Media Myths: The biased vilification of Ariel Sharon

Two days ago an article chronicling the “ruthless” legacy of former Israeli premier Ariel Sharon was published in one of the most prestigious newspapers in India. The author of the opinion piece is a renowned Marxist scholar currently based in Beirut. The author, while showing no mercy towards Sharon, turns a blind eye to the atrocities perpetrated by the Palestinians and also ignores Sharon’s efforts to create an atmosphere of harmony in the region.

The full story can be read here.

Ariel Sharon is a revered leader in Israel and he will go down in the annals of history as a great “warrior” who fought for the protection and survival of his country. While he was loved by millions around the world he was also hated by many and had to face several painful as well as gut-wrenching criticisms and accusations all throughout his military and political career.

It is only common for any illustrious leader to face disapproval or condemnation during his/her lifetime. Mahatma Gandhi was a victim of vitriolic attacks by the erstwhile British Empire. Winston Churchill once called the Mahatma a “half-naked ” and  “seditious fakir” who was the “greatest enemy of Britain”. While this was a vicious attack on one of India’s greatest leaders, Churchill also acknowledged the fact that Gandhi was a guardian angel for India’s downtrodden classes. Gandhi may have been Britain’s arch foe but for Indians he was the man who gave them their freedom. Just as David Ben Gurion was revered as the “Father of Israel”, Gandhi’s appellation as the “Father of India” is entirely justified.

Coming back to Ariel Sharon, his condemnation in this particular article is unabashedly biased. The author expediently indicts Sharon as directly responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacre. It is also rather unfortunate that not one word is mentioned about the Phalangist militiamen who were the ones that carried out the grotesque slaughtering of innocent Palestinian and Lebanese civilians in retaliation to the murder of their supremo Bachir Gemayel. The Time magazine had published a story in 1983 alleging that Sharon had encouraged the Gemayels to seek vengeance and murder thousands. For Sharon, this was crossing the limit and he sued the magazine for $50 million. The jury concluded that the article was false and defamatory.

The only stain on an otherwise perfect career was the Qibya incident. In 1953 troops from the elite Unit 101 under Sharon attacked the hamlet of Qibya killing almost 70 innocent villagers. The reckless raid was a tit for tat attack after a Jewish woman and her children were ripped apart by a grenade thrown into their house. While the author has shown an unfeigned lachrymose concern for the plight of the Palestinians he comfortably ignores the miseries that innocent Israeli civilians had to endure during years of conflict.

2002 and 2003 were miserable years for Israeli civilians. The PLFP and Hamas sponsored suicide bombings were a nightmare for Israelis. In the span of two years exactly 70 suicide blasts rocked the country. Two of the deadliest attacks were the Passover massacre and the Tel Aviv central bus station massacre. The former was carried out by a Hamas terrorist who, on the Jewish holiday of Passover, blew up himself killing 30 instantly and severely injuring another 140. The tragedy of this loss was compounded when the perpetrator was honoured and glorified in Palestine. The Tel Aviv bus station massacre was equally horrific. 23 killed and over 100 injured──this attack was one of the many bombings which were a ferocious game between Palestinian terrorist modules in which the one whose murder rate was highest would emerge victors. It was as if Yasser Arafat had given these murderous maniacs carte blanche to choose their next spot for ‘martyrdom’.

While scathingly criticizing the “Bulldozer” for his so-called land grab policy in the West Bank the writer ignores Sharon’s efforts in Gaza. In fact, he sardonically says that the Prime Minister’s “retreat from Gaza being a feint to distract from this more profitable annexation”. Sadly, this is not the truth. It was Sharon’s expeditious measures that finally relieved Gazans from Israeli occupation. He was the driving force during the withdrawal of IDF troops in 2005 and his unilateral disengagement plan was condemned by many settlers. Those settlers who did not comply with the disengagement plan were forcefully evicted. He had deliberately incurred the wrath of the settlers due to the overwhelming hope of achieving peace and also a desire for the cessation of rocket attacks. There was to be no peace and Hamas launched rockets at Israel with redoubled vigour.

In 2006 Sharon became the first Israeli premier to visit India. His visit transformed Indo-Israel ties and there was a renewed relationship between the two countries. But there is a strong objection towards India’s growing bond with Israel, particularly from the leftist coterie. A famous Indian leader with left leanings once said that it was impossible for India to establish a moral relationship with Israel, which according to him was born in sin. The author also quotes Sarah Leah Whitson; the Human Rights Watch cheer-leader of anything anti-Israel. She is acclaimed for her “fund-raiser” report to the Saudis, who are one of the worst human rights violators, condemning Israel for its “brutality” in Gaza. David Bernstein rightly comments that “there is something wrong when a human rights organization goes to one of the worst countries in the world for human rights to raise money to wage lawfare against Israel, and says not a word during the trip about the status of human rights in that country”.

In sum, such a biased vilification of Sharon is morally degrading. Sharon was a great leader who worked round the clock to protect Israel from its enemies. His patriotism was firmly established after his heroic efforts during the Six Day and Yom Kippur wars. He should also be commended for driving out Arafat, Habash and company from Lebanon. His role in the assassinations of Hamas founders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi was vehemently condemned. But imagine the catastrophic damage Hamas would have caused if these leader were still alive to egg on the militia group. He was deeply worried by the incessant suicide bombings during the second Intifada and the only way he could stop the merciless killings of civilians was to kill the two. Rather than portraying him as a pugnacious villain, Ariel Sharon should be remembered as a dedicated leader whose overwhelming goal was to establish peace between Israel and Palestine.



About the Author
Andrew Pereira is a writer covering the MENA region, Caucasus, and Central Asia for Statecraft.