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Ariel Sharon's Vision: 'Maximal Killing'
12 July 2002
Since the Bush administration has articulated a Mideast policy predicated on fighting terrorism, examining the pedigree of Ariel Sharon, Bush's "man of peace," is a task that requires some attention.
And what you find is a man drenched in blood.
Qibya is a small West Bank village not far from the Israeli border. In October, 1953, the Jewish state decided to attack Qibya in revenge for killings by infiltrators whom the Israelis thought might have come from that hamlet. Sharon was chosen to lead the mission.
Noted Israeli historian Benny Morris has unearthed the order Sharon gave his troops: "maximal killing and damage to property."
And maximal killing is what Sharon and his commando unit brought to Qibya on the night of October 14, 1953. Their attack left 70 dead.
The Arab Legion investigated and determined that the Israelis had moved from house to house "systematically killing" the residents before blowing up their homes. This account, Morris says, is corroborated by Israel Defense Forces post-operational reports, which describe breaking into most of the houses and "clearing them" with fire and grenades.
A United Nations report suggests an even more grisly sequence: "Bullet-riddled bodies near the doorways and multiple bullet hits on the doors of the demolished houses," the document says, "indicated that the inhabitants had been forced to remain inside until their homes were blown up over them."
Commander E.H. Hutchison, a U.S. naval officer serving on the U.N. armistice monitoring commission, investigated the slaughter. "Here and there from between the rocks," he wrote, "you could see a tiny hand or foot protruding."
Every fall in Qibya during the olive harvesting season, the memory of the attack is kept alive in a mourning ceremony. A memorial plaque behind the village mosque honors Sharon's victims.
Sharon later claimed he thought the villagers had fled, leaving the houses empty.
This isn't possible, historian Morris concludes. Rather, the Israeli troops "in moving through the village, had indiscriminately thrown grenades through windows, knocked down doors, and sprayed the interiors with automatic fire."
Maximal killing indeed.
Sharon later described his order for "maximal killing" as referring only to the Jordanian military then controlling the West Bank. "Of course, this is misleading nonsense," is Morris' retort. "The order was to kill as many Arabs as possible, without any discrimination between civilians, National Guardsmen, and soldiers."
Morris observes that prior Israeli retaliatory strikes, like this one, were explicitly designed to kill civilians.
Now, Benny Morris is no fan of the Palestinians. He's a committed Zionist who lately has taken to co-authoring commentaries with former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak.
And Qibya was no aberration for Ariel Sharon. A 1985 Israeli biography, Sharon: An Israeli Caesar by Uzi Benziman, describes two earlier incidents in which Sharon honed his murderous instincts.
He killed two women from the Arab village of Katama in order to induce a Jordanian military response. Later, in a raid on the el-Burj refugee camp, his plan called for trapping the Palestinians in a lethal crossfire between two groups of soldiers.
The plan worked: 15 refugees were killed.
Benziman, the biographer, describes Sharon's consistently sadistic behavior toward Arabs: His men "witnessed him laughing as a junior officer tormented an old Arab and then shot him at close range; they noted his composure as he planned operations designed to kill as many civilians as possible; they carried out his intricate plan to trap a peaceful Bedouin boy shepherding his flock."
On another occasion, Sharon censured a junior officer for failing to kill two elderly Arabs encountered during a raid.
Such censure wasn't often necessary, though, because Sharon's soldiers--like their leader--had come to view the Arabs, as a whole, as the enemy.
The culmination of Sharon's vision was Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, when he was Minister of Defense. Over 20,000 people--overwhelmingly civilians--died.
In the most gruesome episode of that ghastly affair, Israeli troops, having encircled the West Beirut refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla, stood by as Lebanese Phalangists spent 40 hours massacring the inhabitants.
Israel says 700-800 died, but an investigation by Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk suggests the toll was 3000-3500.
According to Benziman, Israeli army intelligence knew of the slaughter shortly after it started. They didn't bother to stop the killing.
Ariel Sharon is a man defined by his contempt for the value of Arab life, his absolute trust in military force, and his vision of peace through annihilation.
1. Benny Morris, Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956, Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 259. The Qibya affair is extensively discussed on pp. 257-276.
2. Morris, p. 261.