Ariel Sharon, Sabra Shatila and Kishinev: “a replica, except far more brutal and vicious”
Posted by rabbibrian on January 15, 2014
Over the past week I have heard and read a lot about Ariel Sharon – much of it either minimizing, avoiding, or ignoring the war crimes he committed. One piece that presented an honest and very informative appraisal of Sharon’s life is an interview by Amy Goodman of Rhashid Khalidi, Palestinian scholar; Avi Shlaim, Israeli historian; and Noam Chomsky on Democracy Now. I recommend listening to the whole interview.
I was particularly struck by Professor Chomsky’s comment that the Kishinev pogrom in Russia in 1903, a very painful and significant event in Jewish history, was a replica of the massacre at Sabra and Shatila.
Here is what Professor Chomsky said:
Well, the Kahan Commission did condemn Sharon for what they called “indirect responsibility” for Sabra-Shatila massacre. The Kahan Commission, I think, was really a whitewash. It tried to give as soft as possible an interpretation of what was in fact a horrifying massacre, actually one that should resonate with people who are familiar with Jewish history. It was almost a replica of the Kishinev massacre in pre-First World War Russia, one of the worst atrocities in Israeli memory, led to a famous nationalist poem by the main Israeli poet, Chaim Nahman Bialik, “City of Killing.” The tsar’s army had surrounded this town and allowed the people within it to rampage, killing Jews for three days. They killed 45 people. That was—that’s pretty much what happened in Sabra-Shatila: Israeli army surrounded it, sent in the Phalangist forces, who were obviously bent on murder.
AMY GOODMAN: These were the Lebanese Christian forces.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Lebanese Christian terrorist force, allied with Israel. The soldiers watched as they illuminated it. They helped them enter. They watched for several days while they murdered, not 45 people, but somewhere—Israel claims 800, other analyses go up to several thousand. That’s the Sabra-Shatila massacre. The idea that Sharon had indirect—the tsar, incidentally, was bitterly condemned internationally for direct responsibility. That’s, in fact, one of the events that set off the huge flow of refugees from Eastern Europe, including my father, among others. But—so this was a kind of a replica, except far more brutal and vicious. And Sharon escaped more than a mild censure. It’s true that he was removed as defense minister, but it wasn’t long before he came back. And that’s one of a number of extremely shocking incidents in his career.
You can listen to Professor Chomsky’s comments here starting with some comments by Professor Shlaim at 30:00 minutes.
As Professor Chomsky points out the Kishinev pogrom had a very significant impact on Jewish history. It set off a huge flow of refugees, among them his father, who came to the United States. Bialik’s famous poem that rails against the passivity of the Jews in response to the violence led to the formation of Jewish self-defense groups, strengthened Zionist activity and significantly increased emigration to Israel. Bialik actually got it wrong. The Jews in the town did resist physically but were overpowered by a force much stronger than them.
The shame that Jews felt in response to reports of Jewish passivity in the face of anti-Semitic violence is an important theme in Zionism. Sharon embodied the Zionist response to this shame: the reliance on Jewish military strength to protect Jews, to create a Jewish state on the land of Palestine, imposing their will on the native inhabitants.
Sabra and Shatila was not the only massacre for which Sharon bears responsibility. In 1953 he was the commander of a special force, Unit 101, that massacred sixty-nine Palestinian residents of Qibya. (A little more than a year ago, I met some residents of Qibya at a gathering in Budrus of residents of Palestinian villages engaged in nonviolent resistance to the confiscation of their land.) Both massacres were based on his belief, rooted deeply in Zionist ideology, that the only way to ensure the survival of Israel is by brute force. This belief that was challenged by Judah Magnes and some others in the Zionist movement who understood that the only way to peace was through negotiation and shared agreement between Jews and Palestinians. Unfortunately, their view was rejected and it is the worldview represented by Sharon, with all its brutality, that drives the policies and actions of Israel. It is nothing less than tragic that Jews end up creating “replicas” of our past: doing to others exactly what was done to us.
*Amy Goodman’s interview also includes a very moving report by Ellen Siegel, a Jewish nurse who was working in hospital in Sabra refugee camp at the time of the massacre.