After lying in state at the Knesset, where Israelis lined up to pay tribute, Ariel Sharon was buried Jan. 13 on his family's ranch in the Negev desert. The Israeli military deployed the Iron Dome missile shield, lest Gaza-based militants tried to target the burial with rockets. In fact, "two projectiles" did hit the nearby Shaar HaNegev region, the military said, reporting no casualties. Earlier in the day, Israeli air-strikes hit a Gaza refugee camp, ostensibly in response to prior ineffectual projectile attacks. US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement to Israel: "Our nation shares your loss and honors Ariel Sharon's memory." News of Sharon's death set off spontaneous joyful celebrations at Lebanon's Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. (Algemeiner, AFP, AFP, JP Updates)
CNN afford Human Rights Watch Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson the opportunity to provide some corrective perspective on what the New York Times of course called Ariel Sharon's "mixed legacy."
Kerry couldn't very well mention it, but history will remember Sharon for his role in the massacres of civilians by Lebanese militias in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982. From September 16 to 18, the militias killed at least 700 people, and perhaps more than 2,000, including infants, children, pregnant women and the elderly, some of whose bodies were found to have been mutilated.
Sharon, as Israel's defense minister in 1982, had overall responsibility for the Israel Defense Forces, which controlled the area of the camps. According to a document prepared by his office, Sharon's instructions on September 15, the day before the massacres began, included: "For the operation in the camps the Phalangists should be sent in."
In February 1983, the Kahan Commission, Israel's official commission of inquiry investigating the events, found that Sharon bore "personal responsibility" for the massacre. There was a "serious consideration…that the Phalangists were liable to commit atrocities," the commission reported, but "from (Sharon) himself, we know that this consideration did not concern him in the least." His "disregard of the danger of a massacre" was "impossible to justify," the commission found, and recommended his dismissal as defense minister.
Although he did resign as defense minister, in a glaring example of gross impunity for crimes against Palestinians, Sharon remained in the Israeli Cabinet as a minister without portfolio and later became prime minister, serving until his stroke in January 2006. Similarly, Elie Hobeika, the Phalangist leader the Kahan Commission named as responsible for directing the militias, also escaped prosecution and served as a Lebanese Cabinet minister until being killed by a car bomb in 2002.
The massacres constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity. Yet Israeli justice authorities did not conduct a criminal investigation to determine whether Sharon and other Israeli military officials bore criminal responsibility.
Israel also made sure that no one else could bring Sharon to justice, either. In 2001, survivors from Sabra and Shatila brought a case in Belgium requesting Sharon be prosecuted under Belgium's "universal jurisdiction" law. Political pressure from the United States and Israel…led Belgium's parliament to amend the law in April 2003, and to repeal it in August. Belgium's highest court dropped the case against Sharon that September.
As we have had plenty of reason to complain before, another Western-backed war criminal has died a free man.
Multiple Israeli airstrikes hit Gaza
Israeli air forces launched air strikes across the Gaza Strip on March 12, with no immediate reports of injuries. The Israeli air strikes came after Islamic Jihad said that it launched 130 rockets into southern Israel in response to Israel's killing of three of its members the previous day. (Maan)