* David Landau: (the former editor of Ha’aretz, and biographer of Ariel Sharon): “The ‘disengagement’ from Gaza in 2005 was Israel’s first practical act of decolonization since Prime Minister Menachem Begin – like Sharon, from the Likud party – withdrew Israeli troops and settlers from the Sinai following a treaty with Egypt. Sharon’s withdrawal was much more significant because it was intended to lead to a peaceable partition of the Holy Land itself. To Begin, such ideas remained taboo until the end of his life… No wonder many Israelis continue to pine for an alternate reality in which Sharon remains a vital presence.”
* David Landau: “This was not a sudden whim on Sharon’s part. The first significant indicator that he was finally maturing came soon after his election as prime minister, in 2001, with his relatively restrained use of the army and air force during the second intifada. His critics feared that the hawkish Sharon would send the army in full force against Palestinian terrorist groups, causing a blood bath in the West Bank. It did not happen.”
* Michael Zantovsky: (senior Czech diplomat and biographer of Vaclav Havel): “Sharon was not the rightist zealot he was made to appear by the legions of his opponents. He was never permanently affiliated with any political party and, as a matter of fact, in the course of his career he pretty much flirted with every political party of note on Israel’s nationalist center-right, liberal center, and socialist center-left, including the Labor Party… He was not an Arab hater. As a farmer who worked the land in southern Israel he came into close contact with many Israeli Palestinians and Bedouins and was apparently able to communicate with them in the way that the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem elites could not… He was not a humanitarian interventionist by any stretch of imagination but neither was he the ‘butcher of Beirut’.”
* Tom Gross: I was Jerusalem correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph at the time the second intifada broke out. I wrote a sentence along the lines “Some have accused Likud opposition leader Ariel Sharon of triggering the violence by visiting the Temple Mount, a site holy to Jews and Muslims, although many say the violence was pre-planned.” The Telegraph foreign editor changed my sentence to read: “The violence was caused by General Sharon’s provocative visit to a Muslim holy site.” I asked him afterwards why he inserted the word “General” into my text, when Sharon had been out of the military for over two decades, and Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin – also mentioned in the piece – were not described as generals. “That’s different,” he replied.
And why he had removed my reference to the Temple Mount being holy for Jews as well as Muslims? The editor replied “The Guardian and other papers say it is only a Muslim site, so why should I believe you?”
* Ariel Sharon: (writing in New York Times in 1984): “The [media] sought and still seek to blacken the name of the Jew and the Israeli state and it is not a new thing for Time magazine; it is an old desire, an old attempt. So it is a blood libel, and there is nothing worse. Were I to walk away from this, I would be allowing this blood libel to spread like a cancer. This is intolerable. So I chose to come to an honorable court to legally restore my honor and the honor of my people. And for this, too, I am pilloried.” (Sharon won his libel suit against Time, and yet the media until today continues to repeat the same libel and to distort the events of Sabra and Shatilla.)
* Jonathan Hunter: “The Phalangists were armed and ordered to enter West Beirut as part of an internationally sanctioned handover of authority to the Lebanese [taking over from the PLO occupiers who had engaged in a number of massacres against Lebanese Christians and others in the period before]. Does this mean the IDF ‘facilitated the massacre?’ Of course not. Why were the Phalangists ordered to enter the camps? According to Ehud Ya’ari – Israel’s foremost authority on the Middle East – the IDF believed the camp to have housed almost 200 armed men, hiding in dozens of bunkers constructed by the PLO. They surely posed a threat to the objective of expelling all terroristic elements from Beirut – and securing Lebanese control of the city.”
[TG: The New York Times was one of the few papers to point out in their obit of Sharon this week, that all but a few of those killed in Sabra and Shatilla were men – had this been a random unprovoked massacre only of civilians by the Christian militia, one might have expected women and children to have been killed in greater numbers.]
* Jonathan Hunter: “On the subject of Lebanon, it is widely declared that Sharon provoked its invasion in 1982 – and that he broke a ceasefire with the PLO. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Between the 1981 ceasefire and the 1982 invasion, the PLO staged 270 terroristic actions in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Twenty-nine Israelis were murdered, and more than 300 seriously wounded. The frequency of attacks around Kiryat Shmona forced thousands of residents to flee their homes – something which was repeated in 2006.”
As Henry Kissinger put it when defending Israel’s response, “no sovereign state can tolerate indefinitely the buildup along its borders of a military force dedicated to its destruction and implementing its objectives by periodic shellings and raids.”
* Benjamin Weinthal: “[When] Egyptian president Anwar Sadat arrived at Ben Gurion Airport on his historic peace visit to Israel in 1977, the then–prime minister Menachem Begin said, ‘Everyone’s here, waiting for you.’ Sadat asked, ‘Is Sharon here too?’ Sadat shook Sharon’s hand and told him, ‘I tried to catch you when you were on the side of the canal.’ Sharon’s reply: ‘Well, Mr. President, now you have a chance to catch me as a friend.’ … Sadat took the lead and ‘caught’ Sharon as a friend of peace. Will responsible Arab leaders renounce violence and do the same with Israel’s new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu?”
You can see these and other items that are not in these dispatches if you "like" this page: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia.
1. More reaction to Sharon’s death
2. Israeli press reaction
3. “What if Sharon still lived?’ (By David Landau, New York Times, Jan. 13, 2014)
4. “Ariel Sharon (1928–2014)” (By Michael Zantovsky, World Affairs Journal, Jan. 11, 2014)
5. “Sharon and the second intifada” (By Tom Gross, Jewish Chronicle, Jan. 17, 2014)
6. “Ariel Sharon’s military career: Defending the indefensible?” (By Jonathan Hunter, Trending Central (UK), Jan. 15, 2014)
7. “A man who knew when peace will come” (By Benjamin Weinthal, National Review, Jan. 11, 2014)
8. “The Man on the Wall” (By Thomas Friedman, New York Times, Jan. 15, 2014)
9. “‘Get Lost,’ They Say. I Won’t” (By Ariel Sharon, New York Times, Dec. 16, 1984)
10. “Gains From The War In Lebanon” (By Ariel Sharon, New York Times, Aug. 29, 1982)
MORE REACTION TO SHARON’S DEATH
[Note by Tom Gross]
I attach a number of articles published on Sharon over the past week (including a piece by myself). As a matter of historical interest, I also include two articles Sharon himself wrote for The New York Times in 1982 and 1984. (The writers of all these articles, apart from David Landau and Sharon himself, are subscribers to this email list.)
Some papers, such as the influential British daily The Guardian, have gone overboard in their criticism of Sharon this week.
And some comparisons have been shocking. For example, in the leading Swedish tabloid Expressen, one of Sweden’s leading foreign policy experts compared Sharon to Hitler.
But other papers in Europe have been more sympathetic. For example, the German paper Bild – which is the highest circulation daily in the Western world – wrote: “‘The Butcher of Beirut’ was applied to Sharon but is demonstrably false.”
ISRAELI PRESS REACTION
For a selection of Israeli press reaction to Sharon’s death, here are summaries of the editorials from January 14, 2014:
Ma’ariv asserts that the fact that the IDF stationed an Iron Dome battery in the area near where former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was buried yesterday, “is, perhaps, the clearest repudiation of Sharon’s legacy.” The paper notes that Sharon was laid to rest “in a place he loved – in an area under threat from the same region he destroyed and whose flourishing communities he uprooted.” The paper cites reports that Hamas now has missiles that can hit as far as Hadera and questions why it is that Jews can be uprooted from their homes, but not Arabs. The author concludes with his concern that Ariel Sharon, as prime minister, “pushed us further away from peace.”
Yediot Ahronot says: “The disengagement from the Gaza Strip was distinguished mainly by errors. Sharon erred when he thought it would bring quiet. The settlers erred when they did not understand the need to offer their own diplomatic plan.” The paper adds: “Sharon did not manage to learn the lessons. He sank into a coma without seeing how Gaza turned into a strategic problem, how the funeral at Shikmim Farm became a target for the terrorist organizations he had spent all his life fighting.” The paper continues: “On the other hand, the settlers in Judea and Samaria have also not learned lessons: Some have sunk into black moods. Some are involved in the attempt to ‘settle in the hearts’. Despite the passage of time, they are still talking about ‘what was shall not be.’ Despite the processes all around, there is still no attempt to craft a diplomatic alternative.”
The Jerusalem Post states: “Regardless of whether one supported or opposed the 2005 Gaza disengagement carried out by former prime minister Ariel Sharon, a unilateral withdrawal from ‘disputed’ territories remains a relevant option to this day,” and adds: “Learning from the mistakes made in the Gaza disengagement are an essential element of any future unilateral measure.”
“WHAT IF?” THEY ASKED THEMSELVES
What if Sharon Still Lived?
By David Landau
New York Times
January 13, 2014
JERUSALEM – Ever since Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli prime minister who died Saturday, fell into a coma after suffering a stroke eight years ago, Israelis and Palestinians had been living in the subjunctive mood. “What if?” they asked themselves.
What if Mr. Sharon had remained at the head of his new and promising centrist party, Kadima? What if he had been able to follow through on his dramatic withdrawal of soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip the year before?
This “disengagement” from Gaza in 2005 was Israel’s first practical act of decolonization since Prime Minister Menachem Begin – like Mr. Sharon, from the Likud party – withdrew Israeli troops and settlers from the Sinai Peninsula following a treaty with Egypt. Mr. Sharon’s withdrawal was much more significant because it was intended to lead to a peaceable partition of the Holy Land itself.
To Mr. Begin, such ideas remained taboo until the end of his life. Mr. Sharon, too, had devoted much of his career to fighting the Palestinians and building settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As many of those asking “what if” believed, only Mr. Sharon, aptly nicknamed “the bulldozer,” could have taken them down with such ease. No wonder many Israelis continue to pine for an alternate reality in which Mr. Sharon remains a vital presence.
Still, as we continue to ask “what if,” we must also recognize the ways that Mr. Sharon’s decisions a decade ago continue to shape Israeli politics.
For one thing, they have defined the terms of Israeli-Palestinian talks today. “We know what the issues are and the parameters,” the American secretary of state, John Kerry, recently declared. There’s no deal in sight yet, but there is a sense, among both Israelis and Palestinians, that America means business.
Any such speculation around Mr. Kerry’s efforts would have been unimaginable without Mr. Sharon’s efforts a decade earlier. Mr. Kerry’s “issues and the parameters” are the very same that Mr. Sharon promoted during his premiership, in particular his acceptance of a deal enabling Israel to annex the large blocs of settlements close to the West Bank border in exchange for land now inside Israel.
“In light of new realities on the ground,” President George W. Bush wrote in a historic 2004 letter to Mr. Sharon, “including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”
The formula in the letter, long haggled over with Israeli diplomats before publication, was now American policy. Following Israel’s lead, it envisioned land swaps, with the Israelis keeping the large settlement blocs near the old border. Swapping land meant ceding land, and this was no less than heresy in pristine Likud doctrine.
But Mr. Sharon had made his choice, and not reluctantly. He wanted the blocs-plus-swaps scenario to be the preferred, pragmatic policy not only of the Israeli left and center, which were steadily sliding in his direction, but also of the rightist-religious coalition, which he had been vigorously involved in setting up.
Today, apart from the hardest core of settlers, their rabbis and their politician-supporters within the Likud, that consensus has indeed emerged – and makes the negotiations possible under another Likud prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
This was not a sudden whim on Mr. Sharon’s part. The first significant indicator that he was finally maturing came soon after his election as prime minister, in 2001, with his relatively restrained use of the army and air force during the second intifada. His critics feared that the hawkish Mr. Sharon would send the army in full force against Palestinian terrorist groups, causing a blood bath in the West Bank.
It did not happen. “Restraint is strength,” he proclaimed, with a decisiveness that harked back to his role during the Yom Kippur War of 1973, when he led his division in a hard drive across the Suez Canal. Many officers and men who had no prior loyalty to him concluded that without his calm, steadfast command there would likely have been no Israeli crossing that October, nor ever.
But where did the “restraint” come from? Was it an upshot of his generalship during the 1982-1983 Lebanon War, including standing by while Christian militias slaughtered Palestinian and Lebanese Shiites, which brought obloquy on Israel, and especially on him? Perhaps: Despite his hard-boiled image, after weeks of war, it was hard for him to look into the eyes of bereaved Israeli parents of soldiers who were killed in Lebanon and persuade them their sacrifice was justified.
As prime minister, Mr. Sharon began using buzzwords like “occupation” – once the sole province of the peace movement – in his speeches explaining Israel’s strategic interest in Palestinian independence. Likud members feared that his secession from the party was imminent. They were right.
Above all, Mr. Sharon’s resounding legacy is his confrontation with the settlers in Gaza who refused to leave in 2005, including many from the West Bank who infiltrated the Gaza settlements to “defend” them. The disengagement was sad for the individual settler family, but on the national plane it was an anticlimax, thanks to Mr. Sharon’s determination to neutralize the settlers – until recently his most loyal political allies.
Mr. Sharon had them forcibly removed, demonstrating that the government of a sovereign, democratic state had a monopoly on armed power over its citizenry.
I had the opportunity to ask him, before the disengagement, if he would go to Gaza himself and take command if the operation got bogged down. “You worry too much,” was his self-assured answer, which turned out to be fully vindicated.
“HE WAS NOT THE RIGHTIST ZEALOT HE WAS MADE TO APPEAR BY THE LEGIONS OF HIS OPPONENTS”
Ariel Sharon (1928–2014)
By Michael Zantovsky
World Affairs Journal
January 11, 2014
It speaks volumes that Ariel Sharon, whose name rarely if ever appeared in any context without the word “controversy” or “controversial” nearby, was in his own country most often referred to by his few close friends and numerous foes alike by the familial “Arik,” reducing him from the grand lion of “Ariel” to human proportions. Without any doubt this was meant to signify that what he represented, good and bad, both in generous proportions, was inseparable from the existence and history of Israel, a country, which he indefatigably served.
There will be many obituaries that will dwell on who he was and what he did, and so perhaps it might be worth mentioning a few things that he was not and what he did not do. He was not the rightist zealot he was made to appear by the legions of his opponents. His parents came from Belarus and settled in a socialist moshav, where by questioning the official orthodoxy they soon exhibited a contrarian streak, which they passed on in ample quantities to their son. Although his major contribution to Israeli political scene was the cofounding of the Likud party in July 1973, closely before the Yom Kippur War, he was never permanently affiliated with any political party and, as a matter of fact, in the course of his career he pretty much flirted with every political party of note on Israel’s nationalist center-right, liberal center, and socialist center-left, including the Labor Party. He must have been a terrible party member but an inspiring party leader. When his vision seriously conflicted with the program or the policies of the party, he simply left and started a new party, whether it was the Shlomtzion in 1977, the only party on the Israeli political scene at the time with anything resembling “peace” in its name, or Kadimain 2005, a couple of months before his fatal stroke. Altogether, and rather counterintuitively, his political instincts seem to have been individualistic and liberal, almost libertarian rather than collectivist-socialist or collectivist-nationalist, resonating quite well with the modern mentality of an average Israeli.
Second, he was not the military adventurer he was sometimes described as, although he made his share of ill-considered decisions, the Mitla Pass operation of 1956 having been perhaps the most serious. For most part, though, he was a cautious and farseeing military strategist, with a considerable degree of respect for his opponents, most often the Egyptian army (which many of his colleagues had underestimated), and the resulting ability to take into account the most likely rather than the most favorable scenario of any ensuing battle. On his departure as the commander of the Southern Command in the summer of 1973, he left behind a battle plan envisaging a withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Suez Canal at least 10 miles back in the eventuality of a forced Egyptian crossing, followed by a swift counterattack, a strategy which could have brought an earlier end to the fighting and saved lives if adhered to. Likewise, the Israeli counter-crossing of the canal with Sharon in the lead, which turned the tide of the Yom Kippur War in Israel’s favor, was not the work of desperate military bravado, but an operation pre-planned by Sharon months before, with forward-deployed equipment for that very purpose.
Third, and most controversially, Sharon was a hard, and on occasion brutal, soldier in the five wars against Arabs in which he played a part. But he was not an Arab hater. As a farmer who worked the land in southern Israel he came into close contact with many Israeli Palestinians and Bedouins and was apparently able to communicate with them in the way that the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem elites could not. He bore personal responsibility for, and lost his ministerial job over, the massacre of the Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila camps by the Lebanese Phalangist forces during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It was nevertheless a sin of omission in not preventing an atrocity he could have perhaps foreseen, rather a sin of commission. He was not a humanitarian interventionist by any stretch of imagination but neither was he the “butcher of Beirut.” As prime minister he used brutal tactics to suppress the second Palestinian intifada, which led to more than 1,000 Israeli and close to 5,000 Palestinian casualties between 2000 and 2006. But in 2002 he was not responsible for the “massacre of Jenin,” for the simple reason that the massacre – a tendentious label for an 11-day pitched battle in the Palestinian Jenin camp in early April 2002, in which 23 Israeli soldiers and more than 50 Palestinians, mostly combatants, died – never occurred.
Last, and most important, Sharon was not simply a legendary warrior of lore, but also a peacemaker of considerable achievements. His disengagement plan, in which all of Gaza and four settlements in the West Bank were evacuated and transferred to the Palestinians, is to date the only post-Oslo change on the ground in the direction of a two-state solution. Perhaps nobody but the “Bulldozer,” as he was also called, could have done this in the face of the furious resistance of the settlers and the homicidal curses of some of their rabbis.
Maybe Sharon’s greatest achievement, in keeping with his liberal instincts, was not just the implementation of the plan, but the underlying and explicit realization that a people aspiring to freedom cannot permanently deny that freedom to others. Admittedly, the realization, which would have certainly led him to further steps, were it not for the stroke, came late, but he was in the right place and at the right time when it did. His message to the posterity, “What you see from here you don’t see from there,” was an appropriately humble recognition of his own limitations and of the limitations of humanity in general.
FROM THE BEGINNING THE MEDIA WAS DETERMINED TO BLAME SHARON, NOT ARAFAT
Sharon and the second intifada
By Tom Gross
The Jewish Chronicle (London)
January 17, 2014
One of several episodes for which Ariel Sharon continues to be blamed, despite much evidence to the contrary, was that he caused the second Palestinian Intifada in September 2000 by visiting Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
Foremost among the propagators of this narrative is the BBC which, unlike CNN, fails to point out that Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount was co-ordinated in advance with the Palestinian Authority (PA), took place within regular opening hours, lasted just 34 minutes, and, perhaps most importantly, it is Judaism’s holiest site. Nor did Sharon ever enter a mosque there, as some BBC and other journalists claim.
In their reports in recent days, BBC Middle East correspondents such as Jeremy Bowen and Kevin Connolly tell us none of this. Nor did they tell us that key Palestinians deny Sharon triggered the intifada.
Marwan Barghouti, for example, the de facto leader of the second intifada, said: “The intifada did not start because of Sharon’s visit to Al-Aqsa”.
PA Communications Minister Imad Al-Faluji said: “Whoever thinks that the intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon’s visit to Al-Aqsa is wrong. This intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat’s return from the Camp David negotiations, where he turned the table upside down on President Clinton.”
And Yasser Arafat’s widow Suha told Dubai TV: “Immediately after the failure of the Camp David [negotiations and before Sharon visited the Temple Mount], I met him [Arafat] in Paris upon his return and he said to me, ‘You should remain in Paris.’ I asked him why, and he said, ‘Because I am going to start an intifada. They [Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak] want me to betray the Palestinian cause. I will not do so.”
Yet almost from the beginning the British press – much more than media in some other countries – was determined to blame Sharon, not Arafat. I was Jerusalem correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph at the time. I wrote a sentence along the lines “Some have accused Likud opposition leader Ariel Sharon of triggering the violence by visiting the Temple Mount, a site holy to Jews and Muslims, although many say the violence was pre-planned.”
The Telegraph foreign editor changed my sentence to read: “The violence was caused by General Sharon’s provocative visit to a Muslim holy site.”
I asked him afterwards why he inserted the word “General” into my text, when Sharon had been out of the military for over two decades, and Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin – also mentioned in the piece – were not described as generals. “That’s different,” he replied. “How?” I inquired, adding that Barak was Israel’s most decorated general and was more recently in the military than Sharon.
And when I further wanted to know why he had removed my reference to the Temple Mount being holy for Jews as well as Muslims, the editor replied “The Guardian and other papers say it is only a Muslim site, so why should I believe you – you are only saying that because I hear you are Jewish.” (These were the days when search engines such as Google were in their infancy and Wikipedia had not yet been launched.)
So even among media with proprietors sympathetic to Israel (at the time the Telegraph was owned by Conrad Black), it seemed easier to blame Israel, and Ariel Sharon in particular, rather than allow more balanced accounts.
DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE?
Ariel Sharon’s military career: Defending the indefensible?
By Jonathan Hunter
Trending Central (UK)
January 15, 2014
With the death of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last week, the media has been ablaze with some very unfair coverage of the man’s life. On the one hand, certain Israeli media outlets have described Sharon as a hero without blemishes. Alternatively, radical leftists such as Yossi Gurvitz continuously accuse him of being a murderous war criminal.
An obituary is meant to provoke reflection. It is should not glorify, apologise, defame or vilify the memory of any individual. It should objectively chronicle their life – allowing the observer to pass judgement on the relative merits of the deceased individual’s actions.
The media fails to recognise this basic methodological approach to history. Sensationalist journalists of all colours fail to recognise the central tenet of their profession – that notion of ‘objectivity.’
Rather than write another obituary of Arik Sharon, I feel it necessary to intervene – and provide context to episodes of his life which otherwise have none.
SABRA AND SHATILA
Of course, the elephant in the room is the Sabra and Shatila massacre – a forever contentious issue. On the one hand, defenders of Sharon claim he bears no responsibility – even if it is indirect. According to them, Christian Arabs killed Muslim Arabs – and as usual, the world blamed the Jews. It’s a nice slogan, there is some truth to it, but one cannot deny its simplicity.
In contrast to these positions, Sharon’s greatest critics accuse him of being the architect of ‘genocide.’ Take for instance, +972 Magazine’s Yossi Gurvitz. As he writes:
“…the IDF armed those who carried out the massacre; the IDF surrounded west Beirut; the perpetrators made their way into west Beirut at the invitation and with the assistance of the IDF; IDF artillery fired flares which facilitated the massacre and later on the helped the Phalangists conceal the bodies.”
This description deprives the event of any context – and even makes up a few facts.
The Phalangists were the allies of the IDF. They were thus armed and ordered to enter West Beirut as part of an internationally sanctioned handover of authority to the Lebanese. Does this mean the IDF ‘facilitated the massacre?’ Of course not. Why were the Phalangists ordered to enter the camps? According to Ehud Ya’ari – Israel’s foremost authority on the Middle East – the IDF believed the camp to have housed almost 200 armed men, hiding in dozens of bunkers constructed by the PLO. They surely posed a threat to the objective of expelling all terroristic elements from Beirut – and securing Lebanese control of the city.
Of course, the Kahan Commission found Ariel Sharon negligent in not supposing the Phalangists would commit war crimes – famously leading him to step down as Defense Minister. But as an American Court ruled in a famous libel case against Time Magazine, to declare that Sharon ‘consciously intended’ or ‘actively encouraged’ the killing of civilians, is a slanderous accusation. Sharon himself forever regretted his carelessness – he was not a man to kill the innocent. As for Gurwitz’s accusation that the IDF concealed the bodies of the dead, he gives no source for it– and I am yet to find one.
On the subject of Lebanon, it is widely declared that Sharon provoked its invasion in 1982 – and that he broke a ceasefire with the PLO. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Between the 1981 ceasefire and the 1982 invasion, the PLO staged 270 terroristic actions in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Twenty-nine Israelis were murdered, and more than 300 seriously wounded. The frequency of attacks around Qiryat Shmona forced thousands of residents to flee their homes – something which was repeated in 2006.
As Henry Kissinger put it when defending Israel’s response, ‘no sovereign state can tolerate indefinitely the buildup along its borders of a military force dedicated to its destruction and implementing its objectives by periodic shellings and raids.’
These words have as much relevance to Israeli society today as they did in the 1980s – but leaving that interesting observation aside, to say that Sharon’s military actions in Lebanon were anything but defensive is to completely twist history. I do not deny the invasion did not succeed in achieving all its objectives – but hindsight is a privilege never afforded to men taking difficult, life or death decisions. The reasoning behind Israel’s 1982 invasion is identical to the justifications of its most recent wars – self-defence, a right which much of the international community have stood by.
There is then the issue of Qibya – which has provoked the most debate. As one of my friends put it, ‘if you have an answer for why Qibya was not a war crime, I’d be fascinated to hear it.’
The massacres at Qibya must be placed in a tradition of defensive warfare whereby outnumbered Jewish settlers took reprisal attacks against Arab population centres which facilitated a terrorist act. This strategy dates back to the earliest organised Zionist settlement of the late 19th century. In the 1930s, 300 Jews were killed by Palestinian militia men. The para-military Irgun responded in kind by launching operations against the towns from which the attackers originated. The objective of such activities was to create a deterrent – to avoid further lives from being lost. I am not apologising or excusing Sharon’s actions at Qibya – I do not pass judgement on it in this public forum. What I am asking for is that we attempt to understand their context.
The attack on Qibya was provoked by the horrific murder of Suzanne Kinyas and her two children. Nearly 100 other Israelis were similarly murdered by Palestinian infiltrators between 1949 and 1952. Accounts given by Gurvitz and his friends ignore this. They focus on the act and not its historical context. They forget the existential threats faced by the State of Israel in its nascent years – and the regrettable measures it was provoked into taking.
This is not even taking into account Sharon’s testimony of the event. As he put it:
“I couldn’t believe my ears. As I went back over each step of the operation, I began to understand what must have happened. For years Israeli reprisal raids had never succeeded in doing more than blowing up a few outlying buildings, if that. Expecting the same, some Arab families must have stayed in their houses rather than running away. In those big stone houses [...] some could easily have hidden in the cellars and back rooms, keeping quiet when the paratroopers went in to check and yell out a warning. The result was this tragedy that had happened.”
One should never seek to defame a dead man who doesn’t have the opportunity to respond to his critics – especially . In chronicling the lives of the recently deceased, one should attempt to be as objective as possible.
I asked Yossi Gurvitz why he ignored the bold steps Sharon took for peace. He responded childishly: ‘bold steps for peace? LOL.’
I then asked if he thought balance was important as a journalist. He revealingly replied, ‘I don’t do balance.’
That was a very saddening remark – it reveals reams about Israel’s most vicious critics. I nevertheless take some consolation that Gurvitz was honest about his intentions. I cannot say the same thing about the rest of the media…
BEGIN SAID, “EVERYONE’S HERE, WAITING FOR YOU.” SADAT ASKED, “IS SHARON HERE TOO?”
A Man Who Knew When Peace Will Come
By Benjamin Weinthal
January 11, 2014
Situated on a wall in the reporter’s room of the Jerusalem Post is a framed front-page of the daily’s 1977 story of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s historic peace visit to Israel. According to the account of Sadat’s arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, the then–prime minister Menachem Begin said, “Everyone’s here, waiting for you.” Sadat asked, “Is Sharon here too?”
Sadat shook Sharon’s hand and told him, “I tried to catch you when you were on the side of the canal.” Sharon’s reply: “Well, Mr. President, now you have a chance to catch me as a friend.”
Sadat understood Sharon’s greatness as a military leader. After Egypt and Syria attacked Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Sharon defeated the Egyptian offensive with a brilliant tank strategy that led to Israel’s army crossing the Suez Canal and getting within striking range of Cairo.
Sadat and Sharon were, without question, larger than life figures in Middle East history. Sharon, prime minister from 2001 to 2006, passed away today at the age of 85.
Sharon – in the vein of the British intelligence officer T. E. Lawrence – excelled as a Middle East military strategist. However, Sharon’s accomplishments dwarfed Lawrence’s WWI victories against the Turks. Where Lawrence sought to unify a fragmented Arab world, Sharon played a key role in solidifying the Jewish state and provided robust security to Israelis in a terribly rough neighborhood.
He was not infallible – he made mistakes in the 1982 Lebanon war, and erred in his unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. As the Middle East expert Jeffrey Goldberg noted, Prime Minister Sharon could have used the withdrawal opportunity to “have extracted important concessions from Palestinians,” but did not.
Sharon earned the names “the Bulldozer” and “Arik, the King of the Jews” for his efforts to stop Arab terrorism and jingoism. His business was to implement plans. He famously said,”Planning is something a lot of people know how to do, but executing, as you know, far fewer, far fewer.”
In short, he was a pragmatic politician and general who matched his rhetoric with action. He developed a strong alliance with American Christians worried about the security of the Jewish state.
While many European countries and politicians shamelessly and hypocritically slammed Sharon’s construction of a security barrier and other counterterrorism measures to stop Palestinian attacks, the efforts speak for themselves: According to Israel’s foreign ministry, suicide terror attacks numbered 55 in 2002, causing 220 deaths. In 2005, the last year of Sharon’s premiership, the data showed seven attacks, causing 22 killings. Two years later, in 2007, there were three deaths reported.
The Israeli historian Benny Morris offers more in a neat history of Sharon’s legacy.
Many European news organizations demonized Sharon during his tenure, in viciously hardcore anti-Semitic cartoons and articles. While large swaths of the European media and public fail to understand Israel’s security needs, Sharon plowed ahead and refuted their false assessments.
In the wake of spectacular levels of horrific violence among Arab countries, former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir’s piercing comment still carries tremendous weight: “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”
Sadat took the lead and “caught” Sharon as a friend of peace. Will responsible Arab leaders renounce violence and do the same with Israel’s new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu?
“HE DOESN’T STOP AT RED LIGHTS”
The Man on the Wall
Jan. 15, 2014
By Thomas Friedman
New York Times
I’ve always thought that the reason Ariel Sharon was such an enduring presence in Israeli political life is that he personally reflected three of the most important states of mind that the state of Israel has gone through since its founding. At key times, for better and for worse, Sharon expressed and embodied the feelings of the Israeli Everyman as much, if not more, than any Israeli leader.
The first was the enduring struggle for survival of the Jewish people in Israel. The founding of a Jewish state in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world would never be a natural act, welcomed by the region. There is a Jewish state today because of hard men, like Ariel Sharon, who were ready to play by the local rules, and successive Israeli prime ministers used him to do just that. Sharon – whom I first met at age 16 when I interviewed him for my high school newspaper after a lecture he gave at the University of Minnesota in 1969 – always had contempt for those in Israel or abroad who he believed did not understand the kill-or-be-killed nature of their neighborhood. He was a warrior without regrets and, at times, without restraints. Not for nothing was a Hebrew biography of him entitled, “He Doesn’t Stop at Red Lights.”
Sharon could have perfectly delivered a Hebrew version of the speech Marine Col. Nathan Jessep, played by Jack Nicholson, delivered in the climactic courtroom scene in “A Few Good Men,” justifying the death of a weak soldier, Santiago, under his command. In Sharon’s case, it would be justifying his no-holds-barred dealing with Arabs who resisted Israel’s existence back in the 1950s and ’60s.
As Jessep told the lawyer trying him: “Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? ... I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. ... You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall.”
Many Israelis wanted Sharon on that wall, which is why he survived so many crises. At the end of the day, they always wanted to know their chief warrior, who played by the local rules, was available.
But, in the 1980s, Sharon also embodied a fantasy that gripped Israel – that with enough power the Israelis could rid themselves of the Palestinian threat, that they could have it all: resettling Jews in their biblical heartland in the West Bank, plus settlements in Gaza, docile Palestinians, peace with the neighbors, and good relations with the world. That fantasy drove Sharon to team up in 1982 with the Christian Phalangist leader Bashir Gemayel on a strategic overreach to both oust Yasir Arafat and the P.L.O. from Lebanon and install Gemayel as a pro-Israeli president in Beirut. Ronald Reagan was in power in America; Sadat had just made peace with Israel and taken Egypt off the battlefield. The little Jewish state, Sharon thought, could rearrange the neighborhood.
That Israeli overreach, which I covered from Beirut, ended badly for everyone. Sharon was deemed by a 1983 Israeli commission of inquiry as “indirectly responsible” for the horrible massacre of Palestinian civilians by Phalangists in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The fiasco in Lebanon (which also gave birth to Hezbollah), followed by two Palestinian intifadas, seemed to impress on Sharon the limits of Israeli power.
Indeed, I don’t know what, if any, epitaph the Sharon family will etch on his gravestone one day, but an adaptation of the most memorable line from Clint Eastwood’s classic “Magnum Force” would certainly be appropriate: “A country’s got to know its limitations.”
That was the conclusion that Sharon, the settlements builder, came to late in life – and so, too, did many Israelis. He acted on it by getting elected prime minister and then parting ways with his old Likud/settler allies, moving to the center and orchestrating a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. He surely would have tried something similar in the West Bank if he had not had a stroke. Sharon remained skeptical that the Palestinians would ever make a true peace with Israel, but he concluded that occupying them forever was harmful to Israel’s future and, therefore, a third way had to be found.
Once again, Sharon was expressing the sentiments of the Israeli Everyman – which is probably why President Obama got such a warm reception from Israeli youths when, on his visit to Israel last March, he justified his own peace diplomacy by quoting a wiser and older Ariel Sharon, as telling Israelis that the dream of a Greater Israel had to be abandoned: “If we insist on fulfilling the dream in its entirety, we are liable to lose it all,” Sharon said.
Few Israelis are neutral about Sharon. I think that’s because some part of him – the hardheaded survivor, the dreamer that hoped Israel could return to its biblical roots and that the Palestinians would eventually acquiesce or disappear or the sober realist trying to figure out how to share the land he loved with a people he’d never trust – touched something in all of them.
“THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN NO LAWSUIT HAD TIME MAGAZINE PUBLISHED A RETRACTION AND APOLOGY FOR ITS BLOOD LIBEL”
‘Sharon, Get Lost,’ They Say. I Won’t
By Ariel Sharon
New York Times
December 16, 1984
While the jury sits in judgment on my libel suit in Foley Square, any number of critics sit in judgment on my case. This judgment has thus far been singularly harsh. I was naive enough to believe that when a case is sub judice, particularly when a jury is sitting, responsible commentators would refrain from editorial comment until the verdict is in. But I do not complain; indeed, I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight.
First of all, let me say, there would have been no lawsuit had Time magazine published a retraction and apology for its blood libel – this vicious, absolutely untrue charge that I instigated the massacres in Sabra and Shatila. That Time refused to retract and still refuses in the face of overwhelming evidence that the charge was utterly false and unsubstantiated only proves that its arrogance is unremitting. It is the same arrogance and recklessness that led Time to publish the libel in the first place; that they continue to repeat it each day by asserting in court that the libel was ‘‘substantially true’’ makes it imperative that I continue to prosecute this case here and everywhere else the libel appeared. It is my duty to see to it that this incredible smear, this blood libel, be erased from the earth. So long as Time goes on with its lies, I go on with my case.
The alternative is to let them get away with it. But if I let them get away with calling me a murderer, I let them get away with murder. Forgive me, please, for choosing another way, for calling upon the American system of justice to clear my name and the name of the Jewish and Israeli people. And make no mistake about it: Time was not simply calling Ariel Sharon a murderer; the objects of its malice were the Jews and the Israeli people.
They sought and still seek to blacken the name of the Jew and the Israeli state and it is not a new thing for Time; it is an old desire, an old attempt. So it is a blood libel, and there is nothing worse. Were I to walk away from this, I would be allowing this blood libel to spread like a cancer. This is intolerable, it is no option at all. So I chose to come to an honorable court to legally restore my honor and the honor of my people. And for this, too, I am pilloried.
I am instructed by critics to cease and desist. They are telling me - if I may use plain talk - to get out of town. They do not put it this way, exactly.
One says I should understand the ‘‘good faith’’ of Time Inc. One accuses me of wrapping myself in the ‘‘flag of Israel and Judaism.’’
And still another critic condemns me for destroying the First Amendment.
But what they are all saying is: ‘‘Mr. Sharon, get lost.’’
I am going to disappoint them.
I am going to stay the course. Until this venomous blood libel is exposed. Until Time Inc. is condemned, by press and public, for its reckless, malicious journalism that reports as ‘‘fact’’ what its own correspondent admits was personal ‘‘evaluation.’’ I ask my critics a few questions. Do you think Time magazine would have so casually condemned as a murderer a Secretary of Defense of the United States?
Do you think Time would have done to Yasir Arafat what it did to me? To the P.L.O. what it did to the Jews and the Israeli state? I am sorry to say that perhaps the reason some people want me to get lost is that they don’t want to answer these questions. For to answer these questions, to answer them as you know the truth to be, would put the blood where it belongs: on the cover of Time magazine.
I say to you that Time Inc. knows that the story was false, top to bottom. They know there is nothing to back them up, not in Appendix B, that secret Appendix to the Kahan Commission report where the condemnation was reported to be, and not anywhere else. They know that, yet they persist in their ultimate arrogance and refuse to recant this lie. I wonder why, and in wondering I again ask my foes a question or two. Could it be they think they will somehow confuse the jury? That perhaps these pieces will be read by the jury, despite the judge’s admonitions against reading newspapers and watching television? Or that maybe the jury will not prefer my manner, my Israeli accent? These are good trial tactics, but are they good journalism?
Finally, about the First Amendment. I cherish the First Amendment. As Defense Minister, I gave full play to the media, I dare say no country during war has ever allowed the press more freedom than we did during the war in Lebanon. No country, including the United States.
Now I am accused of placing a ‘‘chill’’ on the First Amendment. I am suddenly a destroyer of that great cornerstone of freedom. Well, I chose to try this case here first though I knew well that the burdens put on libel plaintiffs, particularly public officials, were far more onerous in this country than in my own. I yield to no one in my respect for my nation’s independent judiciary. But the judicial test in Israel in libel cases is not nearly so severe for public people.
I came here because this was the proper primary forum, no matter how much more difficult the burden of proof. This is the home of Time Inc., this is where the blood libel was actually published. So I am an old soldier. I go to the front. I go where the action is. The action is New York. I like it here. I won’t get lost.
Since The New York Times prints corrections every day, I don’t believe I am putting a ‘‘chill’’ on the First Amendment. When did a demand for a retraction of a lie from Time magazine constitute a ‘‘chilling effect’’ on the First Amendment?
“IF WE ARE IN LEBANON, NO LONGER WILL SOVIET KATYUSHA ROCKETS RAIN DOWN ON ISRAELI VILLAGES”
Gains From The War In Lebanon
By Ariel Sharon
New York Times
August 29, 1982
What did Israel gain from the military campaign it undertook in Lebanon? How are the United States and the rest of the free world affected? What do the results of Operation Peace for Galilee portend?
Israel’s most immediate achievement is the crushing defeat of the P.L.O. No longer will Soviet Katyusha rockets rain down on Israeli villages from terrorist sanctuaries in Lebanon. Israeli children who spent night after night, month after month, in bomb shelters are free at last from attack. Normal life has returned to the Galilee.
A byproduct of that achievement is the opportunity that has been created for Lebanon to regain its sovereignty and independence, a goal we share with the Lebanese people and with the United States. The kingdom of terror that the P.L.O. had established on Lebanese soil is no more; the expulsion of the remaining terrorists, the evacuation of Syrian occupation forces and the withdrawal of our own troops will return to the Lebanese people control of their own destiny. We wish Bashir Gemayel, Lebanon’s newly elected President, well. We look forward to the day when his country and Israel will sign a treaty of peace.
Israel’s troops entering Lebanon were greeted as liberators for driving out the terrorists who had raped and pillaged and plundered. Our soldiers were welcomed despite the casualties that were the inevitable result of fighting against P.L.O. terrorists who used civilians as human shields and who deliberately placed their weapons and ammunition in the midst of apartment houses, schools, refugee camps and hospitals.
No army in the history of modern warfare ever took such pains to prevent civilian casualties as did the Israel Defense Forces. Indeed, most of the losses we suffered - some 350 dead and 2,000 wounded - resulted from the rule we imposed on ourselves to avoid harming noncombatants. In Hebrew, we call this tohar haneshek, ‘‘the moral conduct of war.’’ We are proud our soldiers followed this Jewish doctrine scrupulously, despite the heavy costs we incurred in warning civilians we were coming, in attacking only predetermined P.L.O. positions and in bombing and shelling buildings only when they served as P.L.O. strongholds.
This policy stands in vivid contrast to the P.L.O.’s practice of attacking only civilian targets. Since 1965, 1,392 civilians have died and 6,400 have been wounded as a result of P.L.O. terrorist raids against our people.
Trapped in west Beirut, the P.L.O. still hoped to turn military defeat into political victory. Because we respect the views of our American friends, Israel exercised great restraint. We did not close in but waited at Beirut’s gates. The P.L.O. took that as weakness. Only when we made clear that we would not give up the military option, only when we began to tighten the noose, did the P.L.O. agree at last to quit Beirut.
America and the rest of the free world have gained much from Israel’s action in removing the P.L.O. threat. The expulsion of the P.L.O. means that international terrorism has been dealt a mortal blow. The arms, training, supplies, intelligence - the whole infrastructure of violence and revolution has been broken. The end of the P.L.O. in Lebanon is a victory for peace and freedom everywhere.
But what of the future? I am optimistic that a new era is at hand in the Middle East. There will be peace between Lebanon and Israel. The problem of the Palestinian Arabs remains, but here too there is reason for hope. We did not go to war against the Palestinian Arabs, with whom we wish to live in peaceful co-existence, but against the P.L.O. The terrorists never received a mandate to represent the Palestinians. Indeed, since Judea and Samaria were liberated from Jordanian occupation in 1967, hundreds of Palestinians who dared to differ with the P.L.O. have been assassinated by P.L.O. gunmen. Who knows how many other Palestinian voices were silenced by P.L.O. intimidation?
Today, with the P.L.O. terrorists gone, I believe Palestinians will come forward prepared to negotiate with Israel on the autonomy plan proposed by Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Just before flying to the United States, I visited with a group of Palestinian Arabs in Judea and renewed a dialogue with them. I sensed a new atmosphere, a new confidence that they could speak their minds and offer their ideas freely, without fear of P.L.O. reprisal.
These are some of the reasons why I believe the results of our action in Lebanon offer bright promise for the entire Middle East. Determined as we are to defend ourselves, it is the path of peace that is the most pleasant to us. Egypt lives in peace with Israel. Soon there will be a triangle of peace - Jerusalem, Cairo, Beirut. One day, I believe, all of our Arab neighbors will find the courage and the good sense to live in peace with Israel. Operation Peace for Galilee has brought that day closer.