Ariel Sharon’s Legacy is Deeply Disturbing
It mattered little to Sharon that Israel’s transfer of its civilians into Palestinian territories was—and is—a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and a potential war crime. It mattered even less that the settlement regime and Israel’s military rule in these areas subjects Palestinians to severe discrimination and a mountain of restrictions that makes life miserable.
Part and parcel of this settlement expansion plan was Sharon’s construction of the Israeli separation barrier, which today stands as a monument to human rights violations. Sharon’s government approved its construction in 2002, ostensibly to prevent Palestinian attacks that killed 640 Israeli civilians during his term. But the real motivation for the barrier, as countless studies have documented, was to build a wall around the Israeli settlements, deep into the West Bank, cutting off thousands of Palestinians from the rest of the West Bank.
Worse, he avoided prosecution for the killings of civilians in which he was implicated: a fact that deserves not eulogy, but infamy.
Ban and Kerry couldn’t very well mention it, but history will remember Sharon for his role in the massacres of civilians by Lebanese militias in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982. From September 16 to 18, the militias killed at least 700 people, and perhaps more than 2,000, including infants, children, pregnant women and the elderly, some of whose bodies were found to have been mutilated.
Israel also made sure that no one else could bring Sharon to justice, either. In 2001, survivors from Sabra and Shatila brought a case in Belgium requesting Sharon be prosecuted under Belgium’s “universal jurisdiction” law. Political pressure from the United States and Israel — it “was like nothing I have ever seen,” said a colleague who closely followed the issue at the time — led Belgium’s parliament to amend the law in April 2003, and to repeal it in August. Belgium’s highest court dropped the case against Sharon that September.
Many in Israel are now highlighting Sharon’s record as a warrior and bold political leader. But it is worth pausing to consider his record as a man who brought devastation and destruction to the lives of thousands of Palestinians, without ever facing justice for his crimes, and whose policies undermined efforts to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians.