There are inevitably countless obituaries of Ariel Sharon. Journalists have had plenty of time to prepare them. This selection ranges from the very short to the very long, each has a different nugget of information or insight but the main interest is which publication chooses to emphasise which aspect of ‘Arik’ Sharon.
1) Ha’aretz: Ariel Sharon: The leader who was almost de Gaulle;
2) BBC: Sharon does not leave good memories, link to brief audio judgment by Mustafa Barghouti;
3) Ha’aretz: Sharon’s lasting legacy: Proving that rabbis and settlers can be defied, Anshel Pfeffer finds the good in Sharon’s role;
4) Al Monitor: No Palestinian tears for Sharon, Daoud Kuttab provides a rare Palestinian report;
5) AFP:Sharon’s death sparks joy in Sabra, Shatila refugee camps, Ma’an carries report from Lebanon;
6) Some photos;
7) JPost: Ariel Sharon – A Bulldozer in War and Peace, the most revered and reviled of Israel’s politicians;
8- Jewish Forward: The Sharon They Loved, the Sharon We Hated, David Hazony on a leader seen differently by Israelis and diaspora Jews;
9) Al Jazeera: The world reacts to Ariel Sharon’s death, Israeli leaders praise Sharon, while Palestinians express regret he was not brought to justice before he died;
10) The Nation: How Ariel Sharon Shaped Israel’s Destiny, Max Blumenthal on a bloody career that spanned decades in which he destroyed entire cities and presided over the killing of countless civilians;
11) Independent: Ariel Sharon: Peacemaker, hero… and butcher, Robert Fisk;
12) Independent: A pragmatist who could make concessions without feeling that he was committing sacrilege , Eric Silver writes the Indie’s formal obit about the first Likud prime minister who was not reared on the muscular Zionism of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the doctrine of “both banks of the Jordan are ours”;
13) Jewish Chronicle: Obit: he created the ethos of the Israel Defence Forces and laid the backbone for her extraordinary Special Forces;
13) Ha’aretz: The reviver of the Hebrew language, written before Sharon’s death, Gideon Levy on the man who shaped Israel’s language of force and violence ;
14) Washington Post: Ariel Sharon dies at 85: Former Israeli prime minister epitomized country’s ‘Warrior’ past, Glenn Frankel stresses the pragmatism as well as the militarism in another long obit;
15) NY Times: Ariel Sharon, Israeli Hawk Who Sought Peace on His Terms, Dies at 85, an essay by Ethan Bronner, for those who really care;
Wye plantation,Maryland, 1998. Ariel Sharon refuses to shake the hand of Yasser Arafat, saying he had spent years trying to kill him. Photo by AP
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was able to do what the left wanted but never had the mandate for, but his final act remained a work in progress.
By Shlomo Avineri, Ha’aretz
January 11, 2014
The life of Ariel Sharon reflects, to a great extent, the various upheavals the State of Israel has undergone. Just as the young member of the Haganah (prestate underground army) from Kfar Malal became a glorified military commander, the driving force behind the settlement enterprise, and a symbol of Israeli aggression – manifested in the decision to launch the first Lebanon War in 1982 – Israel also went from being a David facing Goliath to a regional military power. At some point, Sharon – like the rest of Israel – came to understand the limits of power and its inherent dangers.
When Sharon shocked his Likud comrades on the eve of the 2005 disengagement from Gaza by saying that the ongoing Israeli control of the territories was bad not just for the Arabs but also for the Jews, it was clear that realism and sobriety had overcome not just the settlement ideology but the intoxication with power that had characterized post-1967 Israel.
It emerged that the cruel dialectic of politics allows only those affiliated with the right to carry out what the left wants to do but cannot. There is a great similarity here to Charles de Gaulle. While the French socialists wanted to withdraw from Algeria, they could never muster the required majority for the move. It was de Gaulle – who came to power through a military coup (something that could never happen in Israel) under the slogan “Long live French Algeria” – who put an end to 130 years of French control of the north African state, resulting in the displacement of more than a million French settlers.
From Sharon’s perspective, the disengagement constituted only the first chapter of a process that was to go much further in the West Bank, with his new party, Kadima, providing the necessary public support. The difference between the two, of course, lies in the fact that de Gaulle succeeded in implementing his policies, while Sharon’s effort was abruptly halted midstream.
What caused Sharon to change direction? First, even though he had initiated the forming of Likud, his origins were not in the Revisionist movement but in the Labor movement. Sharon was a hawk, but a security hawk, not an ideological one – even though at times he felt the need to use “Greater Land of Israel” language. Therefore, when he was convinced that an Israeli presence in Gaza was not a strategic asset but a burden, he had the emotional and moral wherewithal to make the tough decision to withdraw from the Strip and uproot the Jewish communities there, even though they had been established, in no small measure, at his initiative.
One needs considerable intellectual honesty combined with determination – if not brutality – to make such a decision.
In a deeper sense, though, a more fundamental insight lay behind the decision to go forward with the disengagement. Sharon, whose political career was almost destroyed following the first Lebanon war, learned lessons from that experience that many others failed to learn, and this was manifest in his words and deeds.
For starters, he began to understand the limits of Israeli power. Though Israel is the strongest military power in the region, it does not have the power to eliminate the Palestinian liberation movement or force the Palestinians to accept Israeli control over the territories.
Second, given the way that Lebanon war polarized the country, Sharon understood that, in the future, when Israel would face a choice of making war or making peace, it was necessary to make every effort to keep the Labor Party in the government. He did this after he was elected prime minister in 2001, giving the foreign affairs portfolio to Shimon Peres and the defense ministry to Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. His forming of Kadima also expressed his desire to establish a central force on the political map that could attract moderates from both the left and right.
Sharon’s eulogizers will spend a lot of time discussing his legacy. It’s a complicated one; the settlement enterprise in the West Bank is certainly making the negotiating process more difficult. But the Gaza withdrawal points to the only process that seemingly has a chance – painful unilateral steps that, even without an agreement with the Palestinians, Israel can take in order to reduce its control over them, even as it preserves its security and survival as a Jewish state.
Shlomo Avineri is Professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. His many books include The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx (1968), Israel and the Palestinians (1971), Hegel’s Theory of the Modern State (1972, Marx’s Socialism (1973), The Making of Modern Zionism (1981), Herzl – Theodor Herzl and the Foundation of the Jewish State (2013)
BBC audio: click headline to listen to Mustafa Barghouti’s judgment
January 12, 2014
Palestinian Legislative Council member Mustafa Barghouti said while no-one should gloat at his death, Mr Sharon had left “no good memories with Palestinians”.
In the disengagement from Gaza, Sharon – no great democrat – proved that democracy and Zionism are stronger than any rabbinical edict.
By Anshel Pfeffer, Ha’aretz
January 10, 2014
Morag, February 2002 – At the very tip of the Israeli-controlled zone in the Gaza Strip, between Rafah and Khan Younis, 30 Jewish families farm and live surrounded by circles of concrete and a ring of “preventive fire,” an infantry company, a platoon of tanks, a team of combat engineers, trackers and sniffer dogs. Overwhelming military might and a settlement creating irrevocable facts on the ground.
Tell the young believer brought up hearing teachers and rabbis say that the course of redemption will never be reversed and that those who “scheme a scheme” will be foiled. Tell the young man on the barricades who fiercely opposes the Oslo Accords and saw a hidden hand thwart that scheme and remove Rabin from this world and Peres from office. Or the reservist who, for 15 years, spent a month per year on average patrolling the alleyways of Jabalya and Dir al-Balah and around the fortified settlements of Gush Katif. Tell them that their entire reality can be transformed in one week – and that, of all people, Ariel Sharon will be the one to shatter it to pieces.
Morag, August 2005 – One morning, a battalion of air force officers arrives at the first settlement to be forcibly evacuated during the “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip. Aside from a handful of symbolic resisters, all the families are quietly removed within five hours. So many resources were poured into perpetuating the settlement; then, in one morning, it just ceased to exist.
It doesn’t matter whether Ariel Sharon carried out the disengagement from Gaza and settlement blocs in the northern West Bank because he feared international pressure, or in the hope it would provide a buffer from corruption investigations against his sons. Or because he was impressed by letters from elite Israel Defense Forces soldiers and pilots refusing to fight the Palestinians in the Second Intifada, or he believed the move would ensure a Jewish majority and perpetuate Israeli control of the West Bank. The result remains the same: He is the only Israeli leader to successfully have forced the pragmatic Zionist course of history on a large, powerful community that believed itself superior to history. Rabin, Peres, Barak and Olmert couldn’t bring themselves to do that to the religious settlers. Sharon, as prime minister and Likud leader, could.
It’s impossible to exaggerate the depth of the ideological crisis Sharon wrought on what was until then the national-religious sector. The groups that comprise that sector continue to try and present a unified front, plastering over the gaping cracks; but, in reality, the disengagement hastened the estrangement of two, three, even four separate communities, who differ in their attitudes to the state and Zionism, in their observance of halakha and subservience to their rabbis, and in their aspiration (or not) to be part of Israeli society.
Sharon’s dispassionate uprooting unintentionally exposed and rattled every individual in this group. It didn’t matter whether they believed the rabbis’ hollow promises that “it would not come to pass” and that “the people of eternity are not afraid of a long road,” or whether they had joined the protests that summer or remained at home, despite the indoctrination. Sharon ultimately forced tens of thousands of religious soldiers to show their true colors – and aside from a tiny fraction, they all continued to follow their commanders’ orders, disobeying the rabbis.
The settlers and their supporters say they “have learned the lesson of the disengagement” and will never allow a government to remove a Jewish home from the Land of Israel. But they are deluding themselves. The real lesson Sharon taught Israel is that a sovereign government headed by a determined, ruthless leader cannot be stopped. This lesson was drummed into every religious man and woman who, perhaps internally, rebelled against the hopeless future the rabbis had to offer. Sharon, no great democrat himself, proved that democracy and Zionism are stronger than any rabbinical edict and the course of redemption.
The Sharon legacy is complicated, bitter and full of moral contradictions. Few of us would choose to bring up our children in his image. But his belated refutation of the Greater Israel ethos was complete, and remains unequivocal. It will serve the future prime minister who makes the unavoidable decision to retreat from the West Bank. Sharon already proved that reality is reversible, and that no leader need fear the settlers’ threats or the rabbis’ curses.
By Daoud Kuttab, Palestine Pulse, Al Monitor
January 10, 2014
If you were to ask a 20-year-old Palestinian today about Ariel Sharon, you might be surprised how little this generation knows about him. The past eight years, in which Sharon became incapacitated, and the few years before that in which he had softened his radical stance, appear to have chipped away at the warmonger image that is still etched in the consciousness of almost every Palestinian over 25 years old.
More than any other Israeli military figure, Sharon seems to be present in every violent mark since the Nakba and creation of Israel.
He joined the Israeli army in 1948 and one of his first assignments by David Ben Gurion was in 1953 to establish Unit 101, which focused on retaliation to cross-border attacks by the Palestinian fedayeen (militants). After one such attack, Sharon’s men crossed into the Palestinian town of Qibya, then under Jordan’s rule, and killed 69 Palestinian villagers, two-thirds of whom were women and children. The Qibya massacre showed Sharon’s ruthlessness and would become a symbol of the brutal Israeli retaliations to any Palestinian resistance attacks.
The brutality of Sharon and his Unit 101 was on display again after the Israeli occupation in 1967. His unit was dispatched to the Gaza Strip specifically to root out the fedayeen from the refugee camps. People of the densely populated Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza still remember Sharon and his bulldozers as they literally widened the streets of the camp by destroying homes on both sides of the road, so that Israeli army vehicles could travel easily while they patrolled the camp to crush the resistance.
As defense minister under Menachem Begin in 1981, Sharon turned to spearheading the settlement drive in both the West Bank and Gaza. The photo most etched in older Palestinian minds is that of Sharon on a hilltop with a map, and soldiers and settler leaders around him.
But perhaps the most negative memory for Palestinians of Sharon was his relentless war on the PLO and the invasion of Lebanon, the siege of Beirut and the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982. This sealed Sharon’s image in Palestinian minds as the “Butcher of Beirut.”
Sharon’s role in the massacres of the Palestinian camps brought condemnation in Israel that eventually led to his resignation and years of political inactivity. Nevertheless, he succeeded in one event at the end of 2000 to reinvent his radical image in Palestinian eyes. Shortly after the failure of the Camp David talks between Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, Sharon made his move. His controversial visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque on Sept. 28, 2000, flanked by 1,000 Israeli troops provoked mass demonstrations that were put down violently. The killings at Al-Aqsa sparked demonstrations throughout Palestine and among Palestinians living in Israel, which ushered in the second intifada.
But Sharon was able to use the event and Barak’s failure to bring peace to return to the limelight and get elected for the first time as prime minister of Israel. In the ensuing six years, Israel under Sharon reoccupied West Bank cities and erected the controversial wall deep in Palestinian lands. But at the same time, Sharon initiated the havrada (unilateral disengagement) strategy. This concept calls for Israel to unilaterally move from areas it is not interested in, such as the Gaza Strip and some parts of the West Bank, without a peace agreement. In 2005, under Sharon’s orders, Israel’s 8,500 settlers and soldiers pulled out of the Gaza Strip without a peace agreement or any political deal with Palestinians. The plan was to be followed by similar unilateral moves in the West Bank, but only Sharon’s health prevented him to follow through.
The past eight years in which Sharon has been in a coma might have slightly mellowed the picture of the former Israeli prime minister in the eyes of some, mainly young, Palestinians. But for the majority of Palestinians, there is little that can be done to remove the image of the “Butcher of Beirut,” the architect of the settlements and the provoker at Al-Aqsa from their minds. Palestinians are not going to shed any tears for the demise of Sharon.
Palestinian refugees living in the Shatila refugee camp in the Lebanese capital of Beirut hand out sweets as they celebrate following the news of the death of former Israeli premier Ariel Sharon, on Jan. 11, 2014. Photo by Anwar Amro / AFP
Sharon’s death sparks joy in Sabra, Shatila refugee camps
By AFP/ Ma’an news
January 12, 2014
BEIRUT –Adel Makki rushed into the street in Beirut’s Shatila Palestinian refugee camp Saturday to hand out sweets when he learned of the death of Ariel Sharon, the Israeli leader Palestinians blame for a massacre of hundreds there and in the nearby Sabra camp.
“I was relieved when I found out that Sharon was dead. I think the (eight) years he spent in a coma were punishment from God for the crimes he committed,” Makki, age 19, told AFP.
Over three days, beginning on September 16, 1982, hundreds of men, women and children were massacred in Sabra and Shatila on the southern outskirts of Beirut.
Some 500 more simply vanished without a trace, among them Makki’s uncle.
Israel had invaded Lebanon three months before, and the brutal killings, the work of Israel’s Lebanese Phalangist allies, were carried out as Israeli troops surrounded the camps.
Sharon, who was defense minister at the time, was forced to resign after an Israeli commission of inquiry found he had been “indirectly responsible” for the massacres.
Ten-year-old Ahmad Khodr al-Gosh said Saturday: “I took a piece of candy because the assassin is dead. He killed hundreds of women and children. We are now relieved.”
The narrow alleyways of the impoverished Shatila camp came to life when the news broke.
People poured out of their miserable dwellings to celebrate the passing of Sharon, who died Saturday in a hospital near Tel Aviv after spending eight years in a coma.
“You want to know how I feel? I want to sing and play music, that is how,” said Umm Ali, a 65-year-old woman clad in black whose brother Mohammad died in the massacre.
“I would have liked so much to stab him to death. He would have suffered more,” she said of Sharon, as she walked slowly, linking arms with a young relative.
Many residents of Sabra and Shatila said Sharon should have been prosecuted, echoing the statements of many compatriots in the Palestinian territories and rights watchdogs.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, said “it’s a shame that Sharon has gone to his grave without facing justice for his role in Sabra and Shatila and other abuses.”
Shopkeeper Mirvat al-Amine agreed that Sharon should have been put on trial but she is also confident that he will meet divine justice.
“Of course I am happy that he is dead. I would have liked to see him go on trial before the entire world for his crimes but there is divine justice and he cannot escape that.
“The tribunal of God is more severe than any court down here,” she said.
Outside the shop Magida, aged 40, says she is still haunted by memories of the massacre.
She and her family had fled Shatila just before the killings after sensing that something was not right, she said.
They sought shelter in an adjacent park and waited.
“A neighbor joined us, her dress was covered in blood. She told us that people were being massacred in the streets,” said Magida.
“At first we could not believe it but later we began hearing screams, we heard people begging their assassins to spare them.”
When Adnan al-Moqdad heard the news about Sharon, he went to the cemetery in Sabra to pray for the soul of his mother and father, killed in the massacre.
The Moqdads were Lebanese but like many impoverished families had their home in the sprawling camps.
“How can anyone forget the massacre,” he asked. “Sharon is responsible. God is Great and he made him suffer to the end of his days and he will make his suffer after his death.”
Left to right from top: Invasion of Lebanon 1982, photo by AP; Israeli then Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Ministers Avraham Burg, Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Shamir going to the funeral of assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Cairo, 10 October 1981 photo by EPA; Sharon injured in the 1973 war – the photo became iconic 1969; Sharon as Chief of Southern Command. He demolished thousands of homes in Gaza refugee camps to open roads for anti-terror patrols and deported hundreds of young men to Jordan and Lebanon. Photo by AFP / Getty Images; the Knesset debates Sharon’s involvement in the Sabra Shatila massacre. The Knesset endorses his removal and Sharon resigns as Minister of Defence, February 1983; 1979, as Minister of Agriculture Sharon shows Minister of Justice Shmuel Tamir and U.S. Trade Ambassador Robert Strauss a map of West Bank settlements, in Israel. He presided over the consolidation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, photo by David Rubinger / Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images.
Obituary: Ariel Sharon – A Bulldozer in War and Peace
By Tovah Lazaroff, JPost
January 11, 2014
Israel’s indomitable lion Ariel Sharon, a bulldozer in war and peace, died on Saturday, eight years after suffering a massive brain hemorrhage that left him in a coma from which he never awoke.
Perhaps the most revered and often reviled of the country’s politicians, perceived alternately as a peacemaker and a warmonger, for decades his actions as a military commander and statesman shaped both Israel’s self-perception and the world’s image of the Jewish nation.
From the time he fought in Latrun as a young soldier to save Jerusalem in 1948 to his orchestration as prime minister of the Gaza pullout in August 2005, Sharon was at the center of the modern nation’s historical moments.
And like the country he served for most of his 85 years, his life was marked by controversy, deep loss, harsh defeat and miraculous victory.
Sharon was always consistent in his desire to secure Israel’s borders and was often photographed with a map in hand. During his tenure as the 11th prime minister he was determined to redraw those borders based on his vision of the new strategic and demographic concerns of the 21st century. In this pursuit he was not afraid to tear down his own physical, ideological and political works. His health failed him before the task was finished.
Strikingly, throughout his life, either or by chance or design, much of what Sharon built or cherished was lost, destroyed or tarnished. His ability to sustain loss made him fearless in his public pursuits.
Sharon the soldier had seen his friends die in battle by age 20. The family man buried one son and two wives. The gallant military leader with a white bandage across his wounded forehead played an instrumental role in capturing the Sinai desert, only to return it to Egypt years later as a politician.
The spiritual father of the settlement movement, Sharon claimed to know the driver of every crane building homes in the territories. But then, as defense minister, he was charged with the razing of the Yamit settlement in Sinai in 1982 and, as prime minister, he ordered the destruction of the Gaza settlements in 2005.
The leader of the Likud Party he had founded in 1973, Sharon catapulted it in 2003 from 19 to 40 Knesset mandates. But then, in November 2005, he crippled it by bolting to form the centrist Kadima Party, taking a host of prominent politicians from across the spectrum with him.
And as the avuncular elder statesman widely – though by no means universally – perceived to know better than his rivals how to steer Israel forward, he was well on his way to a third term in office when his stroke on January 4, 2006, halted his plans to shepherd the nation into a new dawn.
With his white hair, heavyset build, grandfatherly smile and the reading glasses that occasionally slipped down his nose, his image in his later years as well his conciliatory words belied his reputation as an authoritarian political leader and a brutal military commander.
For all the Israelis he alienated throughout his larger-thanlife career, however, he was a man generally well-liked on the most personal levels – friendly, courteous and solicitous.
Sharon never left the spotlight for long after he came to national prominence as the dashing war hero of the 1950s.
He was lauded as a master military strategist in the ’60s and ’70s. In the early ’80s as defense minister, he was blamed for the failures and excesses of the Lebanon War as well as the massacre of more than 700 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camp at the hands of Christian Phalangists.
As opposition leader in September 2000, his visit to the Temple Mount was used by the Palestinians as a pretext for the second intifada, and he was often a scapegoat for the continued conflict. Five years later, when he was felled by illness, his sudden forced departure from the political stage was perceived as a crisis for peace.
The sabra son of an immigrant Russian farmer who preferred his own counsel to the communal decisions of his neighbors, Sharon turned his own similar preference for solo leadership into a diplomatic platform of unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians as prime minister. It was a move that broke a deadlocked period in the conflict. But Sharon’s seemingly swift turnabout from the right-wing leader who coined the famous phrase “The fate of Netzarim is the fate of Tel Aviv” to one who evacuated the Gaza settlement of Netzarim, left his dizzied supporters gasping at the betrayal.
Sharon liked to describe himself first and foremost as a Jew and then as a farmer. In addressing the United Nations General Assembly in September 2005 at the pinnacle of his popularity, he said, “My first love was and remains manual labor: sowing and harvesting, the pasture, the flock and the cattle.”
Circumstances intervened, he said, and instead his life’s path led him “to be a fighter and commander in all Israel’s wars.”
Now, he told world leaders, he had a different purpose. He was reaching out to the Palestinians in “reconciliation and compromise to end the bloody conflict and embark on the path which leads to peace. I view this as my calling and my primary mission for the coming years.”
Hard-line right-wingers who had long believed the prime minister was one of their staunchest advocates felt abandoned by his sudden shift to the Center. His opponents argued that Sharon was simply an opportunist, willing to pay any price and betray any ideal in the pursuit of power. Some said his political shift was designed to deflect corruption allegations, others that he had gone soft.
But Sharon himself had long said that he was not married to one specific path or ideology.
“There is no advantage to the person who steadfastly maintains the same position over the years just for the sake of consistency,” he said, as early as 1977.
In his autobiography, Warrior, he referred to himself as a “pragmatic Zionist,” a man of action rather than words.
When he believed Jewish settlements created security, he constructed them. Persuaded that a security barrier was needed, he built that too.
Zalman Shoval, a former ambassador to the US and a long-time adviser, said Sharon was foremost “a pragmatist.”
He belonged to a small group of similar-minded soldiers- turned-statesmen such as Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak, Rabin whose primary consideration was security, rather than ideology, said Shoval. “So you never knew how they would act under certain circumstances.”
Proactive, rather than reactive, in this single-minded pursuit of his goals, Sharon pushed forward with a confident winner-take-all attitude.
Back in 1974, The Jerusalem Post predicted that this style of charging into battle would take him far.
“Arik Sharon only knows frontal attacks. That is how he fought the Arabs, that is how he captured the Likud and that is how he intends to storm and capture the State of Israel,” the Post wrote then.
It was not by chance that in the 1970s, solders in his unit were already chanting, “Arik, king of Israel.”
His longtime friend, journalist Uri Dan, said Sharon loved challenges: “When he was told a mission was impossible, that is what he wanted to do.”
Like his biblical hero, Joshua, who blew down the walls of Jericho with a ram’s horn, Sharon bulldozed his way past all military and political obstacles.
In the army, he dodged charges that he failed to follow orders and relay accurate information to his superiors. In politics, he brushed off his image as a has-been politician who attacked both friend and foe.
Teflon-style, he survived unscathed allegations of financial corruption.
Former Likud MK Bennie Begin once said acerbically of Sharon that he was as likely to head their party as he was to become a tennis champion.
But at the nadir of Sharon’s checkered army career, after he was forced to resign as defense minister in 1983 following Sabra and Shatilla, Dan made a different prediction.
“Those who rejected [Sharon] as chief of staff got him in due time as defense minister,” said Dan. “And those who rejected him as defense minister will get him in due course as prime minister.”
Sharon said that his steadfast determination was rooted in his childhood work on a farm.
In an op-ed article for the Post in 1999, Sharon recalled a day he spent with his father at Kfar Malal.
“I was working out in the field with my father on an intensely hot day as thirst plagued us and thousands of flies and gnats buzzed around us, getting into our eyes and noses. We, hoes in hand, continued to work. When my father Shmuel, of blessed memory, who was an agronomist, agricultural scientist and also an outstanding farmer, saw I was getting tired, he would stop a minute, point towards the ground we’d covered and say, “Look how much we’ve already done. And with renewed strength, we would continue work.”
It was this mind-set, wrote Sharon, that came to characterize his own indomitable approach – to daily life and to leading Israel.
“This has always been my way: to appreciate what we have already accomplished and to look forward optimistically.
A Leader Seen Differently By Israelis and Diaspora Jews
By David Hazony, Jewish Forward
January 11, 2014
Ariel Sharon in death, as in life, presents a challenge for us.
By advocating a bold, self-asserting Jewish settlement movement, with or without a peace agreement, Sharon shattered the image of Israel as a country that places the achievement of peace with its neighbors above all other national goals. This triggered a long-term rift with Diaspora Jewry, especially in the United States, where the cause of peace had become the core not only of Jewish Zionism, but even of Judaism itself.
For the Jews of Israel, however, Sharon represented an ideal no less impressive — even vital for the survival and success of the country they had shed so much blood to build. He represented independence, in its deepest sense.
Deep down inside, Israelis still see their own national survival as somehow miraculous, defying the laws of gravity. And that survival is owed to a founding generation of larger-than-life figures — David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Menachem Begin — who created something from nothing, saw possibility through a veil of blood and devastation, acted boldly and in defiance of international demands, and handed a whole country to the next generation on a platter.
Of those founders, the only two who remained active a decade ago were Sharon and Shimon Peres, archrivals in politics until, in 2005, they joined together under the banner of Sharon’s new Kadima party, for the purpose of unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza. The move, known as “disengagement,” was a stroke of political genius, embodying everything desired by the newly emergent Israeli center: the bold, security-minded unilateralism of the right, combined with the territorial sacrifice of the left.
There would be no presumption of peace this time — disengagement was, if nothing else, a glaring repudiation of the Oslo Accords — but there could be a reversal of the vilified settlement movement nonetheless.
I visited Kfar Darom, the largest settlement in Gaza, on Independence Day 2005, just a few months before it became rubble. I had spent much of my adult life supporting the settlements, but by that point, Kfar Darom had become a magnet for the movement’s most outlandish fruitcakes. The folks who had taken over the town in the months before disengagement were old-fashioned messianists, radicals with bullhorns in their beards and demonic sunshine in their eyes.
I knew they were but a sliver of the settlement movement, but I also knew that their refusal to grant the world some nuance, their divine arrogance, had taken the entire idea of settlement outside the borders not just of geographical Israel, but of cultural and political Israel, as well.
So when Sharon, so long the movement’s most potent advocate, decided to drive a stake into their hearts, a clear majority of Israelis supported him.
Today, thousands of rockets and many lost lives later, a clear majority thinks disengagement was a mistake.
It doesn’t matter, really. What counts is that Israel, led by Sharon, took action in a situation that seemed impossible, where most Israelis had felt a sense of collective impotence and defeat for a generation. Through disengagement, Sharon told Israel that independence — the freedom to live and act without asking the permission of the powers of the world — was still possible.
Israeli politicians, it seems, must have a final act in which they turn the tables on all expectations, showing that the Jew is never at home unless he is defiantly reinventing himself, no matter how late the hour. The hesitant and shtetl-evoking Levi Eshkol led his country in 1967 to the boldest, most stunning military victory in modern history. Begin made peace with Egypt; Yitzhak Shamir initiated the Madrid peace conference; Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords after a career of “breaking the arms and legs” of Palestinian terrorists.
And Shimon Peres has abandoned his post as the nation’s most divisive peace advocate to spend the past decade as its greatest unifier, saving the presidency itself and, with it, an important piece of Israel’s self-image. It is almost as though the Israeli politician’s old age triggers a need to prove that his inner soul is still vibrant, that the creative fire has not gone out. That he is as eternally young as the nation he represents.
Sharon, too, needed a last act, and the disengagement from Gaza, along with the dramatic political realignment it necessitated, was it.
Israelis came to revere him in his final years. But it has been harder for Diaspora Jews.
It is infuriating to love someone unpredictable. Israel as a whole has become, for many American Jews, a “high-maintenance” lover: forever insecure, forever impassioned, forever reinventing and on the move. And yet we do not let go, because we know that in such people are the potentialities of humanity forever on display. We need them to remind us who we can be, even when such a reminder is the last thing we want.
Supporters of Israel who have spent so many years reacting emotionally to the tectonic shifts in Israeli politics — detesting Sharon, being embarrassed by Avigdor Lieberman, loathing Benjamin Netanyahu, wishing only that Golda and Rabin and Peres were still running the country — have always preferred a flattened image to a more complicated truth. They presume their ideology should trump the actual experiences of a nation, and they have never given proper credit to the inner Israeli soul that refuses under any circumstances to give up on itself, that fights until death for the right to just live, that will always choose a contentious reality over a peaceable illusion, that will never, ever place the world’s callow and fickle morals above its own truth.
As a politician, Ariel Sharon swerved and maneuvered, at times blunt and at others masterfully deft, never fearing the small or great gambit in order to keep the advantage to himself. He did not care about the stereotyped images, the caricatures that distorted him across Europe and in the hearts of Diaspora Jews. He was not always right, but he never projected weakness of spirit.
In this, he captured an important part of what Israel is really about. And what too many of us, living at a comfortable distance, still can’t handle.
David Hazony is the editor of The Tower Magazine and is a contributing editor to the Forward.
Israeli leaders praise Sharon, while Palestinians express regret he was not brought to justice before he died.
By Al Jazeera
January 12, 2014
Reactions from Israeli and Palestinian officials, as well as other world leaders, to the death of Ariel Sharon have been mixed.
The former Israeli prime minister and military commander died on Saturday at the age of 85 after being in a coma since 2006 when a stroke incapacitated him at the height of his political power.
“The State of Israel bows its head over the passing of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon,” current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement, expressing “deep sorrow” over the news.
“His memory will forever be held in the heart of the nation,” Netanyahu said.
There was no immediate comment from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, or the Palestinian Authority, on Sharon’s passing.
But a senior Palestinian official from the Fatah party blamed Sharon for the death of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
“Sharon was a criminal, responsible for the assassination of Arafat, and we would have hoped to see him appear before the International Criminal Court as a war criminal,” Jibril Rajub said.
Khalil al-Hayya, a leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, said: “We will remember Ariel Sharon as the man who killed, destroyed and caused the suffering for several Palestinian generations.
“After eight years, he is going the same direction as other tyrants and criminals whose hands were covered with Palestinian blood,” al-Hayya added.
United States President Barack Obama sent “deepest condolences” to Sharon’s family and the Israeli people. “We join with the Israeli people in honouring his commitment to his country,” Obama said.
French President Francois Hollande called Sharon “a major player in the history of his country”.
“After [a] long military and political career he chose to move towards the dialogue with Palestine. I am offering my sincere condolences to his family and people of Israel,” he said.
In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “Ariel Sharon is one of the most significant figures in Israeli history and as prime minister he took brave and controversial decisions in pursuit of peace, before he was so tragically incapacitated. Israel has today lost an important leader.”
A United Nations spokesman said that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was “saddened” by Sharon’s death.
“Prime Minister Sharon will be remembered for his political courage and determination to carry through with the painful and historic decision to withdraw Israeli settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip. His successor faces the difficult challenge of realising the aspirations of peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people,” a UN statement said.
Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister, posted on Twitter: “Ariel Sharon was a great leader of Israel. A brilliant military commander, but also a wise statesman seeing the necessity of peace.”
Sharon was indirectly blamed for the 1982 massacre of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon’s Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Israel’s Phalangist allies.
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from the Sabra camp in Beirut on Saturday, said: “People here say… ‘Ariel Sharon is now dead, but what he stood for is not dead. He was one Israeli official. The policy of the Israeli government has not changed.’
“People here really are very frustrated. They feel that justice was not served. But then again, Ariel Sharon’s death is not going to change much,” she said.
But Israeli politicians were quick to praise Sharon’s legacy as military leader.
“Arik [Sharon] was a brave soldier and a daring leader who loved his nation and his nation loved him. He was one of Israel’s great protectors and most important architects, who knew no fear and certainly never feared vision,” President Shimon Peres said in a statement.
Tzipi Livni, Israel’s justice minister and former member of Kadima, the party Sharon founded in 2005, also expressed “great sadness” over his death, saying he was “a brave fighter, commander, leader, [a] farmer whose legs were firmly planted in Israel’s soil”.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Tel Aviv, Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar blamed Sharon for sabotaging Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
“The legacy is that he left us with hundreds of thousands of [Israeli] people, and so many settlements [in the occupied West Bank] that are the greatest obstacle to peace,” Eldar said.
“It was Ariel Sharon’s vision to have one million Israelis in the West Bank, and make the Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank impossible. Even when he pulled out of Gaza, this was meant to undermine the resumption of the roadmap [to peace].”
In a bloody career that spanned decades, he destroyed entire cities and presided over the killing of countless civilians.
By Max Blumenthal, The Nation
January 11, 2014
A central player in Israeli affairs since the state’s inception, Ariel Sharon molded history according to his own stark vision. He won consent for his plans through ruthlessness and guile, and resorted to force when he could not find any. An accused war criminal who presided over the killing of thousands of civilians, his foes referred to him as “The Bulldozer.” To those who revered him as a strong-armed protector and patron saint of the settlements, he was “The King of Israel.” In a life acted out in three parts, Sharon destroyed entire cities, wasted countless lives and sabotaged careers to shape the reality on the ground.
The first act of Sharon’s career began after the 1948 war that established Israel at the expense of 750,000 Palestinians who were driven away in a campaign of mass expulsion. Badly wounded in the battle of Latrun, where the Israeli army suffered a bitter defeat at the hands of the Royal Jordanian Army, Sharon momentarily retired from army life. He looked back in anger at the failure to take Latrun, a strategic swath of land containing three Palestinian towns seemingly obstructing the new Jewish state’s demographic continuity. Spineless politicians and feckless commanders had tied the hands of Israel’s troops, he claimed, leaving the Jewish state exposed from within. Sharon yearned to finish 1948—to complete the expulsion project he viewed as deficient.
In 1953, Sharon was plucked out of retirement by Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and appointed the head of a secret commando unit tasked with carrying out brutal acts of reprisal and sabotage. Following a lethal Palestinian assault on an Israeli kibbutz, Sharon led his men into the West Bank town of Qibya with orders from Ben Gurion’s Central Command to “carry out destruction and cause maximum damage.” By the time they were done, sixty-nine civilians—mostly Palestinian women and children—lay dead.
In the years after that scandal, Sharon carried out bloody raids on Egyptian and Syrian territory that inflamed relations with Israel’s neighbors and led them to seek urgent military assistance from the Soviet Union. In the 1956 Sinai Campaign, Sharon was accused by one of his commanders, Arye Biro, of overseeing the massacre of forty-nine Egyptian quarry workers who had been taken prisoner and had no role in the fighting (official censorship kept the details from the public for decades). In the 1967 Six Day War, Sharon ran up the body count on encircled Egyptian tank units, converting unprecedented kill ratios into national fame. With the Gaza Strip now under Israeli control, Sharon orchestrated the razing of Palestinian citrus orchards to make way for Jewish colonization.
During the 1973 war, Sharon waged his own parallel war for personal glory. Determined to be the first Israeli commander to cross the Suez Canal, he sent his soldiers rushing into the teeth of the Egyptian army without sufficient artillery or air support. Scores of his men died in the blind thrust while entire brigades were left exposed. But Sharon salvaged his quest for fame when his tank brigades encircled the Egyptian Third Army. After the battle, photos of the general standing proudly in the Egyptian desert, bandaged from a superficial wound and surrounded by soldiers hailing him as “The King of Israel,” circulated in the Israeli and international media. The high-flying political career he had sought was now guaranteed. In short order, Sharon helped found the Likud Party, opening the second act of his storied career.
Though set on a rightward political trajectory, Sharon owed his fortunes to the icons of Labor Zionism. His original patron, Ben Gurion, and the younger warrior-politician Moshe Dayan, constantly shuffled him up the ranks of the military hierarchy, despite a clear pattern of scandalously insubordinate behavior. His first cabinet-level post was an abbreviated stint in the 1970s government of Yitzhak Rabin, the quintessential Laborite, who imagined Sharon leading a reorganization of the army following the disaster of the 1973 war. But it was in the Likud-led 1977 coalition of Menachem Begin that Sharon was finally able to translate his influence into history-altering policies.
Appointed minister of agriculture, Sharon exploited his seemingly insignificant position to bring the messianic project of Greater Israel to fruition. With unbridled vigor, he expanded the settlement enterprise across the West Bank, boasting that he personally established sixty-four settlements during his first four years in government. He revealed his strategy in a private chat with Winston Churchill’s grandson: “We’ll make a pastrami sandwich out of them. We’ll insert a strip of Jewish settlements in between the Palestinians, and then another strip of Jewish settlements right across the West Bank, so that in twenty-five years’ time, neither the United Nations nor the United States, nobody, will be able to tear it apart.”
Having established himself as the visionary behind the settlements, Sharon set his sights on the Ministry of Defense, actively intimidating Begin to fulfill his ambition. When Begin finally capitulated before Sharon’s bullying, he declared only half-jokingly that Sharon might have staged a military coup if he hadn’t been offered his desired sinecure.
Sharon entered the Defense Ministry consumed with dreams of an Israeli-friendly Christian puppet government in Beirut—the bulwark of a regional Israeli empire. Clamoring for an invasion of Lebanon, Sharon withheld his true intentions from everyone except perhaps Begin, claiming he merely aimed to drive the PLO out of southern Lebanon, where it had staged periodic raids on Israeli territory. When Begin green-lighted Operation Peace for Galilee in June 1982, Sharon sent Israeli tanks rumbling towards Beirut without the approval of the rest of the cabinet, whom Sharon had deliberately deceived. Many of them were outraged, but it was too late to turn back.
Against fierce Palestinian resistance, one of the Middle East’s most vital and cosmopolitan cities was laid to ruin. Sharon’s forces flattened West Beirut with indiscriminate shelling, leaving streets strewn with unburied corpses. With each passing day, disease and famine spread at epidemic levels. In August, the day after the Israeli cabinet accepted US special envoy Philip Habib’s proposal for the evacuation of the PLO, Sharon’s forces bombarded Beirut for seven hours straight, leaving 300 dead, most of them civilians. The Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling wrote that the raid “resembled the attack on Dresden by the Allies toward the end of World War II.” Sharon even requested an additional paratrooper brigade to obliterate the PLO forces besieged in the city, earning a rare rebuke from Begin, who worried that his defense minister would completely destroy Habib’s efforts to resolve the crisis.
PLO forces withdrew from Lebanon, according to Habib’s guidelines, but the worst was yet to come. Sharon had stymied a proposal for the introduction of multinational peacekeepers capable of preventing reprisals against the defenseless Palestinian refugees who had been left behind. Thus the stage was set for the most heinous massacre of the war. Following the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, the Christian warlord who was supposed to serve as Sharon’s handpicked puppet president, Israeli forces helped usher Christian Phalangist militias into the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila, then surrounded by the Israeli military, providing them with intelligence and operational support. Sharon and many of his officers were well aware of the Phalangists’ intention to murder as many women and children as they could. After days of slaughter, as many as 2,000 civilians were dead, with countless others raped and brutalized.
In February 1983, Israel’s Kahan Commission found Sharon “indirectly responsible” for the massacre, urging his dismissal as defense minister. With the Israeli body count was piling up in Lebanon, city squares in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were thronged with outraged mothers and a growing movement of service refuseniks. The antiwar demonstrations shook the confidence of the army’s high command. At the prime minister’s office, Sharon berated Begin and his ministers, warning them, “If we adopt this [Kahan] report, all our ill-wishers and naysayers will that what happened in the camp was genocide.” Calling the findings “a mark of Cain on all of us for generations,” Sharon adamantly refused to step down.
During the meeting, a right-wing Jewish terrorist lobbed a live grenade into a crowd of antiwar protesters right outside the prime minister’s office, killing the teacher and antiwar activist Emil Grunzweig. The incident was Sharon’s coup de grâce, prompting his resignation. Though he remained in government as a minister without portfolio, his dreams of serving as prime minister appeared to be dashed.
Sharon’s fear of prosecution did not end with his resignation. In July 2001, a Belgian court opened an inquiry into the Sabra and Shatila massacre when a group of survivors filed a complaint under the country’s “universal jurisdiction” guidelines. Elie Hobeika, the Phalangist commander directly responsible for the killings, was assassinated months later, after informing Belgian politicians that he would testify against Sharon. “Israel doesn’t want witnesses against it in this historic case in Belgium which will certainly convict Ariel Sharon,” the Lebanese Minister of Displaced People Marwan Hamadeh remarked at the time, echoing widespread speculation about Sharon’s involvement. In September 2003, with Belgian relations with Israel at an all-time low, the Belgian court threw out the case, citing Sharon’s diplomatic immunity.
By this time, Sharon had resuscitated his political career in dramatic fashion. On September 28, 2000, following the collapse of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority at Camp David that summer, Sharon toured the Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem, site of the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, accompanied by 1,000 armed police and security agents. It was a provocative stunt, staged to inflame rising tensions in the occupied territories. As expected, the appearance sparked widespread Palestinian rioting the next day, which was met with a draconian Israeli crackdown—Israeli forces fired 1.3 million bullets at mostly unarmed demonstrators in October 2000 alone—fueling what became known as the Al Aqsa Intifada. The following year Sharon was elected prime minister and Palestinian suicide bombings were battering the cafes and nightclubs of Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem. Channeling the mood of Israel’s “peace camp,” which had called for Sharon’s ouster during the invasion of Lebanon, the liberal newspaper Haaretz demanded “a war about the morning’s coffee and croissant.”
The beleaguered peace camp was shocked at the intifada, but also cynically misled by Sharon’s predecessor as prime minister, Ehud Barak, who declared after the collapse of the Camp David negotiations that there was “no Palestinian partner” for peace. Sapped of confidence, they became quiescent while the mainstream united behind Sharon, their vengeful protector. With a free hand to deploy tanks and combat jets against Palestinian population centers, Sharon oversaw a campaign of carefully calculated brutality, culminating, in 2002, in the comprehensive demolition of the Jenin refugee camp. Baruch Kimmerling termed Sharon’s strategy “politicide,” a “gradual but systematic attempt to cause [Palestine’s] annihilation as an independent political and social entity.” As in the beginning, Sharon’s unspoken goal was to finish the war of 1948.
While Israeli bulldozers trundled across Gaza and the West Bank, Sharon announced his intention to “make separation across the land.” Though initially resistant to the idea, he resolved to fulfill a plan first introduced in the 1990’s under Yitzhak Rabin: the construction of a vast wall that would drive a nail into the coffin of the Palestinian national movement. Cutting into the West Bank and Jordan Valley, the wall would effectively annex 80 percent of settlements into Israel proper, consolidating the country’s Jewish demographic majority while relegating Palestinians to a permanent regime of ghettoized exclusion.
Next, Sharon planned to pull Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip, setting the stage for a high-tech siege of that occupied coastal territory. Unlike in the past, Sharon sold his plans to the public with carefully calibrated, subtle rhetorical touches. Stunned by a new movement of mass refusal—a group of former and active Israeli air force pilots had issued a letter declaring their refusal to participate in operations in occupied territory—and by the furious opposition of the settlement movement to his plan, Sharon uncharacteristically proclaimed that the occupation was a “bad thing for Israel.” Next, he bolted from Likud, cobbling together a random assortment of politicians including his former aide, the telegenic, PR-friendly Tzipi Livni, to drive the separation plan forward under the banner of Kadima.
Sharon’s maneuvers earned him the political space he needed to fulfill his goals. Haaretz, the voice of Israeli liberalism, supported the vast separation wall as a “revolutionary” step towards two states. Endorsing the withdrawal of settlers from Gaza, The New York Times editorial board declared that Sharon “should be cheered.” Back in Tel Aviv, the anti-settlement group Peace Now and the Labor Party organized a mass demonstration in support of the Gaza disengagement plan. Winning liberals to his side was Sharon’s final political coup, and probably his most consequential.
The true goal of Sharon’s separation regime was never to end the occupation but to reinforce it under new parameters that would prevent the collapse of Israel’s international image. A top aide to Sharon, Dov Weissglass, revealed the real logic behind Sharon’s plans: “The disengagement [from Gaza] is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” Another close adviser, Arnon Sofer, was even more frank:
…when 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.
Eight years after Sharon slipped into a coma, the real implications of separation stand exposed. Gaza suffers under a joint Israeli-Egyptian siege, while Israel shrugs off any responsibility for its inhabitants. Though Israel controls the entrances, exits, airspace and coast of Gaza, and effectively regulates the caloric intake of each resident of the coastal territory, the occupation is over as far as its government is concerned. Israeli settlements are firmly entrenched in the West Bank and encircle East Jerusalem, reducing Palestinian areas to the “pastrami sandwich” of non-contiguous bantustans that Sharon had originally envisioned. With the peace process effectively embalmed in political “formaldehyde,” right-wing elements have achieved unfettered dominance over the Jewish state’s key institutions. Typical of the new generation of Israeli rightists is Sharon’s corruption-stained son, Gilad, who has called Palestinian society a “predator,” an “animal” and “stabbers of babies.”
Now that Sharon’s unilateral vision appears to have been consolidated, Israel’s government must perpetually manage an occupation it has no intention of ending. It has no clear strategy to achieve international legitimacy and no endgame. Its direct line to Washington has become a life-support system for the status quo. Like Sharon, who spent his last years in a comatose state without any hope of regaining consciousness, Israel is only buying time.
Robert Fisk, The Independent
January 12, 2014
He was respected in his eight years of near-death, with no sacrilegious cartoons to damage his reputation; and he will, be assured, receive the funeral of a hero and a peacemaker. Thus do we remake history
Any other Middle Eastern leader who survived eight years in a coma would have been the butt of every cartoonist in the world. Hafez el-Assad would have appeared in his death bed, ordering his son to commit massacres; Khomeini would have been pictured demanding more executions as his life was endlessly prolonged. But of Sharon – the butcher of Sabra and Shatila for almost every Palestinian – there has been an almost sacred silence.
Cursed in life as a killer by quite a few Israeli soldiers as well as by the Arab world – which has proved pretty efficient at slaughtering its own people these past few years – Sharon was respected in his eight years of near-death, no sacrilegious cartoons to damage his reputation; and he will, be assured, receive the funeral of a hero and a peacemaker.
Thus do we remake history. How speedily did toady journalists in Washington and New York patch up this brutal man’s image. After sending his army’s pet Lebanese militia into the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982, where they massacred up to 1,700 Palestinians, Israel’s own official enquiry announced that Sharon bore “personal” responsibility for the bloodbath.
He it was who had led Israel’s catastrophic invasion of Lebanon three months earlier, lying to his own prime minister that his forces would advance only a few miles across the frontier, then laying siege to Beirut – at a cost of around 17,000 lives. But by slowly re-ascending Israel’s dangerous political ladder, he emerged as prime minister, clearing Jewish settlements out of the Gaza Strip and thus, in the words of his own spokesman, putting any hope of a Palestinian state into “formaldehyde”.
By the time of his political and mental death in 2006, Sharon – with the help of the 2001 crimes against humanity in the US and his successful but mendacious claim that Arafat backed bin Laden – had become, of all things, a peacemaker, while Arafat, who made more concessions to Israeli demands than any other Palestinian leader, was portrayed as a super-terrorist. The world forgot that Sharon had opposed the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, voted against a withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 1985, opposed Israel’s participation in the 1991 Madrid peace conference – and the Knesset plenum vote on the Oslo agreement in 1993, abstained on a vote for a peace with Jordan the next year and voted against the Hebron agreement in 1997. Sharon condemned the manner of Israel’s 2000 retreat from Lebanon and by 2002 had built 34 new illegal Jewish colonies on Arab land.
Quite a peacemaker! When an Israeli pilot bombed an apartment block in Gaza, killing nine small children as well as his Hamas target, Sharon described the “operation” as “a great success”, and the Americans were silent. For he bamboozled his Western allies into the insane notion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was part of Bush’s monstrous battle against “world terror”, that Arafat was himself a bin Laden, and that the world’s last colonial war was part of the cosmic clash of religious extremism.
The final, ghastly – in other circumstances, hilarious – political response to Sharon’s behaviour was George W Bush’s contention that Ariel Sharon was “a man of peace”. When he became prime minister, media profiles noted not Sharon’s cruelty but his “pragmatism”, recalling, over and over, that he was known as “the bulldozer”.
And, of course, real bulldozers will go on clearing Arab land for Jewish colonies for years after Sharon’s death, thus ensuring there will never – ever – be a Palestinian state.
The first Likud prime minister of Israel who was not reared on the muscular Zionism of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the doctrine of “both banks of the Jordan are ours”
By Eric Silver, The Independent
January 11, 2014
The doctrine of “both banks of the Jordan are ours”, of the “wall of steel” that would compel the Arabs to acquiesce in a Jewish state. Like his three right-wing predecessors – Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and Benjamin Netanyahu – he never doubted the Jews’ right to the ancient homeland and their duty to defend it by force of arms. But, unlike them, he was a pragmatist who could make concessions without feeling that he was committing sacrilege.
Sharon was also the first Likud prime minister to endorse the idea of a Palestinian state, however parsimoniously. He was the first to call the West Bank and Gaza Strip “occupied” territory. Most radically, Sharon advocated the evacuation of Gaza and part of the West Bank, including settlements he himself had fostered.
He was a reluctant convert. He did not suddenly see the light and join the Peace Now campaigners. But he was clear-eyed enough to recognise the demographic threat that would undermine Israel’s Jewish identity and democratic aspirations if it continued to rule the whole land. Israeli researchers convinced him that there would be an Arab majority between the river and the sea by 2020. Expelling them, he knew, was no longer an option. Giving them the vote would create a bi-national state.
In the spirit of the founding father, David Ben-Gurion, he understood too that Israel did not live in a vacuum. It could not afford to alienate the United States or ignore Europe. It needed allies and trading partners if it was to survive and flourish. He wanted to offer Israelis a safer, more prosperous future, a state of which they and their diaspora brethren could be proud.
By Marc Goldberg,Jewish Chronicle
January 11, 2014
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has died at the age of 85.
He had been in a coma for eight years following a stroke. His condition had deteriorated over the past week and he died of heart failure at the Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv on Saturday afternoon.
It was another warrior – General Douglas MacArthur – who uttered the words “Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away.” And so it is for a father of Israel. A man who minced neither his words nor his actions. He is loved, he is hated, he is revered.
Death will not change the range of emotions and opinions held on this son of Israel. He will be remembered as a man who saved Israel when she needed him most, more than once. A warrior, a lawyer, a politician, a farmer – there were many sides to this great man. Controversy will never be far from him in death just as it was never far from him in life. This man fused ideology with pragmatism, military might with political instinct. There will never be another like him.
Ariel Sharon was a man whose military career created the ethos of the Israel Defence Forces and laid the backbone for her extraordinary Special Forces. He went from being a platoon commander during Israel’s War of Independence to creating Unit 101, the IDF’s first Special forces unit, from scratch. He was only 23 at the time and already held the rank of Major. He moved on to command the fledgling Paratroopers during their heyday as the tip of the IDF spear, tasked with launching punitive operations in enemy countries. He seemed to personify the aggressive might of the IDF.
He spearheaded the invasion of the Sinai Desert during the Six-Day War. In that conflict, he held the rank of general and commanded an armoured division. His tanks battered and then broke through the Egyptian army as it raced to the Suez Canal. During the Yom Kippur War, after having retired from active military service, Sharon served as a reserve commander of an armoured division and showed his mettle at a time when many around him were in a state of panic. While all was at crisis point, it was Ariel ‘Arik’ Sharon who forced a crossing of the Suez Canal and surrounded the Egyptian 3rd Army, ensuring that the Egyptians would accept ceasefire terms. His successful crossing simply cannot be overstated.
But with all of the good that came from his military career there are scars that haunt both him and the state of Israel. It is the way of all successful generals that their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness. Sharon was an aggressive general in the mould of a general Patton or Napoleon. He was a fighter who knew only one way, he ‘attacked’ the enemy. This attacking instinct led him to make mistakes that almost destroyed his career. As well as being the most famous unit in the annals of IDF history, Unit 101 was also the bloodiest. The shockingly high body count resulting from their operations led to the unit being folded into the Paratroopers after a mere year and a half of operating. The biggest stain on them was an operation in the Jordanian town of Qibya, where 69 civilians were killed by Sharon’s forces. Although the battle at the Mitla Pass has been included in the annals of IDF history, it was a battle that need not have been fought. The fight was as bloody as it was unnecessary. His military career stalled because of it. However, it was to take off once again during the tenure of Yitzhak Rabin as Chief of Staff.
Sharon ended his military career as the commander of the Southern Region, a post that included command of Gaza. During his tenure he successfully put down an uprising in Gaza using his particular talent for low intensity conflict.
As a soldier, Sharon didn’t hold back from a fight, and as a politician he was exactly the same. A key player in the formation of the Likud Party, Sharon strongly supported the settlement of the West Bank. As Defence Minister, he received widespread blame for the 1982 campaign into Beirut that saw the IDF remain in a security zone stretching the breadth of Lebanon for almost 20 years. The political fallout resulting from the massacre of Palestinians by Christian Phalange forces allied to Israel in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps eventually lead to him resigning from his post as defence minister. He remained in the government as a Minister Without Portfolio.
Without a doubt the most important and resonant part of Sharon’s political career were his later years. His insistence that the settlements in Gaza be dismantled and that the IDF withdraw stood in stark contrast to the newly minted defence minister yet to shed his military skin to take on the mantle of political power. Sharon’s new found principles cost him the leadership of the party he helped form. Current Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu sent him packing, though not before he carried out the withdrawal from Gaza as planned. When ousted by Bibi from the party he helped create, he simply built himself a new party; Kadima. Although the party was formed around him, it managed to secure enough seats in the Knesset to form a government even after he was hit by a debilitating stroke.
There is a big wall snaking its way through the West Bank which more or less follows the 1967 borders of Israel. In the wake of the construction of this wall or ‘Separation Barrier’, terrorist incursions into Israel dropped significantly. In light of Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza, there was widespread talk that he was looking to unilaterally remove Israel from the West Bank too. We’ll never know if this was his true intent. The remarkable transformation of Ariel Sharon from being the man who invaded Beirut and the Defence Minister who backed settlement of the West Bank to the Prime Minister who championed unilateral disengagement and oversaw the removal of the Israeli presence in Gaza is awe-inspiring. He showed Israelis a vision of a new world and gave them the confidence to believe that he could create it for them. Perhaps he could have.
He spent his whole life fighting people. From Egyptians to Lebanese to Palestinians to members of his own political party. Sharon was unmoved by any form of resistance to him, be it on the battlefield or in the political arena. He lit up Israel with the fire that came from within his soul.
He will be revered, respected and hated for many years to come. Perhaps no higher accolade can be uttered than to say that he helped shape a nation. Now fade away old soldier, we will miss you.
Ariel Sharon realized the hope of every statesman: to leave a legacy. A truly exceptional combination of personal and political bravery, his vision will take years to undo.
By Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz
January 05, 2014
Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was a reviver of the language spoken in and by Israel. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda reinvented the words used in Israel, Sharon translated them into Israeli actions. Together with his predecessor as defense minister, Moshe Dayan, Sharon was more influential than any other individual in shaping the dominant dialect of the State of Israel: the language of force, of war, of occupation and violence.
Dayan and Sharon grew up in the same milieu and both believed deeply in this form of expression. Both enjoyed military glory, both lost favor at one point and were publicly denounced and marginalized before seeking redemption with a new-found moderation of sorts. Sharon was the more violent; Dayan’s rehabilitation was more impressive. History will remember both.
Sharon will be remembered as the father of Israel’s fundamental attitude, the doctrine of “only by force.” Israel never attempted any other language. He believed that the Arabs understood only the word of the clenched fist, and that its use was the only way to survive. Sharon vividly instilled in Modern Hebrew the old biblical warfare language; in fact, Ariel son of Shmuel was a biblical military hero no less than Jeroboam son of Yehoash or Joshua son of Nun. From his early days in the notorious Unit 101, through the bloody era of Sayeret Rimon and in the first Lebanon war, from the Qibya massacre to the Jabalya refugee camp and Beirut, Sharon was Israel’s minister of war. Now, a moment before the eulogies and praise begin to flow, this must be recalled.
Israel could and should have spoken a different language, but it never even tried. The Sharons and the Dayans, these brutal farmer-generals, convinced Israelis there simply wasn’t any other language. Sharon supported all military strikes, from the “reprisal operations” of the 1950s and ’60s up to Operation Defensive Shield, the massacre of civilians, destruction, expulsion and revenge. Sharon thus dictated not only Israel’s policies but its moral standing as well. Israel has had more moderate leaders, but they too adhered to his staunch principles and never let go of the proverbial stick that Sharon’s tough mother insisted he should never sleep without. Vera’s legacy became Ariel’s legacy, and then Israel’s legacy.
Sharon realized the hope of every statesman: to leave a legacy. A truly exceptional combination of personal and political bravery, Sharon’s vision will take years to undo. This charming and cruel individual was among the most talented and dangerous of Israeli leaders.
With the exception of the first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, Sharon bears more responsibility than any other single individual in forging Israeli reality. He led the Israel Defense Forces in its conquests, near and far, wallowing for long bloody years in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. When he attempted redemption, with the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, which was supposed to redeem us all, it was implemented in his image: arrogant and belligerent, without consultations, negotiations or agreements with the Palestinians. As opposed to others, he never hated Arabs: He simply did not trust them. The “bulldozer” was a man of large decisions and actions, “Arik, King of Israel,” did indeed leave his mark, and today’s statesmen still pale in comparison. The great damage the great man caused will be with us for a long time.
I recall a private tour of the Gaza Strip he gave me, in the winter of 1989. He was charming, but his talk was dangerous and deceiving. He tried to prove to me that Israel should never evacuate the Strip, due to the danger of missiles (and foot-and-mouth disease, which he said, would spread from Gaza into Israel), while in the same breath saying he would agreed to the return of tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees to Israel. He was the only Israeli statesmen who never paid attention to opinion polls or party hacks; he loathed them. Sharon proved he was a leader who could take decisive measures moves and make his mark on history; sadly, he brought Israel to its current sorry state.
By Glenn Frankel, Washington Post
January 11, 2014
Ariel Sharon, a monumental figure in Israel’s modern history who epitomized the country’s warrior past even as he sought to become the architect of a peaceful future, died Jan. 11 of organ failure eight years after a massive stroke left him in a vegetive state at the height of his political power in 2006.
His death, at 85, was confirmed by a senior official in the Israeli prime minister’s office and Dr. Shlomo Noy of the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer near Tel Aviv, where Mr. Sharon had spent his last years.
As a soldier, defense minister and prime minister, Mr. Sharon fought or commanded forces in every one of Israel’s military conflicts for more than half a century, beginning with its 1948 independence war, and was author of the ill-fated 1982 invasion of Lebanon. As a politician, he built the infrastructure of the country’s controversial settlement campaign in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, then stunned friend and foe alike by dismantling part of the project he had long championed.
Through it all, Mr. Sharon commanded center stage, insisting at times that he alone knew what was best for the state of Israel and persevering over six decades to finally emerge as prime minister in 2001, after countless humiliations that would have long killed off the careers of less determined men. At the time of his stroke in January 2006, he was in the process of seeking to extend his time in office by forging a new centrist political movement based upon his personal popularity.
The man who chose the title “Warrior” for his autobiography was for much of his career the darling of the Israeli right, which chanted “Arik, King of Israel!” invoking his nickname and comparing him to the legendary biblical King David.
For decades, he used that support to undermine governments of both the rival Labor and his own Likud parties and advance his personal political agenda. But in later years, as he first organized Israel’s withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza and made plans for pullbacks from parts of the West Bank, the right denounced him as a traitor.
The more dovish left, which had long feared and despised him, had begun to reevaluate his motives and policies and accord him a grudging respect. Meanwhile, for moderates on both sides of Israel’s bitter political divide, wary and exhausted after years of conflict and false dawns, Mr. Sharon came to embody the country’s eternal quest for security. While he did not always share their hopes, he understood and spoke to their fears.
Critics said Mr. Sharon suffered from a Napoleon complex and consciously encouraged a cult of personality that posed a threat to democracy. He insisted that he had never wavered from his primary principle of unswerving devotion to the state and to the Jewish people. But he said he had come to recognize that the view from the prime minister’s office was like the verse of a popular Israeli song: There are “some things you can see from here [that] you can’t see from there.”
Ariel Scheinermann was born Feb. 27, 1928, in Palestine, then under British mandatory rule, in a cooperative farming village. In his memoirs, he wrote that he often thought back to “working with my father on that arid slope of land, walking behind him to plant the seeds in the earth he had turned with his hoe. When I felt too exhausted to go on, he would stop for a moment to look backwards, to see how much we had already done. And that would always give me heart for what remained.”
He took the Hebrew name for “plain” (as in the Israeli coastal plain of Sharon) and as a teenager joined the Haganah, the main Jewish underground movement opposed to British rule. During Israel’s war of independence, he commanded an infantry unit and was wounded during the battle to secure the road to besieged Jerusalem.
After spending time as a reservist, Mr. Sharon was recalled to create and command Unit 101, which was tasked with conducting commando operations against Palestinian guerrillas. It was there that he first won recognition for his brutally effective tactics and retaliatory raids.
Even David Ben-Gurion, founding patriarch of the Jewish state, recognized the younger man’s potential — and weaknesses. “An original, visionary young man,’’ Ben-Gurion wrote of Mr. Sharon in his personal diary in 1960. “Were he to rid himself of his faults of not speaking the truth and to distance himself from gossip, he would be an exceptional military leader.”
Mr. Sharon fought with distinction during the 1956 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars, and earned the title “The Bulldozer” in the early 1970s for rooting out Palestinian resistance in the refugee camps of the Gaza Strip in part by plowing open lanes to allow Israeli armored vehicles to move through densely populated civilian zones.
He led the daring but bloody attack across the Suez Canal during the 1973 Yom Kippur War that rolled back Egyptian forces. Critics inside the army accused him of disobeying orders, overstretching his supply lines and causing needless casualties, but supporters said his audacious campaign left Israel in a superior tactical position when a cease-fire was declared.
His exploits made him a popular swashbuckling figure with many Israelis. At the same time, he gained notoriety among his superiors as a relentless maverick and self-promoter.
After his reputation prevented him from gaining a foothold in the ruling Labor Party, he helped found the opposition Likud coalition that eventually took power under Menachem Begin in 1977. Begin named Mr. Sharon as agriculture minister, a post he used to launch the massive construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. When Begin was reelected in 1981, Mr. Sharon gained the post he had long coveted: defense minister.
Mr. Sharon, who saw himself as a master strategist, argued that possession of the West Bank was crucial to Israel’s security and that the nearly 1 million Palestinians who lived there should look to neighboring Jordan as their future state.
He saw Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, then based in Beirut and southern Lebanon, as the supreme obstacle to his geopolitical vision. Using PLO raids on Israel as his justification, he set out to break the movement’s power with an ambitious invasion that took the Israeli army to the gates of Beirut.
Mr. Sharon took personal command of the operation, at times overruling his own generals and ignoring objections from field commanders who argued he was risking too many soldiers’ lives and inflicting needless damage on Lebanese and Palestinian civilians.
The operation eventually succeeded in expelling Arafat and his fighters to Tunis. But critics, including some of Begin’s closest advisers, accused Mr. Sharon of having deceived the prime minister and the cabinet about the extent of his invasion plans — allegations Mr. Sharon always denied.
The Lebanon campaign eventually alienated the Reagan administration and a large swath of the Israeli public, and helped give birth to a new peace movement inside the country.
Mr. Sharon was forced to resign after an independent Israeli judicial commission ruled that he bore indirect responsibility for failing to prevent a massacre of Palestinian refugees at the Sabra and Shatila camps south of Beirut by Israel’s Lebanese Christian militia allies. He later sued for libel and won a retraction and settlement from Time magazine for an article that claimed he had sanctioned the massacre in advance.
His political career might have ended then, but Mr. Sharon clawed his way back into the cabinet in the politically fractious “national unity governments” that ruled between 1984 and 1990, and later resumed his settlement-building program for the West Bank and Gaza as housing minister under Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
Even though Shamir was considered a hard-liner, Mr. Sharon campaigned against him from the right, undermining the government’s efforts to placate Washington with a tentative peace plan.
Mr. Sharon also oversaw the ambitious building campaign to house hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews who poured into Israel following the collapse of the Soviet Union, cutting through red tape but authorizing massive over-expenditures.
He was widely seen in those days as the self-anointed champion of the hard right who had opposed both the historic Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt in 1979 and the Oslo agreement between Israel and the PLO in 1993.
Mr. Sharon rejected the concept that Israel could gain peace by returning conquered Arab territory — the basic formula behind those agreements — remaining convinced that most Arabs would never accept the existence of a Jewish state in their midst, that the conflict would continue indefinitely and that Israel’s only hope was to remain stronger, smarter and more relentless than its enemies.
For distinguished foreign visitors — including then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush in 1998 — Mr. Sharon would unfurl maps showing Israel’s geographic vulnerability and emphasize the point with helicopter tours over the West Bank and Golan Heights.
But unlike many of his supporters, who held a mystical religious belief in the Greater Land of Israel, the secularist Mr. Sharon based his view on his own blunt, pragmatic assessment rather than on ideology.
Mr. Sharon again seemed destined for the political scrap heap in 1996 after his younger Likud rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, was elected prime minister. But Netanyahu was eventually compelled to appoint Mr. Sharon as foreign minister. And after Netanyahu was defeated in 1999, Mr. Sharon became Likud chairman.
Mr. Sharon’s controversial visit in September, 2000 to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, or Noble Sanctuary, a site considered holy to both Muslims and Jews, helped trigger a second Palestinian uprising that smothered hopes for a final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
After a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings of civilian targets and Israeli military reprisals, voters turned to Mr. Sharon, overwhelmingly electing him prime minister in 2001.
The new prime minister waged a multi-pronged campaign of aerial bombings, ground attacks, targeted assassinations of Palestinian militant leaders, temporary reoccupation of major West Bank cities and, ultimately, the construction of a barrier around and through the West Bank to cut off large portions of Palestinian territory from Israeli population centers.
The campaign wreaked enormous physical damage on the West Bank and Gaza and deepened the area’s poverty and despair, but succeeded in suffocating the uprising.
Critics said the old militaristic Mr. Sharon was back. But defense analyst Yosef Alpher noted some subtle distinctions. Mr. Sharon, he said, had learned two important lessons from the Lebanon debacle: “Don’t alienate the United States and don’t get too far out in front of Israeli public opinion.”
From the start, Mr. Sharon had a sympathetic Bush administration in his corner. President Bush hailed him as “a man of peace” in 2002, and while Bush embraced the prospect of an independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel, he also stated publicly that the final territory of such a state would not include some of the large Jewish population centers Mr. Sharon had helped construct in the West Bank.
The gradual collapse of the second uprising, followed by Arafat’s death in November 2004, led Mr. Sharon to see new opportunities. He opened talks with Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, while at the same time launching a unilateral initiative to withdraw from Gaza and four isolated West Bank settlements.
His motives were pragmatic: He said he had reluctantly concluded that the handful of small Jewish settlements in Gaza were a detriment to Israeli security. Some critics said he was disengaging from Gaza to shore up Israel’s hold on the West Bank, while others argued that he had set off a process that would inevitably lead to withdrawal from other Palestinian territory.
Mr. Sharon said Israel had no interest in ruling the more than 3.5 million Palestinians in the territories, but remained unclear about the size and powers of a future Palestinian state.
The Gaza disengagement infuriated his former allies — in the months before his stroke, his security team had stepped up its protection out of fear of an assassination attempt by Jewish extremists like the one who gunned down Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995.
When Mr. Sharon had difficulty enforcing unity within his ruling Likud party — and faced the prospect of a newly resurgent Netanyahu evicting him from power — he and his advisers opted to form a new political movement called Kadima, which means “Forward” in Hebrew.
It was an audacious move designed to appeal, over the heads of the political establishment, to the battered Israeli mainstream, which was tired of the conflict yet unwilling to take security risks for a peace settlement.
After Mr. Sharon’s massive stroke, the party won a slim victory in March 2006 elections and Mr. Sharon’s successor, Ehud Olmert, became prime minister. But Olmert was driven from office in 2009 because of corruption charges (he was acquitted in 2012 of two of the three main counts), and without Mr. Sharon at the helm, Kadima’s popularity gradually faded.
Many Israelis trusted Mr. Sharon as a political leader because of his long-standing experience as a soldier and strategist and because they believed he would move only as far and as fast as he felt absolutely necessary.
He was a leader who had shed blood, yet who had also known personal tragedy. His first wife, the former Margalit Zimmerman, died in a car accident in 1962, and their son, Gur, died in a shooting accident five years later.
Soon after Margalit’s death, Mr. Sharon wed her younger sister, Lily, and they were married until her death of cancer in 2000. Survivors include two sons from his second marriage, Gilad and Omri; and six grandchildren.
Omri Sharon pleaded guilty to providing false testimony and falsifying documents during an investigation of political corruption. He served five months in prison. Mr. Sharon remained under investigation in the case, which involved allegations of illegal funding in his seizure of the Likud leadership before he became prime minister.
In his later years, Mr. Sharon developed a large paunch and a soft, gentle smile that gave him a grandfatherly image. He jealously guarded the weekends he spent on his sprawling ranch in the Negev desert and spoke fondly of eventual retirement.
Mr. Sharon was first hospitalized on Dec. 18, 2005, reportedly after a mild stroke. But 17 days later he suffered a massive stroke and went into a coma from which he never emerged. In the ensuing years, his condition was shrouded in secrecy. But in November 2010 it was announced that his two sons had taken him home. Gilad Sharon told the New York Times in October 2011 that the stay had been brief and that his father had been returned to the hospital.
Gilad Sharon confirmed that he and his brother had overruled their father’s doctors and insisted that Mr. Sharon receive surgery and other measures to sustain his life. “He lies in bed, looking like the lord of the manor, sleeping tranquilly,” wrote Gilad Sharon in a book published in 2011. “Large, strong, self-assured. His cheeks are a healthy shade of red. When he’s awake, he looks out with a penetrating stare. He hasn’t lost a single pound; on the contrary, he’s gained some.”
Until Mr. Sharon’s final stroke, he remained convinced that only he could successfully oversee Israel’s transition to a more secure state. His bottom line, he told Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen in 2005, had not changed. However he managed the purported peace process, he would not risk “the blood of a single Israeli citizen.”
Glenn Frankel, director of the School of Journalism at the University of Texas in Austin, is the former Jerusalem bureau chief of The Washington Post.
William Booth and Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
By Ethan Bronner, NY Times
January 11, 2014
Ariel Sharon, one of the most influential figures in Israel’s history, a military commander and political leader who at the height of his power redrew the country’s electoral map, only to suffer a severe stroke from which he never recovered, died Saturday in a hospital near Tel Aviv. He was 85.
Gilad Sharon, one of his two surviving sons, told reporters at the hospital where the former prime minister spent most of the last eight years that his father “went when he decided to go.”
A cunning and unforgiving general who went on to hold nearly every top government post, including prime minister at the time he was struck ill, Mr. Sharon spent his final years in what doctors defined as a state of minimal consciousness in a sterile suite at the hospital, Sheba Medical Center. Visits were restricted for fear of infection.
Prof. Shlomo Nov of the medical center said heart failure was “the direct cause of his death,” resulting from organ deterioration that had deepened over “a number of days.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the nation bowed its head to a man he described as “first and foremost a brave soldier and an outstanding military commander” who “had a central role in the battle for Israel’s security from the very beginning.”
In many ways, Mr. Sharon’s story was that of his country. A champion of an iron-fisted, territory-expanding Zionism for most of his life, he stunned Israel and the world in 2005 with a Nixon-to-China reversal and withdrew all Israeli settlers and troops from Gaza. He then abandoned his Likud Party and formed a centrist movement called Kadima focused on further territorial withdrawal and a Palestinian state next door.
Mr. Sharon was incapacitated eight years ago, in January 2006, and in elections that followed, Kadima still won the most votes. His former deputy, Ehud Olmert, became prime minister. But the impact of Mr. Sharon’s political shift went beyond Kadima. The hawkish Likud Party, led by his rival, Mr. Netanyahu, was returned to power in 2009, and Mr. Netanyahu, too, said then that he favored a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
An architect of Israeli settlements in the occupied lands, Mr. Sharon gained infamy for his harsh tactics against the Palestinians over whom Israel ruled. That reputation began to soften after his election as prime minister in 2001, when he first talked about the inevitability of Palestinian statehood.
Israeli settlers, who had seen him as their patron, considered him an enemy after he won re-election in 2003. In addition to withdrawing from Gaza and a small portion of the West Bank, he completed part of a 450-mile barrier along and through parts of the West Bank — a barrier he had originally opposed. It not only reduced infiltration by militants into Israel but also provided the outline of a border with a future Palestinian state, albeit one he envisioned as having limited sovereignty.
Before becoming ill, Mr. Sharon was said to have been planning further withdrawals of Jewish settlers and troops from Palestinian lands in hopes of fulfilling the central goal of his life: ensuring a viable and strong state for the Jewish people in their historic homeland.
But even if he had stayed healthy, his plans might have been interrupted by the rise of the militant Palestinian group Hamas, the 2006 conflict with the militant group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and increased concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.
Mr. Sharon viewed negotiating with Palestinian leaders as pointless; he felt they had neither the will nor the power to live up to their promises. Mr. Sharon said he believed that by carrying out the withdrawal unilaterally and building the barrier to include large Israeli settlement blocks, he was ensuring a Jewish state with defensible borders. Critics argued that by redeploying without handing responsibility to the Palestinian Authority, he had increased the power of Hamas.
Mr. Sharon’s final years in power contained surprises beyond the settlement reversal. He had long shown disdain for diplomacy, yet calculated his new path directly in line with what he thought the United States would accept and support. And though he had forced Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, to remain a prisoner in his Ramallah compound, Mr. Sharon built a cordial relationship with his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, after Mr. Arafat died in 2004.
Despite years of antagonism, Hosni Mubarak, then president of Egypt, and King Abdullah II of Jordan gave Mr. Sharon public support in pursuing a solution to the conflict. Those close to him said he had always been more pragmatic than most people realized.
Pragmatism and Resilience
Thick-limbed and heavyset, with blue eyes, a ready smile and a shock of blond hair that whitened as he aged, Mr. Sharon was the archetypal Zionist farmer-soldier. He was not religiously observant, but he was deeply attached to Jewish history and culture and to the land where much of that history had occurred. He believed unshakably that reliance on others had brought his people disaster, and that Jews must assert and defend their collective needs without embarrassment or fear of censure.
As he put it in “Warrior,” his 1989 autobiography, “The great question of our day is whether we, the Jewish people of Israel, can find within us the will to survive as a nation.”
Defiant and brusque, Mr. Sharon had many enemies, who denounced him as self-promoting, self-righteous and unyielding. But he was also courtly to his political rivals and had a surprising sense of humor. His popular appeal was consistently underestimated.
He was dismissed as washed up in 1983 when he was forced to resign as defense minister after an official committee charged him with “indirect responsibility” for a Lebanese massacre of hundreds of Palestinians the previous year.
Mr. Sharon survived that humiliation and remained politically active enough to take command of his rudderless Likud Party after a 1999 rout by Labor. Even then, he was viewed as a seat warmer for younger leaders, yet he surprised everyone again when, in 2001, he was elected prime minister in the biggest landslide in Israel’s history.
He entered office four months into a violent Palestinian uprising. Israeli voters selected him over Ehud Barak, his predecessor, in the hope that Mr. Sharon would restore security.
Given how he had crushed the Palestinian guerrilla infrastructure in Gaza in the early 1970s, there was logic to his election. But there was a paradox, too. It was Mr. Sharon’s visit, in September 2000, accompanied by hundreds of Israeli police officers, to the holy site in Jerusalem known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, that helped set off the riots that became the second Palestinian uprising.
Once elected, he brought dovish members of Labor into his cabinet to form a government of national unity to contend with growing Palestinian and Arab hostility after the collapse of a seven-year Middle East peace effort begun at Oslo, under the Labor-led government of Yitzhak Rabin.
Mr. Sharon faced clashes between, on one side, Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza and, on the other, Palestinian militiamen and guerrillas. And there were many episodes of Palestinian terrorism inside Israel.
He responded by sending envoys to the Palestinian leadership and calling for an end to the violence. But when that proved fruitless, he proceeded with force, moving tanks and heavy equipment into areas that Israel had previously turned over to Palestinian control.
The border with Lebanon also grew tense, and previously cordial relations with Jordan and Egypt, more moderate governments, froze. Hopes for amity between Israel and its neighbors seemed the dimmest in a decade.
But Mr. Sharon said that if peace could be forged out of the century-long conflict, he would be its blacksmith. He had, he said, a firm grasp on Israel’s security needs and understood his adversaries.
In the years before Mr. Sharon’s election, it was often said that the Middle East had entered a new era of coexistence fostered by the Oslo peace negotiations and increased global interdependence. This struck Mr. Sharon as dangerously naïve, and most of his fellow Israelis came to agree with him.
“The war of independence has not ended,” he told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in April 2001. “No, 1948 was just one chapter.” He added: “The end of the conflict will come only when the Arab world recognizes the innate right of the Jewish people to establish an independent Jewish state in the Middle East. And that recognition has not yet come.”
It was a theme taken up later by Mr. Netanyahu as well.
A Zionist Vision
Mr. Sharon was born Ariel Scheinerman on Feb. 27, 1928, on a semicollective farm, or moshav, named Kfar Malal, about 15 miles northeast of Tel Aviv. His parents, Samuel Scheinerman and the former Vera Schneirov, had emigrated from Russia. His mother, from a wealthy Belarussian family, was forced to interrupt her studies in medicine by the Russian Revolution. His father was a Zionist youth leader and agronomy student in Russia and a farmer in Palestine.
The isolation and mistrust of others that characterized Mr. Sharon’s relationships throughout his life had familial roots. His parents, who brought him up to treasure classical music and Russian literature, disdained their fellow moshav dwellers as unlettered and uncouth. Theirs was the only farm on the moshav with a fence around it.
In his autobiography, Mr. Sharon described his father as cantankerous and stingy with love. As a child, he reported, he felt lonely. Known from boyhood by the nickname Arik, Mr. Sharon began his military career in the Gadna, a paramilitary high school organization.
After graduation and a special course, he became a Gadna instructor at an agricultural school. His own instructor, Micah Almog, told biographers that even then Mr. Sharon refused to follow any script given to him and insisted on teaching his own way. He also joined the Haganah, the main underground Zionist fighting brigade, which became the Israel Defense Forces after independence.
In 1947, Mr. Sharon worked for the Haganah in the vast, flat stretch north of Tel Aviv that is called the Sharon Plain. It was from there that he took his new Israeli family name in the emerging Zionist tradition of Hebraizing the names brought from the diaspora. This was part of the plan to create a “new Jew” rooted in the homeland and no longer tied to the Old World.
At the height of the independence war, in May 1948, Mr. Sharon’s unit was sent to take part in the battle of Latrun against the Jordanian Army, at the foot of the hilly entrance to Jerusalem. It was a disastrous battle for the Zionists, and Mr. Sharon was badly wounded in the abdomen. Despite initial rescue efforts, he lay abandoned and bleeding for hours, and nearly died. It was an early and influential encounter with what he considered incompetence above him.
When he was 20, Mr. Sharon married a young Romanian immigrant named Margalit Zimmerman, who had been his student in Gadna and who went by the nickname Gali. After the 1948 war, he remained in the army and served in a number of posts around the country. In 1952, he took a leave from the army, and the couple moved to Jerusalem, where Mr. Sharon began Middle Eastern studies at the Hebrew University and his wife became a psychiatric nurse.
A Reputation for Boldness
Mr. Sharon had already earned a reputation as an effective battalion commander who believed that Israel had been timid in the face of Arab border provocation. Many of his superiors were wary of him, but others, including David Ben-Gurion, the country’s founding prime minister, admired his boldness.
In 1953, Mr. Sharon was asked to form and lead the first elite commando force for special operations behind enemy lines. It was named Unit 101, and although it operated as an independent unit for less than a year, it became legendary in Israel. The aim of the unit was to retaliate for cross-border raids, Arab violations of the 1949 armistice agreements and attacks against Israeli civilian targets.
The unit’s first major operation came in October 1953, after an Israeli woman and her two children were killed while sleeping in their home in the town of Yehud. Mr. Sharon led a reprisal raid on the Jordanian town of Qibya, which was said to be harboring Palestinian guerrillas.
The battle of Qibya, in which 69 people were killed, more than half of them women and children, and 45 houses were demolished, brought Israel its first condemnation by the United Nations Security Council and became a Palestinian rallying cry for a generation.
A furor erupted in Israel over the civilian deaths, but the government did not investigate and covered up for the commando unit by saying that no Israeli soldiers had been involved. The raid, Ben-Gurion said at the time, must have been by people around Jerusalem, “refugees from Arab countries and survivors of Nazi concentration camps, who had suffered terribly at the hands of their tormentors and had shown great restraint until now.”
Unit 101 cultivated a sense among its members of being above rules and able to operate under the most severe conditions, an attitude that later permeated all elite Israeli military units.
In the 1956 Sinai campaign, Mr. Sharon commanded a paratroop brigade and violated orders by driving his men deep into Sinai to the Mitla Pass, where they were ambushed by Egyptian forces and sustained dozens of deaths, with scores of soldiers wounded. He had been unaware of a deal among Britain, France and Israel regarding the Mitla Pass. He was not shy with his complaints or sense of betrayal, and when the war ended his career suffered.
It was a period of personal loss as well. In May 1962, his wife, Gali, was killed when the car she was driving veered out of its lane and was hit by a truck. Mr. Sharon later married Gali’s younger sister, Lily, who had followed her to Israel. Lily became a mother to his son Gur, and together she and Mr. Sharon had two more sons, Omri and Gilad.
In 1964, Mr. Sharon’s flagging military career was revived by Mr. Rabin, then the chief of staff, who made him chief of the northern command. When the 1967 war broke out in June, Mr. Sharon was sent south to his old command area and played a crucial role on the Egyptian front.
When the war ended in a stunning victory for Israel — which had tripled its land mass and defeated the combined armies of Jordan, Syria and Egypt — Mr. Sharon felt a euphoria nearly unmatched in his life, he wrote in his autobiography.
Personal tragedy struck again soon. In October 1967, Gur, 11, his eldest son, was playing with friends with an old hunting rifle, stuffing it with gunpowder. A neighbor boy playfully aimed it at Gur’s head and pulled the trigger. Mr. Sharon, who was alone in the house at the time, ran out at the sound of the blast, scooped his son off the ground and flagged down a passing car to go to a hospital. The boy died en route.
His wife, Lily, remained Mr. Sharon’s fiercely loyal companion until her death from cancer in 2000. His two sons survive him, as do a number of grandchildren.
A Turn to Politics
Mr. Sharon’s relations with his military superiors remained tense as the country faced intermittent Palestinian guerrilla attacks in what became known as the War of Attrition. He was nearly thrown out of the army in 1969.
In 1970, as commander of the south, Mr. Sharon crushed Palestinian guerrilla units in the Gaza Strip. He bulldozed homes and groves, imposed collective punishment, set up intelligence units of Israelis who could pass for Palestinians and established the first Jewish settlements to hamper travel and communication of Palestinians.
In 1973, Mr. Sharon felt drawn to politics. With help from American friends, he also bought a large farm in the Negev Desert — it remains the largest privately owned farm in the country — and talked about retirement from the military. But that October, a shocking invasion by Egypt and Syria, a war that Israel nearly lost, delayed his plans.
He pulled off his most extraordinary feat of combat when he waged a daring crossing of the Suez Canal behind Egyptian lines, a move often described as either brilliant or foolhardy, and a turning point in the war.
Mr. Sharon had been hit in the head by a shifting tank turret, and photographs of him with his head bandaged appeared in many newspapers and remain a symbol of that war. After that, Mr. Sharon did retire and helped engineer the birth of the Likud bloc, a political union between the Liberal Party and the more right-wing Herut Party of Menachem Begin.
Mr. Begin, who was in many ways more Polish than Israeli, admired Mr. Sharon for his gruffness, courage and energy, and as a native-born symbol of the emancipated Jew. Mr. Sharon won his first election to Parliament, on the Likud ticket, in December 1973. But he quickly found the confines of Parliament, with its wheeling and dealing and endless committee meetings, not to his liking. He fought with his political allies, grew impatient and thirsted for more decisive action.
In the spring, he led a group of Israelis into the West Bank near the city of Nablus and, using the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by members of Parliament, helped them establish an illegal settlement. He then quit Parliament and returned to the army. Mr. Rabin had become prime minister and brought Mr. Sharon into the prime minister’s office as a special adviser. He held the job for about a year, and Mr. Sharon later wrote that this first exposure to central political power was extremely instructive.
In 1977, Mr. Begin’s Likud bloc beat Labor in the general elections, the first time in Israeli history that Labor was ousted from power. Its loss was the result of several factors: the 1973 military debacle, rampant party corruption, and the feeling of neglect and injury of Jewish immigrants from North Africa and the Arab world, the Sephardim, who had become a majority of the population.
Mr. Sharon, who had struck out on his own with an independent party that failed to take off, joined the Begin cabinet as agriculture minister and set about constructing Jewish settlements in the West Bank to prevent Israel from relinquishing the territory. The plan worked well, forcing future Israeli governments to care for and protect the settlers, who now number more than 350,000 in the West Bank, with an additional 200,000 in annexed areas of East Jerusalem.
Shortly after Mr. Begin’s election, the Egyptian president, Anwar el-Sadat, offered to come to Jerusalem and negotiate a peace treaty in exchange for a full return to Egypt of the Sinai Peninsula, lost in the 1967 war, and autonomy for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. It was a historic offer, and many Israelis did not know whether the Egyptians could be trusted. Mr. Sharon was among the doubters and voted against the deal as a cabinet member, although he then voted for it in the full Parliament. The offer led to the Camp David accords and the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, which returned Sinai to Egypt.
Mr. Sharon made no secret of his ambition to be defense minister, but he had to wait until the 1981 re-election of Mr. Begin. He made clear that his biggest concern was southern Lebanon, where Palestinian guerrilla groups had taken advantage of that country’s chaos and set up a ministate, with militias and weapons, using it as a launching pad for attacks on Israel’s north.
Lebanon and Beyond
In June 1982, after Palestinian guerrillas tried to assassinate the Israeli ambassador in London, leaving him critically wounded, Mr. Sharon began the invasion of Lebanon, saying it would last 48 hours. He saw it as an opportunity not only to remove the Palestinian threat but also to form a strategic alliance with Lebanon’s Christian elite by helping install its members in a new government and signing a peace treaty with a second neighbor.
Things went well at first. The Israeli military rooted out the Palestinian groups and built an alliance with the Phalangist Party, led by the Gemayel family. Mr. Sharon’s popularity in Israel soared.
But the Reagan administration and others grew wary and then angry as the Israeli invasion seemed not to end but rather to take on an increasingly punishing nature, including the saturation bombing of Beirut neighborhoods and delaying agreed-upon cease-fires. Some historians have accused Mr. Sharon of deceiving Mr. Begin and the rest of the cabinet on his broader intent for the war as it progressed.
Whether he was acting alone or in concert, Mr. Sharon saw his plans for Lebanon derail. Less than three weeks after his ally Bashir Gemayel was elected president in late August with the Israeli military’s help, he was assassinated in an explosion at his party headquarters.
The Israelis, in violation of a cease-fire agreement with the United States, sent troops into several West Beirut neighborhoods. These included Sabra and Shatila, Palestinian refugee camps where, the Israelis asserted, the Palestine Liberation Organization had residual bases and arms and thousands of fighters. That claim was disputed by American diplomats who said that Palestinian fighters had already been moved out of the area. The Israelis nonetheless sent in the Phalangists, who killed hundreds of civilians.
The massacre provoked international outrage, and many Israelis, already despondent that the “48-hour” Lebanon incursion had turned into a lengthy military and geopolitical adventure, were outraged. There were furious calls for Mr. Sharon’s resignation.
Mr. Sharon and Mr. Begin said this was intolerable slander. As Mr. Begin said, using the Hebrew word for non-Jews, “Goyim kill goyim, and they blame the Jews.” Nonetheless, even Mr. Begin started to distance himself from Mr. Sharon, whose political demise began to seem inevitable.
The government established an official investigation of the massacre, led by Israel’s chief justice, Yitzhak Kahan. The investigating committee absolved Mr. Sharon of direct responsibility, but said he should have anticipated that sending enraged militiamen of the Phalange into Palestinian neighborhoods right after the assassination of the group’s leader amounted to an invitation to carnage. The committee recommended his resignation.
Time magazine reported that Mr. Sharon had actually urged the Gemayel family to have its troops take revenge on the Palestinians for the death of Mr. Gemayel. The magazine said Mr. Sharon made this point during his condolence visit to the family. It claimed further that a secret appendix to the Kahan Commission report made this clear.
Mr. Sharon sued Time for libel and won a partial victory in Federal District Court in New York. The court found that the secret appendix, which contained names of Israeli intelligence officers, included no assertion by Mr. Sharon of the need for Phalangist revenge. But it ruled that Mr. Sharon had not been libeled because he could not prove “malice” on the magazine’s part.
In February 1983, the Israeli cabinet voted 16 to 1 to remove Mr. Sharon as defense minister. He remained as a minister without portfolio. His was the sole dissenting vote.
Depressed over the war and his wife’s recent death, Mr. Begin resigned as prime minister in September 1983 and was succeeded by Yitzhak Shamir. The 1984 election was a tie between Labor and Likud, and Mr. Sharon played a crucial role in negotiating a unity government with Mr. Peres of Labor whereby each party occupied the premiership for two years. Mr. Sharon remained active in politics throughout the 1980s and ’90s.
After Mr. Netanyahu defeated Mr. Peres in 1996 to become prime minister, Mr. Sharon joined Mr. Netanyahu at the Wye Plantation in Maryland to negotiate a continuation of the peace process with Mr. Arafat and the Palestinians.
But Mr. Sharon remained aloof from the talks, and pointedly refused to shake Mr. Arafat’s hand, as Mr. Rabin had done on the White House lawn in 1993. Mr. Sharon said that he had spent years trying to kill Mr. Arafat, and that he was not about to shake his hand.
Mr. Barak, of the Labor Party, defeated Mr. Netanyahu in 1999, but after the collapse of his peace talks with the Palestinians, Mr. Barak called for new elections for early 2001. It was widely expected that Mr. Netanyahu would run for the Likud Party. When he decided not to, Mr. Sharon, the stand-in party chief, became the unexpected candidate and surprise winner.
He brought Mr. Peres in as foreign minister, and the two septuagenarians, who as young men had sat at the elbows of Ben-Gurion when he ran the newly formed country, found themselves back together. Their partnership continued to thrive, and Mr. Peres left the Labor Party, which had been his political home his entire life, to join Mr. Sharon’s Kadima Party. Mr. Peres was later elected the country’s president.
Raanan Gissin, a close aide, said the main reason Mr. Sharon went from a champion of the settlements to an advocate of territorial withdrawal was growing international pressure for a Palestinian state.
“He was not an ideologue; he was a political architect,” Mr. Gissin said. “As a military man he knew one thing from the battlefield — you have to seize the initiative, you have to be the one driving the action. Even if peace was impossible, he wanted the process seeking it to be on his terms. And while he was in power, it was.”
Jodi Rudoren contributed reporting from Jerusalem.