Following Nelson Mandela’s death last month, world leaders and the international media continue to praise him highlighting his ability to forgive. With the exception of a few who tried to tarnish his memory as a terrorist, Mandela the Forgiver was the title posthumously bestowed upon him. Mandela the Revolutionary, who was ready and willing to embrace armed struggle against the Apartheid state of South Africa was conveniently erased from the historical narrative, as was his solidarity with other oppressed people, such as the Palestinians. Interestingly, it seems history is again in the process of being rewritten, as the tributes flood in for the former Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon.
Obama, Cameron, Ban Ki Moon and Putin have collectively praised Sharon for his ‘brave peace-making’ decisions. The large majority of the 85 years Sharon lived was spent not in the pursuit of peace as the media and statesmen of today would have us believe but inextricably linked to the contentious creation of the state of Israel. He was a staunch defender of Israeli settlements designed to make a viable Palestinian state a redundant possibility. His invasion of Lebanon in 1982 led to the subsequent massacre of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila which has curiously been described by world leaders as merely controversial; this is all in spite of an Israeli court finding Sharon indirectly responsible for the murder of Palestinian refugees and Lebanese Muslims.
The withdrawal of Israeli settlements from Gaza, which continues to be bombarded and strangled by the Israelis, has been used to absolve Sharon of the war crimes charges he never faced. Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, said, “It’s a shame that Sharon has gone to his grave without facing justice for his role in Sabra and Shatila and other abuses.” To add insult to injury, the eulogies of Western statesmen are a betrayal to those murdered in 1982 and a slur on the notion of justice. This is exemplified by Obama’s unsurprising reinforced commitment to Israel, which only serves to illustrate the real meaning of peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The disappointingly similar reactions to the death of Mandela and Sharon also demonstrate how easy it is to fashion history to serve the status quo. The historical narrative of Mandela as a revolutionary freedom fighter has no place in a world where armed struggle by the oppressed few is condemned; and so forgiveness becomes the word of the day – sending a message to the countless people in the world suffering oppression and frightening abuses of human rights that they should merely forgive and forget. Ironically, it makes sense that Sharon would be praised for his unwavering commitment to Israel by the architects of the war on terror. As Israel said goodbye to their ‘hero’, the man they fondly called the ‘bulldozer’ (whilst those on the receiving end of his wrath referred to him as ‘the butcher’), rather fittingly Tony Blair donned a kippah and made an emotional speech at the memorial service.
The irony won’t be lost on the thinking masses who have observed that after the outpouring of praise and admiration for one man who fought and helped to dismantle one apartheid state, a month later those same statesmen are heaping praise on another many consider to be an architect of another apartheid, for it was under Sharon that the West bank ‘separation barrier’ was built.
As for the Palestinians, their position is quite obvious, as a former Palestinian intelligence officer said, “He wanted to kill us, but at the end of the day, Sharon is dead and the Palestinian people are alive.”