Op-Ed: Covering Ariel Sharon's 2001-06 Term as Prime Minister
Uri Dan lit a cigarette, looked down, and began to cry. In 25 years of working with reporters, I had rarely seen a reporter in tears.
“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones”. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony eulogizing Julius Caesar
As a newsman who reported during the years 2001-2006, for the weekly Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon and Front Page Magazine, and as a news escort for more than a dozen foreign media outlets, I covered the five years during which Ariel Sharon served as the prime minister of Israel, just as the metamorphosis of Ariel Sharon was taking place,
Ariel Sharon, the builder of Jewish communities in Gush Katif, Judea and Samaria was transformed into Ariel Sharon, the destroyer of Gush Katif, the man who was set to dismantle more than eighty Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria, the Jordan valley and the Hills of Hevron - had he not be felled by a debilitating stroke, exactly eight years ago.
In order to gain perspective on what happened to Sharon, I called Uri Dan, of blessed memory, a veteran reporter for Israel's biggest daily newspaper, Yediot Aharonot. Uri Dan worked closely with Sharon for more than fifty years, was his good friend, and was often described as the mouthpiece for Sharon in the media.
My query to Uri Dan focused on the phenomenon that Sharon was the very man who had conceptualized the strategic importance of Gush Katif and the IDF bases in southern Gaza as a buffer zone with Egypt. Ariel Sharon was also the man who spent a good part of his career in politics building Jewish communities throughout Judea, Samaria, the Jordan valley and the Hills of Hevron.
Why, then, would Sharon suddenly advocate a quick, sweeping retreat from Gaza, the removal of all sensitive IDF positions and the demolition of 21 thriving Katif communities, along with four stable Jewish communities in Northern Samaria?
In April 2005, only four months before Sharon's IDF retreat and the forcible removal of the Katif Bloc residents and the four communities in the north, Uri Dan finally responded to many months of incessant calls. Uri invited me to lunch at a restaurant near his home, just before Passover. .
The last time that I had met with Uri Dan, was at his house, only two years before, when I was helping a visiting TV crew prepare a short documentary on the 30th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. Uri proudly displayed albums of news coverage that he had compiled which portrayed Arik Sharon's pivotal role in the Yom Kippur War, reporting every aspect of Sharon's accomplishments during that war and since..
As we sat down for lunch, I repeated the question to Uri: What happened to Arik? Why was he so determined, all of a sudden, to switch gears?
Uri lit a cigarette, looked down, and began to cry. In 25 years of working with reporters, I had rarely seen a reporter in tears.
Uri spoke softly, slowly, sadly and clearly, “Arik has abandoned everything that he believes in. He barely speaks to me now. He relies on Dov Weissglass and his friends in the Palestinian Authority. They are the ones who now have Arik's ear”.
Indeed, Dov Weissglass, lawyer for business interests of the nascent Palestinian Authority and a prominent investor in the Palestinian Jericho Casino, was the man whom Sharon hired as the Director General of the Prime Minister's Office after his second electoral victory in January 2003..
Weissglass had assured the Israel Civil Service Commission that he had closed connections to his law office. However, our examination at the time of publicly available Israel Corporate Authority records showed that he had owned four law firms, that he had closed two law firms and kept two law firms functioning, enabling Weissglass to continue his representation of Palestinian business interests throughout his service under Sharon.
What Uri Dan termed the “new flock of advisers” included Weissglass and the other people who met at Sharon's farm to launch the new policy of obliterating Jewish communities and ordering a retreat of Israeli troops from Gaza, abandonment of strategic military positions along the Gaza coast, and the expulsion/destruction of the Jewish communities of Katif and the four Jewish communities in Northern Shomron.
Sharon circumvented the Israeli political system by announcing the Gaza withdrawal process as a fait accompli in February, 2004 to the US government and to American Jewish organizations - more than four months before the Israeli government approved any such policy.
Sharon hired an expensive public relations firm that coined the deceptive word “disengagement” amd that planted daily news items in the Israeli media which alleged that residents in the Jewish communities that were about to be removed were planning to kill Sharon and other members of his government. To this day, it is not known who paid for the PR company engaged by Sharon. Workers at the Prime Minister's Office witnessed the PR firm being paid in cash. The various watchdog organizations which are supposed to monitor Israel government corruption would not touch the subject.
Sharon's PR firm initiated a systematic campaign that demonized any and all people who declared their intention to oppose the planned retreat and expulsion. Israel government TV and radio outlets reported, almost on a daily basis, that Katif and /Sam aria residents planned to conduct wild acts of arson and violence against the government officials and against the personnel from the IDF and various Israeli law enforcement agencies.
The IDF adopted demonization as policy, issuing manuals and conducting training sessions to prepare the IDF and the police to engage in the removal of peaceful Jewish families from their homes, farms and communities. In these training sessions, police and soldiers were instructed to relate the families who had purchased homes ten, twenty and thirty years ago as if they were “squatters”.
Sharon announced that any Jewish community that would voluntarily move out would be treated to full compensation and better treatment.
The Peot Sadeh farming community in Katif took Sharon at his word, and voluntarily dismantled their community and moved into Kibbutz Miflasim, north of Katif, only to discover that nothing was ready for them - a fate which met all of the families expelled in August.
Meanwhile there was concern in Israel that there would be a great expense involved in the entire process. However, on July 12, 2005 a senior member in Sharon's government – Shimon Peres – told Globes, Israel's leading business newspaper, that the US would provide two billion dollars to Israel to underwrite the withdrawal process. .
Israel government broadcasting authority radio and TV outlets reported for the next few weeks that the US was picking up the cost .
One phone call to the US Dept. of the Treasury showed that no such US allocation was being made.
Sharon's government and Sharon personally assured every Jewish organization that the people who would be removed from their homes in Katif and Samaria would be taken care of.
Weissglass and Housing Minister Yitzhak Herzog told the Conference of Major Jewish Organizations in a conference call three days before their expulsions that every family had a home and job waiting for them.
After the expulsions, when it was clear that few arrangements had been made for the people who overnight had lost their homes and livelihood, Ariel Sharon personally stepped in to stop delegations of wealthy Jews from donating large sums of money for the rehabilitation of Katif and Samaria families.
At the Israel High Court of Justice, when Katif families pleaded with the Israeli legal system to delay their removal until appropriate facilities could be set up, Sharon's government presented a memo to the court, claiming that all humanitarian concerns of all the communities were taken care of, and that new homes and new jobs were waiting each family that was about to be removed from their homes. The court believed Sharon. The report was, as was subsequently seen, simply not true.
How did Ariel Sharon himself explain his new policy? Sharon made very few public appearances. Rabbi Shaar Yashuv Cohen, chief Rabbi of Haifa, who had known and worked with Ariel Sharon since the 1948 war, met with Sharon just before the expulsions and retreat of the IDF was set to begin. Rabbi Cohen reported that Sharon pulled out a memo from US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, which contained “orders” from the US government to immediately expel the Jews of Katif and Samaria, as promised. But who allowed him to "promise"?
What about the security dangers in the withdrawal of IDF troops from key positions in Gaza? The former commander of the IDF Gaza division put it simply: “we were never consulted”.
As a direct result of the removal of IDF positions along the Gaza coast, security sources confirm that Israel was no longer capable of spotting and detecting rafts that supplied weapons and missile parts, delivered by sea.
Meanwhile, there was a strong legal clause that was amended to the retreat/expulsion law, on June 6, 2004, which forbade Israel from handing over assets of people from Katif to terrorist groups.
However, on June 23, 2004, the Sharon government signed an agreement to hand over remaining Katif assets to the World Bank, and removed the clause that forbade handover of assets to terrorists.
Meanwhile, open sources in the PA media - newspapers, websites, and official documents - throughout the Spring and Summer of 2005 - reported that Abbas and other key officials of the PA promised that the PA would indeed handover abandoned Katif areas to organizations defined by the US, Canada, Australia and the EU as terrorist organizations.
Another problematic issue was the conflict of interest that remained a part and parcel of the Gaza withdrawal process.
Sharon chose Eival Giladi as the man to coordinate the retreat and expulsions from Gaza, even though Giladi was the head of Portland Trust, which was advancing Arab economic interests in Gaza.
The Israeli Knesset Government Controls Committee, chaired by the late MK Yuri Shtern, issued a directive to the Israel State Comptroller to investigate the appointment and potential conflict of interests in the appointment of Eival Giladi to his position. That investigation was never carried out. Yuri Shtern died a year later, telling his friends that what he witnessed in Katif had caused him to succumb to a fatal illness.
To his credit, Ariel Sharon offered to hold a referendum on his new withdrawal policy. Ariel Sharon initiated the referendum among Likud voters, in a vote that was held on May 2, 2004.
62% of the Likud members opposed the Gaza withdrawal. Sharon announced almost immediately taht the results of the referendum did not bind him
What are implications of the Sharon Gaza withdrawal for future generations?
Israeli Law Professor Eliav Schochetman warned that, if carried out, the Israeli government expulsion of a selected ethnic group would set a dangerous precedent whereby the government of Israel remove human rights from any given ethnic group, defying Israel's own Basic Law which protected civil liberties, in violation of The Universal Declaration of Human rights.
Ariel Sharon had an opportunity to redeem some honor from the Gaza withdrawal process.
The US government offered to protect the synagogues that were abandoned in Katif, to safeguard these holy places from arson. There was a precedent. Since the PA took over Gaza in 1994, US security personnel have guarded the ancient synagogue in Gaza from being vandalized.
In addition to the US, Moslem Authorities in Gaza were involved in the process to save and protect the synagogues in Katif, The Catholic Church was also involved. However, the Vatican ambassador said that everything depended on approval from Ariel Sharon, who said that he would not step in to protect the synagogues from being destroyed.
A few days later, the synagogues of Gush Katif were vandalized and burned to the ground.
What is, then, will be Ariel Sharon's lasting legacy?
The creation of a terror entity in Gaza.
Koby Harish, Sharon's trusted driver for more than ten years, now serves as the chief of security officer for Israel's Western Negev region. He confirms that since the Sharon Gaza Withdrawals in 2005, Arabs have launched 25,000 aerial attacks from their Gaza launching pad – with no end in sight.
Background Sources : ARIEL SHARON
Israel Resource Review
Shocking Conclusions From Inquiry Over Gaza Expulsions
The February 2005 Israel government approved retreat map
How Sharon won: Business interests override concerns for security
Analysis: The inside story of why the Gush Katif synagogues were destroyed
Israel Government decision ignored by Sharon: No assets for terrorists
Open Sources in the Palestinian Authority Confirm:
Palestinian Authority Brings Hamas into Power in Gaza - despite Israeli legal constraints against assets for Palestinians "involved in terror"
Israel Military Intelligence Warns That Disengagement Would be Viewed As a Victory for Terror
Israel Spawns Terror Base For The Enemy
Does Disengagement Mean a Future of Terror? - An Assessment with General Amidror and Col. Rinsky
The Jericho Casino: Why the IDF Chief of Staff was Fired
Disclosed: Weissglass Maintains His Business and Law Firm
Rubbing Elbows with Arafat
Sharon's Top Advisor Represents "Business Interests" of the Palestinian Authority
Dov Weissglass - "Consiglieri" of the State of Israel
Was Disengagement Plan Formulated to Escape Sharon Corruption Probe? A New Book Provides Fresh Documentation
Knesset Investigation of PM Appointee to Coordinate Disengagement Policies
Eival Giladi's Appointments: to the PM office and to the Portland Trust
Eival Giladi, in charge of Disengagement, for the Prime Minister, Maintains a Personal Financial Stake in the Palestinian Economy in Gaza
FRONT PAGE MAGAZINE
An Unquiet Peace Published: Monday, February 14, 2005
Hudna, Hamas and the Continuation of the Armed Struggle Published: Dec 08, 2004
Schools of Darkness Published: Wednesday, September 01, 2004
News Investigations Conducted by David Bedein emanate from contributions to his agency that are tax deductible in Israel, the US, Canada and the UK