The Israeli campaign to sanitize Ariel Sharon is on. At the New York
Times, the Likudniks have answered the call of "Grandpa Ariel",
whom Deborah Sontag informs us is "ready to bounce the nation on his
lap." (NYT, 1/17/2001). In the same issue Thomas Friedman, casually
mentions that the first story he ever got published was in his high school
newspaper about Sharon: "an Israeli general who had been a hero in
the Six-Day War". That is the only mention of Sharon in the article.
Friedman did admit in the same editorial that his study of journalism
is limited to a 10th grade course he took with Ms. Hattie Steinberg
in 1969. Even back then, his "favorite teacher" realized that
little Thomas "didnt come up to her writing standards, so she
made me business manager, selling ads to the local pizza parlor".
Ms. Hattie, his late teacher, was that good. She saw him as a classified
ad man from day one. Friedmans specialty is to market any and all
Israeli policy in tidy packets for American consumption. These days, you
can find him repackaging and reselling Ariel Sharon in one-sentence "hero"
Now, Friedman has been given this particular assignment before. Back
in September 1982 he went on a mission of damage control for Sharon after
the Sabra and Shatila Massacre. It is perhaps time to revisit a Friedman
classic from the archives of the New York Times (The Beirut Massacre: The
Four Days, 9/26/1982). The article could well be titled "Believe me,
Ariel Sharon knew nothing".
It was only ten days after the grotesque scenes of carnage had been broadcast
to the whole world. Against a backdrop of international outrage and detailed
reporting by major international news outlets, even Friedman hesitantly
acknowledged that "some conclusions may be drawn" about what
took place at Sabra and Shatila. In his own words:
"First, the Christian militiamen entered the camp
with the full knowledge of the Israeli Army, which provided them with at
least some of their arms and provisions and assisted them with flares during
"Second, the Israelis had to have known that there was deep and
pervasive fear of the Christian militiamen among the Palestinian
residents of the camps because of past atrocities committed by the Christians
and Palestinians against each other during the Lebanese civil war."
"Third, the Israeli Army began to learn on the evening of Thursday,
Sept. 16, that civilians were being killed in Shatila, since the moment
these armed men entered the camps, they began murdering people at random,
and those who fled told the Israelis what was happening. By Friday morning,
there was enough evidence of untoward acts by the militiamen to move the
senior Israeli commander in Lebanon to order their operations halted, according
to the Israeli Government. Yet according to Defense Minister Ariel Sharon,
the militiamen doing the killing were told by the Israelis they could stay
inside the camps until Saturday morning and the murders continued until
Friedman also reported that the Israeli Army had completely surrounded
the camps and had coordinated with the Phalangists and that "Mr. Sharon
says the attack began at night. The Israeli Army had an observation post,
equipped with binoculars and a powerful telescope, atop a five-story apartment
building in the northwest quadrant of the Kuwaiti Embassy traffic circle.
From that position it is possible to see into at least part of the Shatila
camp, including those parts where piles of dead bodies were found later."
Reviewing this particular New York Times article is instructive. Every
plausible Israeli denial is woven into Friedmans tale. First, he
pins it all on the Christians. Let the Pope and the 700-club
worry about defending the actions of their militiamen. Second, minimize
the number of victims to hundreds. The Palestinians and Lebanese
reported that as many as 2,000 men, women and children perished in the
three-day Israeli supervised assault. The survivors repeatedly narrated
to Friedman that some of the attackers belonged to Israeli trained Lebanese
militias delivered to the camps from Israeli controlled barracks in South
Lebanon, via the Israeli controlled Beirut Airport. Yet Friedman reports
that the presence of these militias is based on "a sizable body of
circumstantial evidence." Who were those people who did this dastardly
By the time Friedman went to press, the question of the involvement of
the Israeli armed and trained militias had already been confirmed by the
Times of London. The confirmation came straight from Major Saad Haddad,
the servile Lebanese quisling who led these militias. Friedman knew that
and mentions it in his article. But he is quick to give the Israelis the
benefit of the doubt "What is not clear is whether the Haddad militiamen
could have reached the camps far from their normal area of operations
in the south along the Israeli border without the knowledge or active
cooperation of the Israelis." Friedman continues to search for clues
to the answer with more "circumstantial evidence." If you dont
like the straight answer, keep asking the question and make a show of looking
Even the five-story Israeli observation post with a naked eye view of
the carnage is not enough evidence of the Israeli Armys complicity.
Friedman has an incredible spin on that count. "Whether the Israelis
actually looked down and saw what was happening is unknown." How much
time did he spend on that little bit of conjecture? Or did he borrow it
from IDF press releases? So, for Friedman, it is plausible that Israelis
encircled the camps on Wednesday, transported the murderous militias with
ample provisions on Thursday, provided them with night time flares and
other amenities for three days, forced fleeing victims back into the deadly
grasp of the vicious murderers and than never bothered to look down from
their observation post until Saturday.
The massacre began on the second day of a major Israeli military sweep
to occupy West Beirut, contrary to the Israeli and American pledges in
the agreement brokered by American envoy Philip Habib. Sharons forces
acknowledge that they had a tight noose around both refugee camps. The
militiamen who participated in the three-day killing spree went in through
Israeli lines and left through Israeli lines. Yet, Sharon claims he just
didnt know what was going to happen and didnt get the details
But there are facts about the massacre that were so widely reported and
Friedman is obliged to admit them before doing the fix on the
story. "At 4:30 PM Friday afternoon, after General Drori was said
by Sharon to have ordered the end to the operation, he and General Eytan
met again with the Phalangists. At that time, Mr. Sharon said, it was "agreed
that all of the Phalangists would leave the refugee camps on Saturday morning."
We are left to wonder how exactly Sharon phrased that military order. I
suspect it went something like this: One more night of carnage, send
up the flares and make sure they have enough munitions, and if the refugees
try to get through Israeli lines, send them back to the killing fields.
Seven hours after the massacre started, Hirsch Goodman of the Jerusalem
Post reported that a cablegram was received by the Israeli command stating
"to this time we have killed 300 civilians and terrorists." Zeev Schiff,
military correspondent of Haaretz, had notified the Israeli Communication
Minister Mordecai Zipori, who promptly relayed the information to Foreign
Minister Yitzhak Shamir. True to form, Shamir indicated that he already
knew and asked if there was any other news. That was on Friday morning.
The massacre continued for another 24 hours.
Zeev Schiff wrote in Haaretz that the Sabra and Shatila massacre
was "a premeditated attack which was designed to cause a mass flight
of Palestinians from Beirut and the whole of Lebanon." Yet Sharon
still claims he knew next to nothing about those three days of serial killings.
For anyone who has studied Sharon, this much is certain, he would not
have been absent from a major operation. This is a man who likes to get
his hands dirty. There were Israeli aircraft flying over the camps and
dropping illuminating flares to assist the militiamen. It is highly probable
that they transmitted visual feedback to the Israeli commanders of the
Invading Lebanon and laying siege to Beirut was not another Six-Day
war for Sharon. The Palestinian resistance and their Lebanese allies had
put up a valiant defense of Beirut. The PLO had withdrawn at the request
of their Lebanese allies to spare the capital from the daily indiscriminate
Israeli bombardment. It had been an orderly withdrawal under the American
negotiated "Habib" agreement that included explicit assurances
that Israel would not invade West Beirut and harm their families. Sharon
would have none of that. The whole invasion had been a fiasco and the Palestinians
were going to pay a high price for his blunders. It would take another
eighteen years and thousands more Lebanese, Palestinian and Israeli casualties
before this particular Israeli misadventure was put to rest.
At Sabra and Shatila, an otherwise indifferent world tuned in to witness
the carnage inflicted by Sharons men in collaboration with Hadads
militias. It is worth noting that Israel created these militias as a renegade
gang of mercenaries to promote Israeli ambitions in Lebanon. They were,
for all practical purposes, an auxiliary force of the Israeli army. They
were recruited, trained, armed and paid by Israel.
There are international rules governing the conduct of foreign occupation
armies and one of them is that the safety and welfare of the civilian population
living in areas under their control is their responsibility. It is unfortunate
that Israelis and American Jews need to be reminded that many of these
rules were made to ward off any repeat of the criminal Nazi persecution
of civilian populations that came under German occupation in World War
II. To this day the exact identity of the assailants is unknown because
the Israelis did not arrest any of them. They let them enter the camp,
do their dirty work for three grizzly days and just walk off without so
much as a citation.
The gruesome aftermath is worth revisiting, especially for Israelis who
are considering voting for "Grandpa Ariel". Before any Israeli
is bounced on Sharons lap they should pause a moment to reflect on
the images of Sabra and Shatila. They should focus on the piles of contorted
bodies, of frozen limbs sticking out of hastily dug mass graves, of dead
infants strewn where they had been slaughtered, of the petrified faces
of some survivors and the hysterics of others. These vivid images of the
dead and the bereaved are etched onto the collective psyche of the Palestinian
people. Yet even these images fail to convey the abominable stench or the
eerie silence, pierced by only by the shrieks of wailing women.
One of the first Americans on the scene was the Rev. Donald Wagner,
Director of the Palestine Human rights Campaign. An extract of his account
Neither the initial news reports nor descriptive accounts by relief
workers returning from Sabra and Shatila Camps were adequate to orient
us for our visit. The shantytown camps I had known as bustling centers
of activity for the Palestinian and Lebanese refugees were now reduced
to a Dante-esque scene of death and overkill.
We entered Shatila Camp from the south, having passed at least
a dozen Israeli tanks at the Kuwaiti Embassy and the seven-story apartment
building of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) used as a military outpost
for the area. We could see Israeli soldiers looking down at us through
binoculars and could not help but note their proximity to the camp and
their vantagepoint to activities within Sabra and Shatila.
It is nothing short of disgusting that the Likudniks and their American
partisans are trying to pass off Sharon as "conservative" or
"pugnacious". They have gotten away with murder before, but Sharon
is a mass murderer and a "serial arsonist" with criminal tendencies
and a history to prove it. If Sharon is elected, it will reveal to the
world that the Israeli public remains as chauvinist and callous as their
leaders. Imagine if Lieutenant Calley of My Lai fame was running for dogcatcher?
His own dog would not vote for him. This is Sharon of Sabra and Shatila
running for the post of Prime Minister. And the Israelis are bouncing on
his knees like he was some kind of Santa Clause.
The only Jewish majority country in the world may shortly come under
the rule of a war criminal who is always on the prowl for a new path to
war. Sharon is a dangerous and impulsive man who still subscribes to the
notion that he can coerce the native Palestinians with ever-larger doses
of lethal carnage. His solutions will always be military solutions. Indeed,
given his life long penchant for unrestrained military force, he will always
be quick to consider unleashing an unpredictable level of violence. Men
like Sharon should long ago have been consigned to the dustbin of history.
A man that sullied with the blood of innocents should find an obscure retirement
or find a room at The Hague. It is only because of the American Medias
indulgence that he still gets to prowl the stage.
Americans and Europeans should also be quite alarmed at who gets his
hands on the buttons of the well-documented Israeli nuclear arsenal. Haider
is a mere nuisance compared to a nuclear Sharon. Somebody at State should
raise an alarm about an unbalanced egomaniac like Sharon having access
to nuclear bombs. This is one Israeli election that demands American intervention.
If Sharon gets elected, the Middle East might go from being a powder
keg to being reduced to powder. This guy is a nasty piece of work and should
long ago have been tried for war crimes. It is one thing for Israeli public
relations committees to white wash his murderous escapades at Sabra and
Shatila and elsewhere. It is quite another for the American government
to just sit there and pretend it does not see the dangers of allowing this
lunatic access to the bomb.
"You don't have to be a political genius or a decorated general,
it's enough to be a village policeman to understand ahead of time that
these militias - in the wake of the murder of their leader - were more
liable than ever to sow destruction, even among innocent people. Is this
surprising? Was this something unprecedented?" The words are those
of Shimon Peres, in a speech delivered to the Israeli Parliament after
the massacre at Sabra and Shatila.
If the current polls are on target, Israelis have deluded themselves
into thinking that Sharon can be rehabilitated in the eyes of the world,
especially in the eyes of the Palestinians. They should wake up and smell
the potent brew that this man is cooking up for the Middle East. Sharon
will be looking for any excuse to go to war.
In the International arena, the welcome rugs that were used for Haider
and Waldhiem are being taken out of storage, in preparation for Sharon.
One suggestion being discussed by political activists in Cairo is to create
a memorial of all the Palestinians killed during the Sabra and Shatila
and put it right across from the Israeli Embassy in Cairo. I would suggest
that they add another memorial to list the American "journalists"
who tried to cover-up Sharons crimes.
Let the Israelis pretend that they have no memories of Sabra and Shatila.
Self-induced collective amnesia is an Israeli national trait that is essential
to making the past deniable and to create an environment where hysterical
Zionist mythologies constantly trash the historic record.
On this subject, one must be blunt. Let every Israeli and every Sharon
apologist in the American press, including Sontag and Friedman, be aware
of one simple fact. The Palestinians will never forgive Sharon and the
IDF for their role in the massacre at Sabra and Shatila. Further, Arab-Americans
will remember all those "journalists" who tried to white wash
his crimes. There is not enough soap in New York to scrub Sharon clean.
The whole world will be watching the lords of the mass media and wondering
why Sharon is being treated any more favorably than Haider or Waldhiem.
So, before Sontag or any Israeli stands in line for a bounce on the knees
of Grandpa Ariel, ask him this question "what did you do in the war,