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Ariel Sharon: Enemy of Peace

Ariel Sharon, who died on Saturday, leaves a legacy of wanton destruction of Palestinian homes and lives.

Then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during a defense meeting held at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
Photo Credit: HELENE C. STIKKEL/Dept. of Defense/Wikimedia Commons


There are few individuals in the modern history of Israel/Palestine whose actions have been as consistently destructive as those of Ariel Sharon. Sharon, who died on January 11, had been involved in Israel's war machine as early as 1948. He was known for his cut-throat attitude on the battlefield, often with wanton disregard for civilian lives. Time and again, Sharon left some of the bloodiest marks on the history of Palestine.

Perhaps the earliest instance in this trend was the events of Qibya in 1953. Qibya is a Palestinian village in the West Bank, located close to the Green Line. In an Israeli attack on the village, led on the ground by Sharon, scores of homes were destroyed while civilians were still inside. The outcome was a massacre that left 69 Palestinians dead, most of whom were women and children.

The attack was internationally condemned and Israel scrambled to control the damage to its image following the massacre. The United Nations  condemned the massacre and the US State Department said those responsible "should be brought to account and that effective measures should be taken to prevent such incidents in the future". None of the officials responsible were held to account, however. This  culture of impunity would be a recurring theme - not only in Israeli history but in Sharon's history in particular.

The massacre at Qibya only foreshadowed what was yet to come at the hands of Sharon.

Sharon's wanton disregard for civilian life was most pronounced in 1982 during the massacres at the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon. Israel, which had invaded and occupied southern Lebanon at the time, effectively controlled the area. In the camps, Israeli-allied Lebanese Phalangists entered and committed large-scale killings of the Palestinian civilian population, while Israeli forces guarded the perimeter. Sharon, who was then minister of defence, was once again at the centre of a massacre of Palestinians.

Operating with impunity

An Israeli commission, led by the president of the Israeli Supreme Court, Yitzhak Kahan, found that Israeli forces were indirectly responsible for the massacre, and that Sharon himself bore personal responsibility - as he knew full well what would happen when the decision was made to permit the Phalangists to enter into the camp.

Among the recommendations of the Kahan commission report, which was accepted by the Israeli cabinet, was that Sharon should be removed from office and to never again hold a ministerial position. The Israeli prime minister at the time, Menachem Begin, refused to dismiss Sharon, and Sharon refused to resign. After continued outrage, Sharon left the defence ministry but remained in the cabinet as a minister without portfolio.

Sharon escaped accountability in Qibya and, despite heavy criticisms of his role in the Sabra and Shatila massacres, Sharon's career in public life did not end.

While he took a back seat for several years when the Likud party was led by Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and later Benjamin Netanyahu, Sharon eventually returned to the forefront of Israeli political life and campaigned for the premiership in 2000. During his campaign, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was engaged in negotiations with Yasser Arafat, chairman of the PLO - talks mediated by US President Bill Clinton.

In a stunt aimed at attacking Barak for what Israelis on the right considered to be the blasphemous act of negotiating with Palestinians, Sharon made a very  provocative visit to the Haram al-Sharif - Temple Mount - in Jerusalem, with a massive armed guard on September 29, 2000. The act, aimed at inflaming tensions and attacking his opponent Barak who was engaged in the "peace process", drew anger from Palestinians and Muslims around the world and triggered uprisings that would eventually become the second Palestinian intifada.

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