Baruch Kimmerling was one of those brilliant Askenazik Jews, one of the “New Historians” who flowered in Israel in the last 30 years. A Romanian Jew he arrived in Israel with his family in 1952. Born with cerebral palsy which confined him to a wheel chair for his last 30 years, he nevertheless scaled the heights of academia and was a professor of sociology at Hebrew University and in his later years he had a joint posting at the U of T. He was among the first to challenge the official Zionist narrative of the founding of israel and the disposession of the Palestinians. Israel for Kimmerling “was built on the ruins of another society”.
I interviewed him in 2003 (he died in 2007) when his book Politicide: Ariel Sharon’s War Against the Palestinian People (Verso) was published. This is my review which incorporates some of our discussion.
Catholic New Times November 30, 2003
Ariel Sharon’s war against the Palestinians
By Ted Schmidt
It was the witty remark of former Israeli ambassador to the UN, Abba Eban that the Palestinians never miss a chance to miss a chance (at making peace). The same unfortunately can now be said of the present prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon. The Second Intifada (also called the al-Aqsa Intifada) began, as many will recall, with Sharon’s provocative walk to the Temple Mount adjacent to the Arabic holy shrine in September, 2000. Since then, and during Sharon’s tenure as prime minister (since Feb. 6, 2001) 244 suicide attacks have been carried out, thousands of houses demolished, hundres of trees uprooted and 2,200 Palestinian deaths up to April 4, 2003. There have been 22,308 injured, with 691 Israeli deaths and 498 injured Often, as things were starting to quiet down and a hudna (ceasefire) was implemented by Palestinians in early August, it was Sharon who once again threw kerosene on the smoldering conflagration. With his preemptive strikes and extra-judicial executions, the lifelong Arab-hater followed his predictable pattern.
On October 30 of this year Israel’s army chief, Lieutenant-General Moshe Ya’alon, stated the obvious: Sharon’s hardline treatment of Palestinian civilians is counter-productive and his policies simply intensify hatred and strengthen terror organizations. To anybody with the slightest familiarity with Sharon’s career, this is entirely true to form, as was his hysterical rejection of the recent Geneva Accord and his construction of recent and notorious Wall through the West Bank, which in effect ended the American Road Map to Peace. Nobody is in a better position to analyze Sharon’s tumultuous career than Israeli academic Baruch Kimmerling, the distinguished research professor at the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto and the George S. Wise Professor of Sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Professor Kimmerling’s book is Politicide: Ariel Sharon’s War Against the Palestinians. Kimmerling outlines Sharon’s shameless career of opportunism which, to be fair, has also included fierce bravery in war. For him, “Israel under Sharon has become an agent of destruction … its domestic and foreign policy oriented toward one major goal: the politicide of the Palestinian people.” Politicide means the dissolution of the Palestinian people’s existence “as a legitimate social, political and economic entity.” The major tools of this policy are murders, localized massacres, the elimination of leadership and elite groups, the physical destruction of public institutions and infrastructure, land colonization, starvation, social and political isolation and partial ethnic cleansing.” For Kimmerling, this did not start with Sharon. Historian Benny Morris’ work shows how deep ethnic cleansing (“population transfer”) went in Zionist thinking. The first politicide was during the 1948 war which according to the author “is not yet common knowledge in Israel.”
In an interview with CNT Kimmerling ridiculed “the completely false and historically baseless book of Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial, the second bible of diaspora Jews. Jews want to look at Israel not as a real political and social entity, but mainly as a Utopian dream where everything is pure and right. They know it is not so but feel a ‘Jewish responsibility’ to defend the Jewish state. No one doubts Morris’ findings.” Sharon’s history Kimmerling details Sharon’s unhappy childhood 15 miles, north of Tel Aviv, as a mediocre student with a violent temper, one who picked up his basic attitudes toward Palestinians from his parents: “anxiety and scorn.” In the 1948 war, Sharon caught the eyes of two colonels, Yitzhak Rabin and Moshe Dayan who were both impressed with the 20-year-old. Yet they had to intervene to mitigate what would become a lifetime description of Sharon’s tendencies — “irresponsible, adventurous and imprecise reports.”
Sharon then made his mark in Unit 101 in 1953, a small secret commando unit formed to handle reprisal actions. On August 28, 1953 in the refugee camp called Al-Bureji, Sharon engineered a massacre of 43 Palestinian refugees, including seven women. So, began a career described by Egyptian journalist Azmi Bishara in these terms: “Kill unarmed civilians then lie through your teeth. Sharon’s been doing it for half a century.” Sharon’s defence was that the women were whores who served the murderers. As a reprisal, on October 15, 1953 Sharon blew up 45 houses in Qibya, the inhabitants inside. Sixty seven men, women and children died. In the investigation, Sharon maintained that he ordered his men to check every house and order everybody to leave. His soldiers denied any such order: “Kill unarmed civilians and lie through your teeth.” It was during this period that Sharon became a hero —“Arik, King of Israel” — among the Israeli military and the young, but always at a price. After Suez (1956), he was accused by fellow officers of grandstanding for personal fame, 28 soldiers having been killed and 100 injured in what many saw as pure opportunism, needless and unnecessary.
After the Six Day War Sharon moved into Gaza (1967-1970) with his brutal tactics, ripping up citrus groves, planning extra-judicial executions, both war crimes which made his cohorts uneasy. In 1977, as Minister of Defense Sharon became the main patron of the illegal settlers, developing the plan to create “facts on the ground,” which would make it impossible to remove Jewish control over the territories — still the major sticking point in peace negotiations.
Kimmerling then describes the second attempt at politicide, the brutal 1981 dismantling of PLO infrastructure in southern Lebanon. The resultant disaster should have ended Sharon’s career. As Minister of Defense he was responsible for the massive bombardment which killed, according to journalist Robert Fisk, over 18,000 civilians between March and July 1981. Then came Sabra and Shatila, the notorious massacre which outraged world opinion and put 400,000 Israelis in the streets demanding an inquiry. The national uproar, de facto, ended the career of Menachem Begin and the enquiry (Kahan Commission) found that Sharon bore a major part of the responsibility. As the author states, “Sharon was considered to be political dead wood from a moral and even a legal point of view.”
Had the Commission gone deeper as it should have, Kimmerling maintains “a wide spectrum of the Israeli leadership would, from a moral point of view would have been found to be war criminals, guilty not only of crimes against the Palestinians and Lebanese but against the Jewish people of Israel.” Sharon was unrepentant. Speaking to noted Israeli writer Amos Oz, he said, “Even if you prove to me the war in Lebanon is a dirty war, I don’t care. I am willing to volunteer to do the dirty work for Israel to kill as many Arabs as necessary, to deport, to expel and burn them, to have everyone hate us. Hang me if you want as a war criminal.”
The final attempt at politicide was Operation Defense Shield (April, 2002). Operating under the terrorist discourse of 9/11 and with the tacit approval of a weak U.S. president whom Sharon claimed he owned, the sheer wanton destruction in places like Jenin and Ramallah appalled many. To unbiased observers, such as UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, it was “horrifying beyond belief — forever a blot on the state of Israel. No military objective could justify such suffering by a civilian population.” It was the cynical destruction of computers in the Palestinian department of education, the razing of civilian institutions like universities, schools, clinics and infrastructure which proved the real intent of “the homicidal Sharon,” Edward said.
This is a fascinating study of Ariel Sharon, the man whom a frightened populace thought could bring peace. The results speak for themselves. Kimmerling describes Israelis as amnesiac as North Americans. “Many are young and new to Israel, the 1982 debacle is simply so much history. Many do not regard his prior history as sins. His fairly honest autobiography (2001) has never been published in Hebrew.” To my question is Israel’s culture “addicted to power, a militarist culture?” Kimmerling replied, “Israel is run by a junta of three generals Sharon, Mofaz and Yaalon. All decisions are taken by these military minded powerful holders. The parliament and civilian branches are completely neutralized. All this is aggravated by the deep economic crisis. It is easier to rule a people preoccupied by daily financial subsistence.” Kimmerling, like many Jewish humanists has no time for the accusations of anti-Semitism levelled against critics of Israel “used by North American Jewish organizations and functionaries as well as conservative intellectuals.” What he does have time for are the many brave Israelis to whom he dedicates his book, people like “all the brave Israeli women who stand before checkpoints in the early morning hours to prevent Palestinian laborers from being harassed.” These are the people who “better reflect the spirit of humanism and non-violent and active resistance against this bad regime which has hijacked the Israeli political culture. They have paid a high personal price for their conviction and give me hope for the future.” Politicide is an engrossing portrait of Ariel Sharon’s career, one which leaves little doubt that “Arik the King of Israel” is a major stumbling block to peace in the Middle East. http://www.versobooks.com