With Ariel Sharon’s Death, Expect the Usual Falsehoods

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon died today at a hospital in Israel at the age of 85, eight years after a debilitating stroke left him in a near coma. When Sharon, considered by many military experts to have been one of the leading generals of the twentieth century, suffered the stroke in 2006, Op-Ed writers and reporters published numerous retrospective pieces trying to sum-up his career. Some, by Saree Makdisi and the late Christopher Hitchens, for example, were nothing but anti-Sharon screeds, while others, though somewhat more responsible, repeated many of the same discredited allegations that have long been used by polemicists to unfairly malign the Israeli leader.
Already CNN has posted stories distorting Sharon’s and Israel’s history. For example Ariel Sharon: Hero or butcher? Five things to know claims that:

Sharon long insisted that a controversial visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of Islam’s most holy sites, in 2000 was not a provocation.

But it is considered among many to be one of the flashpoints that sparked the Second Intifada, a Palestinian uprising that followed a failed round of peace talks with Israelis. During the visit, Sharon walked through the mosque’s compound. Within hours, protests over his visit turned violent.

The mosque and its compound sits on Temple Mount, a holy site for Jews, that is known to Muslims as Haram al Sharif, “The Noble Sanctuary.”

Of course, and contrary to CNN, the Temple Mount is not just a “holy site for Jews,” it is the holiest site for Jews, equivalent to what Mecca and Medina are for Muslims. Indeed, its holiness is exactly why the Muslim conquerors of Jerusalem built their mosque there, on the site of the Jews’ ancient temples. And contrary to the impression left by CNN, Sharon never entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Dome of the Rock. Furthermore, as detailed below, Arafat had promised US leaders before Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount that he would prevent any violence, then, in the words of Dennis Ross, he “didn’t lift a finger.” And, of course, the “failed round of peace talks” resulted from Arafat’s walk out following Israeli PM Barak’s acceptance of the Clinton Parameters.
For its part, articles in the New York Times quoted numerous critics of Sharon, and once again tied him to the killings in Sabra and Shatilla without mentioning that it was the (Christian Arab) Lebanese Phalange Militia that carried out the killings, rather than the Israel Defense Forces.
The main Times article, by Ethan Bronner, had many problems as well, and in particular was as inaccurate as CNN regarding Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount:

It was Mr. Sharon’s visit, in September 2000, accompanied by hundreds of Israeli police officers, to the holy site in Jerusalem known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, that helped set off the riots that became the second Palestinian uprising.

In fact, Palestinian leaders later admitted that Sharon’s visit was only a pretext for the violence, and, contrary to Bronner’s implication, the Temple Mount is not equally holy to Jews and Muslims.
As the coverage continues, expect to see columns and articles similar to David Greenway’s in the Boston Globe (January 10, 2006), which was witten after Sharon first fell ill, and neatly summarized the anti-Sharon and anti-Israel talking points. Titled Peace – on a warrior’s terms, it included allegations such as:

Sharon’s political nadir was the massacre in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla by allied Christian Lebanese militias, whom the Israelis had brought up to do the killing.

The Israelis remained just outside but turned the night into day with illumination rounds so their surrogates could see for the task at hand. An Israeli fact-finding commission found Sharon indirectly responsible for the atrocities.

The charge that Israel or Sharon brought the Lebanese militias “up to do the killing” is baseless and outrageous. The Phalange militia – the only militia that entered the camps – was tasked with rooting out terrorists, not with conducting a massacre. Indeed, the fact-finding commission mentioned by Greenway made this very clear in its findings:

Contentions and accusations were advanced that even if I.D.F. personnel had not shed the blood of the massacred, the entry of the Phalangists into the camps had been carried out with the prior knowledge that a massacre would be perpetrated there and with the intention that this should indeed take place; and therefore all those who had enabled the entry of the Phalangists into the camps should be regarded as accomplices to the acts of slaughter and sharing in direct responsibility. These accusations too are unfounded. We have no doubt that no conspiracy or plot was entered into between anyone from the Israeli political echelon or from the military echelon in the I.D.F. and the Phalangists, with the aim of perpetrating atrocities in the camps…. No intention existed on the part of any Israeli element to harm the non-combatant population in the camps. … Before they entered the camps and also afterward, the Phalangists requested I .D.F. support in the form of artillery fire and tanks, but this request was rejected by the Chief of Staff in order to prevent injuries to civilians. It is true that I.D.F. tank fire was directed at sources of fire within the camps, but this was in reaction to fire directed at the I.D.F. from inside the camps. We assert that in having the Phalangists enter the camps, no intention existed on the part of anyone who acted on behalf of Israel to harm the non-combatant population, and that the events that followed did not have the concurrence or assent of anyone from the political or civilian echelon who was active regarding the Phalangists’ entry into the camps. (Emphasis added)

These conclusions, of course, directly contradict Mr. Greenway’s allegation.

Another aspect of Mr. Greenway’s usage of the phrase “brought up to do the kil
ling” should also be noted, as he seems to be referring to since discredited reports from his former Washington Post colleague, Loren Jenkins, that the killings had been perpetrated by the South Lebanese Army, a militia closely allied with Israel. In fact, as Thomas Friedman of the New York Times reported at the time, as the Kahan commission found, and as generally accepted today, it was the Beirut-based Phalangist militia which entered into the camps and carried out the massacre, not the militia from southern Lebanon. There was thus no sense in which Israel “brought up” from any point south or elsewhere the militia in question.

In addition, the Israeli commission found Sharon indirectly responsible precisely because he failed to anticipate that a massacre would take place. The commission stated in general terms that:

If it indeed becomes clear that those who decided on the entry of the Phalangists into the camps should have foreseen – from the information at their disposal and from things which were common knowledge – that there was danger of a massacre, and no steps were taken which might have prevented this danger or at least greatly reduced the possibility that deeds of this type might be done, then those who made the decisions and those who implemented them are indirectly responsible for what ultimately occurred, even if they did not intend this to happen and merely disregarded the anticipated danger.

In this context, with regard to Sharon, the commission found:

It is our view that responsibility is to be imputed to the Minister of Defense for having disregarded the danger of acts of vengeance and bloodshed by the Phalangists against the population of the refugee camps, and having failed to take this danger into account when he decided to have the Phalangists enter the camps. In addition, responsibility is to be imputed to the Minister of Defense for not ordering appropriate measures for preventing or reducing the danger of massacre as a condition for the Phalangists’ entry into the camps. These blunders constitute the non-fulfillment of a duty with which the Defense Minister was charged.

These findings once again directly contradict reckless charges like Mr. Greenway’s .

Mr. Greenway was also incorrect in claiming that “It was Sharon’s provocative walk on the Temple Mount that did much to provoke the second Palestinian Intifadah …”

As numerous Palestinian officials have made abundantly clear, the second intifada had been planned well in advance by Mr. Arafat, and any actions by Mr. Sharon were a mere pretext.

PA Communications Minister Imad Faluji, for example, addressing a rally at the Ein Hilwe refugee camp in South Lebanon, stated that the new intifada had been in the planning for months:

Whoever thinks that the intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, is wrong, even if this visit was the straw that broke the back of the Palestinian people. 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… [Arafat] rejected the American terms and he did it in the heart of the US. (MEMRI, Special Dispatch No. 194 – PA, March 9, 2001; emphasis added)

Similarly, senior Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti 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)

Indeed, as reported in Greenway’s own Boston Globe, Palestinian official Faisal Husseini directly controlled the Palestinian attacks in and around the Temple Mount, the violence starting and stopping at his signal:

A senior Palestinian official acknowledged that yesterday’s protest was orchestrated. The rock-throwing youths, whose flag-raising directly challenged Israel’s assertion of sovereignty over the [Temple Mount], quit the protest quickly after a request to do so by the same Palestinian official who encouraged them to demonstrate…

Israeli officials … insist the violence is being fueled by the Palestinian leadership to exact concessions in the final negotiations aimed at ending the conflict. There was evidence of this yesterday.

All day, rock throwers – referred to in Arabic as “shebab,” or “the boys” – were provided with wheelbarrows full of rocks that came from inside the Al Aqsa compound. And the rock throwers stopped in unison at almost precisely 5 p.m. In a matter of minutes, they disappeared into locations around the Old City.

Husseini was seen walking away just then. Confronted with questions about what appeared to be highly orchestrated rock throwing, Husseini replied, “We asked the shebab to pull back.”

Husseini was admitting that he turned off the rioting in a matter of minutes. (Charles Sennott, Boston Globe, October 7, 2000; emphasis added)

Dennis Ross, the former senior US peace envoy, also corroborated that the violence was not sparked by Sharon. Interviewed on Fox News, Ambassador Ross revealed that Arafat betrayed the U.S over the Sharon visit, first promising he would prevent any violence, then doing nothing:

… we asked him to intervene to ensure there wouldn’t be violence after the Sharon visit, the day after. He said he would. He didn’t lift a finger. (FoxNews, April 21, 2002)

Thus, contrary to Mr. Greenway’s claim, Sharon’s visit to the holiest site in Judaism, the Temple Mount, did not “do much to provoke” the disturbances. Arafat and the Palestinians wanted violence and were planning for it, and Sharon’s visit was merely a pretext.

Finally, Mr. Greenway was also incorrect when he charged that unlike Moshe Dayan:

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Sharon had no appreciation or sympathy for Arabs, and they would suffer under his lash.

Even a casual examination of Sharon’s writings and statements proves just the opposite. For example, in his autobiography Sharon strongly supported Jewish-Arab coexistence:

It had always been one of my convictions that Jews and Arabs could live together. Even as a child it never occurred to me that Jews might someday be living in Israel without Arabs, or separated from Arabs. On the contrary, for me it had always seemed perfectly normal for the two people to live and work side by side. That is the nature of life here and it always will be.

… though Israel is a Jewish nation, it is, of course, not only a Jewish nation… I begin with the basic conviction that Jews and Arabs can live together. I have repeated that at every opportunity, not for journalists and not for popular consumption, but because I have never believed differently or thought differently, from my childhood on. I am not afraid of Arabs. I feel I can live with them. I believe I understand their problems. I know that we are both inhabitants of this land, and although the state is Jewish, that does not mean that Arabs should not be full citizens in every sense of the word. (Warrior, p343, 542-3)

Most of the false anti-Sharon charges, which have been repeated endlessly by pro-Palestinian activists, and by journalists who should know better, have their genesis in one simple fact. Over the last 60 years, every time Arab armies or terrorists have come to attack Israel, Sharon in ways large and small stood in their way, frustrating their aims and helping to defeat them. Whether as a young soldier in 1948 helping to defend Jerusalem against an Arab onslaught, or as a commando leader inventing counter-terror tactics in the 1950’s, Sharon proved, to Arabs and Israelis alike, that the young nation could defend itself. As a Major General in the Six Day War, Sharon’s brilliant assault on well-prepared defenses at Abu Agheila/Umm Katef shattered Egypt’s hold on the Sinai; it is still studied in military academies around the world.

And Sharon’s bold crossing of the Suez Canal in the Yom Kippur War in 1973, surrounding most of the Egyptian army, dismantling surface-to-air missiles that had been keeping the Israeli airforce at bay, and bringing Cairo under threat, brought the war to a close. Thanks to Sharon, yet another Arab attempt to destroy Israel had been soundly defeated.

For his succesful efforts to build and defend the state of Israel, Ariel Sharon will never be forgotten. For exactly the same reasons, among Israel’s adversaries Ariel Sharon will never be forgiven.

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