By Marc Abizeid
His death marks the end of a bullish Israeli leader who commanded the respect of his subordinates, amassed loyal partisans, and struck fear in the hearts of his enemies.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli people will “forever” cherish the memory of the former premier.
“His memory will forever be held in the heart of the nation,” he said, expressing “deep sorrow” at Sharon’s death, calling him “a central part in Israel’s struggle for security.”
“He was first and foremost a brave warrior and a great military leader, one of the greatest in the Israel [Occupying] Forces,” Netanyahu said.
President Shimon Peres also expressed his grief.
“Arik (Ariel) was a brave soldier and a daring leader who loved his nation and his nation loved him. He was one of Israel’s great protectors and most important architects, who knew no fear and certainly never feared vision,” he said in a statement. “He will be greatly missed.”
Palestinian officials reacted to news of the Israeli leader’s death, calling him a war criminal who evaded justice in his lifetime.
“Sharon was a criminal, responsible for the assassination of (Palestinian president Yasser) Arafat, and we would have hoped to see him appear before the International Criminal Court as a war criminal,” said Jibril Rajub, a senior official of the Fatah party.
Hamas, the Islamist party ruling the Gaza Strip, said Sharon’s death was a “historic moment,” marking the “disappearance of a criminal whose hands were covered with Palestinian blood.”
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, also regretted that Sharon never faced justice.
“His passing is another grim reminder that years of virtual impunity for rights abuses have done nothing to bring Israeli-Palestinian peace any closer. For the thousands of victims of abuses, Sharon’s passing without facing justice magnifies their tragedy,” she said.
Social media users in the Middle East and across the world reacted to the news of the death of the once terrorizing and widely abhorred figure.
Noura Erakat @4noura Follow
May the souls of the victims of Sabra and Chatila (1982) rest now as the gates of hell open to their butcher #Sharon
Natural Born Killer
Sharon began his military training in 1942 at the age of 14 before joining the British Mandate’s Jewish police force in Palestine three years later.
Simultaneously he partook in covert operations with the Haganah – the British-allied Jewish militia behind killings, massacres, and acts of sabotage against Palestinian targets that eventually led to the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and the Nakba.
In 1953 Sharon was chosen to head a new Israeli military formation they called Unit 101. Under his command Israeli soldiers committed what would become known as the Qibya massacre with the killing of dozens of Palestinians, mostly women and children according to Israel’s own historians.
But Sharon’s merciless behavior was rewarded by his Zionist chieftains. He quickly rose from the ranks, serving as a commander or regime official in nearly every Israeli war and act of aggression until the stroke that would eventually lead to his death.
He will forever be remembered in Lebanon as the “Butcher of Beirut” for his role as defense minister in the 1982 invasion which killed an estimated 20,000 people that year alone, the overwhelming majority of them civilians.
Orchestrating the Sabra-Shatila Massacre
His most notorious crime during the 1982 siege of Beirut was the Sabra-Shatila massacre, which left about 2,000 civilians dead. Human rights activists and families of the victims have long called for Sharon to face war crimes charges.
The three-day massacre was carried out from September 16 to 18 by Phalangist militiamen who were ushered into the Palestinian refugee camps by Israeli forces shortly after the expulsion of Palestinian fighters from the Lebanese capital.
Footage and pictures from the massacre revealed the extent of the slaughter, with corpses of entire families horrifically strewn across streets and alleyways of the camps.
At the time, an internal Israeli investigation into the massacre concluded that Sharon bore personal “responsibility for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge when he approved the entry of the Phalangists into the camps.” He was forced to resign over the killings, which drew global outrage. Even the reactionary regime of then-US President Ronald Reagan expressed its “revulsion over the murders.”
Sharon denied any wrongdoing in the slaughter, claiming he was unaware that an extremist, sectarian Christian militia would harm residents of the camps. But evidence has mounted since the initial Israeli probe of the massacre, showing that Sharon, who was salivating over the prospect of war prior to the 1982 invasion, had a plan to “cleanse” West Beirut, which encompasses the camps.
Israeli transcripts of official meetings obtained by the New York Times last year quoted Sharon as telling US envoy Morris Draper on the first day of the massacre that thousands of “terrorists” had occupied the area.
Word quickly spread that the Phalangists were slaughtering camp residents under Israel’s cover. When Draper demanded Israel remove its forces, Sharon lashed out, insisting that the terrorists needed “mopping up,” and advised the US diplomat to deny any involvement in the crimes should they become public.
Provoking the Second Intifada
Sharon’s killing sprees in occupied Palestine were no more restrained. He was universally acknowledged for having provoked the second Palestinian intifada after visiting the site of Jerusalem’s sacrosanct al-Aqsa Mosque in September 2000 under the protection of hundreds of police.
Defiantly ignoring warnings that such a move would cause an uproar among Palestinians, who had just marked the 18th anniversary of the Sabra-Shatila massacre, Sharon marched on the compound, asserting his “right” to visit the holy site revered by Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike.
“The Temple Mount is in our hands and will remain in our hands,” he declared at the site before outraged youths began hurling stones at police in what officially marked a new uprising in which thousands of Palestinians would lose their lives resisting occupation.
Dozens of Palestinians were shot dead in the first several days of a mass movement Sharon ostensibly intended to provoke. Among them was 12-year-old Mohammed al-Durrah, who became a symbol of the second intifada after his widely broadcasted killing reminded the world of the ruthless nature of Israeli occupation forces and their leaders.
Taking the Reigns
Sharon reached the prime minister’s office in March 2001, after which he played a more direct role in steering the war he instigated with Palestinians only months earlier. Sharon’s forces killed hundreds that year, often using US-supplied Apache helicopters to rain death over Palestinian villages as documented in an Amnesty International report.
Hundreds more were killed the next year across the West Bank. In April 2002 the occupation laid siege to the Jenin refugee camp, claiming the area was infested with suicide bombers. For 11 straight days Israeli tanks, helicopters, and ground forces shelled, rocketed, and sniped the camp and its residences in acts Human Rights Watch described as serious violations of international law that amounted to war crimes.
The details of the Human Rights Watch investigation are consistent with Sharon’s record of brutality. The report describes accounts of soldiers firing indiscriminately into the camp, killing men, women, and children alike. The siege destroyed around 350 buildings, leaving over 4,000 people homeless. In one case a 57-year-old crippled man was shot, then run over with a tank while trying to flee in his wheelchair with a white flag attached to it.
Many tributes have been written to the deceased tyrant that highlight his final months as prime minister when he pulled occupation forces from the Gaza Strip in 2005. They say he was a changed man who broke away from his extreme-right impulses after having suddenly stumbled upon a path of peace, only to have those plans interrupted by an unfortunate act of God.
But those who bore witness to Sharon’s wars and massacres could never submit to an apologist narrative that glosses over six decades of relentless killing, dismissing his criminal behavior as having been merely “controversial.” To the survivors of Sharon’s bloody rampages, he was the unmistakable culprit responsible for the horrific deaths of tens of thousands of Arabs, destroying families and shattering an untold number of lives