Sharon’s Way: Force and Deceit

Ariel Sharon played a decisive role in creating the culture of violence and lies that controls our relations with the Palestinians to this day.

zeev sternhell
Zeev Sternhell
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zeev sternhell
Zeev Sternhell

Ariel Sharon, even more than Moshe Dayan, symbolized the inherent weakness in what it means to be Israeli. Sharon’s legacy, when it comes to the values, morality and politics that are being attributed to it, is just a ridiculous joke.

His entire life, Sharon had one major rule that he applied and adapted to changing circumstances: Most people are spineless cowards, so they can be subdued. Unlimited force can be used against them, unless a superior force arises. The conclusion: There are no illegitimate means, only ineffective ones.

The refugees from East Europe who established the country were captivated by the young people whose youth was rooted in the fields of the Land of Israel. The first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, developed a special fondness for two young moshavniks, the product of moshav cooperative farms – Sharon and Dayan – because for them force wasn’t just a means to and end. It had an intrinsic value of its own, both in building the personality of the “new Jew” and in developing the nation.

The first prime minister wasn’t bothered by the 1953 massacre during the raid on the West Bank village of Qibya by troops under Sharon’s command, or by claims that Sharon was untrustworthy, or by Sharon’s conduct in the 1956 Sinai Campaign in the Battle of Mitla Pass, where he was accused of acting against orders. In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the impression was created that sometimes Sharon was less interested in getting Israeli troops to the other side of the Suez Canal than in who would do it first and reap the glory.

Prime Minister Menachem Begin was also enthusiastic about Sharon, until it became clear that Sharon, as his defense minister, had war aims very different from the cabinet’s. But by the time Begin understood this, Israel was deeply mired in the destructive, bloody and unnecessary first Lebanon war.

In the summer of 1982, Sharon launched an offensive against the Syrian army in an effort to isolate Lebanon from Syria, deliver Lebanon to the Lebanese Christians and make the country an Israeli satellite. Then a problem surfaced that the Israeli army had long known about: Sharon was a man without inhibitions, and the truth for him was something very relative, depending on point of view.

In Lebanon, it became crystal clear that the people who had it right were the ones who had known in the past to stop Sharon on his way to the top of the army. They thought a skilled battlefield commander could be very dangerous when he became a strategic decision-maker.

That’s what happened later. Sharon’s biggest transgression was his patronage of the golem that was the Jewish settlement movement. He directed the occupation using deceit, fraud and theft. As a result, he played a decisive role in creating the culture of violence and lies that controls our relations with the Palestinians to this day.

No one contributed more than Sharon in creating the current colonialist situation, because he didn’t have any moral problem with it. He didn’t have any real political problem either, as long as the Palestinians were in a helpless situation.

The documents recently leaked from the U.S. Embassy indicating that Sharon was prepared to compromise on the West Bank and Jerusalem don’t prove a thing. For example, Sharon’s approach was applied in his unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip, without an agreement with the other side and without anything following it. Every prime minister after Yitzhak Rabin always came right up to the threshold but never crossed it.

The responsibility also falls on the Palestinians, but not only on them, because on our side the gap between rhetoric and conduct has been very wide. Sharon taught everyone how to smile and wink, especially at Washington, while misleading others, stealing land and funneling people and tremendous resources to the territories. If Sharon was “almost de Gaulle,” as has been claimed in this newspaper, any Jerusalem neighborhood rabbi is “almost the prophet Isaiah.”

Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush at Bush's Crawford Ranch in 2005. Credit: AP

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