Ariel Sharon, who became prime minister of Israel despite a finding that he bore responsibility for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian civilians two decades before, has died at 85 after being in a coma for eight years.
Sharon made a name for himself in 1953 by leading a massacre of Palestinian civilians in Jordan and in 1982, he was Israel’s Defense Minister and led the invasion of Lebanon, during which Israeli soldiers allowed Christian militias to enter two Palestinian refugee camps, Sabra and Shatilla, and massacre hundreds of civilians, including many women and children. Some reports put the death toll at 2,000-3,000.
The Times timeline for Ariel Sharon doesn’t include the words Sabra and Shatilla. The Times obit for Sharon by Ethan Bronner mentions the massacre in the 17th paragraph, but doesn’t detail Sabra and Shatilla till paragraph 63. Fox doesn’t mention the massacre.
Former Israeli prime minister and storied general Ariel Sharon, who was at the height of his power when he suffered a stroke in 2006 and fell into an irreversible coma…
Harriet Sherwood in the Guardian is also respectful. Paragraph 7:
Among Palestinians and leftwing Israelis, he will be remembered as a powerful and reviled champion of Israel’s colonial settlement project, and the political force behind the construction of the vast concrete and steel separation barrier that snakes through the West Bank. Many will not forgive his role in the killing of hundreds of Palestinians in refugee camps in Beirut in the 1980s.
Reuters makes no mention of the Beirut massacre in its short obit of “the trailblazing former Israeli general and prime minister.”
Carlos Latuff’s headline is that the “war criminal dies, unpunished,” with a cartoon at the link of a judge at the Hague expressing disappointment at the empty seat for the defendant. And he offers this visual summary of Sharon’s record:
Dimi Reider at +972 has a good lead:
A general, politician, statesman, and to many a notorious war criminal, Ariel Sharon was known to combine dogged personal ambition with strategic acumen and ruthlessness, which together shaped one of the most controversial and remarkable careers in Israeli political history.
His second paragraph deals with Sharon’s service in a unit Israeli PM David Ben Gurion launched to deal with Palestinian refugee militias in the 1950s. Including the Qibya massacre in Jordan:
As often as not, the attacks were against civilian targets, including refugee camps and villages in the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip and Jordanian-occupied West Bank. One such raid, on the village of Qibya in 1953, culminated in a massacre of 69 civilians who were gunned down as they tried to escape their homes or were buried under the rubble of detonated buildings. The public outcry was so severe that Ben-Gurion initially lied to the Israeli public…
When Reider gets to Sabra and Shatilla, he uses the figure 3000 for the dead and points out that the massacres had no real effect on Sharon’s political career:
Sharon was found by the Kahan Commission to be responsible for the Sabra and Shatila Massacre of over 3,000 Palestinian refugees by Israel’s Lebanese allies, the Phalanges, and was made to resign – although he remained in the cabinet as minister without portfolio. Attempts to bring him to trial in international courts over the massacre went to no avail. Two years later, in 1984, Sharon came close to winning the leadership of the Likud, and returned to his ministerial career, first as minister for trade and industry and then as housing and construction minister. In the latter role, Sharon oversaw the construction of more than 144,000 housing units for Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza.
NPR had a good obit this morning describing Sabra and Shatilla and Sharon’s responsibility for sparking the second intifada with his provocative visit to the Temple Mount in 2000. CNN is also upfront about the massacre.
Many in the Arab world called Sharon “the Butcher of Beirut” after he oversaw Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon while serving as defense minister…
During the Lebanon war in 1982, Sharon, a former army general then serving as Israeli defense minister, was held indirectly responsible by an Israeli inquiry in 1983 for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. He was forced to resign.
Al Jazeera gets to the butchery in paragraphs 3, 4, and 5 of the “divisive” and “controversial” leader’s obit:
The Arab world reviled Sharon for masterminding the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, during which Israel’s Lebanese Christian allies massacred Palestinians in two refugee camps.
Sharon was forced to resign as defence minister after an Israeli inquiry found him indirectly responsible for failing to prevent the killings.
His provocative visit to Islam’s third holiest site, al-Haram al-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary), while opposition leader, was said to have sparked the second Palestinian intifada (uprising) in September 2000.
Abdeen Jabara, former head of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, offers this remembrance of the massacres:
Just after it occurred I went to Beirut to find injured survivors of the massacre of whom there were very few. I went with a nurse to a section of Beirut at night that had no electricity and with flashlights went thru some medical records which I took and copied to send to ADC headquarters so that we could get emergency medical visas for the victims. Ultimately some 15 young Palestinians and a few Lebanese in need of prosthetic devices, etc. came to the U.S for treatment.
While in Beirut I found a pamphlet written by an Israeli, Amnon Kapeliouk, that was published in French that put responsibility for the massacre squarely on the shoulders of the Israelis. The commander of Israeli forces in West Beirut at the time was a person who was removed with Sharon after the Inquiry and later made Military Attache to Washington. I was head of ADC when that happened. We led a big campaign to have him
declared persona non grata and also had a lawsuit filed against him by survivors. The lawsuit was dismissed on the grounds that he had diplomatic immunity. The Military Attache was quietly withdrawn and ultimately appointed to be the head of the Army.
I recall our going to a hotel in D.C. when Sharon came to visit. I got within a couple of feet of him in the hotel lobby and almost wanted to vomit. We had a protest but he was welcomed by official Washington with open arms.
That military attache was Amos Yaron. This report says that Sabra and Shatilla had 2000 deaths.
The withdrawal from Gaza was a unilateral act intended to freeze out the Palestinian leadership and put the peace process itself on ice, so that Israel could deepen its hold on the West Bank.
And guess what? It worked.
in October, when Mr. Sharon led a reprisal raid into a Jordanian town said to be harboring militants after an Israeli woman and her two children were killed in the town of Yehud. Sixty-nine people, more than half of them women and children, were killed in the raid.
Deep in his story, Bronner offers a thorough account of Sabra and Shatilla:
The Israelis decided to secure several West Beirut neighborhoods, including Sabra and Shatila, Palestinian refugee camps where the Palestine Liberation Organization had residual bases and arms and thousands of fighters. But rather than move in themselves, the Israelis sent in the Phalangists, who killed hundreds of civilians. The massacre provoked international outrage, and many Israelis, already despondent that the “48-hour” Lebanon incursion had turned into a lengthy military and geopolitical adventure, were outraged. There were furious calls for Mr. Sharon’s resignation.
Mr. Sharon and Mr. Begin said this was intolerable slander. As Mr. Begin said, using the Hebrew word for non-Jews, “Goyim kill goyim, and they blame the Jews.” Nonetheless, even Mr. Begin started to distance himself from Mr. Sharon, whose political demise began to seem inevitable.
The government established an official investigation of the massacre, led by Israel’s chief justice, Yitzhak Kahan. The investigating committee absolved Mr. Sharon of direct responsibility, but said he should have anticipated that sending enraged militiamen of the Phalange into Palestinian neighborhoods right after the assassination of the group’s leader amounted to an invitation to carnage. The committee recommended his resignation.
Time magazine reported that Mr. Sharon had actually urged the Gemayel family to have its troops take revenge on the Palestinians for the death of Mr. Gemayel. The magazine said Mr. Sharon made this point during his condolence visit to the family. It claimed further that a secret appendix to the Kahan Commission report made this clear.
Mr. Sharon sued Time for libel and won a partial victory in Federal District Court in New York City. The court found that the secret appendix, which contained names of Israeli intelligence officers, included no assertion by Mr. Sharon of the need for Phalangist revenge. But it ruled that Mr. Sharon had not been libeled because he could not prove “malice” on the part of the magazine.
Thanks to Annie Robbins and Ira Glunts for help putting this together. This story initially put Qibya in Jordan. Thanks to a reader for correcting me.