This article was last modified on February 13, 2011.

Ariel Sharon’s Violent History

“Cut off their testicles.” – Ariel Sharon, referring to West Bank demonstrators.

As of this writing, Ariel Sharon has been in a coma for two years with his health steadily decreasing. The assumption of his passing in the near future would not be irrational, to say the least. And with the death of Sharon will come praise of his life from all corners of the world, talking of his leadership and courage and vision.

But Ariel Sharon was not a “nice guy” or a humanitarian leader. He did things that were morally reprehensible and in his leadership enacted policies that caused the deaths of many innocent people for no justifiable reason. Sharon once told the New York Times that he “has never offended the Palestinians in his personal meetings with them.” [Sontag 2001] Even if true, that hardly excuses his wholesale slaughter of them.

Avi Shlaim sums Sharon’s legacy up best when he calls Sharon “the champion of violent solutions”, a leader who “personified the most xenophobic, aggressive, expansionist and racist brand of Zionism.” Says Shlaim, “Sharon will go down in Israel’s history not as a peacemaker but as the proponent of the doctrine of permanent conflict.” [Shlaim 2008]

While Sharon will become a martyr regardless of what critics say or do, I think there is some importance in reviewing some of the more unsavory aspects of his life.

Teenage Paramilitary Career

In 1942 at the age of 14, Sharon joined the Gadna (“Youth Battalion”), a paramilitary youth battalion. After completing a course for instructors at kibbutz Ruhama in the Negev desert, Ariel became an instructor at the Mossinsohn Agricultural School. [Benziman: 20]

He later joined Haganah (“The Defense”), the underground paramilitary force and the Jewish military precursor to the Israel Defense Forces. Joining meant sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night and going to the cottage of Bella Altbach, placing his hand on a pistol and swearing allegiance to Haganah. [Benziman: 20]

At the creation of Israel (and Haganah’s transformation into the Israel Defense Forces), Sharon was a platoon commander in the Alexandroni Brigade. He was severely wounded in the groin by the Jordanian Arab Legion in the Second Battle of Latrun, an unsuccessful attempt to relieve the besieged Jewish community of Jerusalem. His injuries eventually healed.

Ariel’s father made him promise never to participate in any action that would turn other Jews over to the British Mandate authorities. However, Sharon and Haganah clashed with the groups Etzel (also known as Irgun or the “National Military Organization in the Land of Israel”) and Lehi (also known as the Stern Gang or the “Fighters for the Freedom of Israel”). [Benziman: 21] Sharon’s later ally, Menachem Begin, was a commander of Etzel from 1943 to 1948. Former Lehi leader Yitzhak Shamir became Prime Minister of Israel in 1983.

el-Bureij Refugee Camp August 1953

Unit 101 undertook a series of military raids against Palestinians and neighboring Arab states that helped bolster Israeli morale and fortify its deterrent image.

An Israeli historian reported 50 refugees killed. United Nations commander Major General Vagn Bennike described the scene: “[B]ombs were thrown through the windows of huts in which the refugees were sleeping and, as they fled, they were attacked by small arms and automatic weapons.” (according to Uri Milshtein)

As late as 2005, this camp remains an embarrassment to Israel. The camp does not have a sewage system and most waste accumulates in the Wadi Gaza, a stream north of the camp and as a result poses a health hazard. The population in 2005 was over 30,000 refugees, all using this same water.

Unit 101 was assigned the task of expelling the Bedouins of the Azazma tribe from the Negev Desert of Southern Israel in September 1953. The Bedouins are a nomadic, tribal people that do not recognize state borders and roam freely between Jordan, Israel and Egypt. The expulsion was ordered due to Israel’s belief that the people’s wanderings were “a violation of their (Israel’s) sovereignty over the territory”, and the “mission was accomplished efficiently and cruelly.” [Kimmerling: 48] The expulsion may be seen as justified except that the Negev was disputed territory at the time and therefore not necessarily Israeli land.

Qibya Massacre of October 1953

On the night of October 13, 1953, Israeli woman Suzanne Kenias and her two children — Shoshana, three, and Reuven, one — were murdered in the town of Yehud as they slept, by unidentified Palestinians.

Unit 101 was known for targeting civilians as well as Arab soldiers, notably in the widely condemned Qibya operation on October 14/15, 1953, in which many Palestinian civilians, some of them children, were killed by Sharon’s troops in a reprisal attack on their West Bank village (situated between Latrun and Qalkillya). At the time of fighting, Moshe Dayan was acting chief of staff. Over 250 Israeli soldiers invaded the village firing heavy mortars and automatic weapons. [Tivnan: 40]

The exact death toll of the Palestinians from the Israeli attack is uncertain. Some sources give 69 as a figure. Historian Fred Khouri on one occasion says “fifty-three Jordanians were killed” and elsewhere in the same book says they killed “forty-two men, women and children and injuring fifteen other persons.” [Khouri: 142, 188] Hadas Thier, who gives the casualties as 69, further points out the destruction of 45 houses, a school and a mosque. Still another figure comes from Edward Tivnan, who says that “Israelis dynamited forty-one homes and one school; fifty-three civilians died.” [Tivnan: 40] Regardless of the precise figure, the deaths of innocent Palestinians is clearly grossly disproportionate to the three Israelis killed.

The United Nations arrived two hours after the massacre and reported:

“Bullet-riddled bodies near the doorways and multiple bullet hits on the doors of the demolished houses indicated that the inhabitants had been forced to remain inside until their homes were blown up over them…. Witnesses were uniform in describing their experience as a night of horror, during which Israeli soldiers moved about in their village blowing up buildings, firing into doorways and windows with automatic weapons and throwing hand grenades.” (according to E. H. Hutchison)

According to a report prepared by the U.N.’s armistice commission, the fighting lasted seven hours.

Time magazine phrased the catastrophe in a more poetic manner, saying Sharon’s men killed “every man, woman and child they could find. The cries of the dying could be heard amidst the explosions.” [Ron 2001]

In the documentary Israel and the Arabs: 50 Year War, Ariel Sharon recalls what happened after the raid, which was heavily condemned by many Western nations, including the United States:

I was summoned to see Ben-Gurion. It was the first time I met him, and right from the start Ben-Gurion said to me: “Let me first tell you one thing: it doesn’t matter what the world says about Israel, it doesn’t matter what they say about us anywhere else. The only thing that matters is that we can exist here on the land of our forefathers. And unless we show the Arabs that there is a high price to pay for murdering Jews, we won’t survive.”

He has said further that Ben-Gurion commented to him that the raid would “make it possible to live here.” [Sharon: 98] Allegedly, Ben-Gurion also said, “I was on vacation at the time, and no one was obligated to ask for my approval. But if I would have been asked, I would have said to proceed.” [Benziman: 54] Sharon himself considered the massacre to be a tactical success. He claims in his autobiography that this fight really encouraged his soldiers for future battles:

“But while civilian deaths were a tragedy, the Qibya raid was also a turning point… [I]t was now clear that Israeli forces were again capable of finding and hitting targets far behind enemy lines. What this means to army morale can hardly be exaggerated… [W]ith Qibya a new sense of confidence began to take root.” [Sharon: 88]

There was a subsequent investigation, and Sharon claimed that “he ordered his soldiers to check every house and warn the inhabitants to leave”, but this does not seem to match the facts or the fact that “soldiers denied that they had had such an order.” [Kimmerling: 49]

February 1955: Black Arrow

February 28, 1955 brought a massive retaliatory raid against the Egypt army camp in Gaza. The operation, codenamed “Mivtza Hetz Shahor” (Operation Black Arrow), was carried out by two paratroop companies led by Lieutenant-Colonel Sharon. Part of the force, under Danny Matt, moved into a position south of Gaza City, on the road to Khan Yunis, near Wadi Aza, to block any Egytpian reinforcements; they ambushed a four truck convoy. Thirty-six (some say as many as thirty-nine) Egyptian soldiers, Palestinian soldiers and “irregulars” were killed. Another forty-four were wounded. Eight Israelis also died. [Black: 117]

The Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, stated that, as a result of this raid, he became convinced that peace between Israel and Egypt would be impossible. Instead, he turned to the Soviet bloc to modernize the Egyptian military with Mig-21 fighter jets and T-type tanks. [Kimmerling: 53] Nasser signed an arms supply agreement with Czechoslovakia.

Sharon’s paratroopers attacked Syrian forces in December 1955 that were situated on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee (the Kinneret). Almost sixty Syrians were killed and another thirty-two taken prisoner. [Kimmerling: 53] The Israelis lost six men, with a dozen wounded.

Qalqilyah 1956

Shortly afterwards, just a few months after its founding, Unit 101 was merged into the 202nd Paratroopers Brigade (IDF) (Sharon eventually became the latter’s commander), which continued to attack military and civilian targets, culminating with the attack on the Qalqilyah police station in autumn of 1956.

1956 Mitla Pass Incident

Neither reconnaissance aircraft nor scouts reported enemy forces inside the Mitla Pass. Sharon, whose forces were initially heading east, away from the pass, reported to his superiors that he was increasingly concerned with the possibility of an enemy thrust through the pass, which could attack his brigade from the flank or the rear.

Sharon asked for permission to attack the pass several times, but his requests were denied although he was allowed to check its status so that if the pass was empty, he could receive permission to take it later. Sharon sent a small scout force, which was met with heavy fire and became bogged down due to vehicle malfunction in the middle of the pass. Sharon ordered the rest of his troops to attack in order to aid their comrades. In the ensuing successful battle to capture the pass, 38 Israeli soldiers were killed.

Sharon was not only criticized by his superiors, he was damaged by revelations several years later by several former subordinates (one of IDF’s first major revelations to the press), who claimed that Sharon tried to provoke the Egyptians and sent out the scouts in bad faith, ensuring that a battle would ensue. Deliberate or not, the attack was considered strategically reckless because the Egyptian forces were expected to withdraw from the pass in the following one or two days.

Prime Minister Ben-Gurion asked Sharon if he thought his actions were uncalled for. Sharon said, “Now, as we sit here, it is possible to think that way, but under the circumstances there was no alternative.” [Benziman: 82]

Moshe Dayan wrote that there “was no justification for the action because it was not the brigade’s task to reach the Suez Canal… It was an unnecessary battle… The paratroopers attacked the Mitla Pass in violation of my orders and with fatal results. My major grievance is not the battle itself, but rather that they persist in referring to it as a patrol. I regret that I have not succeeded in developing a relationship of trust with the command of that brigade that would enable them to own up to the facts when they act in contradiction to my orders.” [Benziman: 82]

1971 Bulldozings and Further Expansion

While a general, Ariel Sharon bulldozed through many refugee camps, including Jabalia, “to facilitate the pacification of Gaza”. Roads were widened to allow the Israeli Defence Forces more room to maneuver. Roughly forty houses per day were estimated to be bulldozed. [Sacco: 186] Journalist Joe Sacco calls Jabalia (now in the 1990s) “the must-see refugee camp of the Gaza Strip, the intifada’s ground zero, a Disneyland of refuse and Squalor.” [Sacco: 208]

Bulldozings and the destruction of Palestinian cities were not rare events, but rather all too frequent. Aref el-Aref, a Palestinian historian and geographer, claims that 475 Arab villages were in existence prior to 1948 in the borders of 1967 Israel (the borders after Israeli expansion). By 1974, only 90 villages still existed. Or, to phrase the matter another way, more than 75% of the Arab villages were destroyed. [Chomsky 2003: 153]

It is worth quoting at great length from The Independent regarding the 1971 bulldozings:

[T]he old men still remember it well. Especially the old men on Wreckage Street… The street acquired its name after an unusually prolonged visit from Mr. Sharon’s soldiers. Their orders were to bulldoze hundreds of homes to carve a wide, straight street….

“They came at night and began marking the houses they wanted to demolish with red paint,” said Ibrahim Ghanim, 70, a retired laborer. “In the morning they came back, and ordered everyone to leave. I remember all the soldiers shouting at people, ‘Yalla, yalla, yalla, yalla!’

“They threw everyone’s belongings into the street. Then Sharon brought in bulldozers and started flattening the street. He did the whole lot, almost in one day. And the soldiers would beat people, can you imagine? Soldiers with guns, beating little kids?”

In August 1971 alone, troops under Mr. Sharon’s command destroyed some 2,000 homes in the Gaza Strip, uprooting 16,000 people for the second time in their lives.

Hundreds of young Palestinian men were arrested and deported to Jordan and Lebanon. Six hundred relatives of suspected guerrillas were exiled to Sinai. In the second half of 1971, 104 guerrillas were assassinated. [Reeves 2001]

Between July and December 1971, 742 “terrorists” were killed or captured. In June 1971, thirty-four terrorist incidents were recorded, and in December there was only one. While Sharon’s methods were violent, they were still quite effective. At least in the short run. [Benziman: 116]

According to Noam Chomsky, Sharon “informed an Israeli political meeting” in July 1973 “that Israel is more powerful than any European NATO force and is capable of conquering the area from Khartoum to Baghdad to Algeria within a week, if necessary.” [Chomsky 2003: 113] While Chomsky’s source, Yediot Ahronot, is nigh impossible for me to track down and verify, the sentiments expressed are by no means out of line with what one would expect from Sharon.

Pressured by Prime Minister Golda Meir, who felt he was a threat to Israeli democracy, Sharon resigned and was released from active duty on July 15, 1973. He remained an influential part of the reserves, however. [Kimmerling: 65]

The October 1973 Sinai Situation

By October 9, Shmuel “Gorodish” Gonen, the new commander of the southern sector (who replaced Sharon on July 15), became convinced that Sharon had overstepped all reasonable bounds of behavior and should be discharged. He had needlessly sent soldiers back into conflict to recover abandoned tanks. That Gonen, whose methods have been called “unjust and Draconian”, thought Sharon was cruel only adds to charge. The discharge did not happen, though.

On the night of October 15-16, a unit of paratroops from Sharon’s division had crossed the canal at the seam between the Egyptian Second and Third Armies, and established a bridgehead on the western bank. [Karpin: 332]

Gonen resigned from the IDF in 1974 and left for Africa, where he embarked on various business ventures. He never returned to Israel except for short visits. He had become disillusioned and even contemplated assassinating Moshe Dayan following the conflict.

Ariel Sharon came under fire for violating army laws and regulations. Advocate-General of the army, Colonel Zvi Inbar, and the legal adviser of the Ministry of Defense, Yosef Chahanover, worked with Attorney General Meir Shamgar to find a way to prosecute, but Sharon was elected to the Knesset on December 31, 1973, and they believed he was protected by parliamentary immunity. [Benziman: 177] Meir Shamgar was later President of the Israeli Supreme Court from 1983 until 1995, and chaired the Commission of Inquiry into murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1996.

Settlements 1977-1978

Jewish settlements into territory outside of officially recognized Israeli borders continued on through the latter half of the 1970s. American President Jimmy Carter was not a supporter of this policy. In April 1977, Sharon “had urged American Jews to protest the Carter Administration’s attitude toward the settlements. ‘I do not like to interfere with internal United States affairs,’ said Sharon, ‘but the question of Israeli security is a question for Jews anywhere in the world.'” [Tivnan: 133]

On June 17, 1977, the Herut caucus met to select its representatives to the government. Begin wanted Sharon to handle terrorism and intelligence, but knew the Liberals would not allow such a move. Instead, Sharon was placed as Minister of Agriculture, made chairman of the cabinet committee on new settlements and a member of the cabinet committee on security. [Benziman: 202]

Already by September 1977, Sharon announced that the government had been secretly establishing new settlements on the West Bank. His declaration created an uproar in Israel, and embarrassed the American government. Historians now debate why Sharon made the declaration: was he naive? Was he seeking headlines? Or was he trying to disrupt the peace talks between Moshe Dayan and President Carter? [Benziman: 207]

Edward Tivnan tells of Israeli expansionism into Egypt. In January 1978, Israel agreed “to negotiate withdrawal from the Sinai while creating new settlements there”, which Tivnan says “seemed a curious and destructive strategy”. He continues, explaining that “Dayan and Ariel Sharon, in charge of settlement policies, were behind the move. Ezer Weizman condemned the strategy as ‘pernicious trivialities, capable of foiling the whole peace process,’ particularly when at that very moment Carter was with Sadat at Aswan trying to figure out how to deal with the Palestinian issue.” [Tivnan: 123]

In March 1978, Sharon again used his control of the new settlements to upset the peace talks with Egypt. He had commissioned bulldozers to prepare land for new settlements in the Samaria region, the northeastern portion of the West Bank. [Benziman: 211]

There was a ministerial-level meeting on October 22, 1979 to discuss Sharon’s proposal to expand existing settlements in Samaria. Dayan did not trust Sharon, and rightfully so. Sharon had made maps of the proposed expansions, which turned out to not be expansions at all, but new settlements with old settlement names. [Benziman: 223]

Reagan Era Settlements, 1980-1981

Sharon had long supported Israeli settlements on land that was recognized as Palestinian. If Israelis were settled, this gave Israel clear leverage to legally annex the land. Another method Sharon used in the West Bank was redefining private property and state land. Hadas Thier says that “[b]etween 1980 and 1981, Israeli authorities surveyed land titles in the area. Families that had not completed the proper paperwork were denied rights to their homes, despite the fact that they had lived there for generations.” Thier says by 1981, Sharon had taken over 31% of the West Bank, built forty new settlements and saw the Jewish population triple to 18,000.

1982 Lebanon Invasion

Israeli writer Amnon Kapeliuk has said Sharon confessed “preparing for the invasion of Lebanon since his nomination as minister of defense last August (1981)… Even a partial budget for the war had been projected.” [Khouri: 428] The problem, from Sharon’s point of view, was that a ceasefire was holding and an excuse was needed to launch an invasion.

Much planning went into the invasion, clearing with the Phalangists his plan to capture Beirut. Sharon first presented his plans to the cabinet on December 20, 1981, though he did not refer to them as “Operation Big Pines”. He brought a map that included an IDF arrow advancing to the Beirut-Damascus highway. This was the first that the cabinet had heard of any plan to invade Lebanon. Many were shocked and a number objected, informing Sharon that he would face political opposition. [Black: 372]

Sharon also spoke with Alexander Haig and explained what he called the “Grand Design”, a plan that would shift more power to the West (something Haig and Reagan would be in favor of). In May 1982, Sharon “shocked a room full of State Department bureaucrats with his plans, in Haig’s phrase, to ‘rewrite the political map of Beirut’ by establishing a Christian government in Lebanon that would ally itself to Israel.” [Tivnan: 169] Haig was confident that the invasion would remove the PLO, who were seen as Soviet allies. The plan even included an invasion of Jordan after the projected Lebanese success.

Tivnan reports that “Alexander Haig has been criticized by both U.S. and Israeli writers for giving Sharon ‘the green light’ to launch what turned out to be Israel’s ill-fated and divisive invasion of Lebanon. But the former secretary of state insists in his memoir that he challenged the Israelis from the first time he had heard of Sharon’s grand plan from Begin at the Sadat funeral, contending that such a move ‘would have a devastating effect on the United States.'” [Tivnan: 169]

Sharon’s interest was not in the effect on the United States, and he informed Haig of this in no uncertain terms: “‘No one has a right to tell Israel what decision to take in defense of its people.'” [Tivnan: 169]

Tivnan continues: “When Haig later wrote to Begin warning that an Israeli attack ‘could have consequences none of us could foresee,’ Begin too set the general straight: ‘Mr. Secretary, my dear friend, the man has not yet been born who will ever obtain from me consent to let Jews be killed by a bloodthirsty enemy and allow those who are responsible for shedding of this blood to enjoy immunity.’ Haig claims that after reading this note from Begin he ‘understood that the United States would not be able to stop Israel from attacking.'” [Tivnan: 169]

In violation of the ceasefire, Israel began to provoke the Palestinians with attacks that were in retaliation for fabricated deaths of Israeli soldiers. The PLO refused to respond and Yasser Arafat ordered the Palestinians not to attack Israelis. “Few American Jewish leaders criticized the invasion at the outset.” [Tivnan: 169]

By August, Israeli forces launched into a full-scale war with 80,000 troops, 1,240 tanks, 1,520 armored personnel carriers and heavy air bombardments with napalm. Sharon told officers that Palestinian neighborhoods in Beirut should be “utterly destroyed,” even though they contained some 85,000 civilians.

Tivnan reports: “The United Nations Security Council unanimously ordered a cease-fire and asked for U.N. observers. Israel refused to allow U.N. observers, and ignored the cease-fire, moving into West Beirut. On August 4, President Reagan called the bombardment ‘disproportionate,’ and in a note to Begin questioned whether Israel was using American weapons, as required by law for all arms sold to other nations, for ‘legitimate self-defense.'” [Tivnan: 170] Clearly, knowing what he knew, Reagan was well aware that they were not being used for such a purpose.

The American Red Cross counted 10,000 deaths and 100,000 homeless by the sixth day of the attack, thousands of which occurred at Palestinian refugee camps and Shi’ite Lebanese villages. Sharon led the Israeli Defense Forces, working with the Phalangists, for over three months, slaughtering 30,000 to 40,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, with 100,000 seriously wounded and half a million homeless. [Thomas: 222-229]

The children’s hospital in the Sabra refugee camp (see next section) and the Gaza Hospital near the camps were attacked. When a New York Times reporter asked an IDF official why houses where women and children lived were bulldozed, the answer was simply, “They’re all terrorists.”

Although Begin had assured Haig that Israel would not draw Syria into the attack, Israel “devastated the Syrian air force and a missile complex.” [Tivnan: 170]

This invasion would ultimately lead to the rise of Hezbollah. So, while trying to drive out the PLO, what instead happened was an increased distrust of Israel and a growing number of what would be seen as “terrorist” elements.

1982 Sabra and Shatila Massacre

During the 1982 Lebanon War, while Ariel Sharon was Defense minister, the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacre took place, in which between 460 and 3,500 Palestinian civilians (reports vary widely) in the refugee camps were killed by the Phalanges — Lebanese Maronite Christian militias. The Israeli intelligence services estimates 700-800 deaths, the Palestinian Red Crescent claimed 2000, and Lebanese authorities took a middle ground approach, having issued 1200 death certificates.

Phalange leader Bashir Gemayal died in an explosion September 14, 1982. While no one was caught, Gemayal’s supporters held the Palestinians responsible.

The Security Chief of the Phalange militia, a Lebanese himself, Elie Hobeika, was the ground commander of the militiamen who entered the Palestinian camps and killed the Palestinians. The Phalange had been sent into the camps to clear out PLO fighters, and Israeli forces had been sent to the camps at Sharon’s command to provide them with logistical support and to guard camp exits. Sharon had told the men that the refugee camps harbored 2000 to 3000 “terrorists”. The incident led some of Sharon’s critics to refer to him as “the Butcher of Beirut”.

On September 17, two days after the start of the raid, IDF officers met with Phalangist officers. The officers “knew that Phalangists would be in the camps (again) all night and that they were using bulldozers (to dispose of corpses); they also knew about the flight of panic-stricken civilians.” [Schiff: 113] About 3,000 Palestinian civilians were butchered in three days. Two Israeli reporters gave the following description:

“In addition to the wholesale slaughter of families, the Phalangists indulged in such sadistic horrors as hanging live grenades around their victims’ necks. In one particularly vicious act of barbarity, an infant was trampled to death by a man wearing spiked shoes. The entire Phalangist action in Sabra and Shatilla seemed to be directed against civilians… We have had many accounts of women raped, pregnant women, their fetuses cut out afterward, women with hands chopped off, earrings pulled.” [Schiff: 118-119]

Journalist Robert Fisk was one of the first people on the scene following the massacre. In 2001, before Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister of Israel, he reflected on what he saw:

“Yes, those of us who got into Sabra and Shatilla before the murderers left have our memories. The flies racing between the reeking bodies and our faces, between dried blood and reporter’s notebook, the hands of watches still ticking on dead wrists. I clambered up a rampart of earth–an abandoned bulldozer stood guiltily nearby – only to find, once I was atop the mound, that it swayed beneath me. And I looked down to find faces, elbows, mouths, a woman’s legs protruding through the soil. I had to hold on to these body parts to climb down the other side. Then there was the pretty girl, her head surrounded by a halo of clothes pegs, her blood still running from a hole in her back. We had burst into the yard of her home, desperate to avoid the Israeli-uniformed militiamen who still roamed the camp; coming in by back door, we had found her body as the murderers left by the front door….

“And so today, in this fetid, awful place, where Lebanese Muslim militiamen were–three years later–to kill hundreds more Palestinians in a war which produced no official inquiries, where scarcely 20 percent of the survivors still live, where brown mud and rubbish now covers the mass grave of 600 of the 1982 victims, the Palestinians wait to see if their tormentor will hold the highest office in the state of Israel.” [Fisk 2001]

An Associated Press report on September 15, 1982 stated:

Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, in a statement, tied the killing [of the Phalangist leader Gemayel] to the PLO, saying: “It symbolises the terrorist murderousness of the PLO terrorist organisations and their supporters.” Habib Chartouni, a Lebanese Christian from the Syrian Socialist National Party confessed to the murder of Gemayel, and no Palestinians were involved. Sharon had used this to instigate the entrance of the Lebanese militias into the camps.

On September 25, roughly 400,000 demonstrators gathered in Tel Aviv’s central square to demand an independent commission of inquiry. Prominent public figures, intellectuals, and scientists also demanded the resignation of those responsible. [Kimmerling: 97]

Arthur Hertzberg wrote what Tivnan calls “a blistering attack on the policies of Begin and Sharon” on September 26, 1982 in the New York Times. The piece is called “Begin Must Go”. [Tivnan: 173]

Tivnan reports: “By October 1982, even Rabbi [Alexander] Schindler, once one of Begin’s most loyal supporters in the American Jewish community, attacked the prime minister. On a trip to Israel, he told Begin to fire his defense minister, Sharon, and then repeated this view on Israeli television. Begin reportedly let the rabbi know that he now considered him ‘more American than Jew.’ An aide to the prime minister called Schindler ‘a traitor.'” [Tivnan: 174]

Schindler told New York magazine in their October 18 issue, “[American Jews] were used like cows. We were milked, both for financial and moral support — and for the influence that we could bring to bear on Washington — and when we were used up we were put out to pasture. Yes, it is fair to say that we have been treated with contempt — and we’ve gone along willingly. But we’ve crossed a watershed now, and our open criticism will continue and increase.” [Kramer 1982]

The Kahan Commission, presided over by Chief Justice Yitzhak Kahan, were appointed by a pressured Begin to review Israel’s role in the massacre. They found the Israeli Defence Forces indirectly responsible for the killings (which they estimated at 700-800, accepting Israeli intelligence figures) and charged Sharon with “personal responsibility.” It recommended in early 1983 the removal of Sharon from his post as Defense Minister. In their recommendations and closing remarks, the commission stated:

We have found, as has been detailed in this report, that the Minister of Defense [Ariel Sharon] bears personal responsibility. In our opinion, it is fitting that the Minister of Defense draw the appropriate personal conclusions arising out of the defects revealed with regard to the manner in which he discharged the duties of his office – and if necessary, that the Prime Minister consider whether he should exercise his authority under Section 21-A(a) of the Basic Law: the Government, according to which “the Prime Minister may, after informing the Cabinet of his intention to do so, remove a minister from office.”

Sharon was dismissed by Prime Minister Menachem Begin, but he remained in successive governments as a minister without portfolio.

Reagan Era Settlements, Part II

After the Israeli elections on July 23, 1984, the government was divided on the topic of settlements. According to historian Fred Khouri, “[Shimon] Peres spoke of holding back on new settlements, while [Yitzhak] Shamir and Sharon advocated more of them.” [Khouri: 456] While American president Ronald Reagan agreed with the Labor party on various issues (including their flexibility on settlements) he often favored Sharon’s Likud Party for their clear anti-Soviet positions. Reagan, as we know, was known for his strong anti-Sovietism and would do what he could to keep this image in the public eye.

Sharon made no secret of his territorial ambitions. With Begin resigned as the leader of Likud, Sharon became even more powerful regardless of his loss of the Defense Ministry. In April 1984, Sharon said a vote for Likud would “help guarantee that Israel would never have to give up any more territory for peace with the Arabs.” And in August of 1984 he said the “East Bank of the Jordan River [what is today the country of Jordan] was also Israel’s, though not yet in its hands.” His strategy for acquisition of land was obviously not going to be diplomatic.

The settlers were highly autonomous, despite receiving Israeli money and weapons. This created a virtual “old West” situation, where the newly-formed militias would treat the Arabs as they pleased. In The Fateful Triangle, Chomsky reports the following account of one Israeli soldier:

A soldier reports that 30 12-13-year-old boys were lined up facing a wall with their hands up for five hours in Hebron one very cold night, kicked if they moved. He justified the punishment because they are not “all innocent lambs as they look now, with their hands up and their eyes asking pity… They burn and they throw stones and participate in demonstrations, and they are not less harmful than their parents.”

Peace talks during these settlements were shaky, at best. Tivnan reports that “when Prime Minister Peres held a two-day summit meeting with Egypt’s Mubarak in September [1984], discussing, among other things, preliminaries for an international conference, his Likud coalition partners, notably Shamir and Ariel Sharon, derided the Israeli-Egyptian talks as, in Sharon’s words, so much ‘PR gimmickry.'” [Tivnan: 261]

Due to lawless nature of the occupied land, murders were well-known but not easily punished. Soldiers were told to “harass the West Bank population in general, not just those involved in anti-Israeli demonstrations” and Sharon specifically “urged Israeli soldiers to beat Arab schoolchildren in the West Bank,” according to an investigation by Peace Now. (Cited in the Jerusalem Post, December 12 and 24, 1982.)

Amazingly, a Harvard Law Professor wrote in the New York Times on October 17, 1985, that America “would certainly extradite any Israeli terrorist who had done violence to citizens of another country”.

Sharon himself wrote an op-ed in the New York Times on September 30, 1986, saying, “The terrorists, and especially their commanders, must be eliminated.” Never mind his own history.

Oslo Agreement

On October 5, 1995, Sharon, Netanyahu, and Rafael Eitan attended a rally in Jerusalem and inflamed the participants so much that they called for the deaths of “Oslo criminals” Rabin and Peres. [Kimmerling: 123]

Ariel Sharon, at this time a Foreign Minister, declared the Oslo Agreement to be “national suicide”. He urged the Israelis “to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours… Everything we don’t grab will go to them.” [Carter: 147] In October 2000, he declared (as reported in the October 18, 2000 issue of Ha’aretz) that “Oslo is not continuing; there won’t be Oslo; Oslo is over.”

al-Aqsa Intifada (2000-2005) Ignited

According to the Palestinians, Ariel Sharon has followed an aggressive policy of non-negotiation. Palestinians allege that the al-Aqsa Intifada (September 2000-February 2005) was sparked by a visit by Sharon and an entourage of hundreds of policemen to the Temple Mount complex on Thursday, September 28, 2000, which is home to the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque. [Carter: 149]

There seems to be some question of the precise number of policemen and how to categorize them. Linguist and historian Noam Chomsky provides two different interpretations in the same book, Middle East Illusions. On one occasion he calls the police “soldiers” and puts the figure at “about one thousand”. [Chomsky 2003: 207] A few pages later, he sets the number at “one thousand” and refers to the men as “police”. [Chomsky 2003: 218] While this is more an issue of semantics than crucial to the overall point, I wonder: are they police or soldiers, and are there several hundred (as Carter claims), about a thousand, or exactly one thousand? (What makes this interesting for me is the thought that Chomsky, as a linguist, should be particularly concerned about using precise language.)

Sharon’s visit, prior to his election as Prime Minister, came after archaeologists claimed that extensive building operations at the site were destroying priceless antiquities and a few months before the election. While visiting the site, Sharon declared that the complex would remain under perpetual Israeli control. Palestinian commentators and many Israelis accused Sharon of purposely fomenting deep-seated emotions with the intent to provoke a malicious response and obstruct success of delicate ongoing peace talks. [Carter: 149]

Lance Selfa, a socialist journalist, is very critical of Sharon’s visit. Selfa says that Sharon “stormed” the mosque with the intention “to assert Israel’s control over Muslim holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem.” [Selfa: 65] Professor Naseer Aruri of the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth says something similar: he claims Sharon “made a triumphant entry to the compound … to provoke the Palestinians.” [Selfa: 88] This language may be extreme, but Selfa does raise one interesting point: “Sharon chose to make his statement on the anniversary of the 1982 massacre of more than 2,000 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebabon”, an event Sharon was “indirectly responsible” for. [Selfa: 65] Politically, this was a very foolish move.

Not everyone blames the intifada on Sharon, however. The Israeli government, according to the Mitchell Report, stated that:

the immediate catalyst for the violence was the breakdown of the Camp David negotiations on 25 July 2000 and the “widespread appreciation in the international community of Palestinian responsibility for the impasse.” In this view, Palestinian violence was planned by the PA leadership, and was aimed at “provoking and incurring Palestinian casualties as a means of regaining the diplomatic initiative.”

Blockade of Ramallah, March 2000-2002

Ariel Sharon was sworn in as the prime minister of Israel on March 7, 2001. Less than a week later, he ordered the military to blockade the city of Ramallah (population 60,000) with trenches and barricades. Palestinian protesters numbered in the hundreds and were greeted with live ammunition, tear gas, and rubber-coated bullets. Food, teachers and doctors were kept out of the city. A taxi driver with an ailing infant told the media, “This is difficult, difficult, extremely difficult. It will lead to an explosion. People will do anything to feed their children.” [Greenberg 2001]

Following a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on March 30, 2002, “Israeli troops sealed Yasir Arafat into what Palestinian officials described as three rooms in his ruined compound in Ramallah”. [Bennet 2002] A United Nations resolution was offered to order Israel to withdraw, and while President Bush at first was in favor of it, backed off later the same day, declaring Arafat responsible for his situation. Another suicide bomber hit Tel Aviv again that evening, not helping the situation. James Bennet tells of another affront on the Palestinians that day:

Armored vehicles rolled through Ramallah’s emptied streets, broadcasting calls over loudspeakers for men and boys between the ages of 15 and 45 to turn themselves in for interrogation. Gunfire sounded throughout the day, and among numerous indignities Palestinians accused Israeli forces of capturing a television station and using it to broadcast pornography. A United States consulate employee who was in Ramallah confirmed that the programs were on the air. The Israeli Army said soldiers interrupted the station’s broadcasting but had not substituted pornography for the usual programming.

As David Bloom reported, the pornography issue was serious to the devout Muslim population. “I am furious, these are the people who are shooting at us that also play this disgusting trick on us,” complained Anita, 52, a mother of three. “We are desperate for news and constantly flipping channels and get these terrible pictures instead.” A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces told the French media that “[t]he Israeli security forces have no interest in putting pornographic and racist movies on Palestinian television. The only reason we are in these buildings and in this city is to fight against terrorists and their infrastructure after giving the Palestinians various chances to do it themselves.” Emmanuel Nachshon, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, added, “I cannot believe that Israeli soldiers would engage in such despicable behavior.” [Bloom 2002] While one may doubt that the Israeli military has any intention of broadcasting “pornographic” or “racist” material, as they were the ones in the television station and such programming did get broadcast, the culprits could not have been any other group.

The Battle of Jenin: April 2002

The Battle of Jenin (April 1–11, 2002) took place in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) entered the camp, and other areas under the administration of the Palestinian Authority, during the Second Intifada, as part of Operation Defensive Shield. The Jenin camp was targeted after Israel determined that it had “served as a launch site for numerous terrorist attacks against both Israeli civilians and Israeli towns and villages in the area.” Like other cities targeted in Defensive Shield, Jenin was declared a “closed military zone” and placed under curfew before the entrance of Israeli troops, remaining sealed off throughout the invasion. Water and electricity supplies to the city were also cut off and remained unavailable to residents throughout.

As Justin Huggler and Phil Reeves wrote just days after the battle ended, “In a deserted road by the periphery of the refugee camp, we found the flattened remains of a wheelchair. It had been utterly crushed, ironed flat as if in a cartoon. In the middle of the debris lay a broken white flag. Durar Hassan told us how his friend, Kemal Zughayer, was shot dead as he tried to wheel himself up the road. The Israeli tanks must have driven over the body, because when Mr Hassan found it, one leg and both arms were missing, and the face, he said, had been ripped in two.”

On April 18, President George W. Bush declared Sharon to be “a man of peace” that was working to end conflict. Reactions to this remark were as expected — shocked. “When I hear the president saying that Sharon is a man of peace after he has destroyed our way of life, and after the Jenin refugee camp, I don’t know if this is not a reward for Israeli terrorism against the Palestinian people,” said Saeb Erekat, a top Palestinian negotiator. “And when he says history will prove that Sharon is withdrawing,” Erekat continued, “all I can say is that President Bush is as wrong as wrong can be.” [Slevin 2002]

According to Amnesty International, between February 27 and May 20, 8500 Palestinians were arrested and held for interrogation. [Kimmerling: 155]

In November 2002, Amnesty International reported that there was “clear evidence” that the IDF committed war crimes against Palestinian civilians, including unlawful killings and torture, in Jenin and Nablus. The report also accused Israel of blocking medical care, using people as human shields and bulldozing houses with residents inside, as well as beating prisoners, which resulted in one death, and preventing ambulances and aid organizations from reaching the areas of combat even after the fighting had reportedly been stopped.

Furthermore, more than fifty children under the age of twelve had been killed Israeli Army bullets in the first half of 2002. Jonathan Ben-Artzi, an Israeli soldier who refused to take part, wrote from jail in November, “You have not sentenced even one of the perpetrators of these crimes. But you’re sentencing me for the fifth time, just because I refuse to take part in such actions.” As of 2003, he had served seven prison sentences. [Kimmerling: 172]

On December 18, 2002, Amnesty International issued the following press release:

“Members of the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) who commit grave human rights violations and war crimes, such as killing children and other unarmed civilians, recklessly shooting and shelling densely populated residential areas or blowing up houses on top of people and leaving them to die under the rubble are not brought to justice and held accountable for their acts. At the same time conscripts and reservists who refuse to serve, precisely to avoid participating in such acts, are sent to jail for months. What kind of message is such a policy sending to Israeli society?”

What Next?

Between February and December 2001, 25 new Jewish settlement sites were established in the West Bank. In December, 9500 houses sat empty, with 7000 more planned by housing minister Natan Sharansky. Palestinians were being wiped out faster than the Israelis could replace them.

On Thursday, March 11, 2004, Bedouin fields were sprayed with Monsanto’s toxic Roundup for the seventh time in 2 years as the Israel Lands Authority sent a fleet of planes to “redeem” land near Mitzpe Ramon, in Abde and in Qatamat, unrecognized villages in the southern Negev Desert. In such cases, the State has rendered Bedouin cultivation of unused desert expanse illegal. Twice in February 2004, fruit trees (olives and dates) were uprooted from Bedouin villages, each time some 50 trees.

Sharon’s leadership led to further menacing of the Arab population up until his stroke on January 4, 2006. Sadly, his successors have not made an extraordinary measures to change Israel’s warmongering tactics, as evidenced by the attack on southern Lebanon in 2006 and the increasing push towards Palestinian apartheid in the occupied territories.


Bennet, James. “Mideast Turmoil: The Fighting; As Israeli Troops Tighten Grip, Bush Says Arafat Must Do More To Avert New Terror Attacks”, New York Times, March 31, 2002.

Benziman, Uzi. Sharon: An Israeli Caesar Adama Books, 1985.

Bloom, David. Agence-France Press wire. March 30, 2002.

Carter, Jimmy. Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid Simon and Schuster, 2006.

Black, Ian and Benny Morris. Israel’s Secret Wars: A History of Israel’s Intelligence Services Grove Weidenfeld, 1991.

Chomsky, Noam. Middle East Illusions Rowman and Littlefield, 2003.

Fisk, Robert. “The legacy of Ariel Sharon,” Independent, February 6, 2001.

Greenberg, Joel. “Sharon blockades a Palestinian center in the West Bank,” New York Times, March 13, 2001.

Huggler, Justin and Phil Reeves. Independent, April 25, 2002.

Karpin, Michael. The Bomb in the Basement: How Israel Went Nuclear and What That Means for the World Simon and Schuster, 2006.

Khouri, Fred J. The Arab-Israeli Dilemma Syracuse University Press, 1985.

Kimmerling, Baruch. Politicide: Ariel Sharon’s War Against the Palestinians Verso, 2003.

Kramer, Michael, “American Jews and Israel: The Schism,” New York, October 18, 1982.

Reeves, Phil. “Sharon’s return puts Wreckage Street in fear,” The Independent, January 21, 2001.

Ron, James. “Is Sharon a war criminal?” Chicago Tribune, February 8, 2001.

Sacco, Joe. Palestine Fantagraphics Books, 2001.

Schiff, Ze’ev and Ehud Ya’ari. Israel’s Lebanon War Ina Friedman, ed. and trans. Simon and Schuster, 1984.

Selfa, Lance. The Struggle for Palestine Haymarket Books, 2002.

Sharon, Ariel. Warrior: An Autobiography New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1989.

Shlaim, Avi. “A Somber Anniversary”, The Nation. May 26, 2008.

Slevin, Peter and Mike Allen. “Bush: Sharon A ‘Man Of Peace'”, Washington Post, April 19, 2002.

Sontag, Deborah. “They agree on one thing: Barak was all wrong,” New York Times, March 9, 2001.

Thomas, Baylis. How Israel Was Won: A Concise History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict Lexington Books, 1999.

Tivnan, Edward. The Lobby: Jewish Political Power and American Foreign Policy Simon and Schuster, 1987.

Also try another article under Historical / Biographical
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

2 Responses to “Ariel Sharon’s Violent History”

  1. James Skemp Says:

    What about the 90s?

  2. Carmelia Bonnoitt Says:

    A cruel person like him shouldn’t be given a chance to rule a country. I can’t imagine the pain and suffering the people have to endure during his rule.

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