Ariel Sharon, From Sabra / Shatila to Jenin

Another U.S.-approved "good genocidist" free to kill

by Edward S. Herman

Z magazine, June 2002


The U.S. political and economic elite and mainstream media work like a very well-oiled machine in dealing with favored and unfavored genocidists. They loved Indonesia's Suharto, who was the only triple-genocidist of the post World War II era (killings in excess of 100,000 in West Papua and East Timor as well as a million or more in Indonesia), but a man who delivered the goods: eliminating any Communist (or democratic) threat in Indonesia, aligning it with the West, and opening the door to oil, mining, and timber interests on favorable terms, with only a sizable but bearable bribe cost. It followed that he was aided and protected by the United States and its allies, its deadly armed forces equipped and trained, and his mass murders overlooked.

The mainstream media were wonderfully tolerant of his authoritarian rule, looting, terror, and mass killings-he allegedly brought "stability," and under his rule there was "growth." During all his years of rule the New York Times never found him guilty of "genocide," and in one of the rare cases where the word was used, veteran NYT reporter Henry Kamm explicitly denied its applicability to Indonesian operations in East Timor where between a quarter and third of the population died in the wake of Indonesia's invasion and occupation ("hyperbole," Kamm called it [February 15, 1981 ]). In the years since

Suharto's exit there has been no demand for a war crimes tribunal for him, or for his successors who organized the killing of thousands and virtual destruction of East Timor in their effort to sabotage the U.N.-sponsored independence election. U.S. officials, the media, and the new humanitarians (e.g., David Rieff, Aryeh Neier) have all served the "national interest" by averting their eyes from this area of a "good genocidist" at work. (Neier's 1998 book on war crimes has no index reference to Indonesia or East Timor.)

By contrast, the Times and its associates, and the new humanitarians, devoted much space and moral energy to Pol Pot, his crimes, and the importance of bringing this "bad genocidist" and his associates to justice. There were no holds barred in using the word "genocide" to describe Pol Pot's performance, and words like "mass murderer," "killer," "butcher" and "blood-soaked," never used in reference to Suharto, were freely applied.

Even more interesting, of course, has been the treatment of Milosevic. Here we have another target of the West, so that the word genocide, and numerous terms of derogation have been freely applied by the media. In 1998 and 1999, "genocide" was used 220 times by 5 major U.S. print media (NYT, WP, LAT, Time, and Newsweek) in relation to the Serbs in Kosovo. Sebastian Junger, writing in the New York Times, could even find "genocide" on the evidence of a single dead body in Kosovo (February 27, 2000), whereas Henry Kamm couldn't justify the use of the word in East Timor with over a quarter of the population of dead bodies. It takes an official target for the media and new humanitarians to get on the genocide and indignation bandwagon.

These usages and this indignation at the misdeeds of official enemies, and eye aversion and silence on good genocidists, has absolutely no relation to levels of real villainy. This is dramatically illustrated by the treatment of Ariel Sharon.

Sharon leads a state closely allied to the United States, protected by an ethnic cleansing process that has lasted half a century. Its crimes against the Palestinians in the occupied territories, including institutionalized torture and systematic expropriations in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, have been supported by the United States and normalized in the U.S. mainstream media for decades. Both officials and media have routinely made the deadly actions arising from the victim population into "terrorism," the death-dealing and terror of the ethnic-cleansing state into "retaliation" and innocent "self defense." The notion of Palestinian self defense doesn't arise.

In a recent article in the New York Times, however, reporter James Bennet notes that the ratio of killings during the first Intifada, 25 Palestinians to 1 Israeli, has fallen in the current Intifada to 3 to I ("Mideast Turmoil: News Analysis: Mideast Balance Sheet," March 12, 2002). Neither Bennet nor the editors explain how the party victimized at a 25-1 ratio could be said to be the terrorists rather than the victims. But clearly, the decline to 3 to 1 calls for rectification by a good genocidist.

The notorious terrorist Carlos the Jackal was credited with 80-90 killings during his career. He is in prison. Ariel Sharon was responsible for some 66 to 70 civilian deaths in a raid on Qibya in October 1953 (two-thirds of the victims were women and children) and he was found, even by the Israeli Kahan commission, to have been " indirectly responsible" for the mass killings at Sabra and Shatila, estimated by various authorities as somewhere between 800 and 3,000 Palestinian civilians, a large fraction once again women and children. The Kahan commission was protecting Israel's own high official in making Sharon only "indirectly responsible," but he was on the scene, was Minister of Defense in charge of operations in the area, and knowingly invited the Christian Phalange into the killing fields. He was quite aware of what was going to happen and failed to intervene during the 30 hours of killings.

An independent court or truth commission would have found Ariel Sharon directly responsible for the mass killings at Sabra and Shatila. So Sharon's terror record as a killer exceeds Carlos's by between I0 to I and 40 to 1, ignoring Sharon's involvement in death-dealing beyond the two cases mentioned.

In a minimally just world Sharon would be behind bars. Instead, the Israeli political system has brought him back to power to deal once again with the "terrorists." No objections have been voiced in the United States, and the "international community," delighted to see Milosevic in The Hague, has also been silent.

Piling irony on irony, Sharon has now been unleashed once again by a U.S. administration as part of the "war on terror"-earlier, the Reagan administration, also devoted to fighting "terrorism," had supported Sharon and associates in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon that culminated in the Sabra and Shatila massacre. Sharon is treated in the West as a respected statesman, even called a "man of peace" by George W. Bush in the wake of Sharon's new war crimes at Jenin, Nablus, Bethlehem, and other West Bank towns. This treatment of Sharon has one great merit: it makes crystal clear that the "war on terror" is a "war of terror."

As a "Greater Israel" ideologue long committed to more and larger settlements and no compromises on the occupation, Sharon never intended a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians. With U.S. connivance, he was able to ignore the Saudi initiative, not even bothering to make a counter-proposal. Sharon has repeatedly engaged in assassinations and other violent actions precisely to stimulate counter-violence to justify his determination to invade and destroy Palestinian civil society. Zbigniew Brzezinski speaks of the "deliberate overreactions by Mr. Sharon designed not to repress terrorism, but to destabilize the Palestinian Authority and to uproot the Oslo Agreement, which he has always denounced." Shulamith Aloni, of Israel's Meretz Party, points out that, after a period of Palestinian restraint, "Sharon and his army minister, apparently fearing that they would have to return to the negotiating table, decided to do something and they liquidated Raad Karmi. They knew that there would be a response," which they wanted and got. Only the U.S. media were fooled by his pro-war maneuverings, or seemed to be fooled.

As with the U.S. approval and protection of Israeli aggression, the Sharon method of fending off peace options is a rerun of 1982 Lebanon, where, contrary to establishment mythology, the Israeli invasion was precipitated, not by Palestinian violence but by its very absence, which impelled a violent Israeli response to prevent negotiations and any kind of compromise settlement. The problem, according to Israeli analyst Yehoshua Porath, writing in Ha'aretz on June 25, 1982, was "that the cease fire had been observed," and Begin and Sharon invaded Lebanon anticipating and desiring that a PLO under military attack "would return to its earlier terrorism" and "lose part of the political legitimacy it has gained." Sharon is still playing that game and with the success that comes from the fact that an Israeli leader, even a world class genocidist, is under the full protection of the U.S. government and media.

Sharon's intent now is evidently to destroy the Palestinian political organization and authority by killings and decimation of infrastructure and to so crush and demoralize the population that they will no longer have the power to resist the occupation. Many may move away, in a system of voluntary transfer; many will die; others will be expelled. The Israeli army may permanently occupy much of the former Palestinian enclaves and it may be further divided into mini-Bantustans under limited Palestinian control.

Sharon and his U.S. friends like to refer to his military assaults as a "war," but wars usually occur between states. Where the imbalance of forces is immense, we have not war but a deliberate slaughter. The case at hand is more like the Nazi attack on the Warsaw ghetto. One senior Israeli military officer recommended a study of that struggle as a good illustration of the problems encountered in destroying and pacifying a civilian population resisting an occupation; a study that the army should "analyze and internalize the lessons of..." (Ha'aretz, January 25, 2002).

The new invasion and occupation has been carried out in violation of virtually every law of war, as well as blatantly violating the Fourth Geneva Convention. Amnesty International speaks of Geneva Convention violations over the past 18 months as "committed daily, hourly, even every minute, by the Israeli authorities against Palestinians" (April 2, 2002). While claiming to be only going after the "terrorist infrastructure," the Israeli army has been destroying large numbers of civilian residences, killing civilians, attacking and damaging hospitals and preventing access to hospitals, depriving civilian populations of water, food, and electricity, vandalizing, and deliberately producing fear and making life intolerable for Palestinians.

Israeli analysts are clear that what Sharon calls the "terrorist infrastructure includes, among other things, normal lives for hundreds of thousands of innocent residents of the territories" (Gideon Samet, Ha'aretz, April 24, 2002). Amira Hass stresses that the systematic vandalism, the "breaking into every hard disk of every bank and clinic, commercial consultant's office or PA ministry...was not a whim, or crazed vengeance, by this or that unit...the scenes of systematic destruction show how the IDF translated into the field the instructions inherent in the political echelon's policies: Israel must destroy Palestinian civil institutions, sabotaging for years to come the Palestinian goal of independence, sending all of Palestinian society backwards" ("Operation Destroy the Data," Ha'aretz, April 24, 2002). Uri Avnery goes farther, arguing that Sharon's "war" is not to "destroy the infrastructure of terrorism;" rather, it is to "turn the people into human wreckage that can be dealt with as he wishes. This may entail shutting them up in several enclaves or even driving them out of the country altogether" ("The Real Aim of 'Operation Defensive Shield"' at www.mediamonitors. net/uri68. html).

Sharon has even acknowledged an intent to attack civilians, declaring in March 2002, "The Palestinians must be hit and it must be very painful: we must cause them losses, victims, so that they feel the heavy price." Furthermore, the overall Sharon operation, both in working details and strategic conception, very clearly fits the "genocide" category of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 2 (c) identifying as genocide the "Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part." Articles 2 (a) and (b) refer to killing (a) and "causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group." The fit of the word genocide to the Sharon "war" is far better than to Kosovo where, before the period of joint NATO-KLA warfare with the Serbs (March 24-June 10, 1999), the Serbs were fighting an ugly civil war, but were not trying to degrade the conditions of life of Albanians and push them out to make way for settlements by a Serb "chosen people."

The genocidal Israeli operation not only received a green light from the Bush administration, even as international observers and-hesitantly, inadequately, and with "balance"-the U.S. media, were reporting major war crimes, but also the Bush administration continued to oppose international monitors, continued to admonish Arafat, holed up in a room in Ramallah, to promise to call off the "terrorists," and continued to sanction the wholesale Israeli terror. Colin Powell visited a site of a suicide bombing, but couldn't bring himself to visit Jenin. His advice to Israel? "Prime Minister Sharon has to take a hard look at his policies to see whether they work," and if Sharon concludes that they do work (and Powell wouldn't question his aims), so be it.

The media's role in making this massive operation of state terrorism acceptable has, of course, been extremely important. It has built on the already institutionalized bias of many years standing, which has been continued and extended. Relevant elements of bias include: (1) suppressing Sharon's historic record as a terrorist commander; (2) giving hugely disproportionate weight to Israeli as compared to Palestinian suffering; (3) maintaining the traditional pattern of making the Palestinian attacks unprovoked and not retaliatory, the Israelis always retaliating; and (4), most important, ignoring or playing down the cruel, illegal, and racist occupation and ethnic cleansing that have included institutionalized torture and collective punishment, which have degraded and made desperate the Palestinian population.

According to former Shin Beth head Ami Ayalon, "We say the Palestinians behave like "madmen", but it is not madness but a bottomless despair" (Le Monde, December, 22, 2001). Israeli refusnik Assal Oron says, "When you treat millions of people like sub-humans for so long, some of them will find inhuman strategies to fight back" ("An Open Letter to American Jews," Passover eve, 2002). Robert Fisk in Britain says that the Intifada "is what happens when a whole society is pressure cooked to the point of explosion," and the resisting Israeli reservists (now a thousand in number) openly refuse to participate in what they call an effort "to control, expel, starve and degrade an entire people." Jeff Halper, of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, says, "Israel's ferocious response to the Intifada came from a fear that the Palestinian struggle would break the PA out of the Oslo framework and lead it to a true dismantling of the Occupation, to a viable and truly sovereign Palestinian state."

These observers work with an "injustice frame," whereas the U.S. mainstream media, following government policy, and under the force of Israeli lobby pressure, and buttressed by racist bias, use a frame that rationalizes Israel's relentless dispossessions, discrimination, brutalization, and now with Sharon, open devastation and massacre. After all, didn't Barak offer the Palestinians a great deal at Camp David, etc., etc., so isn't Palestinian terror based on a refusal to accept Israel's existence? This turns the real Israeli refusal to allow the Palestinians the right to live freely on their own traditional territory, steadily abusing, humiliating, and pushing them out, into a mythical threat to exist of a powerful state that relentlessly ethnically cleanses with the approval and under the protection of the superpower.

The U.S. media absolutely refuse to feature what, for most of the world, is the basic issue-Israel's steadily expanding and brutal and illegal military occupation. During the Sharon assault on the Palestinians the media paid no attention to his opening of 34 new settlement outposts, his declaration that no settlements would be abandoned, and the April 24 announcement of the first stages of construction work to connect two West Bank settlements by building housing for 480 Jewish families.

The media have also treated very gently the ongoing Sharon assault, which UN Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen described as "horrific beyond belief" and which led veteran correspondent Janine di Giovanni to say, "Rarely, in more than a decade of war reporting from Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, have I seen such deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life." These people don't understand that, as Eli Wiesel told an audience in Philadelphia on April 28, these are necessary responses to terrorism, and that "even the [Israeli] soldiers are sad; they don't like what they are doing."

The Sharon attacks have been so extensive and blatant that the U.S. mainstream media have eventually been unable to avoid reporting on the deliberate bulldozing and rocket bombing of civilian homes, barring of access to medical facilities, and systematic vandalism in Jenin and other towns (e.g., Lee Hockstader, "Trails of Destruction, Tales of Loss," WP, April 12, 2002). Nevertheless, given the large numbers of surviving victims with harrowing stories to relate, the reports of the Sharon violence and terror has been slight, the photos of death and destruction, and the readily available human interest stories, badly scanted, the indignation largely absent. The more detailed attention, human interest stories, photos, and indignation associated with the suicide bombings, in a time when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were being attacked, is striking. Israeli explanations and stories of captured documents showing Arafat's link to the "terror"-and Sharon's "war" was never "terror"-were plentiful. The contrast here between the numerous heart-rending accounts by international observers made available on the Internet and what the U. S. mainstream media have reported, has been dramatic.

The contrast with the reporting on Kosovo after the bombing war is also dramatic-there, the attention to the Albanian refugees' stories was huge, the indignation was great, and there were no "balancing" reports on, say, the KLA's wartime collaboration with NATO, Serb explanations of their tactics, or skepticism of refugee stories. For Jenin, there was normalizing "complexity"; for Kosovo, simple state terrorism.

Imagine if Milosevic had devastated large refugee cities and refused for 11 days to allow ambulances and transport for the wounded; that his troops denied passage to aid groups bringing food and water to devastated communities; that his army shot at journalists and kept them away while the armed forces cleared bodies. Imagine if he had refused to admit a UN investigative body because he didn't like its composition and wanted a friendly Russian general as a member.

Sharon, Peres, Ben Eliezer and other Israelis, and George W. Bush and his top associates-the "dishonest brokers," and actual collaborators in major war crimes-should be put on trial for planning, aiding, and participating in the recent murderous attacks on the Palestinian towns. But in the New World Order, what the United States says rules, and if all the world except the United States and Israel consider the Sharon-U.S. performance outrageous, that has no effect on policy. No penalties are imposed on Israel for this genocidal performance, although bold European officials like Chris Patten say that this behavior may "harm Israel's reputation." And "in his strongest rebuke to Israel yet" British Foreign Minister Jack Straw actually called for an investigation of Israel's military actions in Jenin.

Lev Grinberg, an Israeli academic at Ben Gurion University, says, "I want to ask: Who will arrest Sharon, the person directly responsible for the orders to kill Palestinians? When is he going to be defined as a terrorist too? How long will the world ignore the Palestinian cry that all they want is freedom and independence? When will it stop neglecting the fact that the goal of the Israeli Government is not security, but the continued occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people?" (Tikkun)

Like Suharto and the Indonesian generals, Sharon and Israel are U.S. allies and serve U.S. interests, as perceived by the dominant U.S. business and military elite. They may therefore kill virtually without limit, without penalty. The hegemon's enemies alone can be bombed and sanctioned and brought to trial; his own killers are not only free of penalty, they will be given military aid and diplomatic cover even as they escalate their brutality and engage in the most obvious law violations. Meanwhile, at this historical juncture the "international community," having joined the hegemon in inflicting severe damage on his targets of choice, remains quiescent, if a bit uncomfortable.

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