BEIRUT: Lying in state outside the Israeli Parliament Sunday, Ariel Sharon was praised at home for being a military hero, while the Middle East united in condemning the former prime minister as a war criminal.
Palestinian response focused on Sharon’s role as a military commander, a politician who built settlements in the West Bank and Gaza and a defense minister that an Israeli government panel said bore indirect responsibility for the 1982 slaughter of hundreds of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
Sharon died Saturday, aged 85, after eight years in a coma. His state funeral will take place Monday.
“The Palestinian people remember today what this former prime minister did in battles and war to uproot us from our land, in particular what took place in Lebanon,” Wasel Abu Yousef, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said.
In Gaza, Hamas said that Sharon would be remembered for the pain he caused Palestinians.
“When the Palestinian people remember Sharon, they only remember pain, blood, torture, displacement and crimes,” Salah al-Bardaweel, a Hamas spokesman said in a statement. “He is a big criminal and we would never feel sorry for his death.”
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Jibril Rajub, a senior official with Fatah, also welcomed Sharon’s death, blaming him for the still-unexplained 2004 death of Yasser Arafat.
“Sharon was a criminal, responsible for the assassination of Arafat, and we would have hoped to see him appear before the International Criminal Court as a war criminal,” he said.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said it was “a shame that Sharon has gone to his grave without facing justice for his role in Sabra and Shatila and other abuses.”
At the other end of the spectrum were Western world leaders.
U.S. President Barack Obama praised Sharon as a leader who dedicated his life to his country, and said the U.S. remained committed to finding peace for Israelis and Palestinians.
“As Israel says goodbye to Prime Minister Sharon, we join with the Israeli people in honoring his commitment to his country.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised Sharon in a statement “as an Israeli patriot who served his country well.”
Throughout his life, Sharon was at the center of the most contentious episodes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, starting as a soldier fighting in the 1948 war over Israel’s creation.
In the 1950s, he led a commando unit that carried out reprisals for Arab attacks. In 1953, after the slaying of an Israeli woman and her two children, Sharon’s troops blew up more than 40 houses in Qibya, a West Bank village then ruled by Jordan, killing 69 Arabs, most or all civilians.
He fought in the Israeli-Arab wars of 1956, 1967 and 1973. He launched the 1982 invasion of Lebanon as Israel’s defense minister and was responsible for massacres against the Palestinians, the Egyptians and Lebanese throughout his political and military life.
After his dismissal as defense minister, he gradually rehabilitated himself politically. By the early 1990s, as housing minister in a right-wing government, he oversaw a massive settlement drive in the West Bank.
As opposition leader in September 2000, Sharon visited a contested Jewish-Muslim holy site in Jerusalem, setting off Palestinian protests that quickly escalated into armed uprising.
Less than a year later, he was elected prime minister. In 2002, after a string of Palestinian shootings and bomb attacks, he reoccupied West Bank towns that had been handed to Palestinian self-rule in previous interim peace deals.Sharon also placed his longtime nemesis, then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, under virtual house arrest in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
A close Arafat aide at the time, then-intelligence chief Tawfik Tirawi, said that Sharon’s death was proof that the Palestinians would prevail.
Sharon “wanted to erase the Palestinian people from the map,” Tirawi said. “He wanted to kill us, but at the end of the day, Sharon is dead and the Palestinian people are alive.”