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Ariel Sharon and my political education

For Lisa Goldman, the memory of Ariel Sharon evokes images of civilian massacres, suicide bombings, bloody curfews and a political shift in Israeli society to the right. 

Screenshot of Ariel Sharon from the animated Israeli film “Waltz With Bashir.”

My earliest memory of Ariel Sharon involves vivid color photographs of corpses. I was just waking up to the world and intensely interested in current affairs, so I spent quite a bit of time in the library of my quiet, Canadian all girls’ school, thumbing through newsmagazines like Newsweek, Time and Life. Which is how I learned about the massacre of of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila and saw those gut-churning images of sprawled, bloated, bloody bodies — piles of them. Men and women. Children.

More than three decades later, it is those photographs that flicker automatically across my inner movie screen in response to any mention of Ariel Sharon’s name. Not the famous black-and-white photograph of General Sharon with his bandaged head after he was wounded on a Sinai battlefield during the 1973 war. And not the later image of the warrior turned farmer, with a sheep slung over his shoulders. For me he was primarily a war criminal. I do not celebrate his death, but I don’t mourn him either.

I was educated — at my Jewish elementary school, at summer camp and at synagogue — to think of the State of Israel as a special, better place. Sabra and Shatila forced me to question that perception. In a way, Ariel Sharon hovered over every watershed event in the evolution of my political views, from 1982 to 2005. That includes reading as an undergraduate about the Qibya Massacre that he led in 1953, when he and his soldiers killed 69 Palestinian villagers, primarily women and children.

At the Friday night dinner table in September 1982 my stepfather, who had a subscription to Commentary Magazine, told me sharply that it wasn’t the Israelis who killed the Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila. It was the Christian Lebanese. The subtext: Christians were killing Muslims and everyone was trying to blame the Jews, as usual. This was the received narrative, as far as I remember, among mainstream Jews in the diaspora communities.

In Israel the popular view was somewhat different. The government-appointed Kahan Commission, charged with investigating the massacre, wrote in their report that Sharon, then minister of defense, bore personal responsibility for what had happened. In response to that report, tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated in central Tel Aviv to demand his resignation. After that Sharon was a pariah for many years, which seemed like the proper fate for a murderer-by-proxy. But in Israel disgraced public figures have a talent for resurrecting themselves from the presumed dead, particularly when they have a sixth sense for populist sentiment. Sharon was the champion of that game.

I was living in Tel Aviv in 2000 when, surrounded by body guards, Sharon stood in front of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City, the golden edifice that is probably the most prominent visual symbol of Palestinian nationhood, and told the assembled media representatives that this place would always be under Israeli control. That incident was a populist tour de force. Then-prime minister Ehud Barak had just returned from the failed Camp David talks with Yasser Arafat and announced that there was “no partner” for peace. He offered no alternative plan to the already shaky Oslo Accords. Meanwhile, no leader or analyst had managed to assuage popular fears that the Jewish holy sites of the Old City — like the Western Wall and the Temple Mount — would become inaccessible to Israelis if East Jerusalem were the capital of a future Palestinian state. Sharon played to those fears. He also added weight to the concerns of Palestinians who suspected that Israel had no intention of withdrawing from the occupied territories, ever.

The Second Intifada, also called the Al Aqsa Intifada, began the following day, with violent clashes in the Old City that soon spread to the rest of the West Bank. Things were falling apart at such a rapid pace that I hardly ever turned off the television, lest I miss yet another news bulletin about a siege or a bombing. One week the news presenters were talking about peace in the Middle East and driving to Damascus for lunch; and the next they were live broadcasting the lynching of two reserve soldiers who lost their way while driving in the West Bank.

It would be shallow and inaccurate to blame any one person for the disastrous events of the following months and years. All the players were short sighted, self serving and mendacious — Yasser Arafat, Ehud Barak, the army generals, the PLO leadership and the ambulance-chasing media with their three-inch, red font headlines. But I could not accept that out of all that mess of suicide bombings, army incursions and political collapse, the result was the 2001 election of Ariel Sharon as prime minister. Even more disturbing: that many of my liberal friends were somehow relieved. Because “at least he was a leader” and because he was a military man, the hero of the 1973 war, and in Israel the number one concern is always security. And so, while many of my friends’ opinions shifted rightward, mine began to move in the opposite direction.

For awhile in 2001-2, there was a suicide bombing nearly every day. People were getting blown up while sitting in a cafe, traveling on a bus, shopping for groceries or dancing in a club. The randomness was discombobulating and the fear was pervasive. On more than one occasion I was at home in my apartment when there was another window-rattling explosion, followed by the nearly immediate wail of sirens from what often sounded like every emergency vehicle in Tel Aviv approaching from six different directions. Civilians were dying every day, but Sharon remained a popular prime minister. A warrior.

Sharon’s response to the bombings was to have the army re-invade the West Bank. Tanks rolled into Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus and Bethlehem. Heavy weapons were fired into densely populated civilian areas. The Hebrew media reported the deaths of many nameless Palestinian civilians, often omitting or glossing over the circumstances. Houses were crushed and people lived for days under curfew, without water or electricity.

One of my most vivid memories of that time is of sitting at an outdoor cafe on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv as a taxi driver passed by, his radio broadcasting a report about the army’s actions in Ramallah. As he listened, the driver pumped his fist out the window and yelled, “Give it to them, Sharon! Give it to them hard!”

Three years later, sitting in a Ramallah cafe with a Palestinian colleague, I listened as she told me about watching her fiance die from an Israeli bullet that hit him in the abdomen, and about a mutual acquaintance who was prevented by the army from attending his mother’s funeral.

So Sharon “gave it to them.” And he started building the wall/fence/barrier that so many people credit with preventing suicide bombers. Never mind that correlation is not the same as causality. Or that the barrier is porous and was never finished. Or, ethically speaking, that it dug deep into the West Bank, gobbled up Palestinian land, destroyed their livelihoods and made their homes into prisons. It made Israelis feel safer.

During this time, Sharon was dogged by widely reported corruption scandals involving kickbacks and ill-acquired campaign funding. But somehow he evaded prosecution. Or his son Omri took the fall, resigning his Knesset seat and serving nine months in jail.

And then in 2003 Sharon announced the unilateral withdrawal of Israeli settlements and the army from Gaza, which he scheduled for the summer of 2005. For this, the godfather of the settlement movement was credited with being a visionary leader who had seen the light. He had come to understand that the settlements were unsustainable and was willing to undertake the politically risky, unpopular but necessary job of dismantling them.

But in an interview with Ari Shavit for Haaretz, Dov Weissglass, one of Sharon’s closest advisors, said explicitly that the point of withdrawing from the relatively insignificant settlements, where only about 7,000 Israelis lived, was to consolidate Israeli control over the West Bank. Weissglass’s assertion has not been absorbed into the popular narrative.

For the Palestinians, Gaza became an open air prison after the withdrawal of 2005. The Israeli army continues to control the sea and the border crossings. They decide who and what may enter or leave the territory. Army drones hover overhead, keeping track of movement below. People with family members in the West Bank are almost never allowed to visit them; nor are residents of the West Bank allowed to visit Gaza.

The former settlers, meanwhile, have not succeeded in rebuilding their lives. More than eight years after the disengagement, they still suffer from depression and various related illnesses, and complain that they were not adequately compensated for their homes and lost income. Their children feel betrayed by the state; they are angry and radicalized. When I spoke to them in Gaza back in 2005, they scared me with their violent racism and their hyper nationalism. They still scare me. And they should scare you, too.

Related:
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dies at 85
When Sharon was great 

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    COMMENTS

    1. Ayla

      Thank you for this thoughtful, personal piece, Lisa.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Rehmat

      As a fellow Canadian, I miss Lisa’s personal blog. On August 27, 2013, The Jerusalem Post, honored Lisa by calling her “anti-Israel” (a self-hating Jew).

      Sharon was responsible for the massacre at Lebanese refugee camps by association – as Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia was armed, trained and funded by Israeli army.

      Canada lacks freedom of speech. For example, in December 2010, University of Toronto, was slammed by several Jewish groups came for awarding a Master’s degree to a Jew female student Jennifer Peto – for her thesis which claimed that the Jews practice racism against non-Jewish communities.

      http://rehmat1.com/2010/12/05/u-of-t-under-fire-for-thesis-on-jewish-racism/

      Reply to Comment
      • Carlos

        Hi Rehmat,
        Looks like you need to find a new country where you can better express your hatred.
        Question:why is it important for you to know who is. Jewish and who isn”t? Do you have a list?

        Reply to Comment
    3. Ken Kelso

      Rehmat, can you answer the 4 simple questions.
      Who did you say was behind 9/11? You said it was the Mossad and not Bin Laden.
      Who did you say was behind the 2004 Madrid bombings and the 2005 London bombings?
      You said it was the Mossad and not Muslims.
      Who did you say gassed the Syrians last year?
      You said it was the Mossad and not Assad.
      Do you dispute anything i’v said here.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ron Grant

      Written by one who is comfortable in the others shoes.So proud of our Canadian young women.

      Reply to Comment
    5. The Trespasser

      >Which is how I learned about the massacre of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila and saw those gut-churning images of sprawled, bloated, bloody bodies — piles of them.

      Arabs massacred Arabs. Nothing whatsoever to do with Sharon or any other Israeli.

      >In Israel the popular view was somewhat different. The government-appointed Kahan Commission, charged with investigating the massacre, wrote in their report that Sharon, then minister of defense, bore personal responsibility for what had happened.

      Not exactly.


      Following a four-month investigation, on 8 February 1983, the Kahan Commission submitted its report, which was released to the public by spokesman Bezalel Gordon simultaneously in Hebrew and English. It concluded that direct responsibility rested with the Gemayel Phalangists led by Fadi Frem, and that no Israelis were deemed directly responsible, although Israel was held to be indirectly responsible.

      The Defense minister Ariel Sharon was found to bear personal responsibility “for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge” and “not taking appropriate measures to prevent bloodshed”.

      At most, Sharon might have had been responsible for not preventing Arabs from killing Arabs…

      >I was living in Tel Aviv in 2000 when, surrounded by body guards, Sharon stood in front of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City, the golden edifice that is probably the most prominent visual symbol of Palestinian nationhood

      With all due respect, there is no such thing as “Palestinian nationhood”, otherwise there LONG would have been Palestinian Unity government.

      >and told the assembled media representatives that this place would always be under Israeli control. That incident was a populist tour de force.

      That incident was the sole acceptable response for Arafat’s lack of desire for peace.

      >Then-prime minister Ehud Barak had just returned from the failed Camp David talks with Yasser Arafat and announced that there was “no partner” for peace. He offered no alternative plan to the already shaky Oslo Accords.

      What kind of nonsense is that? Barak was elected SOLELY because he had offered Israelis peace. The plan was that at Camp David the conflict would be resolved for good.

      >Meanwhile, no leader or analyst had managed to assuage popular fears that the Jewish holy sites of the Old City — like the Western Wall and the Temple Mount — would become inaccessible to Israelis if East Jerusalem were the capital of a future Palestinian state. Sharon played to those fears.

      I remember summer/autumn 2000 and winter 2001 perfectly well. Hardly there was any significant number of people concerned by the possible lack of access to the Temple Mount.

      There was no fear in society, only growing disillusionment with Left’s bullshit.

      >He also added weight to the concerns of Palestinians who suspected that Israel had no intention of withdrawing from the occupied territories, ever.

      Rubbish. It was Palestinian Arabs who refused to accept the proposed peace deal. Blaming Israelis for Arabs’ lack of desire to live in peace is a perfect example of self-hating.

      >It would be shallow and inaccurate to blame any one person for the disastrous events of the following months and years.

      Rubbish. There is only 1 (one) person to blame – late scumbag Arafat.

      >All the players were short sighted, self serving and mendacious — Yasser Arafat, Ehud Barak, the army generals, the PLO leadership and the ambulance-chasing media with their three-inch, red font headlines.

      Rubbish.

      >But I could not accept that out of all that mess of suicide bombings, army incursions and political collapse, the result was the 2001 election of Ariel Sharon as prime minister.

      Well, given that Leftists could not do anything right, and not even once, it is the only way events could unfold.

      >Civilians were dying every day, but Sharon remained a popular prime minister. A warrior.

      Civilians were dying because brainless leftists screwed up.

      >Sharon’s response to the bombings was to have the army re-invade the West Bank.

      Author makes it sound like Sharon had any other choice.

      >So Sharon “gave it to them.”

      Yep. Palestinian Arabs wanted war and they got it.
      Did not like the outcome? Was hoping that Israelis would give in? Such a disappointment are these stiff-necked Jooz…

      >And he started building the wall/fence/barrier that so many people credit with preventing suicide bombers. Never mind that correlation is the not same as causality.

      >Or that the barrier is porous and was never finished.

      There is no such thing as hermetically sealed border. However, in this particular case it was not needed – sufficient is that the wall had impeded travel ability of potential terrorists, their handlers and supporters.

      >Or, ethically speaking, that it dug deep into the West Bank, gobbled up Palestinian land, destroyed their livelihoods and made their homes into prisons.

      Ethically speaking, a nation which support suicide bombings is beyond ethics.

      >It made Israelis feel safer.

      In the light of lack of successful terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, it is safe to assume that the wall does it’s job.

      >said explicitly that the point of withdrawing from the relatively insignificant settlements, where only about 7,000 Israelis lived, was to consolidate Israeli control over the West Bank.

      There is nothing even remotely similar on Haaretz website.

      >For the Palestinians, Gaza became an open air prison after the withdrawal of 2005.

      Bullshit. Gaza became an open air prison after its population had chosen to be ruled by a terrorist organization.

      >The Israeli army continues to control the sea and the border crossings. They decide who and what may enter or leave the territory. Army drones hover overhead, keeping track of movement below. People with family members in the West Bank are almost never allowed to visit them; nor are residents of the West Bank allowed to visit Gaza.

      Each nation deserves its government.

      >The former settlers, meanwhile, have not succeeded in rebuilding their lives.

      Rubbish.

      >More than eight years after the disengagement, they still suffer from depression and various related illnesses

      Rubbish.

      >and complain that they were not adequately compensated for their homes and lost income.

      Rubbish.

      >Their children feel betrayed by the state;

      Rubbish.

      >they are angry and radicalized.

      Rubbish.

      >When I spoke to them in Gaza back in 2005, they scared me with their violent racism and their hyper nationalism. They still scare me. And they should scare you, too.

      So, here is the point of this masochistic article: I’m afraid of Jooz, and so should you.

      Reply to Comment
      • Y-Man

        Israel invaded Lebanon because of PLO attacks from across the border. Sharon took control of the Palestinian refugee camps and allowed the political opponents of the PLO, the Lebanese Christians, to massacre the Palestinians who were a nuisance to Israel. It was all very deliberate, and it is all of a piece of the Israeli foreign policy. It’s a country founded on a victimhood in another land, ethnic nationalism and supremacy, and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population. Jabotinsky, Ben Gurion, and Begin all admitted the last aspect publicly many times. You have to be an idiot not to see this reality.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          >Israel invaded Lebanon because of PLO attacks from across the border.

          Rubbish.

          >Sharon took control of the Palestinian refugee camps…

          Rubbish.

          >….and allowed the political opponents of the PLO, the Lebanese Christians, to massacre the Palestinians who were a nuisance to Israel.

          Nonsense.
          1) Number of refugees slaughtered is too low to change anything.
          2) Christian Arabs massacred Muslim Arabs
          3) The actual killers were the “Young Men”, a gang recruited by Elie Hobeika, the Lebanese Forces intelligence chief, from men who had been expelled from the Lebanese Forces for insubordination or criminal activities.The killings are widely believed to have taken place under Hobeika’s direct orders.

          >It was all very deliberate

          Rubbish.

          >and it is all of a piece of the Israeli foreign policy.

          Rubbish.

          >It’s a country founded on a victimhood

          Rubbish.

          >in another land

          Rubbish.

          >ethnic nationalism and supremacy, and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population.

          More rubbish.

          >Jabotinsky, Ben Gurion, and Begin all admitted the last aspect publicly many times.

          Prove it.

          >You have to be an idiot not to see this reality.

          You have to be an idiot to think that reading biased articles and books will make you see the reality.

          Reply to Comment
          • Y-Man

            you write “rubbish” and nothing else SEVEN TIMES in response to my post, then you have the balls to ask me to “prove” the existence of these widely known quotations? well, okay: In 1923, Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky (a Benjamin Netanyahu hero) observed: “Every indigenous people will resist alien settlers as long as they see any hope of ridding themselves of the danger of foreign settlement. This is how the Arabs will behave and go on behaving so long as they possess a gleam of hope that they can prevent ‘Palestine’ from becoming the Land of Israel.”

            Similarly, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, explained in 1938: “The country is theirs because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country, while we are still outside.”
            And from Israel’s memorable field general, Moshe Dayan, in 1956: “For eight years now, [Palestinian Arabs] sit in their refugee camps in Gaza, and before their eyes we turn into our homestead the land and villages in which they and their forefathers lived.”

            There you go, chief. Enjoy.

            Reply to Comment
    6. ruth

      Boring! Boiler plate platitudes from a newly “radicalized” blogger. Besides, who is Lisa and why should I care about her political evolution?
      Re Rehmat: The dude has been banned from Mondoweiss and Silverstein! But 972 allows him to post his crap here day after day

      Reply to Comment
      • Y-Man

        because people not as enlightened as you are find it interesting?

        Reply to Comment
    7. Keith Reitman

      Gee, honey, based on your narrative Israel cannot do anything right;so sad. I DISAGREE.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Ken Kelso

      Rehmat, Barry Chamish also claims human beings are being abducted by Aliens on UFO’s.
      Daniel Ben Simon is someone that is silent on Palestinian Rejectionism and is upset when Israel defends itself against Palestinian terrorists.

      Steven Plaut wrote a brilliant article showing what a radical liar Daniel Bar Tal is about Israel.
      This is a must read.

      http://zioncon.blogspot.com/2009/06/prof-daniel-bar-tal-tel-aviv-university.html

      Reply to Comment
    9. Ken Kelso

      I just found another lie by Rehmat.
      Rehmat the loon claims Israel was behind the suicide bombing which murdered 7 Israeli tourists in Bulgaria in 2012.
      http://rehmat1.com/2012/07/19/mossad-blasts-7-israeli-tourists-in-bulgaria/

      Thats interesting, cause i’v never heard of an Israeli homicide bomber.

      When you read the article by crazy Rehmat, he also in the article claims Israel was behind the bombings of
      Hotel Paradise Mombassa in Kenya in 2002, the Israeli embassy in Argentina in 1994 and ofcourse the Madrid train bombings in 2004 and the London train bombing in 2005.

      Hey Rehmat, I’m surprised you didn’t say the Jews were behind killing JFK, started the Iran Iraq war, sank the titanic and killed the Dinosaurs.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Any further comments that are not a direct response to the contents of my post will be deleted. Users who re-post comments that I deleted will be banned. That’s it.

      Reply to Comment
      • SH

        I wouldn’t worry about it – that none of the dissenting voices can come up with a lucid or articulate counter-argument (forget the self-hating Jew or anti-semit labels) only works to strengthen yours.

        Reply to Comment
    11. Ken Kelso

      Lisa Goldman is basically saying Jews should not fight back and just accept Palestinian terrorism.
      Lisa Goldman also never wants to condemn Palestinians for firing missiles behind civilians and using civilians as human shields.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Richard Witty

      I found that the description of your political education, was the most illuminating of the post.

      Everyone knows Sharon, maybe not how he came to understand what he did, but much of what he did.

      How we come to understand what we understand is the most important consideration.

      I appreciate that you didn’t bury the impact of the second intifada on your own, and on Israelis’ consciousness.

      To me it is story, as the holocaust is story, but as I know people firsthand for whom it was more than story (alarms or worse), it is also more than story to me.

      I have a theory that the period that people came of political age greatly affects the filters through which they choose what is important politically.

      So, I also thank you for carrying experiences that stretch you, that conflict with party lines.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Richard Lightbown

      Those poor old settlers had it tough; how my heart bleeds. Funny how nobody stops to consider the c.10,000 Palestinians driven off their land to make way for those settlements that were created on stolen land in the first place. What a pain in the arse those settlements were to everyday life in the Gaza Strip too. (See Joe Sacco ‘Footnotes in Gaza’ e.g. p19.) When settler cars approached the settler only overpass all traffic on the road from Khan Younis to Rafah was stopped for anything up to a day. And of course the settlements had enough water for swimming pools while neighbouring Palestinian communities were sharing a single cold water tap.

      In 1990/91 Israel absorbed nearly 400,000 immigrants from the Soviet Union. Yet it cannot find a way to absorb 7,500 settlers from Gush Katif. I wonder why?

      Reply to Comment
    14. “The former settlers, meanwhile, have not succeeded in rebuilding their lives. More than eight years after the disengagement, they still suffer from depression and various related illnesses, and complain that they were not adequately compensated for their homes and lost income. Their children feel betrayed by the state; they are angry and radicalized.”

      There is a strong sense in the politics of this conflict, all around, that individuals are spare change spent as needed for abstract goods. The land has lived with casualties for so long that the spending of individuals seems nigh inevitable. You can say the same of war generally, and even of periods of industrial development where lives are spent for economic imperative (coal miners, garment workers burned to death in an accident). So now the lost living (not death) of the expelled settlers becomes a force to enact similar or more loss elsewhere, in the West Bank. The only way out I see is to interdict individual harm as such.

      So the Gazan settlers, today, should be further compensated, not in support of any settler ideology, but to affirm that individuals are never spare change. How else can you break the cycle of retribution?

      Reply to Comment
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