King Arik Miller, Miller, and Zetouni: Sharon: Israel's Warrior-Politician
Books generally are written by a single writer, for good reason it seems. Here, in a biography of Ariel Sharon produced by a trio, we would assume that each team member was chosen for his/her expertise on some salient aspect of the subject's personal history. But can we expect a man with a formidable name as soldier and politician to be portrayed adequately by three writers whose literary feats hitherto comprise "a bibliography of Arnold Benett's journalism," "a political play," and having "written extensively on art history"? What does any of them know of Israeli politics or warfare? This is no mere rhetorical question: Their glaring ignorance of the rudimentaries of both is evident throughout the book, as I will show.
First, how did the trio share out their task? Was each allotted separate chapters that then were sewn together like a quilt? If so, they could have used a fourth partner to check on the threads of continuity. Inevitably, an account such as this must parade scores of secondary figures unfamiliar to any but the most erudite reader. The introduction of each new character requires a thumbnail sketch, but this elementary requirement somehow managed to get overlooked. Thus, a major persona like Yossi Beilin is presented on p. 223 merely as one of "some strong Labour supporters of unilateral withdrawal [from Lebanon]"; the reader must wait until p. 430 to discover that Beilin was also "a key architect of the Oslo accords"--surely a more meaningful claim to attention.
A multiplicity of writers offers no guarantee against rudimentary spelling mistakes ("born out," p. 319) or plain bad writing (two curiously repetitive sentences on Sharon's Knesset resignation on p. 117, and the same matter reported on p. 122). Worse, there is sloppiness on vital detail: Israel signs "peace agreements" with Egypt in February and April 1974 (p. 112), but two pages later these accords become a "Disengagement of Forces Agreement" signed in Geneva on 18 January 1974. The inconsistent references are in separate chapters (16 and 17), each presumably produced by a different writer.
The book's problems owe less to mere ignorance or inattention than to a clear bias in Sharon's favor. In depicting the notorious raid on Qibya in October 1953, the appalling loss of civilian life is explained away with Sharon's excuse that "some of the families may have decided to hide in cellars" of the houses his commandos blew up (p. 35). There is no mention of the operational orders that specified his task as inflicting "the maximum in damage to life and property" or of the scandalous cover-up by then prime minister David Ben-Gurion, who, in a formal statement to the Knesset, denied straight-faced that the raid was conducted by the IDF, ascribing it to unnamed "settlers" enraged by bloody incursions of Arab infiltrators. That particular piece of creative histrionics took the sting out of Ben-Gurion's own rebuke to Sharon over the young officer's habitual lying--a reprimand significantly omitted from the book.
Sharon's role as architect of the 1982 Lebanon invasion, certainly one of the more shameful chapters in his career, rates a mere twenty pages (157-77), half of which offers his version of the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The writers' defensive tone does waver with the mild reproof that Sharon showed no "note of self-reproach or sorrow for the innocent victims." But as in the proverbial gentle slap on the wrist, Sharon's sins are toned down into minor peccadilloes, so that what others perceive as his systematic lying comes across as "misinforming" Begin (p. 162) and the Americans (p. 163).
When a mere glossing over of the facts no longer suffices, the authors do not shy away from outright distortion. The notion of imposing a "New Order" in Lebanon--Sharon's own term for the strategic aim of the invasion--is presented as a slur and attributed to Yossi Sarid, the authors adding helpfully that the New Order "was of course Adolph [sic !] Hitler's phrase for his ethnically cleaned state" (p. 434). Sharon's provocative visit to Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif) in September 2000--which triggered massive Israeli repression of Palestinian protests--is reported as occurring when "street fighting had already broken out" (p. 300)--a gross lie designed to place the blame for the violence on Palestinians.
Overall, the book offers nothing new, relying almost entirely on press archives. The authors evidently have read extensively, but their choice of sources is revealing, with a preponderance of Israeli and Western media, often the most obscure (the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Star Tribune of Minneapolis, South Florida Sun-Sentinel), while the Arab press gets little mention. Of thirty-one books quoted, just one is by an Arab. With no resort to primary sources, the book is a mere press digest, a diary of events hinging more or less on Sharon, although with virtually no attempt to scrutinize the man's psychic make-up or his ideological motivation. It is an apologetic work tailored to the demands of Sharon fans. Too many cooks have produced a very thin broth. For all his faults, and precisely on that account, Sharon deserves better.
Peretz Kidron, a freelance Jerusalem journalist and writer, is co-author with Raymonda Tawil of My Home, My Prison (Zed Books, 1984) and is active in Israeli peace and human rights groups.
Sharon: Israel's Warrior-Politician, by Anita Miller, Jordan Miller, and Sigalit Zetouni. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers and Olive Publishing, 2002. vii + 564 pages. Notes to p. 586. Bibliography to p. 591. Index to p. 613. Maps to p. 630. Acknowledgements to p. 631. $32.50 cloth.