Jan 20, 2014
This article is from the January 17th, 2014 edition of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.
After the death of Ariel Sharon on January 11th, the same lies that were uttered when the warlike brute first went into a deep coma eight years ago resurfaced again almost word for word. “The man of courage and peace” celebrated by Bush, Chirac, and Blair remained “the man who knew how to turn toward a dialogue with the Palestinians” (to quote the French President Hollande) or who “took brave and controversial decisions in pursuit of peace,” according to the British Prime Minister Cameron.
The Palestinians, who have long had to endure the violence of the Israeli ruling class, had an entirely opposite view of Sharon.
Already in 1953, Sharon led Unit 101, which specialized in murderous operations such as the massacre in the village of Qibya that resulted in the deaths of 69 Palestinians. In the 1970s, Sharon violently attacked Palestinian fighters in the Gaza Strip, killing more than 100. Around the same time, he expelled thousands of Bedouins from the Rafah region on the Egyptian border, destroying their homes and blocking their wells.
Next came the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, promoted and led by Sharon when he served as Minister of Defense in the government of Menachem Begin. This war, which cost the lives of more than 15,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, remains fixed in the memories of many by the massacres at Sabra and Shatila, two Palestinian camps. These massacres were carried out by the Phalangists, a militia of the Lebanese far right, under the watch of the Israeli Army. At the time, the U.S. mediator Philip Habib had harsh words to say about Sharon, declaring that he was “a killer obsessed with hatred of Palestinians” and adding, “I had promised Arafat that his people [staying in Beirut] would not be harmed. Sharon, however, ignored this commitment entirely. Sharon's word is worth nothing.” Even in Israel, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated against Sharon’s policies.
At the end of 2000, Sharon staged a provocative visit to a Muslim holy site in Jerusalem. The Palestinian revolt that followed marked the beginning of the Second Intifada. Presenting himself as a remedy for the terrorism that he had himself unleashed, he was elected in the 2001 legislative elections. He then started a war in the Palestinian territories, with the siege of Jenin and of the compound in Ramallah where the Palestinian leader Arafat was holed up for months on end. Many Palestinian towns were bombed. The Israeli government continued to build walls and fences of all sorts, such as the infamous “Separation Barrier” that today cuts off the entire West Bank.
Sharon’s decision to pull settlers from the Gaza Strip in no way contradicted his earlier policies. Indeed, Israeli leaders had expected such a retreat for a long time, since the situation in Gaza was untenable for the Israeli Army and it was becoming absurd to station more soldiers there than there were settlers to protect. However, none of the previous governments had the political courage to start such an evacuation, especially not the Labor Party governments. Who better than a right-wing nationalist leader like Sharon to make the settlers accept such a decision with minimal conflict?
But the occupation of the West Bank continued. Day after day, existing Jewish settlements expanded and new ones appeared, absorbing Palestinian land. Settlers raided fields or stole them outright in order to build connecting roads reserved only for Israelis. About 8,500 settlers were evacuated from the Gaza Strip and certain settlements in the Jenin region, while the population of settlers in the West Bank grew by 15,800 at the same time.
The evacuation of the Gaza Strip would certainly not have been enough to confer the image of a man of peace on Sharon if the left had not uncritically supported the policy and helped him build a so-called “centrist” party to replace the right-wing Likud.
This is how a right-wing general with a bloody past came to be presented as a supporter of a peaceful future for the peoples of the Middle East, Israeli as well as Palestinian. A deception of the highest order!