Ariel Sharon, From Sabra/Shatila to Jenin


Edward S. Herman 

The
U.S. political and economic elite and mainstream media work like
a very well-oiled machine in dealing with favored and unfavored
genocidists. They loved Indonesia’s Suharto, who was the only
triple-genocidist of the post World War II era (killings in excess
of 100,000 in West Papua and East Timor as well as a million or
more in Indonesia), but a man who delivered the goods: eliminating
any Communist (or democratic) threat in Indonesia, aligning it with
the West, and opening the door to oil, mining, and timber interests
on favorable terms, with only a sizable but bearable bribe cost.
It followed that he was aided and protected by the United States
and its allies, its deadly armed forces equipped and trained, and
his mass murders overlooked. 

The
mainstream media were wonderfully tolerant of his authoritarian
rule, looting, terror, and mass killings—he allegedly brought
“stability,” and under his rule there was “growth.”
During all his years of rule the New York Times never found
him guilty of “genocide,” and in one of the rare cases
where the word was used, veteran NYT reporter Henry Kamm
explicitly denied its applicability to Indonesian operations in
East Timor where between a quarter and third of the population died
in the wake of Indonesia’s invasion and occupation (“hyperbole,”
Kamm called it [February 15, 1981]). In the years since Suharto’s
exit there has been no demand for a war crimes tribunal for him,
or for his successors who organized the killing of thousands and
virtual destruction of East Timor in their effort to sabotage the
U.N.-sponsored independence election. U.S. officials, the media,
and the new humanitarians (e.g., David Rieff, Aryeh Neier) have
all served the “national interest” by averting their eyes
from this area of a “good genocidist” at work. (Neier’s
1998 book on war crimes has no index reference to Indonesia or East
Timor.) 

By
contrast, the Times and its associates, and the new humanitarians,
devoted much space and moral energy to Pol Pot, his crimes, and
the importance of bringing this “bad genocidist” and his
associates to justice. There were no holds barred in using the word
“genocide” to describe Pol Pot’s performance, and
words like “mass murderer,” “killer,” “butcher”
and “blood-soaked,” never used in reference to Suharto,
were freely applied. 

Even
more interesting, of course, has been the treatment of Milosevic.
Here we have another target of the West, so that the word genocide,
and numerous terms of derogation have been freely applied by the
media. In 1998 and 1999, “genocide” was used 220 times
by 5 major U.S. print media (NYT, WP, LAT, Time, and Newsweek)
in relation to the Serbs in Kosovo. Sebastian Junger, writing in
the New York Times, could even find “genocide”
on the evidence of a single dead body in Kosovo (February 27, 2000),
whereas Henry Kamm couldn’t justify the use of the word in
East Timor with over a quarter of the population of dead bodies.
It takes an official target for the media and new humanitarians
to get on the genocide and indignation bandwagon. 

These usages and
this indignation at the misdeeds of official enemies, and eye aversion
and silence on good genocidists, has absolutely no relation to levels
of real villainy. This is dramatically illustrated by the treatment
of Ariel Sharon. 

Sharon
leads a state closely allied to the United States, protected by
an ethnic cleansing process that has lasted half a century. Its
crimes against the Palestinians in the occupied territories, including
institutionalized torture and systematic expropriations in violation
of the Fourth Geneva Convention, have been supported by the United
States and normalized in the U.S. mainstream media for decades.
Both officials and media have routinely made the deadly actions
arising from the victim population into “terrorism,” the
death-dealing and terror of the ethnic-cleansing state into “retaliation”
and innocent “self defense.” The notion of Palestinian
self defense doesn’t arise. 

In
a recent article in the New York Times, however, reporter
James Bennet notes that the ratio of killings during the first Intifada,
25 Palestinians to 1 Israeli, has fallen in the current Intifada
to 3 to 1 (“Mideast Turmoil: News Analysis: Mideast Balance
Sheet,” March 12, 2002). Neither Bennet nor the editors explain
how the party victimized at a 25-1 ratio could be said to be the
terrorists rather than the victims. But clearly, the decline to
3 to 1 calls for rectification by a good genocidist. 

The
notorious terrorist Carlos the Jackal was credited with 80-90 killings
during his career. He is in prison. Ariel Sharon was responsible
for some 66 to 70 civilian deaths in a raid on Qibya in October
1953 (two-thirds of the victims were women and children) and he
was found, even by the Israeli Kahan commission, to have been “indirectly
responsible” for the mass killings at Sabra and Shatila, estimated
by various authorities as somewhere between 800 and 3,000 Palestinian
civilians, a large fraction once again women and children. The Kahan
commission was protecting Israel’s own high official in making
Sharon only “indirectly responsible,” but he was on the
scene, was Minister of Defense in charge of operations in the area,
and knowingly invited the Christian Phalange into the killing fields.
He was quite aware of what was going to happen and failed to intervene
during the 30 hours of killings. 

An
independent court or truth commission would have found Ariel Sharon
directly responsible for the mass killings at Sabra and Shatila.
So Sharon’s terror record as a killer exceeds Carlos’s
by between 10 to 1 and 40 to 1, ignoring Sharon’s involvement
in death-dealing beyond the two cases mentioned. 

In
a minimally just world Sharon would be behind bars. Instead, the
Israeli political system has brought him back to power to deal once
again with the “terrorists.” No objections have been voiced
in the United States, and the “international community,”
delighted to see Milosevic in The Hague, has also been silent. 

Piling
irony on irony, Sharon has now been unleashed once again by a U.S.
administration as part of the “war on terror”—earlier,
the Reagan administration, also devoted to fighting “terrorism,”
had supported Sharon and associates in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon
that culminated in the Sabra and Shatila massacre. Sharon is treated
in the West as a respected statesman, even called a “man of
peace” by George W. Bush in the wake of Sharon’s new war
crimes at Jenin, Nablus, Bethlehem, and other West Bank towns. This
treatment of Sharon has one great merit: it makes crystal clear
that the “war on terror” is a “war of terror.” 

As
a “Greater Israel” ideologue long committed to more and
larger settlements and no compromises on the occupation, Sharon
never intended a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians. With
U.S. connivance, he was able to ignore the Saudi initiative, not
even bothering to make a counter-proposal. Sharon has repeatedly
engaged in assassinations and other violent actions precisely to
stimulate counter-violence to justify his determination to invade
and destroy Palestinian civil society. Zbigniew Brzezinski speaks
of the “deliberate overreactions by Mr. Sharon designed not
to repress terrorism, but to destabilize the Palestinian Authority
and to uproot the Oslo Agreement, which he has always denounced.”
Shulamith Aloni, of Israel’s Meretz Party, points out that,
after a period of Palestinian restraint, “Sharon and his army
minister, apparently fearing that they would have to return to the
negotiating table, decided to do something and they liquidated Raad
Karmi. They knew that there would be a response,” which they
wanted and got. Only the U.S. media were fooled by his pro-war maneuverings,
or seemed to be fooled. 

As
with the U.S. approval and protection of Israeli aggression, the
Sharon method of fending off peace options is a rerun of 1982 Lebanon,
where, contrary to establishment mythology, the Israeli invasion
was precipitated, not by Palestinian violence but by its very absence,
which impelled a violent Israeli response to prevent negotiations
and any kind of compromise settlement. The problem, according to
Israeli analyst Yehoshua Porath, writing in Ha’aretz
on June 25, 1982, was “that the cease fire had been observed,”
and Begin and Sharon invaded Lebanon anticipating and desiring that
a PLO under military attack “would return to its earlier terrorism”
and “lose part of the political legitimacy it has gained.”
Sharon is still playing that game and with the success that comes
from the fact that an Israeli leader, even a world class genocidist,
is under the full protection of the U.S. government and media. 

Sharon’s
intent now is evidently to destroy the Palestinian political organization
and authority by killings and decimation of infrastructure and to
so crush and demoralize the population that they will no longer
have the power to resist the occupation. Many may move away, in
a system of voluntary transfer; many will die; others will be expelled.
The Israeli army may permanently occupy much of the former Palestinian
enclaves and it may be further divided into mini-Bantustans under
limited Palestinian control. 

Sharon
and his U.S. friends like to refer to his military assaults as a
“war,” but wars usually occur between states. Where the
imbalance of forces is immense, we have not war but a deliberate
slaughter. The case at hand is more like the Nazi attack on the
Warsaw ghetto. One senior Israeli military officer recommended a
study of that struggle as a good illustration of the problems encountered
in destroying and pacifying a civilian population resisting an occupation;
a study that the army should “analyze and internalize the lessons
of…” (Ha’aretz, January 25, 2002). 

The
new invasion and occupation has been carried out in violation of
virtually every law of war, as well as blatantly violating the Fourth
Geneva Convention. Amnesty International speaks of Geneva Convention
violations over the past 18 months as “committed daily, hourly,
even every minute, by the Israeli authorities against Palestinians”
(April 2, 2002). While claiming to be only going after the “terrorist
infrastructure,” the Israeli army has been destroying large
numbers of civilian residences, killing civilians, attacking and
damaging hospitals and preventing access to hospitals, depriving
civilian populations of water, food, and electricity, vandalizing,
and deliberately producing fear and making life intolerable for
Palestinians. 

Israeli
analysts are clear that what Sharon calls the “terrorist infrastructure
includes, among other things, normal lives for hundreds of thousands
of innocent residents of the territories” (Gideon Samet, Ha’aretz,
April 24, 2002). Amira Hass stresses that the systematic vandalism,
the “breaking into every hard disk of every bank and clinic,
commercial consultant’s office or PA ministry…was not a whim,
or crazed vengeance, by this or that unit…the scenes of systematic
destruction show how the IDF translated into the field the instructions
inherent in the political echelon’s policies: Israel must destroy
Palestinian civil institutions, sabotaging for years to come the
Palestinian goal of independence, sending all of Palestinian society
backwards” (“Operation Destroy the Data,” Ha’aretz,
April 24, 2002). Uri Avnery goes farther, arguing that Sharon’s
“war” is not to “destroy the infrastructure of terrorism;”
rather, it is to “turn the people into human wreckage that
can be dealt with as he wishes. This may entail shutting them up
in several enclaves or even driving them out of the country altogether”
(“The Real Aim of ‘Operation Defensive Shield’”
at www.mediamonitors. net/uri68.html). 

Sharon
has even acknowledged an intent to attack civilians, declaring in
March 2002, “The Palestinians must be hit and it must be very
painful: we must cause them losses, victims, so that they feel the
heavy price.” Furthermore, the overall Sharon operation, both
in working details and strategic conception, very clearly fits the
“genocide” category of the Convention on the Prevention
and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 2 (c) identifying
as genocide the “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions
of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole
or in part.” Articles 2 (a) and (b) refer to killing (a) and
“causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.”
The fit of the word genocide to the Sharon “war” is far
better than to Kosovo where, before the period of joint NATO-KLA
warfare with the Serbs (March 24-June 10, 1999), the Serbs were
fighting an ugly civil war, but were not trying to degrade the conditions
of life of Albanians and push them out to make way for settlements
by a Serb “chosen people.” 

The
genocidal Israeli operation not only received a green light from
the Bush administration, even as international observers and—hesitantly,
inadequately, and with “balance”—the U.S. media,
were reporting major war crimes, but also the Bush administration
continued to oppose international monitors, continued to admonish
Arafat, holed up in a room in Ramallah, to promise to call off the
“terrorists,” and continued to sanction the wholesale
Israeli terror. Colin Powell visited a site of a suicide bombing,
but couldn’t bring himself to visit Jenin. His advice to Israel?
“Prime Minister Sharon has to take a hard look at his policies
to see whether they work,” and if Sharon concludes that they
do work (and Powell wouldn’t question his aims), so be it. 

The
media’s role in making this massive operation of state terrorism
acceptable has, of course, been extremely important. It has built
on the already institutionalized bias of many years standing, which
has been continued and extended. Relevant elements of bias include:
(1) suppressing Sharon’s historic record as a terrorist commander;
(2) giving hugely disproportionate weight to Israeli as compared
to Palestinian suffering; (3) maintaining the traditional pattern
of making the Palestinian attacks unprovoked and not retaliatory,
the Israelis always retaliating; and (4), most important, ignoring
or playing down the cruel, illegal, and racist occupation and ethnic
cleansing that have included institutionalized torture and collective
punishment, which have degraded and made desperate the Palestinian
population. 

According to former
Shin Beth head Ami Ayalon, “We say the Palestinians behave
like ‘madmen,’ but it is not madness but a bottomless
despair” (Le Monde, December, 22, 2001). Israeli
refusnik Assaf Oron says, “When you treat millions of people
like sub-humans for so long, some of them will find inhuman strategies
to fight back” (“An Open Letter to American Jews,”
Passover eve, 2002). Robert Fisk in Britain says that the Intifada
“is what happens when a whole society is pressure cooked to
the point of explosion,” and the resisting Israeli reservists
(now a thousand in number) openly refuse to participate in what
they call an effort “to control, expel, starve and degrade
an entire people.” Jeff Halper, of the Israeli Committee Against
House Demolitions, says, “Israel’s ferocious response
to the Intifada came from a fear that the Palestinian struggle would
break the PA out of the Oslo framework and lead it to a true dismantling
of the Occupation, to a viable and truly sovereign Palestinian state.” 

These
observers work with an “injustice frame,” whereas the
U.S. mainstream media, following government policy, and under the
force of Israeli lobby pressure, and buttressed by racist bias,
use a frame that rationalizes Israel’s relentless dispossessions,
discrimination, brutalization, and now with Sharon, open devastation
and massacre. After all, didn’t Barak offer the Palestinians
a great deal at Camp David, etc., etc., so isn’t Palestinian
terror based on a refusal to accept Israel’s existence? This
turns the real Israeli refusal to allow the Palestinians the right
to live freely on their own traditional territory, steadily abusing,
humiliating, and pushing them out, into a mythical threat to exist
of a powerful state that relentlessly ethnically cleanses with the
approval and under the protection of the superpower. 

The
U.S. media absolutely refuse to feature what, for most of the world,
is the basic issue—Israel’s steadily expanding and brutal
and illegal military occupation. During the Sharon assault on the
Palestinians the media paid no attention to his opening of 34 new
settlement outposts, his declaration that no settlements would be
abandoned, and the April 24 announcement of the first stages of
construction work to connect two West Bank settlements by building
housing for 480 Jewish families. 

The
media have also treated very gently the ongoing Sharon assault,
which UN Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen described as “horrific
beyond belief” and which led veteran correspondent Janine di
Giovanni to say, “Rarely, in more than a decade of war reporting
from Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, have I seen such deliberate
destruction, such disrespect for human life.” These people
don’t understand that, as Eli Wiesel told an audience in Philadelphia
on April 28, these are necessary responses to terrorism, and that
“even the [Israeli] soldiers are sad; they don’t like
what they are doing.” 

The
Sharon attacks have been so extensive and blatant that the U.S.
mainstream media have eventually been unable to avoid reporting
on the deliberate bulldozing and rocket bombing of civilian homes,
barring of access to medical facilities, and systematic vandalism
in Jenin and other towns (e.g., Lee Hockstader, “Trails of
Destruction, Tales of Loss,” WP, April 12, 2002). Nevertheless,
given the large numbers of surviving victims with harrowing stories
to relate, the reports of the Sharon violence and terror has been
slight, the photos of death and destruction, and the readily available
human interest stories, badly scanted, the indignation largely absent.
The more detailed attention, human interest stories, photos, and
indignation associated with the suicide bombings, in a time when
hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were being attacked, is striking.
Israeli explanations and stories of captured documents showing Arafat’s
link to the “terror”—and Sharon’s “war”
was never “terror”—were plentiful. The contrast here
between the numerous heart-rending accounts by international observers
made available on the Internet and what the U.S. mainstream media
have reported, has been dramatic. 

The
contrast with the reporting on Kosovo after the bombing war is also
dramatic—there, the attention to the Albanian refugees’
stories was huge, the indignation was great, and there were no “balancing”
reports on, say, the KLA’s wartime collaboration with NATO,
Serb explanations of their tactics, or scepticism of refugee stories.
For Jenin, there was normalizing “complexity”; for Kosovo,
simple state terrorism. 

Imagine
if Milosevic had devastated large refugee cities and refused for
11 days to allow ambulances and transport for the wounded; that
his troops denied passage to aid groups bringing food and water
to devastated communities; that his army shot at journalists and
kept them away while the armed forces cleared bodies. Imagine if
he had refused to admit a UN investigative body because he didn’t
like its composition and wanted a friendly Russian general as a
member. 

Sharon,
Peres, Ben Eliezer and other Israelis, and George W. Bush and his
top associates—the “dishonest brokers,” and actual
collaborators in major war crimes—should be put on trial for
planning, aiding, and participating in the recent murderous attacks
on the Palestinian towns. But in the New World Order, what the United
States says rules, and if all the world except the United States
and Israel consider the Sharon-U.S. performance outrageous, that
has no effect on policy. No penalties are imposed on Israel for
this genocidal performance, although bold European officials like
Chris Patten say that this behavior may “harm Israel’s
reputation.” And “in his strongest rebuke to Israel yet”
British Foreign Minister Jack Straw actually called for an investigation
of Israel’s military actions in Jenin. 

Lev
Grinberg, an Israeli academic at Ben Gurion University, says, “I
want to ask: Who will arrest Sharon, the person directly responsible
for the orders to kill Palestinians? When is he going to be defined
as a terrorist too? How long will the world ignore the Palestinian
cry that all they want is freedom and independence? When will it
stop neglecting the fact that the goal of the Israeli Government
is not security, but the continued occupation and subjugation of
the Palestinian people?” (Tikkun

Like
Suharto and the Indonesian generals, Sharon and Israel are U.S.
allies and serve U.S. interests, as perceived by the dominant U.S.
business and military elite. They may therefore kill virtually without
limit, without penalty. The hegemon’s enemies alone can be
bombed and sanctioned and brought to trial; his own killers are
not only free of penalty, they will be given military aid and diplomatic
cover even as they escalate their brutality and engage in the most
obvious law violations. Meanwhile, at this historical juncture the
“international community,” having joined the hegemon in
inflicting severe damage on his targets of choice, remains quiescent,
if a bit uncomfortable.                                              Z