The former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, known as the Butcher, died Saturday. Very few people outside Israel had any knowledge that he was in a vegetative state at the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv since suffering a stroke in January 2006. It’s rather unusual, not incredible though, for someone to have been in coma this long! The 85-year-old former general defied such odds but like any mortal had to eventually die.
Sharon was born Ariel Scheinerman in 1928 in Palestine, which was then under a British mandate. His parents had settled there after fleeing the pogroms in Russia. At the age of 14, he joined the Haganah, the underground Jewish militant organization, specializing in sabotage and guerilla tactics. In the 1940s the group had carried out anti-British operations in Palestine, such as the bombing of the country's railroad network, and sabotage raids on radar installations and bases of the British Palestine police. It also continued to organize illegal immigration of Jews.
Six years later, in 1948, Sharon, as the commander of an infantry company, was already ethnically cleansing the Palestinian people from their ancestral homes when David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization and president of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, had unilaterally declared the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, to be known as the State of Israel, before the British Mandate for Palestine had ended. In August 1953, he founded and commanded Unit 101, a commando unit of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), on orders from Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. The unit was known for raids against Arab civilians and military targets. In one such raid, in the fall of 1953, on the border village of Qibya, Sharon’s men dynamited 45 Palestinian houses and a school and killed 69 people (many of whom were children). Under international pressure, Ben-Gurion publicly apologized for his troops' excesses.
In the 1956 Suez War, Sharon’s Israeli forces spearheaded an attack into the Egyptian territory on the Sinai Peninsula in support of the British and French forces. A total of 260 Egyptian and 38 Israeli soldiers were killed during the battle at Mitla. His troops however were accused of shooting their Egyptian prisoners but Sharon denied any knowledge of these alleged atrocities. This bloody battle was condemned even by Moshe Dayan, army's Chief of Staff, as unnecessarily brutal.
The Mitla incident hindered Sharon's military career for several years. However, when Yitzhak Rabin became Chief of Staff in 1964, Sharon began again to rise rapidly in the ranks, eventually achieving the rank of Major General. In the 1967 Six-Day War when Israel launched a pre-emptive strike on its Arab neighbors, Sharon commanded the most powerful armored division on the Sinai front. In 1969, he was appointed the Head of IDF's Southern Command. He had no further promotions before resigning from the Israeli army in June 1972 to pursue a career in public life. But his promising political career was temporarily put on hold when he was recalled to active service following the October 1973 War against Egypt and Syria. Sharon’s strategy in undermining the Egyptian Second Army and encircling the Egyptian Third Army is regarded by many Israelis as the turning point of the war in the Sinai front.
After the war, Sharon joined the Likud party, which he had helped to create with Menachem Begin – who was considered a terrorist by the British authorities. In December of 1973 he was elected to Israel's parliament, the Knesset, as a Likud member. He served as defense adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin before being appointed minister of agriculture by Rabin's successor, Menachem Begin, in 1977. He greatly expanded the ministry's influence developing a plan for permanent Jewish settlements in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. "I believe that if we establish these settlements," he said at the time, "we will feel sufficiently secure to accept risks for the sake of peace." On his settlement policy, Sharon said while addressing a meeting of the Tzomet party: "Everybody has to move, run and grab as many (Judean) hilltops as they can to enlarge the (Jewish) settlements because everything we take now will stay ours. ... Everything we don't grab will go to them."
He opposed the 1978 Camp David peace accord between President Anwar Sadat and Prime Minister Begin. But he remained, and prospered, in the Israeli government. In June 1982, as the defense minister, he ordered an invasion of Israel's northern neighbor Lebanon to push out the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters who were based there. After two months, 14,000 PLO and Syrian fighters agreed to leave Beirut. But tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees remained behind in camps such as Sabra and Shatila in West Beirut.
Sharon broke his promise given to the Americans and sent his troops into West Beirut, saying that 2,000 PLO fighters were hiding in the camps. Then the fateful event of September 16-18 happened. A day earlier, Lebanon's President-elect, Bashir Gemayel, had been assassinated by a fellow Christian with no PLO involvement. However, Sharon tried to put the blame on the PLO. While his forces surrounded the camps, blocking camp exits and providing logistical support, he let the PLO's foe, the Phalangist Christian militia, to go inside the camps. Nearly 3,300 Palestinian unarmed refugees were massacred in a murderous orgy and many others were raped and tortured. Sharon was called the Butcher. But Sharon refused to accept any responsibility for the tragedy.
The following year an Israeli commission of inquiry (Kahan commission) ruled that Sharon carried personal responsibility for disregarding “the danger” of massacre and failing to prevent it in the camps, and recommended that he resign from office.
In the face of global condemnation, he refused to resign from the government, but stayed in the cabinet as a minister without portfolio (1983-84). In the subsequent years (1984-92), Sharon's political career suffered somewhat; but he did not disappear, and held less important ministerial positions within the government. After Likud's 1999 election defeat, the party chose him to succeed its former leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.
On September 28, 2000, as if by some ulterior design to provoke the Palestinian Muslims to start their Second Intifada, Sharon paid a controversial visit to the holy site in Jerusalem known as the Haram al-Sharif to Muslims. He declared that the complex would remain under perpetual Israeli control. As expected, within six months of that event, he swept into power in February of 2001.
As Prime Minister he fortified Jewish settlements in the West Bank of the Occupied Palestine by erecting an illegal wall, which remains unacceptable to the world community. To the surprise of many hard-core Zionists who believed in their ever expansionist and apartheid policy, he pulled Jewish settlers and troops out of Gaza while maintaining control of its coastline and airspace. This policy was an attempt to define, on Israeli terms, the borders of the state and provide security for Israel, even before a final settlement with the Palestinians. His unilateral measures alienated him from many of the extremists within the Likud Party. Tired of the opposition from within his own party over the withdrawal, in November 2005 he resigned from Likud to form a new centrist party, Kadima.
In December 2005, Sharon suffered a mild stroke. A second, major stroke in January 2006 sent him into a coma from which he never awoke. Israeli press reports say there will be a state memorial service at the Knesset on Monday, after which Sharon will be buried at his private farm in the southern Negev desert.
Like other Zionist leaders, past and present, that has ruled Israel since its unholy birth, Sharon is guilty of practicing its criminal expansionist and apartheid policy that helped to uproot nearly a million Palestinians from their ancestral land and building illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Recognized by many Israelis as a war hero and a brilliant strategist, he would mostly be remembered outside Israel as one more unrepentant war criminal who did not face the International Criminal Court for committing crimes against humanity. The only solace they would have is that there is one less war criminal alive today!