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
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.