Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dies at 85
KAYLA RIVARA, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Kayla Rivara in Baltimore.
Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has died at the age of 85. Since 2006, Sharon has been in a coma on life support in a hospital outside of Tel Aviv.
Among other positions, Sharon was Israel’s prime minister from 2002 to 2006, as well as the Israeli defense minister from 1981 to 1983, and remains a controversial figure today.
Sharon has been praised for withdrawing Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Critics, however, say that he was the key architect of the Israeli apartheid state. They also note an Israeli inquiry that found Sharon bore, quote, personal responsibility for his role in the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982. It is estimated that almost 1,000 civilians were killed.
Now joining us is Shir Hever. Shir is an economic researcher at the Alternative Information Center, a Palestinian-Israeli organization active in Jerusalem and Beit Sahour.
Welcome to The Real News.
SHIR HEVER, ECONOMIST, ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER: Hi, Kayla. Good to be here.
RIVARA: So, Shir, who was Ariel Sharon, and what is his legacy?
HEVER: Ariel Sharon is a figure with quite a long history. He’s been involved in so many things, it’s a bit hard to list all of them. He has been a soldier in every one of his Israel’s wars, and like many Israeli officers, made the jump from military service to politics and became–and reached the highest possible positions in the Israeli political system. He fought in the war of 1948, in which Israel was founded.
But I think the most well-known military activity that he was involved in was the massacre in the village of Qibya in 1953, in which he commanded the notorious Unit 101. And this unit was charged with sort of reprisal attacks or revenge attacks against random Palestinian villages in response to attacks against Israel. And the unit specialized in attacking villages where they killed innocent civilians. In the village of Qibya, over 60 people were murdered under Sharon’s command.
Later on, Sharon continued to rise in military rank and command of larger forces. And he was a very disobedient officer. He–on several occasions, he disobeyed a direct order.
And what’s interesting is that despite all that, he kept on advancing, he kept on getting more praise and more responsibilities. David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, called him a pathological liar, and nevertheless continued to use him, because it was convenient to employ so much violence in order to terrorize Palestinian villages and to terrorize nearby countries.
In the war against Lebanon, in which he played a very crucial role, some argue that he actually deceived the Israeli government itself into getting more committed into that war than they initially planned while he was minister of defense. He was very much involved in orchestrating and especially not in preventing the Sabra and Shatila massacre. Following that massacre, which Sharon simply said is nothing but Arabs killing Arabs–he didn’t think there was anything problematic about this massacre. But he stood in front of the committee, and the committee recommended that he said never be allowed to be minister of defense again.
And nevertheless, he became not only minister of defense, but he became prime minister. And in Israel, the prime minister has all the portfolios and then can divide them to others. So he was for a brief time also minister of defense again. And as prime minister, he continued the escalation of violence against Palestinians in the course of the Second Intifada and then the withdrawal from Gaza. So he has quite a long list of things.
I will stop here, because knowing that I’m not really doing justice to all of this military involvements and all the people that he killed or ordered killed.
But it should also be said that in addition to that he was one of Israel’s most corrupt politicians. He was involved in several scandals regarding bribery and money laundering and so on. And just as the investigation against him was about to go public and go to a very critical stage, he had a stroke. And at that moment, he went into a coma and his political career was over. That actually enabled his political party, Kadima, which he formed, to run in the next election without having to face all of the repercussions of the criminal investigation against the prime minister.
RIVARA: Shir, I wanted to talk about how Ariel Sharon is remembered before that stroke and read a quote from The New York Times, which is said, quote, “he was believed to be preparing for further territorial concessions to establish a Palestinian state when he became ill.” What is your response to this?
HEVER: Sharon was anything, but very intelligent. He was one of the most bright politicians that Israel had. And that–and he always believed, or at least acted as if he believes that he knows what’s best, regardless of the orders that he gets from above. And the interesting thing is that while he was just a soldier, he kept doing things his own way, even when his commanding officers thought that he was wrong. But when he rose in rank and became prime minister, he tried to concentrate authority around the prime minister’s office.
Now, the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories has been very chaotic at the stage when he took power as prime minister. Officers, you could say maybe they were inspired by his own example–have done whatever they wanted to do. And Sharon promoted the construction of the wall of separation in the West Bank and the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in order to enable Israel to better control that territory. But being bright as he was, he also managed to sell that policy as if he’s promoting the peace process, as if he is a moderate prime minister. And one of his chief advisers, Dov Weissglass, said the withdrawal from Gaza is putting the peace process in formaldehyde. That means that Israel is not really giving up the occupation, not really giving up control even of the Gaza Strip itself. It’s taken a unilateral move. But it would seem as if Israel is willing to evacuate from territory that it conquered, and that would create the image that Israel is willing to proceed in the peace process. Well, of course, the Palestinians are not. And this was really the plan of Sharon.
And in a speech that he gave to the Israeli Knesset, he said, we need to withdraw from Gaza, because otherwise the Jews are no longer a majority in the land, in the territory controlled by Israel. But what he didn’t say is that even after the withdrawal, Israel continues to control Gaza, continues to levy taxes there, continues to impose a siege. That means that Jews are indeed no longer a majority in it.
RIVARA: Unfortunately, we are out of time for this segment, but please join us for part two of our conversation with Shir Hever on the legacy of Ariel Sharon.