Wednesday 15 January 2014


Should  Ariel  Sharon  be revered  as  a  great  man?                    

This man was without a doubt, a great military commander. He was a commander in the Israeli Army from its creation in 1948. As a paratrooper and then as an officer, he participated prominently in the 1948 War of Independence, becoming a platoon commander in the Alexandroni Brigade and taking part in many battles, including Operation Ben Nun Alef. He was an instrumental figure in the creation of Unit 101, and the Retribution operations, as well as in the 1956 Suez Crisis, the Six-Day War of 1967, the War of Attrition, and the Yom-Kippur War of 1973. As Minister of Defense, he directed the 1982 Lebanon War.  Sharon was considered the greatest field commander in Israel's history, and one of the country's greatest military strategists.


However, many great military strategists were not really great men. General Patton during the Second World War was a great strategist but as a human being, he was a failure. Patton would have been removed from the Theatre of War in Europe because of his failings as a human being if it wasn’t for the fact that Eisenhower needed him because he knew that Patton was a great military strategist.


Great men included Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela. Like every one of us, they had their faults but they raised themselves above those faults and became great leaders in their countries.


Ariel Sharon’s legacy has been tainted by his family’s socioeconomic conflicts during his childhood years and financial scandals that implicated him during the 2000s. These were emblematic of enduring difficulties in Israeli society. But his legacy was also tainted by isolated atrocities.


His detractors hold him responsible for years of bloodshed. They remember his role in a 1953 commando raid that resulted in 69 Arabs being killed in the West Bank.


As Minister of Defense during the 1982 Lebanon War, Sharon bore personal responsibility for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge in the massacre by Lebanese militias of Palestinian civilians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. The Kahan Commission recommended Sharon's removal as Defense Minister because of his inaction in defending the refugees and Sharon did resign but only after initially refusing to do so.                

That event in history brought shame to Israel. I will give you the background of the massacre which I got from reading the report of the Kahan Commission.

In 1975, civil war broke out in Lebanon. This war began with clashes in Sidon between the Christians and Palestinian terrorists and subsequently widened in a manner to encompass many diverse armed forces under the auspices of ethnic groups, political parties, and various organizations  that were active in Lebanon. In its early stages, this war was waged primarily between the Christian organizations on the one hand, and Palestinian terrorists, Lebanese leftist organizations, and Muslim and Druze organizations of various factions on the other.                                                           

During the early years of the war, massacres on a large scale were perpetrated by the fighting forces against the civilian population. The Christian city of Damour was captured and destroyed by Palestinian terrorists in January 1976. The Christian residents fled the city, and the conquering forces carried out acts of slaughter that cost the lives of many Christians. In August 1976, the Christian forces captured the Tel Zaatar refugee camp in Beirut, where Palestinian terrorists had dug in, and thousands of Palestinian refugees were massacred. Each massacre brought in its wake acts of revenge of a similar nature. The number of victims of the civil war has been estimated at close to 100,000 killed, including a large number of civilians, among them women and children.         

The Palestinians' armed forces organized and entrenched themselves in camps inhabited by refugees who had arrived in Lebanon in various waves, beginning in 1948. There are various estimates as to the number of Palestinian refugees who were living in Lebanon in 1982. According to the figures of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the Palestinian refugees numbered approximately 270,000. On the other hand, the leaders of the Christian armed forces estimated the number of Palestinian refugees at approximately 500,000 or more. The more realistic estimate is the one that puts the number of Palestinian refugees at approximately 300,000 and in any case, not more than 400,000.

Ariel Sharon was definitely against the concept of Palestinians not having the same rights as Israelis. He definitely was a racist. But many people saw Sharon also as a war criminal. Let me explain why. 

Rocket attacks had followed a series of Israeli air-raids on Lebanon which had ended a UN-brokered ceasefire and which were supposedly in retaliation for the attempted murder of the Israeli ambassador to London despite the fact that his would-be killers came from the Abu Nidal terrorist group which had nothing to do with the Palestinian Liberation Organization and its leader, Arafat.

Sharon had received an earlier American ‘green light’ for his Lebanon operation from Alexander Haig in the spring of 1982. After two months and almost 17,000 deaths, most of them civilians—the majority killed by Israeli gunfire and air attack, the PLO withdrew from Beirut under international protection, leaving their unarmed families behind. At which point Sharon announced that 2,000 terrorists remained in the Sabra and Chatila camps. These mythical terrorists prompted a small advance by Israeli tanks, contrary to an agreement with Washington, headed towards the Palestinian camps. A French UN officer who tried to photograph the advance was shot dead by an ‘unknown’ sniper. Sharon repeated his extraordinary claim that terrorists’ remained in the camps. And it was then that the Christian Lebanese president-elect, Bashir Gemayel who had been the leader of the Phalange militia which had already murdered thousands of surrendering Palestinians in the Tel el-Zaatar camp in 1976 was assassinated in 1982.

At a meeting held on 15th of September 1982, the Phalangist commanders were told by the Chief of Staff that the Israeli Defence Forces (I.D.F.) that they would not enter the refugee camps in West Beirut but that the fighting this entails would be undertaken by the Phalangists (Chief of Staff's testimony, p. 211). The Chief of Staff testified that the entry of the Phalangists into the refugee camps was agreed upon between the Minister of Defense (Sharon) and himself at 8.30 p.m. on the previous evening. The camps in question were Sabra and Shatilla. The purpose of the entry into those two refugee camps was to search for terrorists.

Brigadier-General Yaron spoke with the Phalangists about the places where the terrorists were located in the camps and also warned them not to harm the civilian population. He had mentioned that, he stated, because he knew that the Phalangists' norms of conduct are not like those of the I.D.F. and he had had arguments with the Phalangists over this issue in the past, Brigadier-General Yaron set up lookout posts on the roof of the forward command post and on a nearby roof even though he knew that it was impossible to see very much of what was going on in the camps from these lookouts.       

The two camps were essentially residential neighborhoods containing, in the area entered by the Phalangists. It was not possible to obtain exact details on the civilian population in the refugee camps in Beirut. An estimate of the number of refugees in the four refugee camps in west Beirut (Burj el-Barajneh, Fakahni, Sabra and Shatilla) is about 85,000 people. The war led to the flight of the population, but when the fighting subsided, a movement back to the camps began. According to an inexact estimate, in mid-September 1982 there were about 56,000 people in the Sabra camp.        

During the day of the 15th the Minister of Defense, Ariel Sharon arrived at the forward command post between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. He met with the Chief of Staff there, and the latter reported on what had been agreed upon with the Phalangists, namely, a general mobilization, curfew, and the entry of the Phalangists into the camps. Sharon approved of this agreement. From the roof of the command post, he phoned the Prime Minister of Israel and informed him that there was no resistance in Beirut and that all the operations were going along well.

From the forward command post, Sharon went to the Phalangist headquarters. At that meeting, the Minister of Defense stated, inter alia, that the I.D.F. would take over focal points and junctions in West Beirut, but that the Phalangist army would also have to enter West Beirut after the I.D.F had succeeded in its task and that the Phalangist commanders should maintain contact with Major-General Drori, of the Northern Command, regarding the modes of operation.            

On Thursday, which was the next day, at approximately 6:00 pm, members of the Phalangists entered the Shatilla camp from the west and south. They entered in two groups, and once they had passed the battery surrounding the camps their movements within the camps were not visible from the roof of the forward command post or from the observation sites on other roofs.

After the Phalangists had entered the camps and had sustained casualties, the casualties were evacuated from the camps.

The Israeli intelligence officer, who wanted to obtain information on the Phalangists' activities, ordered that two actions be carried out to obtain that information. He received a report according to which the Phalangists' liaison officer had heard via radio from one of the Phalangists inside the camps that he was holding 45 people. That person asked what he should do with the people, and the liaison officer's reply was, “Do the will of God,” or words to that effect.

Another Israeli officer heard a Phalangist officer from the force that had entered the camps tell Elie Hobeika who was on the roof (in Arabic) that there were 50 women and children, and what should he do. Elie Hobeika's reply over the radio was.  “This is the last time you're going to ask me a question like that, you know exactly what to do.” and then raucous laughter broke out among the Phalangist personnel on the roof.

Lieutenant Elul understood that what was involved was the murder of the women and children. According to Brigadier General Yaron, he understood from what he had heard that the reference was to 45 dead terrorists. How he could presume that 45 women and children in a refugee camp were terrorists is beyond all understanding.

As a result of the Phalangists' operations up to that time, 300 terrorists and civilians had been killed in the camps.

The impression is that their fighting was not too serious. There were two wounded, one in the leg and one in the hand. The casualties were evacuated in one of their ambulances. And they, it turns out, were wondering what to do with the population they are finding inside. On the one hand, it seems there are no terrorists there in the camp; Sabra camp was empty. On the other hand, they had amassed women, children and apparently also old people with whom they didn't exactly know what to do with them.  Evidently they had some sort of decision in principle that they would concentrate them together, and lead them to some place outside the camps. On the other hand, what was also heard from the Phalangists’ liaison officer, “Do what your heart tells you, because everything comes from God.”

A report was prepared and that the content of the report was as follows: “Preliminary information conveyed by the commander of the local Phalangist force in the Shatilla refugee camp states that so far his men have liquidated about 300 people. This number includes terrorists and civilians.”

Among the Arabs, revenge means that if someone kills someone from the tribe, then the whole tribe is guilty. A hundred years will go by, and there will still be someone killing someone else from the tribe from which someone had killed a hundred years earlier.

Certainly the Israelis were well aware of how revenge plays an important part in the lives of Arabs.  Deputy Israeli Prime Minister D. Levy said later;

"We wanted to prevent chaos at a certain moment whose significance cannot be disregarded. When confusion exists which someone else could also have exploited, the situation can be explained in a convincing way. But that argument could be undercut and we could come out with no credibility when I hear that the Phalangists are already entering a certain neighborhood and I know what the meaning of revenge is for them, what kind of slaughter. Then no one will believe we went in to create order there, and we will bear the blame. Therefore, I think that we are liable here to get into a situation in which we will be blamed, and our explanations will not stand up to scrutiny.”

In the early hours of that morning a note lay on a table in the Northern Command situation room in Aley. The note read as follows:

“During the night the Phalangists entered the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, it was agreed that they would not harm civilians. They butchered them. They did not operate in orderly fashion.”

When Brigadier General Yaron realized that the Phalangists had not left the camps by 06:30 hours, he gave the Phalangist commander on the scene an order that they must vacate the camps without delay. This order was obeyed, and the last of the Phalangist forces left the camps at approximately 8:00 a.m.

After the Phalangists had left the camps, Red Cross personnel, many journalists and other persons entered them, and it then became apparent that in the camps, and particularly in Shatilla, civilians, including women and children had been massacred. It was clear from the spectacle that presented itself that a considerable number of the killed had not been cut down in combat but had been murdered, and that many acts of barbarism had also been perpetrated. These sights shocked those who witnessed them and the reports were circulated by the media and spread throughout the world.

Everyone who entered the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Beirut on the 18th of September 1982, Ariel Sharon’s name is synonymous with butchery,  with bloated corpses and disemboweled women and dead babies along with rape and pillage and murder.

It is impossible to determine precisely the number of persons who were slaughtered by the Phalangists. The low estimate came from sources connected with the Government of Lebanon or with the Lebanese Forces. The letter of the head of the Red Cross delegation to the Minister of Defense (Sharon) stated that Red Cross representatives had counted 328 bodies in the camp. This figure, however, does not include all the bodies, since it is known that a number of families buried bodies on their own initiative without reporting their actions to the Red Cross. The dead counted by the Lebanese Red Cross, the International Red Cross, the Lebanese Civil Defense, the medical corps of the Lebanese army, and by relatives of the victims. According to this count, the 460 victims included 109 Lebanese and 328 Palestinians, along with Iranians, Syrians and members of other nationalities. According to the itemization of the bodies in this list, the great majority of the dead were males; as for women and children, there were 8 Lebanese women and 12 Lebanese children, and 7 Palestinian women and 8 Palestinian children killed. These were obviously revenge killings. According to I.D.F. intelligence sources, the number of victims of the massacre is between 700 and 800.

The decision to have the Phalangists enter the camps without members of the Israeli Defence Forces accompanying them was taken by the Minister of Defense, Ariel Sharon.

The Commission said in his report;

“In our view, everyone who had anything to do with events in Lebanon should have felt apprehension about a [possible] massacre in the camps, if armed Phalangist forces were to be moved into them without the I.D.F. exercising concrete and effective supervision and scrutiny of them. All those concerned were well aware that combat morality among the various combatant groups in Lebanon differs from the norm in the I.D.F. that the combatants in Lebanon belittle the value of human life far beyond what is necessary and accepted in wars between civilized peoples, and that various atrocities against the non-combatant population had been widespread in Lebanon since 1975. It was well known that the Phalangists harbor deep enmity for the Palestinians, viewing them as the source of all the troubles that afflicted Lebanon during the years of the civil war.”

In my respectful opinion, this statement specifically applies to Ariel Sharon. He was well versed in the customs of the Arabs and should have foreseen what would happen if the Arabs were set loose on the Christian Palestinians in the refugee camps.

As to the view of the Commission about Ariel Sharon’s role in this terrible event, their report said in part;

“It is true that no clear warning was provided by military intelligence or the Mossad about what might happen if the Phalangist forces entered the camps, and we will relate to this matter when we discuss the responsibility of the director of Military Intelligence and the head of the Mossad. But in our view, even without such warning, it is impossible to justify the Minister of Defense's disregard of the danger of a massacre. We will not repeat here what we have already said above about the widespread knowledge regarding the Phalangists' combat ethics, their feelings of hatred toward the Palestinians.”

With Sharon consenting that the Phalangists could enter the refugee camps without taking proper measures for continuous and concrete supervision of their actions by his own men, directly created a grave danger for the civilian population in the camps. Sharon should have known better. His nickname was “Bulldozer” and his attitude towards the welfare of the Palestinians in the camps was not unlike a bulldozer pushing rubbish onto a dump.

Both General Paton and Ariel Sharon were brilliant military strategists.  When the Allies during the Second World War needed a great military leader to plow forcibly ahead through the German armies, General Patton was the man they needed. When Israel needed a military commander to ensure the continued existence of Israel when her enemies surrounded her, Sharon was the man they needed. But in my opinion, they had poor human relationships with others. 

And yet strangely enough, both died as a result of damaged brains. Patton died in 1945 as a result of brain injuries resulting from a motor vehicle accident. He died a week after the accident. Ariel Sharon sufferd from a stroke. He lived in a coma for eight years before he died in January 2014.

Despite their faults, they will be remembered throughout history.

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