Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Ariel Sharon (1928-2014): The Territorial Legacy of Ariel Sharon

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Ariel Sharon (1928-2014): The Territorial Legacy of Ariel Sharon

Article excerpt

Ariel Sharon's death, following eight years in a vegetative state, evoked surreal eulogies from world leaders and diplomats. He was a "courageous warrior" and "knowledgeable farmer," according to Aaron David Miller, veteran U.S. Middle East adviser. He was a "bold, unorthodox" statesman, said Quartet representative and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He was a leader who tried to "bend the course of history toward peace," averred Secretary of State John Kerry.

To Israelis, he was simply "The Bulldozer," a general who refused to let the law, ethics or diplomacy stand in the way of his goals. To Palestinians, he was "The Butcher," a man responsible for the deaths of countless men, women and children.

In any fair historical reckoning, he will one day be recognized as an inveterate war criminal.

Sharon was laid to rest Jan. 13 in a grave close to his vast ranch in the Negev, built appropriately on the ruins of a Palestinian village, Houg, whose inhabitants were forced to flee to Gaza during the 1948 war.

With the possible exception of David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, no Israeli leader has over their lifetime leftsuch an influence on the country's policies-and certainly none has leftsuch a stain on its reputation.

According to Menachem Klein, a politics professor at Bar Ilan University, near Tel Aviv, Sharon's influence began early. He established Israel's modern "military norms" through his founding of a secretive "retribution squad," Unit 101.

In Israel's early years, the unit carried out reprisals against Palestinian fighters across the armistice lines, in an attempt to deter future enemy raids into Israeli territory.

In practice, however, the price was paid as much by civilians as fighters. In 1953 Sharon's unit blew up 45 homes and a mosque in the village of Qibya in the then-Jordanian-controlled West Bank, killing at least 69 civilians.

As defense minister, he was the moving force behind the decision to invade Lebanon in 1982, as a bloody means to expel the Palestinians from their strongholds there and destabilize a northern neighbor.

Along the way, and in the spirit of Unit 101, his commanders oversaw the horrific massacre of hundreds, and more likely thousands, of Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatila camps by Israel's Phalangist allies-an atrocity for which even an Israeli inquiry found him "personally responsible."

Today, Sharon's military philosophy is reflected in the Israeli army's Dahiya doctrine-its policy in recent confrontations to send Israel's neighbors in Gaza and Lebanon "into the dark ages" through massive destruction of their physical infrastructure.

But his military thinking chiefly served political ends.

The late Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling famously coined a term for Sharon's policy: politicide. According to this view, Sharon's goal was to create conditions that "lower Palestinian expectations, crush their resistance, isolate them, make them submit to any arrangement suggested by the Israelis, and eventually cause their 'voluntary' mass emigration."

In this regard, he saw no territorial distinction between Israel and the occupied territories.

In lowlier government positions, Sharon devised ever-more inventive and racist land-grabbing schemes to ensure Israel's own large Palestinian minority was barred from living in most areas of the country. Exclusive Jews-only communities became part of a renewed "Judaization" program in the Galilee and Negev.

A proposal revealed by Sharon in 2003 to dispossess the Bedouin of their ancestral lands in the Negev was the genesis of the Prawer plan, adopted by the current Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, if temporarily on hold, to force tens of thousands of Bedouin from their homes.

Sharon also established similarly exclusive Jewish communities, known as the star points, along the so-called "1967 lines" as a way to erase any physical distinction between Israel and the West Bank. …

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