Originally published by Redress on January 8, 2006
A veteran of the October 1973 “Yom Kippur” war (“Harb Ramadan”), Henry Lowi writes: “Sharon wantonly sacrificed his young soldiers and officers in crossing the Suez Canal, for the glory of Arik Sharon and to preserve the conquests of Zionism… I will always remember Arik Sharon as the son-of-a-bitch general for whom his own soldiers were truly only cannon fodder.” He observes that Sharon “successfully used propaganda to serve the goals of his tactical manoeuvres”, and concludes with: “Down with Sharon-style brutality, lies and oppression!”
Much has already been written by way of summary of the career of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Some good examples are reproduced below.
My own perspective on Sharon is defined by 2 events:
The first was the October 1973 “Yom Kippur” war. I was an infantry soldier serving my compulsory service in the Southern Command. Sharon was a division commander.
The previously ridiculed Egyptian armed forces had shown that they had the ability to cross the Suez Canal and overrun the IDF’s Bar-Lev Line. The Egyptians themselves didn’t believe their own success, and clearly had no plan to defeat the IDF or to assist the Palestinians in their quest for national self-determination. After the successful crossing, the Egyptians basically dug in. The tactical aim of the war had been achieved. Peace negotiations, to return Sinai to Egypt, could be undertaken.
Among Israeli soldiers, and civilians, a sense of desperation was prevalent. IDF reservists were furiously called up for the blocking (“blima”) battle. Then Arik Sharon came along, and ordered his units across pontoon bridges thrown across the Suez Canal, and eventually surrounded the Egyptian 3rd Army Corps. Ceasefire negotiations were conducted at the Kilometre 101. In 1977, President Anwar Saadat made his dramatic visit to Jerusalem, and the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement was signed after negotiations at Camp David.
I was not in the units that crossed the Suez Canal in that operation by Sharon’s division. But the story is well-known, and it was at the time. Hundreds of young IDF soldiers were sacrificed in that accursed crossing, under massive and effective Egyptian artillery bombardment (I might add that, from the Egyptian point of view, this was legitimate defence of the Egyptian homeland). I know Israeli survivors of that operation. They will gladly strangle Arik Sharon with their bare hands.
I learned an important lesson about Sharon, and about Zionism, in October 1973: For Arik Sharon, Jewish lives are not worth anything except to the extent that they serve the interests of Zionist expansionism.
Sharon wantonly sacrificed his young soldiers and officers in crossing the Suez Canal for the glory of Arik Sharon and to preserve the conquests of Zionism.
After the 1973 war, a movement arose among IDF reservists challenging the government’s decision-making process prior to and during the war. This protest movement gave rise, on the one hand, to the Agranat Commission, and on the other hand, to the “Peace Now” movement. In those days, the idea of an Israeli grassroots movement of soldiers, challenging the government’s policy on matters of war and peace, was a new one.
I will always remember Arik Sharon as the son-of-a-bitch general for whom his own soldiers were truly only cannon fodder.
The second event was the invasion of Lebanon (“Peace for Galilee operation”) that began with aerial bombardment on June 5, 1982. The invasion had been prepared for months, politically and militarily. The actual pretext was the attempted murder of an Israeli diplomat named Argov.
Sharon, as part of the Begin government, and with the “peace-maker” cover of the recent Egyptian peace treaty, had been inciting relentlessly against the “Palestinian terror state” in southern Lebanon. Sharon, and all the Israeli media after him, spoke about a “limited operation, 20-25 kilometres into Lebanon”, to target and destroy the Palestinian armed organizations, and bring “Peace to Galilee”. The precedent cited was the limited “Litani operation” of 1978. Political support for the 1982 invasion was quite broad among the Zionist parties, including of course the “Labor” party.
Over the years, much has been written about the Sabra and Shatilla massacre of September 1982. Not much is said of Sharon’s war crimes — of the tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and Lebanese civilian dead, in the IDF bombing operations — of June to September 1982. With hindsight, we know that Sharon probably misled Prime Minister Menahem Begin about the true objectives of the war: regime change in Beirut, and mass murder/expulsion of the Palestine refugees.
While the PLO did a pathetic job of organizing Palestinian self-defence in Lebanon (having already adopted the strategic perspective of seeking a diplomatic deal with Israel, based on limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip only), the Sharon-led invasion elicited individual cases of Palestinian heroism. Notable were the steadfast positional defence of Beaufort Castle by PFLP fighters (which shocked the IDF soldiers and Begin), and the “RPG kids” — Palestinian youth who used guerrilla tactics and guerrilla weapons to hamper, hinder and harass the IDF invaders. Both the defenders of Beaufort Castle and the RPG kids provided role models for future generations of Palestinian fighters for their noble cause.
Sharon’s “20-25 kilometres” did not define the end-point of the invasion (For Saadat in 1973, the Bar-Lev line was the intended end-point; for Sharon in 1982, the “20-25 kilometres” was brilliant propaganda in the service of unbridled militarism). Sharon was determined to go as far as he could, just as the IDF had done in 1948 and 1967. Once Sharon’s deceit had become evident, IDF reservists began to circulate petitions, from the front, in Lebanon, protesting. After a few short weeks of war, IDF reservists began attending demonstrations organized by the “Committee Against the Invasion of Lebanon” (This committee had formed very quickly by the activists of “Committee in Solidarity with Bir Zeit University” and “Committee in Solidarity with the Syrian Residents of the Golan Heights”). Active-duty reservists attending anti-war demonstrations, and anti-war activists serving in the IDF began to create a powerful sentiment against Sharon’s thuggery and dishonesty, and generated sympathy for the Palestinian and Lebanese defenders.
Notably, Eli Geva, the commander of an IDF armor regiment that was ordered to break into West Beirut, asked (politely, and publically) to be relieved of his command. (His argument, essentially, was: “In order to fulfil the order, I must do one of 2 things. Either, prior to the attack, I must bombard civilian neighbourhoods of Beirut, causing an enormous loss of innocent lives. Or, if I attack without prior bombardment, I put my own soldiers at risk. Both outcomes are unacceptable to me. I ask to be relieved of the regimental command. I can participate only as commander of an individual tank.”) Eli Geva’s very public position created space for questioning the tactical directives of the senior command.
When I was called up as a reservist, in a tank unit destined for Lebanon, my initial anti-war agitational slogan was: “Let’s all be like Eli Geva!” At the time, the disgust with Arik Sharon was so great, and the distrust of the justice of the war was so prevalent, that this and many other anti-government demands were well-received.
At the same time, the “Labor” party’s “defence” spokesman, Itzhak Rabin, criticised Sharon from the right (!!), calling for “intensification of the siege of Beirut”, cutting off electricity, water, etc.
Eventually, the built-up anti-Sharon sentiment burst out after the Sabra-Shatilla massacres, in the huge 400,000 strong demonstration in central Tel Aviv, and was channelled into the legalistic framework of the Kahan Commission and its report and recommendations.
We are now recovering from Sharon’s 2005 “unilateral disengagement from Gaza”. This was clearly a code-word for consolidating Israeli control of all of Palestine while reducing its cost. Tragically, no one, in the Israeli peace movement, saw this manoeuvre as an opportunity to mobilize against the settlers, and create a genuine counter-momentum. They thus reinforced Sharon’s self-serving image as Bush’s “man of peace”.
Despite all the pundits, Sharon has not changed. The only thing “positive” that can be said of him is that he successfully used propaganda to serve the goals of his tactical manoeuvres. Idiots of the Zionist “left” follow him from one manoeuvre to another, and now they are lamenting this great “peacemaker”, just like they did with Rabin. I have not seen any serious strategic balance sheet designed to build a movement, among Israelis or Palestinians, that can truly open the road to reconciliation and coexistence.
So, now, while everyone is eulogizing Sharon and speculating on the future of the “peace process” (It is truly amazing how people write this phrase, adjacent to the name Ariel Sharon, and keep a straight face), and the future of his Bonapartist “Kadima” party, I can only say: Long live the demise of Sharon! Down with Sharon-style brutality, lies, and oppression! Let us overcome the Sharon legacy of 1948, 1951, 1953, 1956, 1967, 1971, 1973, 1978, 1982, 2001, and 2002-6. Let us build a movement that can build a future for this small country and its suffering people!
- *Henry Lowi is a Jewish peace activist living in Toronto, Canada.