Ariel Sharon, the 'Butcher of Beirut', dies
More than any other Israeli leader, Ariel Sharon symbolizes the language of force. In his long career as an officer and politician, Sharon has been involved in the most violent chapters of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, occupying key positions since the founding of Israel in 1948.
By Guila Flint, Opera Mundi website:
In 1953, when he was a young soldier of just 24 years, Sharon commanded the operation in the Palestinian village of Qibya, also known as the Qibya massacre that left 69 dead, most of them civilians. The operation was a decision of the Israeli government, at that time led by Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, in reprisal for an attack in the town of Yehud that left 3 dead Israeli civilians.
The Special Unit 101, led by Sharon, attacked the village in the West Bank - then under Jordanian rule - destroying 49 houses, a school and a mosque. Many of the victims were in the houses that were blown up by the troops.
In the war of October 1973, as Army General, Sharon commanded the crossing of the Suez Canal, which was decisive for the victory of Israeli troops over the Egyptian forces. This operation earned him recognition as one of the most important military strategists in history.
In 1977, after retiring from the army, Sharon began his political career. His first job was agriculture minister in the government of Menachem Begin, leader of the right-wing Likud. At the time Sharon was nicknamed "Tractor" by his energetic action in favor of the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.
Sharon was considered the "father" of settlements over almost three decades of political career. In 1981 he was appointed defense minister in the Begin government, and in 1982, led the first Lebanon war against the forces of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) based in the country.
The massacre in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in September 1982, led to a temporary removal of Sharon 's political life. About 1,500 Palestinian civilians were murdered by Lebanese Phalangist militia, who entered the field while Israeli troops surrounded them.
The Kahan Commission, appointed by the Israeli government to investigate the massacre, came to the conclusion that Sharon was responsible for having "ignored the danger of bloodshed and not taking appropriate measures to prevent it."
In the Arab world, after the massacre of Sabra and Chatila, Sharon became the most hated Israeli figure and was called "the butcher of Beirut".
Sharon was removed from his post as defense minister in Israel and many thought his political career was over. However, he was among the most important leaders of the Likud party and held positions as minister until 1999, when he became party chairman.
In September 2000, Sharon, escorted by a thousand policemen, entered the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem, sparking the second intifada (Palestinian uprising).
The presence of the Israeli leader most hated by the Palestinians, in the most sensitive place and at a time of extreme tension between the two peoples, was the catalyst for a wave of violence that lasted four years and left dead on both sides.
In 2001, amid the intifada, Sharon was elected Prime Minister. His image of "strong man" meant that much of the Israeli public elected him to put an end to the series of suicide bombings that plagued Israeli towns.
In March 2002, Sharon ordered the start of the call Operation Wall of Defense, during which Israeli troops reoccupied Palestinian towns and surrounded the headquarters of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.
In the same year, under the command of Sharon, began the construction of the Israeli wall in the West Bank.
The wall, which consists of a complex of concrete walls and fences in urban and rural areas, and is over 400 kilometers long, was built to separate supposedly Israelis from Palestinians and thus prevent the entry of suicide bombers in the country.
However, the barrier is separating not Israelis from Palestinians, but Palestinians from Palestinians, it does not pass the Green Line - the border between Israel and the West Bank until the 1967 war - but inside the West Bank, annexing part of the Palestinian territory by Israel.
In 2003, Sharon took a turn toward a center position, more pragmatic than that which he had defended during practically a lifetime.
"It is not possible to continue keeping 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation," he said in May 2003. "This situation is bad for the Palestinians, for Israel and for Israel's economy."
At that time, Sharon accepted the Roadmap plan proposed by the U.S., Russia and EU for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and announced his support for the idea of creating a Palestinian state.
In 2005 Sharon led the withdrawal of troops and Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip.
Sharon's move generated shock and outrage from the Israeli right, who came to regard him as a traitor of the ideology of Greater Israel.
He faced a rebellion within his own party, the Likud, and on November 21, 2005 resigned the leadership of the party and founded the centrist party Kadima.
On January 4, 2006 Sharon suffered a stroke that left him in a vegetative state for eight years, until his death on Saturday (11/01).