Wednesday, January 15, 2014

 

Ariel Sharon's Legacy is Tainted by his Abandonment of Fundamental Historical and Legal Principles

Ariel Sharon, who passed away on January 11, 2014 after spending eight years in a coma, was a bold and imaginative military leader who played an essential role in Israel's victories in the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War. During most of his subsequent political career, Sharon strongly supported Israel's right--and need--to maintain control over Judea, Samaria and Gaza, three areas that not only are part of Biblical Israel (and the modern Palestine Mandate) but also essential buffer zones against aggression by Israel's Arab neighbors. Sharon was considered, by allies and enemies alike, as one of the founding fathers of the settler movement; he made his name as a proud advocate of the right of the Jewish people to return to their historic homeland in its entirety and his legacy is largely based on his ideology regarding Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Sharon permanently tarnished that legacy when, as Prime Minister, he betrayed the principles he had spent a lifetime upholding.

Prior to becoming Prime Minister, Sharon understood that language is important and he consistently said that Israel had "liberated" Judea, Samaria and Gaza, even though many people incorrectly insist on calling those territories "occupied." According to international law, Judea, Samaria and Gaza are unallocated portions of the Palestine Mandate. Those who refer to Israel as an "illegal occupier" are misinterpreting and/or misunderstanding international law.

Israel has a strong claim to Judea, Samaria and Gaza based on a host of international legal documents, including the Palestine Mandate and the Balfour Declaration, but even if one disregards those historical/legal precedents it is important to remember that Jordan and Egypt used Judea/Samaria and Gaza respectively as staging grounds for wars of aggression against Israel (and, prior to those wars, those countries used those territories as staging grounds for terrorist attacks against Israel).

Israel's policies of appeasement--and the attitude of large segments of the international political and media communities--make no sense, because instead of Israel begging that the Arab countries recognize her right to exist (a right that every other country in the world correctly takes for granted) in exchange for receiving land that had been used as staging grounds for anti-Israel aggression Israel should have been asking for reparations as the victim of unprovoked attacks. If Canada attacked the northern United States and the United States responded by capturing Quebec one can rest assured that the United States would not return Quebec in exchange for Canadian recognition of the United States' right to exist--and even that analogy does not go far enough, because in that scenario the United States' only claim to Quebec would be that Quebec had been used as a staging ground for an aggressive war, while in contrast Israel's valid claim to Judea, Samaria and Gaza predates the repeated Arab attempts to annihilate the Jewish State.

If international law is interpreted any other way then that would mean that Country A could attack Country B, lose land during the subsequent war and then insist that Country B either return that land or offer reparations. Furthermore, Jordan--which occupied Judea and Samaria from 1948 and 1967--was never recognized internationally as the rightful owner of those areas and Egypt's claim to Gaza is dubious as well. The "illegal occupier" of Judea and Samaria was Jordan, not Israel! In 1970, three years after the Six Day War, former State Department Legal Advisor Stephen Schwebel explained the legal status of Judea and Samaria: "Where the prior holder of territory had seized that territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense has, against that prior holder, better title."

Israel's intimate ties to Judea, Samaria and Gaza are not just legal formalities; the rich Jewish history associated with Judea, Samaria and Gaza predates the creation of both Christianity and Islam. It is also worth mentioning that not only has there never been an Arab country called "Palestine" but that the p sound does not even exist in Arabic; the word Palestine has been co-opted and corrupted in recent decades by Israel's enemies but it originated as a Latin term used by the Roman occupiers to rename Judea, the ancient Jewish state that had provided particularly tough resistance to Roman conquest. The Arabic word Filastin is simply a transliteration of the Latin term and the assertion that there is a distinctive Palestinian Arab people separate from the larger Arab community is a late 20th century propaganda phenomenon--arguably the most successful propaganda campaign ever, completely turning historical truth upside down (the Jerusalem Post was originally called the Palestine Post but just a few decades later Israel's enemies have convinced most of the world that there is such a thing as a separate Palestinian Arab nation, which historically makes about as much sense as saying that there is a separate Michigan nation that is entitled to exist independently of the United States).

Sharon's military achievements and his bold advocacy for Israel's rights made him a hero in the eyes of Israrel's supporters and a villain in the eyes of Israel's enemies--but after Sharon became Israel's Prime Minister in 2001 he made a shocking and abrupt ideological transformation, unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza and four communities in Samaria and making plans for more unilateral withdrawals from Judea and Samaria; if he had not been incapacitated by a stroke in 2006 there is no telling how much more damage Sharon might have done to Israel's security and how many thousands of Jewish residents he may have uprooted from their homes. It is a bitter historical irony that Sharon, the general who helped save Israel from defeat in several wars, became a Prime Minister who inflicted ethnic cleansing on his own people, forcibly removing Jewish families from their homes.

Yitzhak Shamir was a man of principle, in stark contrast to Israeli Prime Ministers Shimon Peres, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu. Ariel Sharon will always be a seminal figure in Israeli and Jewish history but his ultimate legacy is that he betrayed his most cherished principles and he betrayed the voters who elected him because they believed that he would uphold those very principles.

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