By Dr. Aref Assaf
Even before his slow death, an incredible campaign was being waged to whitewash and cleanse the legacy and memory of Ariel Sharon. Lionizing a hyena will prove an impossible task. Sharon’s legacy shall always be the butcher of the Palestinian people. From his early days, Sharon was motivated by two principles: What cannot be conquered with force can be had with more force; only by establishing facts on the ground can you then force Arab’s acceptance of Israel. Combined together the two principles can best be explained by Sharon’s vision of maximum land, minimum Arabs.
Sharon masterfully deceived the world by declaring that he has changed and wanted peace with the Palestinians. In fact, he changed little for he steadfastly remained constrained by his grand design. He simply adapted his slogans to changing times and circumstances. His master plan remained as it was at the beginning. Sharon’s worldview is simplistic, influenced by 19th-century style European nationalism: the Jewish people are superior to others. The fulfillment of a Jewish state is a biblical imperative superseding all other human endeavors. More importantly, the moral and ethical conduct was not the basis of relations between nations.
From the beginning to the end of his career, Sharon was a man of ruthless and often gratuitous violence. The waypoints of his career are all drenched in blood, from the massacre he directed at the Arab village of Qibya in 1953, in which his men destroyed whole houses with their occupants — men, women and children — still inside, to the ruinous invasion of Lebanon in 1982, in which his army laid siege to Beirut, cut off water, electricity and food supplies and subjected the city’s hapless residents to weeks of indiscriminate bombardment by land, sea, and air. Close to four thousand Palestinians were brutally massacred. An Israeli state inquiry in 1983 found Sharon, then the defense minister, indirectly responsible for the killings. The Israeli inquiry forced Sharon’s resignation.
It would be incomplete to dismiss Sharon as a lifelong killer, for, in the Middle East, bloodshed is in the hands of so many leaders. When the time comes for them to meet their Creator, these killers will not claim to have crayons on their hands. Tragically, ironically, all the violent righteousness, which he used – whether sanctioned by his country or carried out surreptitiously – never really achieved his stated goal of ensuring the security of the Israeli people and their wider Jewish community around the world.
As for the Palestinians, Sharon represented the worst possible in Israeli politics. In addition to the deeply ingrained memory of Sharon’s responsibility for Palestinian massacres, as well as his bloody practices against Gazans in the early stages of the occupation when he was commanding officer in the area, Palestinians are living the politically negative consequences of Sharon’s unilateral strategies, which have been responsible for undermining and politically marginalizing the current Palestinian leadership by refusing its genuine request to resume a political process and negotiations based on the roadmap. Significantly, Sharon’s militarist approach has strengthened extremist elements in Palestinian society, which argue that force can only be met with force.
If there is any positive assessment to be offered, it is the realization by Israeli leaders that the dream of biblical Israel is no longer realizable. Almost equal number of Jews and Arabs inhabits the lands between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan. Israeli demographers point to a time in the near future when Arab will constitute a majority in historical Palestine.
Yet, despite all his apparent weaknesses, horrors and contradictions, what most matters about Ariel Sharon, ultimately, is something that he sensed and started to define, but never realized- that stability, security, and recognition for Israel and the Jewish people as a whole must emanate from a centrist political position within Israel, and also within the Israeli-Palestinian political dynamics.
It is expected President Obama, like former US President George W Bush, will describe Sharon as a “Man of Peace.” I remind our president that in 1982, President Ronald Reagan writing in his autobiography described Sharon as, “the bad guy who seemingly looks forward to a war”.
Aref Assaf is president of American Arab Forum