Ariel Sharon’s war

In 1982, Ariel Sharon was Israel’s Defense Minister.  Yasser Arafat was the head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which was then acting as a government in exile.  Two of the biggest refugee camps in which Palestinians who had been driven out of their homes in Northern Galilee had found shelter were Sabra and Shatila in West Beirut, Lebanon.  These camps were the natural bases of the PLO.

In September of that year, Sharon took advantage of the chaos triggered by the assassination of Lebanon’s president-elect Bashir Gemayel to invade Beirut.  But his real targets were the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, which had been rendered defenseless when the PLO fighters agreed to leave West Beirut, precisely to free Lebanon from the pressure of Israeli air raids.  The Israelis saw these camps as the spawning ground of terrorists.

The wily Sharon used Lebanese Christian Phalangist militias and other mercenaries to accomplish one of the most shocking massacres of innocent civilians in modern history.  In 3 days of operations, nearly 3000 Palestinians were rounded up from their camps, shot, and buried by bulldozers under tons of rubble to make it appear they had died as part of the collateral damage of a civil war.

One of the most gripping accounts of this massacre was a book written by a Singaporean woman surgeon, Dr. Swee Chai Ang, titled “From Beirut to Jerusalem.”  Dr. Swee had come to West Beirut from London where she was based to work as a volunteer orthopedic surgeon at the Gaza Hospital near the camps.  I dug up her book recently to know more about Ariel Sharon, and what I read convinced me even more that what is happening today in the Palestinian areas of the West Bank is a repeat of the 1982 massacres designed by the same butcher who is now Israel’s Prime Minister.

Reflecting on these events, Dr. Swee wrote: “I had thought the old people could retire when the PLO went, and the children could grow up – instead of having bullets put through their heads, and having their throats slit.  I was a fool, a real fool.  It had never occurred to me that this would happen.  It was a grim moment.  I felt forsaken by God, by men, by a world without conscience.  How could little children suffer the agony and the terror of watching scenes of torture, of their loved ones being killed, of their homes being blown up and bulldozed over?  For these children, the mental scars, the psychological wounds would probably never heal.  It was one thing to die suddenly.  It was entirely different to watch loved ones being tortured and killed, while awaiting one’s own turn.”

“Who was responsible for all this?  It mattered little to me who pulled the trigger.  It was who had organized the whole operation – and directed it.  The Israelis were obviously responsible…. It was meaningless to say that they had nothing to do with the massacres, because the killings happened precisely as the Israelis invaded West Beirut with the declared intention of flushing out Palestinian ‘terrorists’.  The Palestinian refugee camps had undoubtedly been their main objective.  But it was not obvious that the individuals who had walked into the camps to slaughter defenseless people were Israelis.  So what?  They took orders from the Israelis.  They were fed on Israeli food, and they read Israeli newspapers.  They were mercenaries of the Israelis.  The camps were illuminated at night by Israeli flares shot into the sky above them, so that the murderers could get on with their crimes.”

Global outrage greeted the news of these massacres.  As responsibility for these atrocities became clearer in the days following the Sabra-Shatila events, Israel responded by sacking Ariel Sharon as Defense Minister. But it is perhaps a disturbing testimony to the significant support within and outside of Israel for the violent solution he espouses that today this man is his country’s Prime Minister.

It is one of the supreme ironies of history that Israel, a nation that was carved out of Palestine in 1948 to serve as the homeland of a people that had worn exile and persecution like a face, should find itself playing the role of persecutor.   Surely the Israelis of today must know that the Holy Land has always been a home to many religions, and that the same Palestinians they now regard as outsiders to Israel have been among the Holy Land’s ancient peoples.

Ariel Sharon’s war of physical extermination against the Palestinian people exploits the same racist bigotry that the Nazis under Hitler mobilized in Germany to rationalize the elimination of 6 millions Jews during WW2.  It is as if the holocaust gave birth to a dark twin that now seeks to avenge its own persecution.  Israel’s present war against terrorism also rides on the same insecurities that fuelled the Tsarist persecution of the Russian and Polish Jewry towards the end of the 19th century.

Worldwide solidarity with the plight of the Jewish people gave the new Jewish state of Israel the moral warrant it needed after 1948 to defend its right to exist in a hostile Arab environment.  After it successfully proved in 1967 that it could also take on militarily all its Arab antagonists, Israel, backed by American arms and money, quickly metamorphosed into an arrogant regional power.

Today it is difficult to imagine Israel as a nation that emerged from a history of persecution.  In the eyes of those who sympathize with the dream of an independent Palestinian state, Israel has become an arrogant persecutor of other nations.


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