Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Nearly Two Decades Later, Ariel Sharon Is Indicted for Sabra and Shatila War Crimes

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Nearly Two Decades Later, Ariel Sharon Is Indicted for Sabra and Shatila War Crimes

Article excerpt

Nearly Two Decades Later, Ariel Sharon Is Indicted For Sabra and Shatila War Crimes

Donald Neff is the author of the Warriors trilogy and 50 Years of Israel, available from the AET Book Club, and of Fallen Pillars: U.S. Policy Towards Palestine and Israel since 1945.

For a terrorist, Ariel Sharon has led a charmed life--at least up to now. Arik King of Israel, as his adoring admirers call him, may some day have to face trial in a Belgian court on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide arising from the 1982 massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon. The charges officially were filed on June 18 before investigating judge Sophie Huguet in Brussels and confirmed as admissible by the Brussels Public Prosecutor's Office on June 29. It ruled the suit should proceed.

If Sharon actually is brought to trial it would be a rare setback for the 73-year-old Israeli in his long and documented career of waging terror against Palestinians. He started out as a young Haganah fighter causing havoc among Palestinians seeking to protect their land against Jewish attacks in 1947 and beyond. He became a legend in the army in the 1950s when he led the notorious Unit 101 in terror attacks against unarmed Palestinians, in one attack alone killing 66 civilians. 1 He fought as a tank commander in Israel's 1956, 1967 and 1973 wars, his units accompanied by reports of brutality.

In 1971, Sharon formed a special assassination unit to combat unrest among Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the Gaza Strip. Sharon's antagonistic biographer, Uzi Benziman, an Israeli newsman, wrote that Sharon conducted "a reign of terror" against Gazans: 2 "On his orders, every adult male in Gaza was stopped and subjected to a thorough search. Periodically, curfews were imposed on the refugee camps, and all residents were assembled for hours on end for purposes of identification. Paths through the refugee camps were widened [by razing homes and businesses] and the population thinned out, to make it harder for terrorists to find refuge." 3 In seven months, between July and February 1972, Sharon reported the deaths of 104 and capture of 742 terrorists. 4

Such violent feats qualified Sharon to become Israel's defense minister in 1981. Sharon came to his powerful post with an ambitious plan. It was to completely destroy the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon "in such a way that they will not be able to rebuild their military and political base," as he told a group of Israeli officers. 5

To accomplish his goals, Sharon in 1982 invaded Lebanon, tampered with Lebanon's politics to assure the election of pro-Israeli Maronite Christian Bashir Gemayel as president, and sought to evict the Syrian army from Lebanon. 6 He failed in all three objectives. The PLO remains a viable force, Gemayel was assassinated and the Syrians are still in Lebanon 19 years later. What is different is that thousands of Lebanese and hundreds of Israelis are dead.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon began on June 6. Within a week Israeli troops reached Beirut and launched a merciless siege of the capital. Over the next nine weeks, Israeli planes, ships and guns, all of them made or financed by the United States, lobbed thousands of aerial bombs and 60,000 shells on the city of more than a half-million residents, indiscriminately killing and wounding thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians. 7 Actress Jane Fonda proudly posed with the Israeli troops besieging Beirut while U.S. supporters of Israel defended the invasion. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger declared at the time that the invasion "opens up extraordinary opportunities for a dynamic American diplomacy throughout the Middle East....Lebanon can be another testing ground for proving that radical Arab regimes and Soviet backing offer no solution to any of the central issues of concern in the area." 8

The Israeli army control of the Beirut area included two teeming Palestinian refugee camps, Sabra and Shatila. …

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