The blood-lust of the ‘Butcher of Beirut’!



by Selvam Canagaratna

"Jews are a singular confusion – difficult to define, awkward to describe, impossible to understand. All the virtues, all the vices, every pleasure, every pain – nothing is spared them."

- Israel Shenker, Coat of Many Colors (1985)

Writing a day after Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke on January 4th, 2006 which left him in a coma for eight years until his death this month (January 11th), Christopher Hitchens, then a Contributing Editor to Slate magazine (among others) noted: "It’s not difficult to remember a time when the news of his demise would have been, not to be too callous about it, something that would have been welcomed by all Palestinians, many Israelis, and many others with an interest in democracy and human rights."

Hitchens’s basis for his conclusion was none other than the findings of the Israeli government’s official Kahan Commission, set up in 1983 to probe the bloody events following Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon which was masterminded by Ariel Sharon, its Defense Minister at the time. One of the Commission’s main recommendations was that Sharon be removed from office although the Commission had inexplicably concluded that Sharon merely had "indirect responsibility" for the bloody massacre. [Noam Chomsky, that remarkable political activist and perceptive thinker of our time, in a bitingly brilliant critique of the Kahan Commission Report in his book Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians, showed beyond doubt that Sharon was the sole author of the gruesome pogrom at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Beirut.]

As Hitchens reminded readers back in 2006, the Beirut massacre came as no surprise to those who had followed Sharon’s career up to the events of 1982: back in 1953 a notorious unit under his command had been responsible for the mass slaughter of the inhabitants of Qibya, a village in the then-Jordanian West Bank. Three years later, Sharon had become, in Hitchen’s words, "one of the most promiscuous participants in the October 1956 lawless attack on Egypt, in collusion with the most reactionary circles in Britain and France. After 1967, he was a particularly brutal enforcer of the occupation in Gaza. In politics as well as in the military field, he was a brutal, blustering demagogic opportunist."

Ramzy Baroud, Editor of, having noted that Sharon had spent the last eight years of his life in a coma, also observed, "but apparently not long enough for US corporate media to wake up from its own moral coma." CNN online’s coverage presented Sharon as a man of heroic stature, who was forced to make tough choices for the sake of his own people. "Throughout, he was called ‘The Bulldozer’, a fearless leader who got things done," said Alan Duke.

Duke cleverly whitewashed Sharon’s horrendous crimes, while finding every opportunity to recount his fictional virtue, wrote Baroud, quoting him as saying "Many in the Arab world called Sharon the ‘Butcher of Beirut’ after he oversaw Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon while serving as Defense Minister."

"Sharon was not called the ‘The Bulldozer’ for being ‘a fearless leader’ nor do Arabs call him the ‘Butcher of Beirut’ for simply ‘overseeing’ the invasion of Lebanon," wrote Baroud, and went on to systematically put the ‘name-calling’ in its gory context:

"Following the Israeli occupation of Gaza along with the rest of Palestine in 1967, Sharon was entrusted with the bloody task of ‘pacifying’ the headstrong Strip as he was the head of the Southern Command of the Israel Defense Forces. Sharon was dubbed the ‘Bulldozer’ for he understood that pacifying Gaza would require heavy armored vehicles, and Gaza’s crowded neighbourhoods and alleyways weaving through its destitute refugee camps were not suited for heavy machinery.

"Therefore, he resolved to bulldoze thousands of homes, preparing the way for tanks and bulldozers to move in and topple even more homes. Modest estimates put the number of homes destroyed in August 1970 alone at 2,000. Over 16,000 Palestinians were made homeless and thousands were forced to relocate from one refugee camp into another. The Beach Refugee Camp near Gaza City sustained most of the damage. Many fled for their lives, taking refuge in mosques and UN schools and tents. Sharon’s declared objective was targeting the terrorist infrastructure. What he in fact meant was targeting the very population that resisted and aided the resistance, for they indeed were the very infrastructure he harshly pounded for many days and weeks. Sharon’s bloody sweep also resulted in the execution of 104 resistance fighters and the deportation of hundreds of others. Some were sent to Jordan, others to Lebanon, and the rest were simply left to rot in the Sinai desert."

But Sharon’s violence was part of an equally disturbing logic, explained Baroud: "He believed that any strategic long-term plan to secure Israel must have at its heart a violent campaign aimed at disorienting Palestinians. He was quick to capitalize on the Allon plan, named after Yigal Allon, a former Army General and Minister in the Israeli government, who took on the task of drawing an Israeli vision for the newly-conquered Palestinian territories.

"Sharon recounts standing on a dune near Gaza with Cabinet Ministers, explaining that along with military measures to control the Strip, he wanted ‘fingers’ of Israeli settlements separating its cities, chopping the region in four. Another ‘finger’ would thrust through the edge of Sinai, helping create a ‘Jewish buffer zone between Gaza and Sinai to cut off the flow of weapons’ and divide the two regions in case the rest of Sinai was ever returned to Egypt. That legacy disfigured and isolated Gaza, even years after Sharon implemented his policy of unilateral ‘disengagement’ in 2005. He relocated the settlers to other illegal colonies in the West Bank and imposed a hermetic siege on the Strip, the consequences of which remain suffocating and deadly."

Sharon was also keen on espousing or exploiting the divisions among Israel’s enemies, says Baroud. "He moved against Lebanon in 1982, when the country was at its weakest point, exhausted by division and civil war. And when Israeli forces finally occupied Lebanon in 1982, as PLO fighters were shipped by sea to many countries around the Middle East, a triumphant Sharon permitted his Christian Phalangist allies to enter the defenseless Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps. In the days between September 16-18, 1982, as Israeli troops completely besieged the camps, the Phalangists entered the area and carried out a massacre that gruesomely defined both the Lebanese civil war and the Israeli invasion, killing thousands of Palestinian refugees, mostly butchered with knives, but also gunned down."

Dr. Binoy Kampmark, a former Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge, and a regular contributor to CounterPunch magazine, considered Sharon to be "a political hybrid, an unbalanced mix of spontaneous insubordination and calculation – in the words of historian Tom Segev, a political soldier and a military politician. Such a legacy proved more harmful than useful. Such a mix could also prove bumbling – Sharon’s visit to the al-Aqsa Mosque in 2000 prompted the second intifada, though this did not deter his election as Prime Minister the following year."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s ‘tribute’ was hypocrisy personified: "Prime Minister Sharon will be remembered for his political courage and determination to carry through with the painful and historic decision to withdraw Israeli settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip." [Though speaking as the head of an organization representing humanity, he conveniently forgot a lot more that was truly worth remembering, if only to remind ourselves of man’s inhumanity to man.]

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