Now that Sharon has died, we are already being bombarded with media coverage about what a “strong” leader Ariel Sharon was, and how led Israel in an “uncompromising” fashion.
George W. Bush had once famously called Sharon “a man of peace” (something not even Sharon probably believed about himself), and David Cameron’s statement on the death of Sharon naturally fell back on the cliche of “he took brave and controversial decisions in pursuit of peace.”
Don’t fall for the obfuscation.
Sharon was not a strong leader.
To call Sharon strong is to fundamentally misunderstand what real strength is, and what it is not.
We are called to not just speak truth to power, we are called to speak truth against power when that power is separated from love and concern for fellow human beings.
Sharon made the lives of Palestinians a living hell.
Sharon derailed the peace process.
Sharon assured the continued slide of Israel from a utopian dream down towards becoming an occupying force.
Occupying people, destroying homes, participating in massacres in Shatila and Sabra (Sharon, 1982) are not the sign of “strength.” These are the marks of brutality. That is why Sharon is called the “Butcher of Beirut.”
Brutality and strength must never be confused. Strength is to stand in the midst of a storm, and connect the welfare and wellbeing of your own people to the welfare and wellbeing of others, and insist that dignity is not a zero-sum game.
To remedy the fictitious accounts commemorating Sharon, look at these four articles:
1) “Ariel Sharon: Enemy of the peace”
In a dispassionate tone, this essay marks how Sharon worked to make the peace process an impossibility. It quotes Sharon’s aids as stating:
“The significance of our disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. It supplies the formaldehyde necessary so there is no political process with Palestinians… When you freeze the process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. Effectively, this whole package called a Palestinian state, with all it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda.”
For all those who wonder where the Palestinian peace partners are, we have to also be willing to ask why we glorify Israeli leaders like Sharon who have made peace (and a viable Palestinian state) an impossibility over the last few decades.
In this essay, Max Blumenthal offers a scathing account of the ways in which over multiple decades, Sharon shifted Israel’s politics to the right, often in order to advance his own glory as “king of Israel.”
If we are to take count of history, we have to be willing to look at reports not only from the “victors”, but also from the vantage point of the oppressed and marginalized. We can’t tell the history of slavery without including accounts of African-Americans, we can’t tell the history of the colonial American encounter without including the reports of Native Americans. And we can’t tell the history of Palestine/Israel without including the experiences of Palestinians who experienced the brutality of Sharon with their bodies.
In October 1953, Sharon carried out another attack on Palestinians in the village of Qibya. His charge, personally given to him by Ben Gurion, was to “ carry out destruction and cause maximum damage.” Sharon led campaigns that included killing 69 Palestinians in their homes, half of them women and children.
“Bullet-riddled bodies near the doorways and multiple bullet hits on the doors of the demolished houses indicated that the inhabitants had been forced to remain inside until their homes were blown up over them…”
4) This response from Human Rights Watch, which expresses sorrow over Sharon having evaded accountability over his roles in the Sabra and Shatila massacres.
May the people of Palestine and Israel cultivate leaders who come to understand that real strength is not about military power but about soul power, that it is not about occupation and brutality, but about insisting that our dignities are all connected.
If we are to mourn leaders, let it be for leaders who lead us to the promised land of peace and justice. Palestinians and Israelis, and all of us who care about this small and precious land, deserve better leaders.
May we be a part of bringing about leaders who understand that strength is about courage, vision, compassion, and a shared future, not brutality.