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Ariel Sharon: Israel 

He was a bulldozer in war and a bulldozer for peace

By Franklin Sone Bayen — Ariel Sharon, who passed away January 11, was Israeli leader who unilaterally withdrew and ceded land to Palestinians in Gaza in 2005, yet he is remembered more for his brutality as an Israeli Army General towards Israel’s hostile Arab neighbours, especially Palestinians.

Before him, major Israeli concessions to Arabs only happened at high-profile; meticulously negotiated peace deals such as Camp David and Oslo. Officials at the hospital where Mr. Sharon received life support for eight years, since he suffered a stroke in January 2006, had announced days before his death that his vital organs had begun failing. He was 86.

And at his death, Palestinians have been lost for superlatives to describe his brutality and cruelty towards them. They recall, most especially, his September 1982 invasion of Lebanon as Defence Minister under Camp David Peace champion, Menachem Begin, to hunt down Yaser Arafat’s Palestinian militants who would use bases in Lebanon to attack northern Israel.
That Sharon invasion turned worse when a Lebanese Christian militia linked to Sharon stormed Palestinian Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Beirut and massacred unarmed Palestinian civilians.

Even the Israeli Government was outraged, rebuked Sharon for failing to stop the massacre and sacked him from Government. Sharon pulled no punches in his battles with Arabs to secure Israel’s existence in a region where most Arab neighbours have refused to recognise Israel’s right to exist. In his military and political career, he had no soft touch, he only had objectives.

Nicknamed the “Bulldozer”, Sharon played a key role in four Israeli-Arab wars – the 1948 War of Independence, the 1956 Suez War, the 1967 Six Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In the latter, Sharon, with more zeal and determination than his superiors would tolerate, not only secured victory for Israel, but had to be scolded by higher command to halt his advance deeper into Egypt.

Even in his political career in the hard-line Likud party, Sharon continued bulldozing. From a backbench position in the Israeli Knesset, he undertook in September 2000 a provocative visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem claimed by Palestinians as a holy site and provoked the second Intifada or Palestinian uprising (after that of 1987-90) which steered a political crisis in Israel and occasioned early elections that brought Sharon to power to replace Ehud Barak. He led Israel in his characteristic boisterous manner, stubbornly going ahead with a security fence that cut across lands claimed by Palestinians, in defiance of international outrage.

So, Sharon was a bulldozer in conflict. But he was also a bulldozer in compromise for peace and he remarkably did so under no constraint, when he unilaterally decided to withdraw Jewish settlements from Gaza. He forced 8,000 Jews out of the settlements, some of them kicking, screaming and biting as Israeli troops beat, scolded and dragged.

On a Mashav visit for journalists in Israel in May – June 2005, we had to be rushed out of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem under escort to avoid being caught in the protests outside the Foreign Office by Israelis opposed to the Sharon plan. It was not a popular move among Israelis, but Sharon pressed on all the same.

His critics have dismissed his Gaza withdrawal with a wave of the hand, saying it was a one-off charm offensive with no profound focus towards compromise and peace, or that Sharon was ceding to pressure from the more militant Hamas-dominated Gaza. However, a Sharon close aide has testified that Sharon meant to do even more in the less hostile Fatah-controlled West Bank before he suffered a disabling stroke in January 2006.

"We would have started taking certain measures in the West Bank under a project known as the realignment plan," said Dov Weisglass, Chief of Staff when Sharon was Prime Minister.
"If Sharon had stayed well, we would be closer to peace today. No question." Little wonder perhaps, that Sharon quit his hard-line Likud party opposed to his concession and created the more compromising centrist Kadima before his sudden disability.

Katharine von Schubert, author of recently published “Checkpoints and Chances” wrote: “How difficult it must have been for well established Jewish families to uproot themselves from their homes, synagogues and farms. This, after all, was their dream that they worked hard to achieve over nearly four decades.

“I got a glimpse of some settlements in Gaza: they looked like safe havens: red roofed houses, spacious, well paved streets and paths, beautifully kept and watered lawns; surrounded by golden fields of ripened corn and wheat; and greenhouses of tomatoes, cucumbers and green herbs that we in the UK buy regularly from the major supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s.

Close-knit, productive farming communities, of people who shared a vision of growing the Jewish community on land they believed was theirs by right; protected tightly by the Israeli army. That an Israeli Prime Minister made the decision to destroy this dream must seem brutal indeed and, perhaps, beyond understanding,” she stated.

The Arab and Palestinian outpouring against Sharon, remembering mainly the Sabra/Chatila massacre may be understood, but it may also be understood that Sharon was a bulldozer all ways – a bulldozer in war, a bulldozer for securing Israeli territory with an unpopular wall, a bulldozer in concession for peace.

First published in The Post print edition no 01496

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