to the nonsense about Arafat.