1953 Sharon Raid Burns in Psyche
Published on Friday, January 13, 2006 by the Toronto Star
1953 Sharon Raid Burns in Psyche
75 men, women, children killed in town of Qibya 'Cannot ask God
to have mercy' on ailing Israeli PM
by Mitch Potter

QIBYA, West Bank - It was the night that put Ariel Sharon on the map and the night the fledgling Jewish state, then just a few years old, signalled in the deadliest terms it would stop at nothing to defend itself.

And for the survivors of the West Bank village of Qibya, a night that lives on in infamy. Today, as the elders of this Palestinian town crane over their radios for updates on the fate of the stricken Israeli prime minister, the searing memory of Oct. 14, 1953, burns still.

Muslim propriety prevents Ibrahim Mohammed Hamad, 63, from rejoicing in Sharon's demise. But one week after a devastating stroke, as Sharon battles back from the brink of death, Hamad finds it difficult to hear world leaders such as George W. Bush praise the ailing "man of peace" without choking on his hummus.

"As human beings, we do not make fun of the death of others," said Hamad, who was 9 years old the night Sharon's crack paratroop unit brought down his town, detonating 42 homes and a schoolhouse with 500 kilos of explosives.

"But do not think we will shed tears for Sharon. I don't know if he acted alone or on orders from above. But he did not come here to get a suntan."

With Sharon's condition gradually improving, doctors hoped yesterday to completely remove the prime minister from sedatives soon a process that could take 36 hours.

Dr. Yoram Weiss, one of Sharon's doctors, said it would take several more days to determine the extent of his brain damage, Associated Press reports.

Seventy-five Palestinian men, women and children died in what is remembered as the Qibya Massacre. And while neither Palestinians nor Israelis have ever doubted the sheer audacity of the mission, they read the moment in mutually exclusive narratives.

For Israel, the night represents prototypical payback for terror. The national myth holds that though civilians were never meant to die, the Arabs Palestinian was not yet a word Israelis could bring themselves to use had to be taught a lesson for those early Fedayeen raids that harassed innocent Israelis.

Sharon's Unit 101 provided the ruthless answer, just a few days after the killing of an Israeli mother and her two infant children in the nearby town of Yehud. And for his actions, he was rewarded with his first audience with Israel's founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.

For Palestinians, the night gave birth to the myth of Sharon the Butcher, whose hands would be reddened by complicity in other massacres, including the slaughter of Palestinians at the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla for which he was found indirectly responsible.

Sharon always denied knowing there were Palestinian innocents crouched in the houses of Qibya when his men laid waste to the town, which was then under Jordanian rule, a few kilometres from the 1948 Israeli border. In his 1989 autobiography, Warrior, he describes sending his men in to rescue Arab toddlers before each blast.

But in typically unapologetic fashion, he makes clear the purpose of the mission. "The orders were clear: Qibya was to be a lesson," Sharon wrote. "I was to inflict as many casualties as I could on the Arab home guard ... I was also to blow up every major building in town.

"A political decision had been made on the highest level. The Jordanians were to understand that Jewish blood could no longer be shed with impunity. From this moment on there would be a heavy price to pay."

Hamad dismisses Sharon's claim, remembering the night through the eyes of a terrified child. He says the only buildings razed were those with lights on. The dark, uninhabited homes, he said, were left untouched.

Hamad led us yesterday to the arch-roofed cold cellar where he huddled in 1953 with 23 others among his extended family and neighbours. When the Israeli detonation came, the house fell in on them, but their carved-stone ceiling held up, creating an air pocket. A 2-year-old girl succumbed in the night, he said, likely asphyxiated by the acrid soot and dust of the blast. But the rest survived and dug their way to freedom early the next morning, after Sharon's men had withdrawn.

Ahmed al-Bardawi, another survivor, told the Star he was guarding the town's olive crop from poachers that night when Sharon's men closed in. His weapon was seized and his hands bound with heavy cord. Bardawi managed to free himself, sustaining a rifle shot through his wrist as he fled into the terraced hillside, where he sat shivering and bleeding through the explosions to come.

"Sharon blew up our town," he said yesterday, rubbing the scar on his 75-year-old wrist. "Now God has blown up his head."

Abdul al-Hafed, 44, head of Qibya's town council, observes that the town's elderly still live with an enduring fear so acute they are reluctant to speak of the night. It wasn't until 1989, a full 36 years after the killings, that Qibya formally observed its loss, dedicating the Mosque of the Massacred to the victims.

"My great grandfather and 12 of his family were killed by Sharon's men," allows Hafed. "So we cannot ask for God to have mercy on the soul of Sharon."

But as Hafed watches his town drift into the political hands of the militant Islamic movement seven of the town's 11 seats went to Hamas in municipal voting in September, and he expects similar results from Jan. 25 national elections he wonders aloud if leaders such as Sharon aren't pre♠ferable to what the future might hold.

"As a personality, Sharon is the last of the founding generals. And the old generals knew the rules of the game," he said.

"Maybe the new generation will act more irrationally than Sharon. If they continue pushing the Palestinians into a corner, there could be a backlash of violence. And we might find people will not have the wisdom of the old generals in knowing how to stop it."

Copyright 2006 Toronto Star Newspapers Limited