Part Man, Part Machine, All Occupier

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In Jerusalem, a terminally wounded Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon returns as a cyborg with memories of massacres haunting him.

In Hadassah Hospital, where Ariel Sharon lies vastly, traditional prognostic categories won't do. Words like 'stable' and 'critical', presumably deemed inadequate to his Ozymandian stature, are mere adjuncts to hysterically precise descriptions of the rotund butcher's every mindless spasm and fart.

His eyelid twitched. 'He was listening to a tape of his grandson,' a doctor pronounced, 'and you could see tears in his eyes.' The carefully anonymous doctor poured out this schmaltz-chum like a man fishing for moron-sharks, and they came in their thousands, with headlines about hope, and blinking, and grandsons, and tears, and bravery ('Ariel's Tear Lifts Hopes' - the New York Post. Whose hopes, and which?).

But then sudden controversy - a hospital spokesperson denied that the enormous murderer had blinked after all. Carefully negotiating this new crisis, reporters stressed that the significance of the blinking was 'unclear', or that doctors were 'cautious' about optimism in the face of the utterly random neuronal fizz.

Many people have noted the extreme disinclination of his doctors to proclaim Sharon's days of carefree slaughter over. It's often assumed that this is out of anxiety about the political situation, but there is another possibility - and it's the only one that makes sense given Sharon's history.

The recent spew of mawkishness is only the culmination of Sharon's rehabilitation. A key moment of this was Bush's description of Sharon as a 'man of peace', and Blair's endorsement of that. There have been hiccups on the way - Sharon's demand that French Jews move to Israel, for example, rather made his backers cringe - but mostly our rulers see, hear and speak no evil about this Olympic-standard killer.

In fact Sharon, an early practitioner of ostentatious mass death of the kind that would later be termed 'shock and awe', has left a bodycount too impressive to be completely ignored. Mention of it has even crept into the mainstream media. His deliberate massacre of civilians in Qibya in 1953, his masterminding the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 with its thousands of dead, and most famously his responsibility for the slaughter in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps are all common knowledge. So the pre-posthumous hagiography has to take another route.

Instead of trying to ignore the pile of corpses in the room, liberals ballyhoo Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza, supposedly his Damascene moment. Perfect examples of this are recent articles by Israeli 'peaceniks' (and how tragically degraded is the language that this is the agreed term) Amos Oz and David Grossman in the Guardian. Both stress Sharon's 'amazing' and 'mysterious' metamorphosis into a force for peace and reconciliation (Grossman was at a pace leisurely enough to indulge in his typical sentimental and essentialist wittering about 'Jewish fears' and Biblical heroes).

What makes these credulous maunderings so risible is that Sharon's own allies are quite open about the real nature of the Gaza withdrawal. In an interview in the Israeli journal Ha'aretz, Sharon's close advisor Dov Weisglass gleefully explained that the 'disengagement' was 'formaldehyde for the peace process', and that Sharon had forestalled the creation of a Palestinian state.

Whatever happens - and the best-laid occupation does have a habit of going arse over tip - it shouldn't even be controversial that, far from representing some ideological break, Sharon's actions in Gaza were a calculated stratagem based on his lifelong racism, intransigence and particularly brutal Zionism.

With this continuity in mind, the doctors' refusal to draw the sheet over his face makes sense. Because if ever there was a man who would refuse to allow death to get in the way of oppressing Palestinians, Sharon is that man.

With all the money poured by the US taxpayer into the Israeli military, there must be considerably more than $6 million to spare. As they said of Steve Austin, 'We have the technology.' Sharon is not dying - he's being upgraded.

A few months from now, a group of youths will be throwing stones at the Israeli Defence Forces and, out of nowhere, venting exhaust, oil and cordite, will come something part man, part machine, all occupier. The ultimate Israeli premier - Ariel Sharon 2.0.

His bulk will rise from a bulldozer chassis - built by Caterpillar, of course, logo neatly visible. He will bristle with rifles, and an exoskeleton to facilitate demolitions. His face will be augmented with radar, rangefinder and infrared. He'll cheat his own death, to continue dishing it out to others. Right now, somewhere in a bunker under the West Bank, Israeli military doctors are watching Robocop and taking notes.

Some readers won't believe that Sharon could be turned into a Zionist cyborg (a Zi-borg?). But it's not one whit less absurd than to suggest that he has been transmogrified into a man of peace, and plenty of people seem to believe that. Why is this any less likely?

After all, it's what he would've wanted.


China MiƩville is an award-winning fantasy writer