In what has to be the most innovative defense against a major crime since the famous "Twinkie Defense" in San Francisco, Ariel Sharon and his mass media defenders have launched a campaign that circumvents dealing with 'the facts of the case'. To get things off the ground, Fergal Keane, the producer of the recent BBC Panorama documentary that investigated Sharon's role in the 1982 massacre at Sabra and Shatila, is being charged with anti-Semitism. To this outrageous canard, Keane vigorously defended his work by stating the obvious: "The investigation of human rights abuses and the notion of accountability for such abuse is recognized by all civilized states as a fundamental moral and legal obligation. With questions now being asked in France over the behavior of its generals in Algeria, a former U.S. presidential candidate forced to explain his actions in the Vietnam War, not to mention the case of General Pinochet …the debate over war crimes has never been more relevant".
The Belgian law suit filed by Sabra and Shatila survivors is being ignored by the New York Times Publishing company which has chosen to shower unabashed editorial affection on Sharon for 'his restraint'. Both the Times and Boston Globe had laudatory editorials praising the Israeli Prime Minister on the eve of his second visit to the Bush White House. In Sulzberger's empire, no Israeli leader is ever guilty of any crime greater than 'excessive restraint'.
Other Sharon partisans in the media have launched a defense based on the 'timing' of the lawsuit, completely ignoring the merits of the allegations. Their line of reasoning is that this particular war crime is "too old". So, "why bring it up now?" Justice delayed is being marketed as 'proof on innocence', since there is nothing 'new in the case'. Except, of course, that the Palestinian and Lebanese victims have yet to see a single individual charged with any crime related to the three day orgy of murder and mayhem that resulted in as many as two thousand innocent casualties. Besides, there are no statute of limitations for war crimes and murder.
Following the media blitz to clean up Sharon's criminal past, there was a major parade of character witnesses. Tony Blair gave Sharon a warm embrace at his Downing Street official residence, just a week after watching the details of the massacre on the BBC. If Tony doesn't think Sharon did anything wrong, he must be innocent. What kind of British food do you serve an Israeli war criminal and is it Kosher? Now Sharon is off to another love feast with George Bush, no doubt angling for the privilege of an invitation to 'The Ranch'.
The Sharon partisans keep saying it was the Phalangists who actually did the killing and that Sharon had no clue as to savagery that was taking place in the camps, even though the Israeli army had both camps encircled and provided night flares to the killers. What exactly happened to Israel's vaunted intelligence services that had a six-story observation post with a direct line of vision into the camps? The whole of West Beirut was under Sharon's command. Why did the Israeli army fail to arrest any of the killers once they were done with their business? Why did they collaborate in trying to bury the evidence using IDF bulldozers? What of the soldiers who sent back camp residents attempting to flee the carnage to certain slaughter?
Sharon knew exactly what he was doing in Sabra and Shatila. Morris Draper, a senior American diplomat, explicitly warned him against allowing the Phalangist militias into the undefended camps. Speaking to the BBC he stated that "You'd have to be appallingly ignorant" not to expect a bloodbath. Other international 'war crime' experts who spoke to the BBC, including Richard Falk, a professor of international law at Princeton, agree that Sharon and other Israeli military leaders are indictable for war crimes committed at Sabra and Shatila.
The Israel Firsters are adamant that the Kahane commission has adequately addressed all these questions. Does anyone seriously believe that Begin, a war criminal himself, who was fully complicit in the invasion of Lebanon and the siege of Beirut, would have approved anything but a white wash of his Defense minister? What exactly was in the 'secret' part of the Kahane commission report? Why is it still secret when the crime is so 'old'?
The Israelis and their American Jewish allies are so proud of themselves for having sanitized Sharon's murderous orgy at Sabra and Shatila. Sharon was elected with the expectation that he would continue his crime spree to teach the Palestinians a lesson about the price of asking for the 'right to return'? The Israeli government investigated the crime, under intense international and domestic pressure, and Sharon was demoted from Defense minister to a 'lesser' cabinet position. That's Israeli justice for you. And that is why there is a need for Belgian courts to determine the extent of guilt and the appropriate punishment.
Does any Israeli still recall the Eichman case? Well the lawyers for the Palestinians and Lebanese victims of Sabra and Shatila do. As they point out "It is worth remembering that Israel invoked universal customary law when it tried Eichman for war crimes, and this case, and that of Demjanjuk in the US, and others, are cited at length in the complaint". So, let no one pretend that there are no legal precedents. Pinochet was recovering in a British hospital, which put him in the grasp of an enterprising Spanish judge and sent shivers down the spine of every war criminal in the world.
Another 'Twinkie' objection to the Belgian trial is that only Israelis are being charged, though others were involved in the crime. Well that is just pure nonsense. Chibli Mallat, one of the lawyers filing the case, has explicitly stated the obvious. "The complaint is filed againt Ariel Sharon, Amos Yaron and any Israeli or Lebanese person responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes that happened between the 16th and 18th of September. Including the killing, torture, rape and "disappearance" of from 1000 to 3500 civilians - children and women as well as men, Lebanese as well as Palestinians".
One last nail in the coffin of Sharon's apologists is Qibya. There were no Phalangists at Qibya. The only killers on the scene were Sharon and Israeli soldiers under his command. There is no plausible deniability for Qibya. The Sabra and Shatila massacres were not an aberration. Sharon fights dirty in every little war. That is why we need to haul him in front of a Belgian judge, to get a taste of long delayed justice.
Ahmed Amr is the editor of NileMedia.com. This article can be published and distributed at will.