The death of Ariel Sharon last week, after almost eight years on life support, once again reminded all of the creation of Israel, in the British Mandated Territory of Palestine, for though Sharon was Prime Minister of Israel when he suffered the stroke which led to his being put on life support, he rose to prominence in 1948, when Israel was created, when he began a military career for the Zionist entity by massacring Palestinians. He was 20 at that time, and became a paratrooper, a commando, who had risen to the rank of general by the time of the Ramadan War of 1973.

However, it was as Defence Minister that he won his greatest fame, in 1982, while supervising the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The Israeli Army allowed Phalangist troops (Lebanese Christians) to slaughter 3000 Palestinians, including women and children, in the refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila. He became known as the Butcher of Beirut for that. The Israeli Commission set up to investigate, held Sharon responsible, and recommended his resignation, though not his trial. He did resign, but became Prime Minister in 2000, a post he held until his stroke in 2006.

His death may have provided a slight distraction for Pakistanis from the treason trial of another commando, Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf, but it also served as a reminder that Musharraf had tried at that time to build relations with Israel. However, that policy was a nonstarter, and Musharraf did not follow up on his initial courtship of Zionists, which had encompassed an address to the World Jewish Congress, at a time when his fellow commando was well and Prime Minister.

It is perhaps an irony that the Western media is portraying Sharon, whose lifetime was devoted to murdering Palestinians, as a peacemaker. At the same time, he is credited with being a firm defender of Israeli security. This is a roundabout admission of the need of the Zionist entity to come to an arrangement with the Palestinian people if it wishes to gain peace. Though Sharon is no more, and has been off the scene for nearly eight years, his party is in power, and is as committed as he was to increasing the number of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, as well as expanding existing ones. Indeed, Sharon was so anxious on this score, that the first ministerial portfolio he took was Agriculture, where he would have oversight over the settlements.

That Sharon, who was always at the heart of any Zionist provocation, whether it be the establishment of Israel, the slaughter of Palestinians or the settlements, should be portrayed as a harbinger of peace, is not just the whitewashing of a dead man’s reputation, but also a reflection of how a peacemaker is needed nowadays. Sharon’s party, Likud, has proven more harmful than helpful with Benjamin Netanyahu at its head. Though the Israeli lobby is supreme in Washington, as illustrated by its interference in the 2012 US presidential election in favour of Republican nominee Mitt Romney, and by its getting away with this with impunity, it still faces pressure over the West Bank settlements and the obstacle they place in the way of the long-sought American goal of brokering peace. There is now need for Israeli figures in favour of a settlement, and Sharon is conveniently dead, and thus not in a position to deny any views that might be ascribed to him.

Seen within a wider context. Sharon might be seen as the heir of those in the Holy Quran spoken of as the Chosen People, but from the Almighty himself withdrew His Covenant, after their constant disobedience to his commands. The son of Georgian Jews who had migrated to Palestine, he was more firmly symbolic of the new state, as he had been so prominent in its creation.

For Pakistanis, he is thus a reminder of Pakistan’s own creation, which had just taken place. Just before Independence, while returning from the UK, Quaid-e-Azam had visited Palestine, and thus took an interest in developments there. Sharon was thus not so much as an Israeli symbol, as one for the entire Muslim world, as one who wanted to reverse Palestine’s status as a Muslim land. Pakistan did not show so much activity in the Palestine issue in 1948 because it saw the application of the case to the Kashmir issue, which had just emerged, but because the Palestinian issue is one which affects all the Muslims of the world. As then the most populous Muslim country, Pakistan could not stand aside, and it has been an issue that has been seminal not just in keeping Muslim sentiments on the boil, but also in the rise of political Islam. Sharon might not be alone in representing the worst face of expansionist Zionism, which views Palestine as the Promised Land for a very small section of Mankind, as he got a lot of Israeli votes during his political career. However, he was easily one of its most recognizable figures. That the USA is not very good at making political settlements has been shown in South Sudan, torn from Sudan with much fanfare, but now subsiding into violent tribalistic chaos.

The Palestinian people have predicated their position on national self-determination, and the fact that they have been expelled from their land. However, that does not suffice to explain the importance of the Palestine issue to the entire Muslim world. There is also the question of Jerusalem. However, there are wider Muslim-Christian issues at stake. The West, nominally Christian but increasingly paganized, has shifted in its basis for supporting Israel. In the 19th century, France and Russia intervened in the region in the name of Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem. In the 20th, it was Mid-East oil. Of course, the underlying theme of interest in keeping the Suez Canal open (and in Anglo-French hands) persisted until 1956, when Egypt nationalised it.

Ariel Sharon was part of this era, when the Zionist movement, the product of the Ashkenazim (European Jewish) interaction with Europe, took advantage of a historical moment. The USA needed a policeman in the region which had become important because of its oil. There was also the guilt of the whole of Europe at the Holocaust. In what can only be seen as a bizarre turn of events, Sharon, the son of Jewish immigrants from a Czarist empire, from one of the precursors of Nazi Germany, symbolized the triumph of Zionism. However, his life should tell all Pakistanis, indeed all Muslims, that there is a lot of work to be done as yet.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.

Email:maniazi@nation.com.pk