The Amnesia That Never Came: Why Palestinian Memory Will Ink Sharon’s Final Obituary

The Butcher of Beirut escaped the gallows; he died in his dotage on what was likely a comfortable bed, under some florescent lights that never revealed the blood that was on his hands. Ariel Sharon stands out as a figure that has been so reviled, so notorious for his ruthlessness, that children often memorize his name before they can really grasp the carnage born of his wrath. My own first recollection of hearing his name came from my grandmother evoking it alongside a curse. It was before I had heard of Sabra and Shatila, or was even capable of associating a face with the name. It would take years before I understood the magnitude of his criminality, before I understood why the revulsion his name aroused was justified and, even, understated.

But obituaries have a way of pardoning even the unpardonable of their crimes. History has proven that the baleful, more often than not, die with impunity. We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again—skeptics are free to wait for the passing of Kissinger. The extent of Sharon’s transgressions are so foul that even those who wished to illustrate his legacy with kinder ink were forced to concede his hawkishness, and then attempt to infuse it with a false portrayal of Sharon as a man who heeded the call for peace in his old age. His later years have been described as a period of personal revelation where he began to see the need for a Palestinian state. Of course, it takes little effort to uncover the painfully obvious falsehoods in these claims.

It is an odd grouping of sentiments that Palestinians are left with now that Sharon has died.  There is the delight in knowing that a man who prematurely ended so many lives has himself been evacuated from his body. On the other hand, there is the immense frustration that he never had to answer for the slaughters he masterminded.  Perhaps those amongst us who are more religious can take solace in the notion of some sort of reprisal in the afterlife. But there is still a sense, more gnawing given the generous obituaries, that he not only evaded justice, but was also permitted a laundered legacy. However, what needs to be kept in mind, the real consolation, is that our memory as Palestinians has outlived every attempt at rewriting history. There was a time when even the claim of having a Palestinian identity was impugned, a time when it was considered reasonable doubt to question whether we existed. Still, we told and retold our unchanging narrative, singing it with unflinching cadence.

The re-imagining of Sharon as a controversial figure whose legacy also contains some notable positives isn’t all that troublesome to me. Not because I have faith in a retribution being imposed after death, though it’s a shame there isn’t a special hell for him to burn in. Rather, it is because I believe in the endurance of Palestinian collective memory. It has proven more lasting than propaganda and false remembering and bias editorials. We still remember the Nakba we never lived through, as our children will remember Sharon’s massacres. Memory is the military of the Palestinian people.

Below is an excerpt from an interview with a Sabra and Shatila survivor. It was collected, amongst other interviews, by Leila Shahid for the Journal of Palestine Studies. Let it stand as testament to the carnage that Sharon oversaw:

Umm Ahmad Farhat is the mother of ten children. Four of them, aged one, two, six, and thirteen, were killed, as well as her husband. Her oldest daughter, eighteen years old, is paralyzed for life. She herself got two bullets in her back but was up the day after the massacre. She makes a great effort to speak and cannot keep back her tears.

Umm Ahmad: We were sleeping in the room— my husband, eight of my children, and myself. There was also our neighbor who had come to sleep at our house because of the shelling the night before. Around 5:00 in the morning, armed men came to the house and ordered us out. We went out in our nightclothes, each carrying the nearest child. I have young children, one and two years. Once we were outside, they asked my husband his nationality. He said he was a 1948 Palestinian* and that he was a telephone repairman. He also said he was crippled in one arm. The guy raised his machine gun to strike him and insult him, calling him a “terrorist.” Then he ordered us to face the wall without looking right or left. Then they fired several rounds at us. I was carrying my son two years old. I heard him cry, “Yaba!” [father] just before his skull exploded. I got two bullets in the back of my shoulder. The traces of his brain are still on the wall— and of his little sister too, who was on the shoulder of her big sister and who also got a bullet in the head.”

Talal Alyan
Talal is a Palestinian-American writer based in Brooklyn. He tweets here.


  1. This was really powerful! Indeed there will be retribution for Sharon in the afterlife, while we use the pen as our swords to make the truth of his brutality known.

    Support from South Africa

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