Today, former Israeli Prime Minister – and military commander – Ariel Sharon takes his last journey, to his family’s ranch in the Negev. Sharon, who died on Friday after spending eight years in a coma following a massive stroke, has been given full state honours, as befits a former PM and survivor of the 1948 generation, one who fought in the Israeli war of independence.
Yet Ariel Sharon remains a controversial figure: this is acknowledged even by the most conservative of media outlets. One cannot understand the man, his country, and the times they lived through without understanding this. And it is the craven inability to see Sharon’s downsides that marks out The Commentator, and its almost adulatory obituary, standing all alone.
It is not for Robin Shepherd and his dwindling band of firmly right-wing contributors to tell readers that Sharon behaved insubordinately and recklessly during the 1956 Suez campaign in an unsuccessful attempt to dislodge Egyptian forces from the Mitla Pass. Nor is the indiscriminate killing of dozens of Palestinian civilians in a reprisal raid in 1953 even mentioned.
Sharon continued to have difficulty doing what his superiors told him to do even when he returned to the IDF on the occasion of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Fortunately his side won. But the greatest stain on his reputation came when, as Defence Minister in the early 80s, he oversaw the invasion of Lebanon and soon ratcheted it up into a full-scale war.
What he promised would be over in 24 to 48 hours had already lasted three months when Christian Phalange militiamen entered the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps near Beirut and massacred hundreds – perhaps thousands – of Palestinian refugees. The suspicion that Sharon had caused the IDF to look the other way was inescapable. The subsequent Kahan report confirmed the suspicion.
Yes, an Israeli commission of inquiry found Ariel Sharon culpably negligent over the killings. This is excused by The Commentator, and Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, which triggered the second Palestinian intifada and set off the wave of suicide bombings and reprisals is not mentioned. Sharon then portrayed the building of the security barrier between Israel and the Palestinian territories as inevitable.
Yes, Ariel Sharon fought courageously for his country. No-one questions this, or detracts from his patriotism. But he, like so many conviction politicians, will be remembered rather differently, depending on which side of the Israeli – Palestinian divide you are on, or even, within Israel, your view of recent history. The Commentator does his memory no favours by declining to give the full picture.
It’s a perversely blinkered view of the world that Robin Shepherd inhabits.