A review of coverage of Ariel Sharon's career in the wake of his critical health problems shows problematic trends.
Misleading references to Sabra and Shatilla Massacres
The 1982 Sabra and Shatilla massacres in Lebanon are frequently referred to in a very misleading way, wrongly implying that Sharon and Israelis were directly responsible for carrying out the murders. Any reference to the 1982 massacres should always include mention that it was the Lebanese Christian militiamen who carried out the massacres and that Israel's Kahane Commission found that Sharon was indirectly responsible for the massacres because he did not anticipate that the Lebanese Christian militia allied with Israel would engage in such killing, and did not take appropriate action to prevent the massacres.
Here are some examples of distorted, misleading coverage on this topic:
• January 5th, ABC World News Tonight with Bob Woodruff:
Woodruff: "...Ariel Sharon has been one of this region's most powerful and enigmatic figures for decades. He has been called 'The Bulldozer' and 'The Butcher.' In 1982, as defense minister, he authorized the invasion of southern Lebanon and was later held responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in refugee camps there..."
• NPR's "Talk of the Nation" with Neil Conan: On the January 5th radio program, as part of summing up Sharon's life, Neil Conan said:
"...He was hailed as a military hero in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and denounced for the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and, for his part in massacres at Palestinian massacres in refugee camps in West Beirut."
• ABC's Nightline, January 4th:
Voiceover: "It was Sharon, as defense minister, who ordered Israeli soldiers deep into Lebanon in 1982. And it was his passive complicity in the Sabra and Shatilla massacre of Palestinian refugees that cost him his job as defense minister."
• Daily Telegraph (London), January 6th: Article:
"Sharon's unlikely legacy of peace will be hard to overturn" by Con Coughlin "...This, after all, was the man who, until very recently, was regarded as an international pariah, the 'Butcher of Beirut,' the man ultimately responsible for the appalling atrocities that took place at the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982."
Sharon Incorrectly Labeled as "Sparking Second Intifada"
Sharon's walk on the Temple Mount is frequently portrayed as having "sparked the second intifada" or as having so "inflamed" or "outraged" the Muslim world, that violence was inevitable. This ignores the calculated Palestinian incitement used to provoke the violence and directly contradicts the words of Palestinian leaders who admit that they had planned the terror campaign ahead of time and simply used Sharon's visit as a pretext to launch the violence:
According to then-Communications Minister Imad Al-Faluji:
"Whoever thinks that the Intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon's visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque 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." (Al-Safir, March 3, 2001. Translated by MEMRI) Elsewhere, Al-Faluji said: "The PA had begun to prepare for the outbreak of the current Intifada since the return from the Camp David negotiations."(Al-Ayyam, December 6, 2000. Translated by MEMRI).
A similar assertion has been made by then-senior Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti (currently in jail on terror-related charges), who told an interviewer that:
"The explosion would have happened anyway. It was necessary in order to protect Palestinian rights. But Sharon provided a good excuse. He is a hated man." (New Yorker, January 29, 2001)
Barghouti reinforced this point half a year later: "The intifada did not start because of Sharon’s visit to Al-Aqsa, although that was the last straw. The intifada began because of the desire to put an end to the occupation and because the Palestinians did not approve of the peace process in its previous form." (Jerusalem Times, June 8, 2001)
Here are some examples of problematic reporting on this topic:
• CNN.com, Sharon's timeline/biography
In an otherwise fair timeline/slideshow on January 6th, CNN wrote:
"In September 2000, Sharon -- then leader of the opposition -- led a delegation to a Jerusalem holy site revered by Jews, who call it the Temple Mount, and Muslims who refer to it as Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary. Violent protests ensued and Palestinians say the visit sparked the second uprising, or intifada."
• ABC's Nightline, January 4th: Voiceover: "Here is a man with an unambiguous history of brutality against the Arabs. One who, as a military commander, essentially taught his soldiers to fight dirty against their enemies. It was Sharon who counseled his leaders to get tough with Palestinians revolting against the Israeli occupation. And it was Sharon whose heavily guarded tour five years ago of Jerusalem's Temple Mount, or noble sanctuary, as Muslims call it, that so inflamed the Arab world."
• Economist Magazine - January 7 issue:
Article headline: "After Sharon; Israel without Sharon"
"And in 2000, his provocative walk on Jerusalem's Temple Mount is said to have sparked the second Palestinian intifada and so delivered a fatal blow to Bill Clinton's attempts to broker a peace settlement between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat."
• Daily Telegraph (UK) - January 6th Article: "Israel is left orphaned again as last of its fighting fathers wages one final battle" by Anton La Guardia "In September 2000, he made a provocative visit to al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, regarded by Jews as the site of their ancient temple. Having thus ignited the Palestinian uprising, he was propelled to power five months later on a promise to crush the revolt."
• www.npr.org Sharon timeline (January 6th):
"2000: Sharon visits the disputed Temple Mount Sept. 28 to emphasize Israel's claim of sovereignty. Muslims, who call the site the Noble Sanctuary, are outraged, and widespread violence breaks out a day later. The bloodshed sparks a political crisis in Israel, leading to Barak's resignation."
[The "bloodshed" that led to Barak's defeat was the terror against Israelis unleashed by the Palestinians, a terror campaign the Palestinians have stated themselves was planned long before Sharon took a walk on the Temple Mount.]
Lopsided choice of guests to comment on Sharon
Many news programs are asking guest speakers to comment on Sharon's life. However, all too often, the guest list is lopsided in favor of people harshly critical of Sharon. This is not only unfair but extremely insensitive.
• For example, the January 5th NPR "Talk of the Nation" radio program included 3 harsh critics of Sharon (Daoud Kuttab, Robert Malley, and Rami Khouri), 1 neutral journalist (Scott Wilson of the Washington Post), and Israeli Yaron Ezrahi (who was essentially neutral) to comment on Sharon's life and the political situation there. This is hardly fair or informative.