Sharon and Paisley shared a belief that their people were chosen by God
American sermons related plight of Northern Protestants to that of Old Testament Jews
This land is our land: Dr Paisley at an Independent Orange Order demonstration at Ballycastle, Co Antrim in 1985. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh
Ariel Sharon and Ian Paisley shared more than bulkiness and belligerence. Each based his ideology on books of the Bible – the fundamental reason neither could contemplate compromise or regard enemies as equals.
The first five books loomed large in each of their ideologies. (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy constitute the Torah.)
Sharon will have been mindful of: “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said: To your descendants I give this land . . . the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.” (Genesis 15:18-21).
To put it more colloquially – ignore the fact that other peoples live there, it’s yours. Covers a multitude of what most others would regard as sins.
Likewise, Dr Paisley’s fierce if futile determination to save Ulster from sodomy: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it. It is perversion.” (Leviticus 18:22-24).
Obituaries of Sharon and Paisley retrospectives arising from the BBC programmes fronted by Eamonn Mallie have downplayed the centrality of ancient scripture to their political actions and beliefs.
Sharon’s ruthless determination to cleanse the land of Israel of Palestinians was not rooted in analysis of contemporary reality – he didn’t see it primarily as a necessary response to anti-Semitism in the wider world, or to the Holocaust – but in the first instance as a duty conferred on the Jewish people by Yahweh.
Many critical analyses over the last few days of Sharon’s role in the establishment and consolidation of Israel have pointed to his leadership of the “special forces” group Unit 101 in the slaughter of scores of Palestinian civilians, including whole families, as they huddled in terror in their homes in the West Bank (as it is now) village of Qibya in October 1953.
The massacre was undertaken as retaliation for the killing by Palestinians of a Jewish mother and her two children. Sharon will have believed as he went about his work that he was wielding the sword of God – and will have had the same sense of righteousness when supervising the Phalangists’ pitiless butchery of more than 2,000 Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon in 1982.
This is not to suggest that religion can completely explain the ferocity of conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else. And Zionism isn’t the only religious ideology in play in the region. The point is no explanation of Sharon’s career can be complete without reference to the religious coloration of his political creed. It is said that, personally, he wasn’t particularly pious, but it was ultimately in religion that his actions found validation.