Memories of Barbarity, Sharonism and September

The Israeli Defense Force continues its inhuman assault on the Palestinian population of the Occupied Territories, sometimes euphemistically called the Palestinian Authority. The Oslo Accords that produced this sham of freedom did not change the fundamental relationship between the Israeli state and the Palestinian people – one of colonial domination in all aspects of life. What the PA had, as most reasonable commentators accepted, was the right to manage only a short list of subjects, in a sense similar to most of the comprador regimes that worked under the heel of the colonial master.

But people with a long history of struggle, who chaff at the bit placed on them by the US and the Israeli state, staff the PA. From the standpoint of the Israeli state, any motion on their part is tantamount to terrorism. When all reasonable opposition is squashed, what else must come but the suicide bomber? The suicide bomber is not a result of some malady in Palestinian or Islamic culture, but it is the end result of an ill-fated policy since 1967 to render the Palestinians without the means to craft their destiny. This is not to say that the Israeli people deserve what they get. Far from it, it is to say that Sharonism produced the terrible social conditions that led to this impasse.

And we hear NPR and other sources of liberal commentary flog the tired horse of Arafat being soft on terrorism. These liberals are heirs to Jimmy Carter, who said, early in 1980, “Any attempt to take control of the Gulf will be seen as an attack against the interests of the US, and will be resisted by any means, including military force.” Palestinian assertion is, in this view, an assault on the Gulf.

Meanwhile, as the IDF continues its barrage in Nablus and elsewhere, the calendar brings us to the two decade anniversary of Sharonism’s worst crime: the massacre at Sabra and Shatila. How will we grieve those fifteen thousand dead because of Sharonism in September 1982, when so much more bloods flows from the streets of Ramallah to Tel Aviv even today? What is the point of those memories of barbarism, when barbarity continues unchecked?

Sharonism begins on 9 April 1948, when Menachem Begin’s Irgun massacred two hundred and fifty-four residents of Deir Yassin massacre. Begin only followed the racist callousness of Israel’s first President Chaim Weizmann who said that the British informed him, “There are a few hundred thousand Negroes [in pre-1948 Palestine], but that is a matter of no significance.” When you render human beings insignificant, it is license to mass murder. All this is by way of prologue because what happened in 1967 and 1970 raises Sharonism to a fine art. In 1967, the main actor was the Jordanian military, the right-hand of the US government and eager to maintain its own domination over its people than accept any form of democratic dissent. Today, again, Jordan is wracked with pro-Palestinian protests and its new king, Abdullah, is as eager as his father to avoid the issue to protect his throne. The troops in Amman these last few days have gone after the students with ferocity. The second event is from 1982, when the Lebanese Falange, pushed by Sharon, massacred the Palestinians in the camps. Sharonism, via the Jordanian army, the Falange and the IDF, went after the left Palestinians, thereby creating a vacuum filled earnestly by groups like Hamas. Sharonism is the end of debate, because it went after reasonable people with its weapons, produced a desert of political opinion, and then used that as an excuse for further barbarity. Meanwhile, the Palestinians continue to suffer and the US media pities Sharon for his dilemma.

(1) Jordan, 1970.

The 1967 Six Day War was a shambles for the Palestinian cause as the IDF decimated the Arab forces, revealed the total military superiority of Israel and stole East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordanian control. Of Jordan’s total population in 1970, seventy-five percent identified itself as Palestinian. Nevertheless, both the Jordanian monarchy and the United Nations repeatedly called them “refugees” or “displaced persons” and denied them the right to fight for both the right to their lands in the west or for the creation of a democratic state in Jordan. Jordan, itself a creation of the British, relied upon oil monies and its subservience to the other Arab monarchies as well as to its exploitation of the highly-trained and literate Palestinian population for its own economic survival. Nevertheless, the Jordanians, like the Syrians and the Egyptians, utilized the Palestinians for their own purposes rather than allowing them to control their own destiny within a democratic framework.

Many Palestinians realized the need to control the movement, so Dr. George Habash founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Yasser Arafat founded Harakat Tahreer Falasteen or Al-Fatah. Habash announced that “the liberation of Palestine will come through Amman [capital of Jordan],” mostly to challenge both King Hussein and a broken Nasser (both of whom came under Israeli hegemony by 1970, something recognized in the US Secretary of State Rogers’ Plan). King Hussein (with help from Zia-ul-Haq of the Pakistani army) sent in his Bedouin army on 27 September to clear out the Palestinian bases in Jordan. A massacre of innumerable proportions ensued. Moshe Dayan noted that Hussein “killed more Palestinians in eleven days than Israel could kill in twenty years.” Dayan is right in spirit, but it is hardly the case that anyone can match the Sharonism in its brutality.

The horror conducted by the marginal Black September group against the Israeli Olympians at the Munich games came as “retaliation.” One barbarity followed another.

(2) Sabra & Shatila, 1982

Driven from Jordan and from Syria (in 1976), scores of Palestinians moved to the outskirts of Beirut into refugee camps. Two such camps, Sabra and Shatila, housed almost forty thousand people by the early 1980s. Lebanon benefited from the insecurity in West Asia, since most Arabs used it as a haven for capital (notably, the Gulf Sheikhs, but also those capitalists from Egypt, Syria and Iraq who fled the various “socialist” experiments). The service sector (banking, finance, commerce, tourism) accounted for seventy percent of Lebanon’s GDP and it ensured an economic boom. The Lebanese state, however, neglected the project of social justice and the widespread misery among the working-class and the intermediate classes. A Christian-fascist group, the Falange, took advantage of the state’s callousness and expanded its ranks from thirty-five thousand (1942) to seventy thousand (1970). By 1975-76, the Falange was the backbone of the regime and in September 1982, a Falangist (and Israeli ally) was elected the head of state. The Lebanese regime, along with a Multinational Force (US, France, Italy), ejected the Palestinian fighters from West Beirut and sent them to the camps in the city’s vicinity. The Falange was helped by the IDF, whose then head Sharon said on 12 June 1982, “We are here to destroy once and for all the PLO terrorists.”

On 2 September, a 50-kilogram TNT explosive killed Bashir Gemayel, the Lebanese ruler. The IDF, in contravention of the commitments made by US envoy Philip Habib to the PLO, surrounded East Beirut. On 16 September, at 5pm, the IDF urged the Falangists to enter the Palestinian camps and for the next two days, they held off the press and fleeing Palestinians as the Falange (joined by the IDF) killed over three thousand five hundred people (Israel claims that only eight hundred died). Begin, of Irgun fame, refused to conduct an inquiry and blamed the events on “the bloodthirsty plot being hatched against Israel and its government.” Four hundred thousand people protested in Tel Aviv on 25 September and forced the regime to form the Kahane Commission (whose report relieved Begin of “a certain degree of responsibility” and called for the dismissal of Sharon and of Raphael Eytan, which did not happen — both became members of the Knesset and then Sharon was elevated to the top post in the land).

The Israeli media attempted to put the blame on the Falange (“organized riffraff,” said Yediot Aharonot on the 28th) without any acknowledgement of Israel’s instigation and logistical support of the massacre. Edward Said correctly noted that in Lebanon, Sharon’s IDF has “behaved like an international gangster” (al-Hayat, 6 May 1994). Sharonism is gangsterism, and even today, as every country in the world (even, in fits and starts, the US) condemns the IDF violence, Sharonism continues in complete arrogance.

Meanwhile, children stuck within homes, afraid that they will be the next martyrs in the crossfire, memorize the poems of Mahmoud Darwish:

I saw nothing but a scaffold
With one single rope for two million necks
I see armed cities of paper that bristle
With kings and khaki

September has not been a good month for the Palestinian struggle. On 29 September 2000, the current Intifada began when Ehud Barak dispatched the IDF into al-Aqsa, destroyed the peace process and his own political career. The instigator of this violence was not just Sharonism, but Sharon himself. In the decade before al-Aqsa Intifada, Sara Roy shows us how the Oslo ghetto has devastated the everyday lives of Palestinians: unemployment during the 1990s rose nine fold between 1992 and 1996, real gross GNP fell by over eighteen percent and real per capita GNP fell by an even more dramatic thirty seven percent. “The reasons for Palestinian economic regression,” Roy argues, “are many and interrelated but turn on one primary axis: Israel’s closure policy, which restricts and at times bans the movement of labor and goods from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to Israel, to each other, and to external markets, represents the single most deleterious factor shaping the nature of Palestinian economic activity and Palestinian life in general” (this is in Verso’s tremendous collection, The New Intifada). The policy of closure began in March 1993 and the parties signed Oslo in September of that yearSanother September in the Palestinian odyssey. The al-Aqsa Intifada, that began in September 2000 and has now been overtaken by the IDF invasion, “arose in response to Israel’s continued attempt to fragment and weaken the Palestinian community through dispossession, denial and closure.” Roy concludes.

The architect of Sharonism is not just Sharon, but also US neoconservatives like Irving Kristol, who just over a decade ago (“Who Needs a Peace in the Middle East?” Wall Street Journal, 21 June 1989) wrote, “A Palestinian state in Gaza would be nothing more than an armed camp for intransigent irredentists who would be at permanent war with Israel. Why should Israel agree to any such scenario? It won’t, since it would only end up having to occupy Gaza all over again. The million or so Palestinian refugees — by now mainly children and grandchildren of the original refugees — did not come from the West Bank, have no family connections on the West Bank, have no memories of the West Bank.” These Palestinians, in words similar to Golda Meir, have no right to belong, since they don’t exist. This is the ideology of Fortress Israel – barricade oneself behind the IDF and inflict enormous pain on anyone who may try to resist your armed might.

And yet, NPR and its compatriots say that Sharon is reasonable, that Arafat is untrustworthy. You can trust Sharon, that’s right. You can trust him to dip his hands into blood and still get arms shipments from the US.

Viijay Prashad teaches political science and international studies at Trinity College. He is the author of Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity and The Karma of Brown Folk. Prashad can be reached at:

Vijay Prashad’s most recent book (with Noam Chomsky) is The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and the Fragility of US Power (New Press, August 2022).