Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli defense minister, leaned toward the courtroom microphone and spoke in low tones: "In war you have sometimes civilian casualties. I don't know of almost any war you don't have civilian casualties."
In his second day of testimony here in the $50 million libel suit he has brought against Time magazine, Sharon talked about how the French had "carpet-bombed" their own population in the D-Day landings and how British fliers in World War II had shelled a schoolhouse near Copenhagen, killing 100 children, as the planes tried to hit German field headquarters.
"Wars are terrible things," Sharon, now the minister of industry and commerce, told a federal jury. "I participated in all the wars from Israel and believe me, I know the horrors."
Sharon has charged Time with committing a "blood libel against the Jewish people" in a February 1983 article that suggested he had inspired Lebanese Christian Phalangist militiamen, allies of Israel, to massacre more than 700 civilians in two Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut in 1982.
Apparently trying to dispel a reputation for ruthlessness among his adversaries in Israel and in western media accounts, Sharon portrayed himself as a general who had endured the agonies of war only for the sake of a higher goal of peace.
Recalling the Suez battlefield scene in the October 1973 war, Sharon said: "Looking around there I saw something that I had never seen in my life, the most terrible scene, hundreds of our soldiers lying dead together with hundreds of Egyptian soldiers, many times bodies mixed together. . . .
"Maybe that symbolizes what happened later because as a result of that crossing of the Suez canal . . . that brought later that historic day when the late president Anwar Sadat arrived to Israel."
But there were also flashes of Sharon's combative style in his testimony today -- for instance, the sudden rise of anger as he rebuked Time for an article it had written when he led Israeli forces in a raid against the West Bank Palestinian village of Kibyia more than 30 years ago.
U.S. District Court Judge Abraham D. Sofaer said the article was irrelevant to the trial and accused Sharon and his lawyer, Milton S. Gould, of dragging it into the proceedings to buttress their claims that the magazine has an anti-Semitic bias. Sofaer reminded them that he had specifically foreclosed that intention as a germane issue in this case.
"I can begin to see now in this case that I can't trust you," the judge told Sharon and Gould.