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The Lesser Evil

Ariel Sharon and Chris Christie, Compare and Contrast

by RAOUF J. HALABY

Ariel Sharon and Chris Christie have much in common. Pundits, politicians, the media and private citizens have accused both of them of being brash, in your face, blunt, relentless, ruthless, combative, arrogant, crass, sneering, mouthy, vain, smug, priggish, insolent, overbearing, vainglorious, snooty, egotistical, ostentatious and downright over-cocksure of themselves. And their admirers have idolized, defended, reveled, and admired their brazenness. While a fair number have called Christie a bulldozer, for years now Sharon has been called “The Bulldozer,” a nickname in which he delighted, and a nickname he wore as a badge of honor.

But this is where the similarities end. While Christie plays his politics in an arena where there are local, state, and federal laws whose parameters are circumscribed by laws and where the referees, for the most part, are honest judges, Sharon has always played in an arena of his own making and the making of an Israeli government, an arena where he wrote all the rules without any regard to civilized norms and in flagrant violation of international laws. Aided by a sustained, generous and unlimited umbilical cord of economic and military might to the tune of well over 3 billion hard-earned US taxpayer dollars per annum provided by a  snoozing citizenry, a compliant US Congress, and successive submissive US Administrations, Sharon wreaked havoc on Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians, and Palestinians. For over 65 years the latter have been his favorite targets. Indeed, his eyes lighted up when he talked about his disposing of unarmed Palestinian citizens as though they were flies swatted out of existence to get rid of the terroristic “Aravim  Melukhlakhim” (pestilent Arabs).

Having been taught that there was no international accountability for the 1948 massacre of Deir Yassin in which Jewish Irgun terrorists massacred over 120 unarmed villagers including old men, women and children, mutilating their bodies, dumping some of the corpses in wells, disposing 55 orphaned children in a Jerusalem alleyway, stripping naked some twenty citizens and parading them in the back of a flat-bed truck in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, Ariel Sharon’s first bulldozing experience occurred in October of 1953 in the Palestinian village of Qibya. Under his command Israeli paratroopers booby-trapped 56 homes and detonated the explosives without warning the occupants. 69 people, all of whom were, yet again, unarmed old men, women, and children, were killed. The roads to the village were booby trapped and three neighboring villages experienced the wrath of Sharon’s penchant for blood. Sharon is quoted as having claimed that this murderous act was undertaken to “Make Qibya an example to everyone.”

And since October of 1953 overwhelming military might on armed civilians has become Sharon’s trademark and tactic of choice, and successive Israeli generals and prime ministers have repeatedly declared a variation of this theme: “we want to teach them a lesson.”  The “them” in this case are the Palestinians, Egyptians, Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, and now, the Iranians.

In the 1956 Anglo-French and Israeli attack on Egypt, hundreds of Egyptian POWs were murdered in cold blood. After the Israelis withdrew (and only because President Eisenhower, the only US President to have had the back bone to draw a line in the sand), the Egyptians ascertained that because the dead Egyptian soldiers’ hands were tied behind their backs they were brutally and summarily shot to death; Sharon’s only regret was that he did not order his soldiers to cut the ropes before the corpses were discovered. He further honed his brutal skills in the 1967 and 1973 Arab Israeli wars. Of special note is his use of Egyptian civilians as human shields in front of Israeli tanks and half-tracks, a flagrant violation of international laws.

Sad how few pundits, telly anchors, reporters, opinion writers and newspaper editors have commented on the Sharon orchestrated 1982 invasion of Lebanon in which 20 thousand civilians were murdered, well over 150 thousand wounded and maimed, and the complete scorch-earth pulverization of towns, villages and farm lands from the Israel-Lebanon border all the way to Lebanon’s capital, Beirut. Nothing was spared; hospitals, schools, electric plants, factories, large high rise residential and business structures and ambulances were the target of this madness unleashed by an angry, egotistical and psychotic madman. All of this while Reagan and his buddies sat on their hands, acquiescing and perhaps approving of this carnage. Having gotten away with previous murderous acts, Sharon, emboldened by a silent and benign US and so-called civilized Western nations’ conspiracy of silence, besieged the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila and set the stage for yet another massacre. He gave the green light to his Lebanese Phalange partners to enter the camps, ordered his troops to fire flares to light up the night sky, and sat idly by as an orgy of killing unfolded. Anchored barely 1.5 miles off the Beirut coast, surely the US navy intercepted the communications between Israeli troops and their hired Lebanese killers. Robert McFarland, Reagan’s National Security Advisor, decided not to wake up the aging President. One has to wonder whether Reagan would have had the moral fortitude to stop the carnage. Soon after the 48 hour orgy of killing was over, the respected reporter Robert Fiske, stunned by what he witnessed as he walked through the narrow refugee camp streets, detailed the chilling account of what happened. Yet again, well over four thousand unarmed old Palestinian men, women and children were massacred. We will never know the exact numbers; the bodies of the dead were sprinkled with lime, loaded into the buckets of front end loaders, and hauled off into unmarked mass graves. Instead of standing before a world court of justice to account for his heinous deeds, he got a feather stroke of a rebuke rebuke in the form of a nickname. And forever Sharon will be remembered as  “The Butcher of Lebanon.”

Israeli film maker Ari Folman’s award-winning animated documentary, Waltz with Bashir, which won numerous awards, including the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film, is an excellent study of the psychological trauma inflicted on Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, including the trauma inflicted on a sizable number of Israeli soldiers and civilians. To its credit, and to the credit of many Israelis (civilians, military officers and soldiers), the Kahan Commission implicated Sharon for his role in this inhuman, vengeful, and frighteningly psychopathic lust for blood. Having been victimized by the UN and Israel in 1948 and by the Lebanese Government which denied them a decent haven, was it such a crime to have been born Palestinian?

Because no international body had the courage to hold Israel, Begin and Sharon accountable, The Butcher of Lebanon reincarnated himself into public life to become Prime minister. Only this time Sharon’s weapon of choice became the bulldozer. More specifically, the giant D9 Super Giant Caterpillar bulldozer became his weapon of choice. These monstrous machines cut large swaths of land in Gaza and the West Bank leaving nothing but carnage and destruction in their path. Houses, often with occupants still inside, were bulldozed, and hundred-year old olive trees (the olive tree is Palestine’s emblem)  were uprooted by the hundreds, including citrus and fruit orchards and farm land. Anyone remember Rachel Corrie, the 23 year old peace activist from Olympia, Washington, and her brutal murder by one of these machines as she stood in front of a Gaza house to protect its inhabitants from the monstrous and angry bucket of the giant caterpillar?

And what about the 2002 pulverization of Jenin and Qalqilya by Israeli troops  — only because the Palestinians had the temerity to demand an end to occupation? After weeks of Apache Helicopter (Clinton’s gifts to his buddy Ehud Barak) indiscriminate aerial bombardment of these two high density Palestinian towns in which, yet again, nothing was spared, the same D9 bulldozers went in to pulverize the towns and lay waste to their inhabitants and structures, leaving rubble, steel, 60ft to 100ft craters. Disheveled, hungry, disoriented, sick, wounded and blank-staring creatures, better known as survivors, crawled out of the carnage like pre-historic shadows of erstwhile human beings. Concrete, steel, personal belongings and human flesh and sinews were strewn in an ugly Kafkaesque tableau reminiscent of the Nazi attack on the tiny Basque village of Guernica.  A western reporter likened it to Hiroshima’s destruction. Anyone wishing to see the results of Sharon’s bulldozing work might want to view the following award-winning DVDs: Gaza Strip by Typecast, Jenin by Arab Film Distribution, Wall by Simone Bitton,  Stolen Freedom, Occupied Palestine.

Foreign dignitaries were hard pressed to say anything positive at Sharon’s funeral ceremony.  A 2016 presidential aspirant, Joe Biden called him “an indomitable bulldozer,” and war-mongering Tony Blair (The Butcher of Baghdad) stated that Sharon “was bold, unorthodox and unyielding.” Yes, he was a bulldozer that destroyed everything in its path; animate and inanimate were crushed in a senseless orgy of hatred. And yes, he was unorthodox in just about everything he did. Few Asian leaders attended the ceremony, but especially telling was the conspicuous absence of African and Latin American leaders. That in itself is a telling comment on the divide between East, West, and South.

It is tragic that the abhorrent violence of the Holocaust perpetrated on Jews and others alike, a traumatically painful chapter in the history of man, is a chapter that brings nothing but blight to European history. The tragedy that victimized Europe’s Jews and other nationalities has also victimized the Palestinians. In an act of self-preservation and by the creation of a safe haven for the Jews, the Palestinians continue to pay a heavy price for Europe’s madness. The same violence to Palestine and her people continues unabated by Sharon’s disciples and their supporters.

Two days ago a retired colleague sent me the following brief email: “The devil is dead…. And does he have much to answer for.” When the final text is written, history will not treat Sharon kindly.

I must confess that for a short while (very, very brief spell) I fell for Chris Christie’s no nonsense manner of cutting the sycophantic media and some of his critics down to size. There was something fresh about his “telling it like it is,” something that was almost akin to Obama’s phony  “change we can believe in”  for which I also fell. However, when his rhetoric turned into blustering affectation and theatrics, I walked away. Only time will tell whether Christie will be implicated or exonerated, and only then will the ink be scripted in American history books.

Of the two bulldozers, and because the difference between Sharon and Christie in all manner of speaking, is as different as day and night, I opt for Chris Christie.

Raouf J. Halaby is a Professor of English and Art at a private university in Arkansas. He is a sculptor, a photographer, an avid gardener, and a peace activist. halabyr@obu.edu