No sooner did Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffer a massive stroke, than Slate, the on-line magazine that claims 5 million unique visitors a month, posted an error-ridden column by regular contributor Christopher Hitchens, falsely suggesting that Ariel Sharon masterminded the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon (“What Sharon Did: The Bulldozer’s long, brutal career ended better than anyone expected,” Jan. 5). Ironically, the article is meant to praise Sharon, albeit grudgingly, for his political transformation from a proponent of the settler movement to a proponent of the creation of a Palestinian state. But to do this, Hitchens demonizes the Israeli leader’s past actions, misrepresenting the facts along the way.
Hitchens underwent a transformation of his own after 9/11 from Trotskyite to defender of the U.S. war on terrorism and parted ways, for the most part, with his colleagues on the left (Hitchens had been a longtime writer for The Nation).Yet, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he condemns Israel’s counter-terrorism measures, remaining highly influenced by such rabidly anti-Zionist extremists as Israel Shahak and Noam Chomsky.
Sabra and Shatila
For starters, Hitchens proposes to give readers a “refresher course” on Sharon’s history and describes the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps thus:
The best way of reminding oneself of this [how much Sharon is hated ] is to take a short refresher course in the 1983 Kahane Commission Report, which investigated the filthy pogrom at the Sabra and Shatila camps in Beirut and which recommended that the prime minister consider removing Sharon from office. (It is also worth looking up Noam Chomsky’s mordantly brilliant critique of that report, in his book Fateful Triangle, which disputed the commission’s finding of “indirect responsibility” and showed that Sharon had been the effective and conscious author of the massacre.)
Here, Hitchens uses partial truths and cites Noam Chomsky (who considers the U.S. a terrorist state and who has debated Hitchens on this) to recreate a false history in which Ariel Sharon masterminded a pogrom against Palestinians. But the columnist omits inconvenient and contradictory facts.
1. Yes, there was a massacre in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, but these were not carried out by Israeli soldiers. Christian Phalangist militia men under Elie Hobeika, operating in territory controlled by Israel, were responsible for the attack.
2. Yes, the Kahan Commission investigating the event found Ariel Sharon negligent in his job for failing to anticipate a possible revenge attack by Christians (whose leader had just been assassinated and who had earlier suffered atrocities at the hands of the PLO in Lebanon). One of the recommendations of the Kahan Commission was that “the Minister of Defense [Sharon] draw the appropriate personal conclusions arising out of the defects revealed with regard to the manner in which he discharged the duties of his office – and if necessary, that the Prime Minister consider whether he should exercise his authority under Section 21-A(a) of the Basic Law: the Government, according to which ‘the Prime Minister may, after informing the Cabinet of his intention to do so, remove a minister from office.'” But the Commission emphasized that “the atrocities in the refugee camps were perpetrated by members of the Phalangists, and that absolutely no direct responsibility devolves upon Israel or upon those who acted on its behalf.”
Throughout the article Hitchens uses adjectives like “brutal” (repeated three times in the article), “ruthless,” and “demagogic” to characterize Sharon. And unlike anti-terrorist actions by the U.S., those of Sharon are not viewed favorably by Hitchens. He describes them as “gruesome operations.” Thus, the counter-terrorist unit set up in 1953 to combat the then-rampant Arab terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians is called “the notorious unit under Sharon’s command” and its first operation, destroying a Jordanian terrorist base for attacks against Israel, is described as “the mass slaughter of inhabitants of Qibya, a village in the then-Jordanian West Bank.”
What Hitchens fails to tell readers is that the Qibya operation was provoked by a long series of Arab terrorist attacks, including one launched from Qibya which killed a young Israeli mother, Susan Kanias, and her two toddlers. Soldiers from the anti-terrorist brigade led by Sharon crossed the border and entered the town during the night, intending to drive off the town’s defenders and residents and blow up its main buildings. While Sharon’s men took control of the town, scouts reported that hundreds of villagers were seen running away. After allowing the people they found still in the buildings to leave, the soldiers set their explosives. When the mission was complete, Sharon and his men reported that they had destroyed 42 buildings and killed 10 to 12 people, all soldiers or guards. It later became known that other civilians who had remained hidden became unintended casualties of the operation.
Invasion of Lebanon
Rather than providing hard facts, the author fills his column with innuendo and false comparisons. Leaving out all context, he describes Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon as “being one of the most disastrous as well as the most gruesome operations in recent history,” with the implication that the invasion was an unprovoked, brutal attack led by Ariel Sharon.
But this is wrong. The PLO, with a multi-thousand man army, had taken over southern Lebanon and terrorized Lebanese of all faiths, as well as shelling northern Israeli communities, and carrying out cross-border attacks against Israeli civilians. Israel’s decision to invade Lebanon was made in an attempt to stop the Palestinian terrorism emanating from that territory.
For example, PLO terrorists from July 1981 and June 1982 killed 15 and wounded 250 in Israel, the West Bank, and overseas. Aborted or disrupted plans included a rocket attack on Eilat, blowing up buses and phone booths, and an attempt to explode a kindergarten near Tel Aviv. In March 1982, Israeli offices in Paris and Athens were attacked, and on April 3, PLO terrorists murdered an Israeli embassy official in Paris. The final provocation was the attempted assassination of Shlomo Argov, Israel’s ambassador to Britain by Palestinian terrorists.
And the “gruesome” nature of the violence was due to the fact “the PLO had become permeated with thugs and adventurers” (Washington Post, June 25, 1982), with numerous Lebanese telling of rape, mutilation and murders committed by PLO forces. For example, Palestinians and Lebanese leftists destroyed the city of Damour and massacred hundreds of its inhabitants. According to then- New York Times correspondent David Shipler, the PLO had turned the town into a military base, “using its churches as strongholds and armories” (New York Times, June 21, 1982).
Similarly Hitchens leaves out facts and context to portray Ariel Sharon’s military actions in the 1956 Suez campaign as a “lawless attack”and his counte r-terrorism operations in Gaza as “brutal enforce[ment] of occupation,” suggesting that Israel has no right to defend itself or its citizens.
Apartheid and Colonization
Hitchens also inaccurately describes an Israeli “status quo of mingled apartheid and colonization,” parroting Palestinian and leftist propagandists, but offering no examples or substantiation of this false allegation. In fact, 23% of the country is non-Jewish, mainly Arab Muslims and Christians, and they are the freest Arabs of the Middle East, with members of these communities serving in the Israeli parliament, the armed forces, and the Supreme Court. The term “colonization” (which implies an alien community established in foreign territory by an imperial power) also certainly doesn’t apply to Israel’s presence on the land of the Jews’ ancient kingdom in the disputed territory.
The author describes Sharon’s “conversion” as exemplified by his willingness to accept a Palestinian state as “one of the better ironies of history.” But the real irony is that while Hitchens’ own conversion is exemplified by loudly defending the U.S. war on terrorism – [“the important thing is to have it understood that the United States is absolutely serious. The jihadists have in the past bragged that America is too feeble and corrupt to fight. A lot is involved in disproving that delusion on their part” (from an interview with Front Page Magazine)] – he does not feel that Israel shares this right to defend itself and confront terrorism.
When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Hitchens reverts to his past. As he told Jamie Glazov in the Front Page interview: “One of the advantages of a Marxist and internationalist training is that it exposes one to the early writings of those Jewish cosmopolitans who warned from the first day that Zionism would be a false Messiah for the Jews and an injustice to the Arabs
The question is why Slate — knowing Hitchens’ anti-Zionist views — considered it appropriate for him to “eulogize” Sharon?