Ariel Sharon is dead

I have thought about this day for quite some time.

I thought that when it finally came, I’d be dancing around my bedroom to Pollyanna Frank drinking bubbly hugging everyone in sight.

Actually I don’t really feel like celebrating[1]. I sure as hell don’t feel like mourning either. I don’t feel much of anything. I realise that I actually don’t give a fuck about Arik Sharon. The man’s been in a coma for years, he’s been powerless to hurt anyone. I don’t really care about revenge or about punishing the guilty; I just want to take away the power they have to oppress others.

But just because I’m not celebrating, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be celebrating. I am sick to death of all the sanctimonious bullshit going round about how ‘all life is sacred’ and ‘we should never celebrate anyone’s suffering’. Reading some of the reactions to Sharon’s death online really brought home just how huge an impact he had on the people he terrorised. Palestinian and Lebanese people are perfectly entitled to celebrate the death of a man who devoted his life to their annihilation.

People are so quick to rewrite history at times like this. If you need to be reminded what kind of man Arik Sharon was, I suggest you go read Miko Peled’s pre-emptive eulogy:

Ariel Sharon was an ambitious man. He was brutal, greedy, uncompromising and dishonest. He possessed an insatiable appetite for power, glory and fortune. His tendencies as a cold-blooded, merciless killer were evident from early on in his career when he commanded the Israeli army’s Unit 101 in the 1950’s. Unit 101 was an infamous commando brigade with special license to kill and terrorize Palestinians. It operated mostly in Gaza, but also in other parts of the country and beyond. Unit 101 was so brutal in its practices, and claimed so many innocent lives, that even by Israeli standards it was thought to have gone too far and the unit was eventually disbanded.

Sharon went on to be promoted to other commands in the Israeli army earning a name for himself as a promising commander and all were expecting that he would one day be the Israeli army’s top commander, or Chief of Staff. But this was one job he never got, he did better. Sharon entered politics and was nominated to be Defense Minister under Prime Minister Menachem Begin. In that capacity he lead Israel’s catastrophic invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

This invasion left countless Lebanese and Palestinians dead, wounded and displaced. Sharon was also behind the massacres that took place in September of that year in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps near Beirut, and here once again, even by Israeli standards Sharon had gone too far and was removed from office.

My empathy and my solidarity are with the people Sharon murdered and the people he tried to destroy.

*

When Hannah Arendt wrote about the trial of Adolph Eichmann in Jerusalem, she noted that many Germans passionately supported the trial and were glad to see Eichmann convicted and executed. Arendt suggested that the reason Germans were so eager to see Eichmann brought to justice was because they felt it would somehow exonerate them. If the responsibility for the final solution could be pinned on Eichmann, and only Eichmann, then ordinary Germans would no longer need to feel guilty for their failure to oppose their state’s acts of genocide.

I’ve been thinking about that today, while trying to untangle my visceral loathing for Sharon. Of course, he was a cruel, racist, brutal, violent, hateful man; responsible for massacres, land confiscations, house demolitions, imprisonment, torture, settlements… the list of the man’s crimes is endless. There is no one more deserving of my hatred.

But it’s more than that—I hate Arik Sharon because I feel that he has made me complicit in his crimes. I hate him because I know that I—and every other settler-colonist in Palestine—share some of the responsibility for the atrocities committed by this man.

For a long time Sharon has personified the worst excesses of Zionist colonisation. He represented the most militant, the most racist, the most violent strand of Israeli politics. Nice liberal Israelis could pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves that we were better than him, because we were shocked and disgusted at the massacre of Sabra and Shatila, at the invasion of Jenin, at the settlements in the West Bank. Never mind that we also live on ethnically-cleansed Palestinian land. Never mind that most Israelis who view Sharon as a war criminal also oppose the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.

This is part of why I feel ambivalent about celebrating Sharon’s death. It’s too easy. It’s too easy to pin the responsibility for Israeli violence and brutality on Arik Sharon, so that I don’t need to feel guilty. It makes it easy to forget that I too, am complicit. I too, benefit from the continued Israeli colonisation of Palestine.

I’m not arguing that Sharon is no guiltier than any other Jewish-Israeli. He had more political and military power than your average Israeli civilian and he went out of his way to use that power to dispossess Palestinians and Lebanese. He wasn’t a victim of circumstance who was simply acting on the demands of his superiors or his constituents. He was committed to entrenching (Ashkenazi) Jewish supremacy in Palestine and the Levant. Ariel Sharon, and all Israeli political and military leaders, should be held accountable for his crimes. But a few evil people cannot perpetrate this scale of ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Jewish-Israelis as a whole carry some of the responsibility—because collectively we have always had the power to stop them.

*

Today a cruel and brutal man is dead. Indigenous resistance lives on. In spite of Sharon’s best efforts, Palestine will be decolonised and the refugees will return to their homes. I may not care enough to celebrate his death, but I will celebrate the certainty that his life mission will turn out to be a failure. I celebrate the victory of justice over oppression.


[1] I’m lying, I feel a little bit like celebrating. Just seeing how happy Palestinians and Lebanese are makes me feel happy too.

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