Saree Makdisi, a professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA, and a nephew of Edward Said, has inherited his uncle’s political outlook ‑ an opposition to the existence of the state of Israel. Like Said, Makdisi has channeled his animosity into publishing anti‑Israel screeds full of false rhetoric. He has become, for instance, a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times, despite a November 2004 Op‑Ed which was corrected due to factual errors and distortions.
In Saturday’s (January 7, 2006) LA Times, Makdisi laments what he labels the “whitewashing of Ariel Sharon.” In his Op‑Ed, fully entitled: “The whitewashing of Ariel Sharon: The ‘man of courage and peace’ story ignores his bloody and ruthless past,” Makdisi observes that “end‑of‑career assessments often stretch the truth.” But it is Makdisi who is guilty of just that, by providing only half the story, and leaving out any Palestinian culpability in the violent events.
Thus, he writes: “The waypoints of [Sharon’s] career are all drenched in blood, from the massacre he directed at the 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.”
The Qibya ‘Massacre’
While Makdisi paints the 1953 Qibya killings as a deliberate, indiscriminate massacre of innocent Palestinians, this was not the case. Qibya, then under Jordanian control, had been a base for terrorist acts against Israel. The immediate provocation for the reprisal against Qibya was an attack on October 12, 1953 in which Arab terrorists from the area of Qibya killed a young Israeli mother, Susan Kanias, and her two children, aged one and three. Having demobilized after the War of Independence, thanks to expectations of peace with its Arab neighbors, Israel’s army had shown itself incapable of stopping terror attacks against its civilians, or even of launching effective retaliatory strikes against terror bases. Sharon, then studying law, was recalled to duty by the chief of the Israeli army. He was asked to form a special counter‑terror unit that could strike the terrorists where they lived and thereby disrupt and prevent future attacks.
Qibya was the unit’s first action ‑ the soldiers crossed the border and arrived at the town under cover of darkness, intending to drive off the town’s defenders and residents and blow up its main buildings. As Sharon’s men took control of the town, scouts reported that hundreds of villagers were seen streaming away from the area. After allowing the few people they found still in the buildings to leave, the soldiers set their charges. 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.
Afterwards, when it became known that some civilians had remained hidden and were killed unintentionally, the likeliest explanation seemed to be that previously ineffectual Israeli raids had lulled the victims into thinking they would be safe hiding in their homes. Had it been the Israeli intention to kill civilians, as Makdisi suggests, the defenseless villagers fleeing Qibya would have been prime targets ‑ instead Israel allowed them to leave unharmed.
Siege of Beirut
Makdisi stresses the hardships of the “hapless residents of Beirut,” but misplaces the blame for their situation. As throughout so much of Palestinian history, Palestinian fighters used civilian areas from which to launch their attacks on Israel, thus endangering their own population. Indeed, the New York Times reported on Aug. 2, 1982: “Responding to questions about mounting criticism of Israel for its on‑and‑off cutoff of food, water and electricity to Palestinian‑held west Beirut and the civilian casualties caused by the fighting, Mr. Sharon accused the Palestinian forces of seeking ‘immunity among the civilian population.’ He showed aerial photographs of Palestinian and Syrian tanks placed close to the American, Spanish and Tunisian Embassies.”
Sabra and Shatila and Lebanon War
Once again distorting Sharon’s record, Makdisi sneers: “As a purely gratuitous bonus, Sharon and his army later facilitated the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians at the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, and in all about 20,000 people ‑ almost all innocent civilians ‑ were killed during his Lebanon adventure.”
Regarding Sharon’s role in Sabra and Shatila, Makdisi ‑ in his words ‑ is “stretch[ing] the truth.” Notice that Makdisi blames “Sharon and his army” for the massacre carried out by Christian Phalangists. Israel’s Kahan 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.
As for the contention that “20,000 people ‑ almost all innocent civilians ‑ were killed during [Sharon’s] Lebanon adventure,” this too is exaggeration. As David Shipler, a New York Times correspondent in Beirut during the war, reported on July 14, 1982: It is clear to anyone who has traveled in southern Lebanon, as have many journalists and relief workers, that the original figures of 10,000 dead and 600,000 homeless, reported by correspondents quoting Beirut representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross during the first week of the war, were extreme exaggerations.”
Makdisi avers: “Some may take comfort in the myth that Sharon was transformed into a peacemaker, but in fact he never deviated from his own 1998 call to ‘run and grab as many hilltops’ in the occupied territories as possible.”
What are the facts about Sharon’s peacemaking initiatives, not just in recent years, but historically as well? Sharon, in fact, was supportive of multiple Israeli peace agreements with Arab neighbors, starting with the 1979 Camp David Peace Accords with Egypt, which he helped negotiate as a minister in the Begin government. In 1981, as Minister of Defense, Sharon was responsible for the dismantling of the first Israeli civilian settlements ever to be evacuated ‑ Ophira and Yamit in the Sinai, where some Israelis had resided for more than a decade. As a minister under Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1990s, Sharon strengthened the accords with Jordan by, for example, arranging for increased water transfers. Moreover, in 1998, as Foreign Minister, Sharon accompanied Prime Minister Netanyahu to the Wye River talks as chief negotiator. As a result of these talks, 13 percent of territories in Area C (under full Israeli control) were transferre d to the Palestinian Authority and another 14.2 percent of lands in Area B (Israeli military control and Palestinian civil control) were transferred to full PA control.
‘Fragments of Territory’
But Makdisi summarily dismisses Sharon’s role in relinquishing these territories, not to mention the Gaza Strip as well. He writes: “His plan for peace with the Palestinians involved grabbing large portions of the West Bank, ultimately annexing them to Israel, and turning over the shattered, encircled isola ted, disconnected and barren fragments of territory left behind to what only a fool would call a Palestinian state.”
The details of Sharon’s plan were largely unknown to the general public, not to mention members of his own Kadima party. Many speculate, however, that the route of the security barrier is an indication of what Sharon possibly planned for future borders. As the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday, Sharon “has never specified how much land he would cede or where, although the path of the wall offers the best hints: As planned, it leaves about 50,000 settlers on the Palestinian side who presumably would have to move” (Tracey Wilkinson, Jan. 8). The current route of the security barrier only takes up seven to eight percent of the West Bank, and leaves territorial contiguity for the vast majority of the territory.
In addition, Makdisi avers: “Sharon’s ‘painful sacrifices’ for peace may have involved Israel keeping less, rather than more, of the territory that it captured violently and has clung to illegally for four decades, but few seem to have noticed that it’s not really a sacrifice to return something that wasn’t yours to begin with.” Aside from the fact that the territories were captured by Israel in a defensive war, Israel did not occupy them illegally. Nor could they be said to belong to the Palestinians, as Makdisi implies. The West Bank and Gaza were illegally occupied by Jordan and Egypt respectively, and were unallocated parts of the British Mandate.