Ariel the Unlucky
- Warrior: The Autobiography of Ariel Sharon by Ariel Sharon and David Chanoff
Macdonald, 571 pp, £14.95, October 1989, ISBN 0 356 17960 5
- The Slopes of Lebanon by Amos Oz, translated by Maurie Goldberg-Bartura
Chatto, 246 pp, £13.95, January 1990, ISBN 0 7011 3444 5
- From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman
Collins, 541 pp, £15.00, March 1990, ISBN 0 00 215096 4
- Pity the nation: Lebanon at War by Robert Fisk
Deutsch, 622 pp, £17.95, February 1990, ISBN 0 233 98516 6
1982 was a critical time for the authors of all four of these books. It was the year of Ariel Sharon’s most sanguinary foreign venture, which ended in massacre, failure, and a measure of disgrace. For the Israeli novelist Amos Oz, it was the year ‘the Land of Israel’ died in Lebanon, while for him personally it aroused feelings of alienation, the sense of being an exile in his own land. For Thomas Friedman, a Jewish American journalist, the refugee camp atrocities produced ‘something of a personal crisis’ and tore away ‘every illusion’ he had ‘ever held about the Jewish state’. And for Robert Fisk, who no longer had illusions about that or anything else, it was a year in which he escaped death a score of times and lived to produce some of the most memorable journalism of the decade.
Sharon’s book is a surprise, for it contains little about the real man. His ghost writer has produced a sort of Anti-Sharon, an almost reasonable politician, an image presumably intended for the ignorant, the credulous, and the press offices of Israeli embassies. You will find nothing here of the bombastic general who boasted that Israel could ‘conquer in one week the area from Khartoum to Baghdad and Algeria’. Nothing of the political brawler who last month denounced Shamir (of all people) for being soft on ‘terrorism’. Nothing of the man who reminded even ConorCruise O’Brien (whose 1982 articles were so pro-Israeli that the Army distributed them to journalists) of ‘the swaggering Goering’. The only close similarity between the two Sharons is their inveterate mendacity. It is unlikely that the new image will convert many people – certainly not in Israel, where Sharon is widely blamed for the Lebanese disaster. Two of the country’s most distinguished military writers, Ze’ev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari, have declared: ‘Born of the ambition of one wilful, reckless man, Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon was anchored in delusion, propelled by deceit, and bound to end in calamity.’ The deceit is sustained throughout this book by manipulation of figures and misrepresentation of facts. Usually this is done simply by multiplying several times the number of casualties inflicted by the PLO and dividing, by an equally high figure, the number of Arab civilian deaths caused by Israeli forces. But sometimes, when even this arithmetic would leave a much higher number of Arab dead, he dispenses with figures and merely equates two quite disproportionate attacks.
This is Sharon’s account of events following the attempted assassination of the Israeli Ambassador to London in July 1982.
At midday the [Israeli] Cabinet approved the air strikes unanimously. Shortly afterwards the attacks were driven home against two military targets in the Beirut suburbs and nine others in the south. By 5.30 that afternoon, PLO artillery shells and rockets began to fall on the Galilee towns and villages. The terrorists had unambiguously declared their decision [to break the ceasefire].
Put like that, it all sounds quite reasonable, two roughly equivalent military responses probably causing roughly similar numbers of casualties. In fact, the bombing of the ‘two military targets in the Beirut suburbs’ caused the deaths of 210 civilians, including 60 dug from the ruins of a Palestinian children’s hospital. As for the PLO’s artillery barrage on the ‘Galilee towns and villages’, Oz records that most of the shells fell ‘somewhere between the villages... Only one person was wounded and almost no damage was done.’ So much for Sharon’s claims of Israeli ‘self-restraint’ and the PLO’s ‘intolerable provocation’.
Vol. 12 No. 9 · 10 May 1990
From Michael Nelson
It is my observation that David Gilmour (LRB, 5 April) is an anti-Zionist, and that to him, Zionism – i.e. Jewish nationalism – is illegitimate. This is a view that the Arab states have been pressing with some success and with the concrete aim of de-legitimising the State of Israel. It is also my observation that where Israel is concerned Mr Gilmour is incapable of constructive criticism – only of unrelenting hostility. It is to this view that you consistenly give the hospitality of your pages, and I must presume that this is editorial policy. I am myself no supporter – in fact, a harsh critic – of the policies of the Israeli Government towards the Intifada, and towards Palestinian nationalism. Nevertheless I can still tell the difference between legitimate political commentary, even if adversarial, and ideological enmity. Mr Gilmour, in his writings, falls into the latter category.
Vol. 12 No. 10 · 24 May 1990
From S.J. Fisher
David Gilmour (LRB, 5 April) could use some of the even-handedness and historical grasp that he so admires in Robert Fisk. To discuss the political attitudes represented by Begin, Shamir and Sharon – that is, to discuss the rise of Israeli ‘thug-ism’ – without mentioning the implacable, sinister, intransigent hostility of Israeli’s thug-like Arab neighbours is truly a remarkable feat of simplification. Imagine, if you can, a world in which Syria’s Assad and/or Iraq’s Hussein have given up their jihad to drive the Jews into the sea. Imagine them (à la Sadat) offering to make peace with Israel, contingent on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Israel, being a democracy, could then afford to put ‘doves’ into high office without the fear that they would give away Israel’s long-term security in exchange for a temporary peace with the powerless Arabs of the occupied territories. There would of course be much negotiation and political manoeuvring in Israel, in the PLO, in Jordan, in Lebanon and in all the smaller groups, but peace and a Palestinian state would surely follow. Until Syria and Iraq give up their holy war against Israel, strong men like Sharon will continue to appeal to a beleaguered Israeli public.
Victoria, British Columbia
Vol. 12 No. 11 · 14 June 1990
From David Gilmour
S.J. Fisher complained in your last issue that I should not have discussed ‘the rise of Israeli “thug-ism”’ without mentioning the hostility of Israel’s thug-like Arab neighbours.’ I was not discussing ‘the rise of Israeli “thug-ism” ’ but reviewing the autobiography of one particular thug, Sharon, and I saw no need to consider other delinquents. In any case, the behaviour of the Syrian and Iraqi dictators has had little influence on the careers of those thugs cited by Mr Fisher. Begin, Shamir and Sharon were busy murdering British and Arab civilians while Asad and Hussein were still children. Furthermore, Mr Fisher’s suggestion that ‘peace and a Palestinian state’ would automatically follow an Iraqi offer of peace is astonishingly naive. Does he not remember what happened after Egypt, the most powerful Arab state, made peace with Israel? Did the Israelis then ‘put “doves” into high office’ determined to pursue an overall settlement? Of course they did nothing of the kind. Exploiting the disappearance of the Egyptian military threat, they re-elected (with an increased vote) the bellicose Begin and thus paved the way for the devastation of Lebanon and accelerated land-grabbing on the West Bank.
In the previous issue Michael Nelson said a number of things about me, some of them true and some of them untrue. I am indeed anti-Zionist but I do not try to ‘de-legitimise’ the state of Israel. I believe the Zionist enterprise was an error and an injustice that has brought tragedy to millions of innocent people, but I have never thought that its victims’ grievances should be redressed by the disappearance of the Jewish state. Like most of the rest of the world, I have always supported a two-state solution to the conflict: Israel in its pre-1967 borders and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Mr Nelson goes on to accuse me of ‘unrelenting hostility’ towards Israel, but in fact that hostility is only unrelenting towards the brutal and expansionist policies of its government. When Israel stops invading Lebanon, when its soldiers stop shooting unarmed demonstrators, when its politicians stop building colonies on other people’s land – then, certainly, I shall relent.