By Miko Peled
I never understood how people could rejoice at the news of a person’s death. I happened to be in the UK when Margaret Thatcher died so I witnessed the celebrations. The expressions of joy as the news of the Iron Lady’s death spread around the country shocked me at first, as people were actually throwing parties to celebrate her death. As I visited different parts of the country, particularly Wales and Ireland, it occurred to me that when Ariel Sharon dies we may see similar outbursts of joy taking place.
Sharon has been in a coma since January 2006 when he suffered several brain hemorrhages that left him in a vegetative state. But now there is news that his kidneys are failing and concerns are expressed in Israel that there is a chance he will die soon.
One can imagine the long eulogies we will have to endure once he is laid to rest: “A hero,” “a great leader,” “a military genius,” all of this will be said and more. The press will recount every military achievement, ever battle he won, every enemy, both military and political that he defeated. His resolve as Israel’s leader will be heralded, and, we will be told, he will be remembered for giving his all to his country.
In my book, The General’s Son, Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, I mention Sharon several times, in his capacity as a military man who was cruel, brilliant and reckless, then as defense minister and finally as prime minister. But it is important to set the record straight about this man before the nauseating outpour of condolences, replete with hypocrisy and lies, that are sure to follow his death.
Ariel Sharon was an ambitious man. He was brutal, greedy, uncompromising and dishonest. He possessed an insatiable appetite for power, glory and fortune. His tendencies as a cold-blooded, merciless killer were evident from early on in his career when he commanded the Israeli army’s Unit 101 in the 1950’s. Unit 101 was an infamous commando brigade with special license to kill and terrorize Palestinians. It operated mostly in Gaza, but also in other parts of the country and beyond. Unit 101 was so brutal in its practices, and claimed so many innocent lives, that even by Israeli standards it was thought to have gone too far and the unit was eventually disbanded.
Sharon went on to be promoted to other commands in the Israeli army earning a name for himself as a promising commander and all were expecting that he would one day be the Israeli army’s top commander, or Chief of Staff. But this was one job he never got, he did better. Sharon entered politics and was nominated to be Defense Minister under Prime Minister Menachem Begin. In that capacity he lead Israel’s catastrophic invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
This invasion left countless Lebanese and Palestinians dead, wounded and displaced. Sharon was also behind the massacres that took place in September of that year in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps near Beirut, and here once again, even by Israeli standards Sharon had gone too far and was removed from office.
Though Sharon was reprimanded for his role in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, and was prevented from serving as defense minister, his political career continued nevertheless and his sphere of influence grew. As minster of Housing and Development he contributed more than any other to the racist, anti Palestinian policies and the corruption within the ministry. It is claimed that during his tenure the ministry’s budget was without limits, exceeding Israel’s entire defense budget. He used his full weight to achieve the colonization and displacement Palestinians from what used to be the West Bank.
Surely the most absurd thing ever said about Sharon, is that he was a man of peace. That he “left” Gaza and that he “gave” Gaza back to the Palestinians. That he did it for peace and in return all Israel received were rockets fired from Gaza. The Israeli disengagement from Gaza was a cynical, unilateral move. It allowed Sharon to get the Israeli settlers in Gaza out of his way, close Gaza like a prison and score a few political points with the US administration. It was a cruel move that allowed him to further suffocate the people of Gaza, people that he was determined to destroy from early on in his violent career. But the proud Palestinians would not surrender and served as a constant reminder of the blood with which his hands are stained.
One could go on and on about Sharon and his crimes. As he lay dying, perhaps within days or minutes of his final breath, we must all remember his victims, the countless dead, wounded and displaced and remind the world that this man was not a hero but a criminal.
As I write these words Ariel Sharon is still alive, if one can call it that, and in many ways the state in which he lives now could be the hell he so richly deserves.
Miko Peled is an Israeli writer and peace activist living in the US. Author of The General's Son, The Journey of an Israeli in Palestine.