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January 21, 2006

Exalting Sharon: A Dire Case of Collective Amnesia


by Ramzy Baroud

The mainstream media’s lionizing and exalting of the fatally ill Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could only be compared to that of great men and women of past years.

The hundreds of endearing commentaries, venerating news reports and glorifying television programs – massively sprung in the wake of his unexpected stroke on Wednesday, January 4 – makes it doubtless that only a legacy like that of Mother Teresa can match Sharon’s "towering" legacy, "larger than life" persona and selfless "sacrifices" for peace.

The bashful attempts by some to balance the media’s gross misconceptions about Sharon went largely unheard. The man’s direct and indirect involvement in tormenting the Palestinian people for fifty long years seemed completely irrelevant.

Sharon’s disregard for civilian lives, since his early years as a fighter for the Jewish underground terrorist organization, the Haganah (1948-49) and his role as commander of an infamous army unit responsible for several massacres (most remembered is the brutal murder of 69 defenseless villagers in Qibya in 1953) seemed an extraneous nuisance.

Also to be dropped from the narrative was the list of relentless war crimes which took place throughout the 1950’s-60’s (during Israel’s wars with Egypt), late 70’s (during his bloody reign in Gaza), the 80’s (his contemptible war and massacres in Lebanon) and most recently with the advent of the Second Palestinian Uprising in September 2000, one that he provoked and antagonized through his misguided policy of assassination. Since his election to serve as Israel’s Prime Minister in 2001, Sharon supplemented his notorious resume with the abolition of several thousand Palestinian lives.

Some US newspapers admitted, although reluctantly, that Palestinians indeed "perceive" Sharon as a war criminal who has wrought untold hurt and misery. But as always, war crimes committed against Palestinians are never the same as those committed against others, especially when the perpetrator is Israel. Palestinian suffering lacks that needed universality – unlike Israeli victims of Palestinian suicide bombings – thus it can easily be brushed aside, without a shred of guilt and without much remorse.

Despite a memory dotted with numerous massacres, never once has an Israeli leader or official seen his day in an international court. To the contrary, the vilest of Israel’s war criminals have been darlings of Western governments and have been influential players in US foreign policy. Only by comparing this to how Palestinian terrorism, even legitimate resistance is perceived, can one begin to appreciate the treachery of it all.

Wary of being viewed as hate-mongers, most Arab media and in fact intellectuals have desperately attempted to balance the sense of vindication felt in the streets of their own countries that the "Butcher of Beirut" was too ill to order any more "targeted killings" or military onslaughts. A former Egyptian diplomat told BBC World that Sharon was capable of delivering peace. He used the opportunity to wish Sharon’s most prominent political ally, Shimon Peres a "long and happy life." Other intellectuals explained the Arab street sense of vindication as something to be expected from over-emotional "ordinary people," not the middle and upper classes. Arab elitism is always barefaced.

Meanwhile, the US media’s pandering carried on: "Replacing the Irreplaceable," read the headline of one St. Petersburg Times article, quoting an ill-advised conclusion that most people, including Palestinians, "are probably not feeling good (about Sharon’s illness) because even those who didn't like him at all are now sure he's the only person who can lead Israel to peace and security."

One may never know who is responsible for disseminating such utter falsehoods, recycled by hundreds of newspapers all around the world. A BBC News correspondent in Jerusalem took his viewers in a live broadcast to an Israeli café, "people here can finally relax" he says, thanks to Ariel Sharon’s success in reining in suicide bombers.

Even the man’s gruesome violations of human rights were celebrated as milestones for a great statesman. Even Arabs were too careful not to upset the consensus. Despite the fact that late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat can hardly be compared to Sharon’s "towering" war crimes records – the man was ridiculed and shunned until the last moment of his life. US officials could hardly hide their reverberations that the master-terrorist, the "irrelevant," yet major hurdle to peace was now gone. Time has already proven them wrong.

Sharon, or the "man of peace" according to President Bush, seems to have decidedly earned a place in history simply for relocating several thousand illegal Jewish settlers from occupied Gaza to the occupied West Bank. Though Sharon has repeatedly asserted that his decision to disengage from Gaza has more to do with Israel’s strategic and demographic needs than peace, very few took notice. Though the number of illegal settlers in the West Bank has since then increased by more than 4 percent, that mattered little.

But when all is said and done, Sharon the person will also matter little. His age and faltering health were doomed to sideline him sooner or later. What will have greater bearing than his life or death is his detrimental legacy, one which he has already passed on, one that glorifies unhindered violence and extremism to achieve political ends. Those who wish to fill Sharon’s shoes will likely strive to prove as violent and cruel as he was. Sharon once said, Palestinians "must be hit hard" and "must be beaten" before they should be permitted to talk peace with Israel – peace according to Israeli terms, not international law. Most of Sharon’s possible successors are also strong believers in such a philosophy, which is unlikely to fade away with the fading of individuals, Sharon or any other.


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  • Ramzy Baroud is editor-in-chief of the Palestine Chronicle. His book The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle is now out in paperback.

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