For many people interspersed throughout the politics of the Middle East defending Ariel Sharon is an impossible task. Even bypassing for the moment those who considered him a “war criminal” and an aggressive and narrow minded defender of settlements, Sharon attracts a lot of emotional attention. He is easy to demonize and has been treated with more than his share of abuse and vitriol. He has been portrayed with swastikas and Nazi symbols of all sorts. Characterizing him as a hook-nosed version of Fagan or Shylock is routine for many media outlets.
I accept that Sharon was a tough guy who was a staunch defender of his country and took little reproach from anyone. But a closer look at historical events reveals that he’s been treated pretty unfairly. Again, I would not deny that Sharon was willing to do what he considered necessary but it is interesting to note how the truth or any justifiable interpretation about Sharon has drifted over time. There are three occurrences most associated with Sharon’s reputation for violence. They are the attack on the village Qibya, the second intifada, and the attack on Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. Let’s strike up a little history lesson.
In 1953 Sharon formed a military unit that carried out attacks on Arab villages in retribution for the murder of Israelis. In the village of Qibya he and his unit blew up houses and killed 69 people. Most reports describe this as a mistake and certainly not part of Israeli policy. The attack on Qibya was condemned by Israeli authorities. Moreover describing what Sharon and his unit did as reprisals implies that this was government policy and uncontrolled violence. At the time Israel was responding to the fedayeen who were terrorists no different than today’s terrorists. Israel had a right to defend itself. But the forces around the Sharon’s violent image were building and the Qibya incident simply laid the foundation for future charges.
The Sabra and Shatila incident is most associated with Sharon’s reputation for violence and aggressive reprisal. Sabra and Shatila were Palestinian refugee camps that were the home to various terrorist groups. Those who are truly ignorant of the facts believe Sharon and the Israelis massacred hundreds of Palestinian refugees. But, of course, it was the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia who carried out the massacre. It was considered revenge killing for the assassination of the Lebanese president in a car bomb. Still, Sharon was blamed for “letting it happen.” Sharon had allowed the Phalange to enter the camp because they were supposed to be administrative changes of sorts. Sharon made mistakes and probably should’ve known what sort of violence was about to take place when the Phalange entered the camp. But it remains the case that he was regularly defamed and treated in a very discriminatory manner over the years by a constant drumbeat claiming that he “intended” to kill civilians.
Finally, Sharon was blamed for an intense outburst of violence in the year 2000 because he visited the Temple Mount. This was described as highly provocative and sparking the Palestinians anger because of the holy nature of the Temple Mount. Of course, the Temple Mount is equally as holy to Jews as it is to Muslims and even from a legal administrative standpoint Sharon had a “right” to go there. But, it is true enough, that Sharon visiting the Temple Mount was going to be extremely provocative and one wishes he had exercised more discretion. Yet again, Sharon was painted with a broad brush blaming him for the entire Second Intifada. More than a few Palestinians later explained that the Intifada had been planned for some time and that the violence resulting from Sharon’s visit could have been stopped by the Palestinians at any time. Arafat was more interested in provoking the Israelis than anything else.
Ariel Sharon was a magnet for misdirection and misinterpretation of issues. The reporting about him was often strongly biased and never missed a chance to blame him for something. But even though Sharon supported settlement development and was the father of many current Israeli problems, he will also be remembered in history as one of the “fathers” of the state of Israel.