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Sharon escaped trial, but Palestinian resistance lives

Paolo Bassi

March 6, 2014

Since last year’s Israeli Apartheid Week the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and grown, and war criminal Ariel Sharon has died.
Whether someone is a war criminal really depends on who the accusers and accused are.  Killers without powerful friends (almost always black and African) are liable to be hauled before the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague.  Killers with the protection of powerful, well-connected states can expect to become “complicated” elder statesmen, dispensing wisdom and making money. Tony Blair and Henry Kissinger have been particularly adept in showing there is life after war crimes with millions to be made from political connections. 
Ariel Sharon (1928-2014) was Israel’s very own General Custer—an Arab-killer par excellence and hero to Zionist Israelis on whose behalf he destroyed so many Palestinian lives.  Since 1948, when Israel was created by the U.N. and U.S., Sharon fought to reduce the Palestinian population by any and all means. After all, according to Sharon and Israel’s founding fathers, Arabs understood only violence.       
Ethnic cleansing
Regardless of the number of Palestinians who died by his hand, Sharon never faced criminal prosecution, because Israel could never have been created without the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Men like Sharon, David Ben Gurion, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, all understood and accepted this brutal reality - and were prepared for the dirty work.  Allowing a man like Sharon to stand trial at the ICC, or anywhere else, would have meant condemnation of most of Israel’s founding figures.
-“there is a country which happens to be called Palestine, a country without a people, and, on the other hand, there exists the Jewish people, and it has no country.”—Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first president  
-"We must expel Arabs and take their places.”—Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, 1937
- “There was no such thing as Palestinians, they never existed."—Prime Minister Golda Maier, 1969   
If Israel was to survive, the Palestinians had to be driven out, killed or reduced to the level of helots.  Sharon and his fellow Zionists had one problem – the Palestinians themselves.  In the post-World War II era, it is not easy to make an entire people vanish. There is too much media and too much abhorrence of genocide. More importantly, Israel’s founders misjudged Palestinian courage and attachment to their land. 
After Israel’s creation in 1948, Sharon became commander of a secretive army unit with the Orwellian name of Unit 101 (later the Paratroopers Brigade), whose job ostensibly was to retaliate for Arab cross-border attacks.  In 1953 Unit 101 attacked the village of Qibya, dynamiting dozens of Palestinian homes and killing about 70 civilians.  Sharon claimed he had checked the houses before blowing them up. Sharon has never explained how 70 Palestinians - half of them children and women - ended up dead and why the village had to be destroyed.  Sharon took part in many such “operations” against Palestinian civilians, with the ultimate objective always being to drive out the Arabs and allow Jewish settlers to claim the “abandoned” land.  
Sabra and Shatila
Even if all the secret operations Sharon led since 1948 and his actions in the wars of 1956, 1967 and 1973 are ignored, what happened in Lebanon in 1982 is enough to condemn him. In 1982 Sharon was Israel’s Minister of Defense and ordered the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) to invade Lebanon. The IDF reached Beirut and trapped the PLO along with thousands of Palestinian civilians in refugee camps.
After weeks of bombing and desperate battles, international pressure prevailed and a Multinational Force (MNF) oversaw the departure of PLO fighters from West Beirut to Libya in June 1982. The IDF surrounded the unprotected Palestinian refugee camps of Shatila and Sabra - the MNF and PLO having already left Beirut. The IDF then allowed 1,500 mostly Christian Phalangist militia to gather at Beirut airport and even transported them in IDF vehicles to West Beirut.
On September 16 at 6 p.m., the Christian Phalange began entering Sabra and Shatila. The mass killing of the Palestinians had begun. Access to the camps was under IDF control.  Entry was impossible without IDF connivance. As the killing began, Sharon’s IDF watched from a high rise building overlooking the camps. To move the killing along, the IDF fired flares into the evening sky allowing the Phalange to see their victims. Everything the IDF did or omitted to do, was by Sharon’s orders.
For the next three days, the Phalange rampaged through Sabra and Shatila butchering defenseless Palestinian men, women and children. Hundreds of Arab women were raped and then killed.  Between 800 and 3,500 Palestinians were murdered between September 16 and 18 of 1982.  During World War II, Nazi occupiers of the Baltic states had encouraged and watched as local anti-Semites, in plain view, murdered their Jewish compatriots. How was Sabra and Shatila any less such a crime? Had he been a German general at Nuremberg, Sharon would have been hanged. 
Expanded colonization
For the next 20 years Sharon served as minister in various governments. Clearly powerful people in the Israeli establishment saw nothing wrong with his military conduct in Lebanon.  It got better for Sharon when in February 2001 his right-wing Likud party took power and he became PM.   
As the Second Intifada erupted leading to more bloody assaults on Gaza, Sharon seemed to do a u-turn when he pulled support for Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. About 10,000 Jewish settlers were forced to leave. This seeming betrayal of the Zionist cause enraged right-wingers like the current PM, Benjamin Netanyahu. He need not have worried. The pullback was strategic and a cover for expanded colonization in the occupied West Bank, where 70,000 more Israeli Jews settled during Sharon’s tenure. 
Sharon’s political life ended with a complete collapse of health amidst investigations into corrupt financial dealings by himself and his sons. In early 2006 Sharon fell into a coma and never recovered.
Not only had Sharon escaped international justice, his life was a great success measured in Zionist terms. Sharon had fought for two things, Jewish and Zionist supremacy within Israel and Israeli hegemony in the Middle East. With American money, military equipment and political support these have largely been achieved.
But Sharon failed to crush Palestinian resistance, which continues to grow and inspire broader resistance. Israeli Apartheid Week was launched in 2004 and continues to grow around the world. In 2005 Palestinian civil society launched the BDS campaign, which has sparked solidarity. Despite murderous assaults in Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza in 2009, Israel failed to destroy resistance movements. In 2011, solidarity with Palestine combined with civil liberty and workers struggles to launch the Arab Spring, challenging all the Western-backed Arab dictatorships on which Israeli Apartheid depends. This which would have been Sharon’s worst nightmare. Though he died before facing trial for his crimes, Palestinian resistance and solidarity lives.
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