Lionizing a Hyena: On Sharon’s legacy

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Lionizing a Hyena: On Sharon’s legacy

Aref Assaf

Even before his death, an incredible campaign is 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.

A cursory look at his long career would show Sharon as having masterfully deceived the world by declaring that he has changed and now wants 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. Yet and shamefully so, no Arab investigation was ever conducted to hold responsible members of the Lebanese militias whose handed are also bloodied with innocent Palestinian blood.

I recall vividly how, more than a year ago, many in the US media predicted that the passing of an ailing Arafat would open up the doors to the deadlocked peace process- an argument, which has not materialized. Interestingly, there was hardly any serious US coverage of the nature of his cause of death. There was hardly any coverage the good wishes he received from leaders around the world or the almost total halt to Palestinian institutions and unspeakable sadness of the Palestinian people. Nor was there any reasoned discussion of his history and legacy as seen by his people. Now Sharon is seriously ill and people are talking of a new era for Israel and the Middle East. The contrast in most media coverage could not be any more dramatically different. The double standard penetrates deeper engulfing the entirety of US foreign policy credibility.

It would be incomplete to dismiss Sharon as a lifelong killer, for, in the Middle East, bloodshed is on 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. His health problems struck at the same time as he was rather confusedly trying to figure out if he was pulling out of the Gaza Strip or recolonizing it with yet another of his ‘security zones’ that have never provided security to anyone.

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. In an interview on the British TV program, Newsnight, Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon’s deputy prime minister and the leader of Israel’s Labor party, repeated an often-overlooked truth. “We are disengaging from Gaza because of demography,” he said. The desire to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel is seen by most Jewish Israelis as a liberal aspiration, rather than a racist one, as it would appear elsewhere.

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. His new political party, Kadima, represented a consolidation of views broadly revolving around a centrist position based primarily on fear politics, but more importantly, it reflected his own acknowledgment that he had to chart a new political discourse. His destination and route were never made clear. The recognition that his old ways were no longer relevant or effective – if they ever were – was milestone sign that even the most violence-addicted warmongers were capable of change. We will probably never know what types of tangible political changes he would have made.

As for the Prime Minister himself, I actually wish for him to recover from his serious ailment. This wish is borne out of a desire to see him stand in a world court answering to his crimes against an entire people. He has failed to deliver peace to his people. Maybe at least he will atone for his crimes by seeking forgiveness making it possible for his own inner peace.

As for future Israeli leaders, I do hope they will complete Sharon’s journey by actually transforming it from a journey from extremism to centrism, into one shaped by justice as enshrined in international law and United Nations’ resolutions. Alas, Sharon captured the heart of many Israelis because he played on their fears but he failed to deliver them security and peace. We pray that Sharon’s successors will be guided by the principles of justice and fairness as the basis for ensuring peace and security. For without following this course, no justice and or security can be ever attained by Arabs or Jews in the Holy Land.

Aref Assaf, President, American Arab Forum

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