Baruch Dayan Emet. Ariel Sharon, 1928-2014

Ariel Sharon stands with the Temple Mount in the background during his term as prime minister in July 2000

Ariel Sharon was not a man about whom you could be neutral. You either loved him or hated him; idolised him or demonised him. When he did good, he was excellent. When he did bad, he was beyond contempt.

I first began to hear about Ariel Sharon during the Yom Kippur War, when I was in my teens. A few years later I made aliya and Sharon was one of my idols. Known as the Bulldozer, he ploughed ahead with whatever idea he had set his heart on: whether charging into Beirut to oust the PLO and then keeping the IDF in southern Lebanon for almost 20 years to guard a security zone for northern Israel; or settlement building all over Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

Although reviled and demonized for his part in the Sabra and Chatilla massacre, which – let us not forget – was actually carried out by Phalangists and not Israelis, forced by the Kahan Commission to resign and forbidden from ever being Defence Minister again, he returned instead as Prime Minister at the head of a landslide election win.

He took charge of Israel’s reaction to the Second Intifada, ultimately confining Yasser Arafat to his Muqata and constructing the security barrier which defeated the suicide bombers.

But then he did the unthinkable. He forced through the “Disengagement“, although I prefer to call it the Expulsion, of Jewish settlements from Gush Katif in Gaza. There are many in the media and politics, local and international, who applaud Sharon for his latter-year “wisdom” and “peace-making”.  I am still convinced that a large part of Ariel Sharon’s extraordinary turn-around in his political thinking was due to a huge corruption case involving himself, his children and a friend, that was about to blow wide open. The Israeli press was salivating at the thought of the hated hard-right winger, settlement supporter being brought down by his own dirty deeds, so Sharon had to think of a strategy to get the media and the left-wing onside. The only way to do that was to become a leftist politically.

Thus was born the rotten Expulsion. The media suddenly forgot about the corruption trial which seemed to get bogged down in endless extensions and side-tracks. Suddenly Ariel Sharon was the media’s darling, and even internationally he was acclaimed as a peace-maker. All of the right-wing’s warnings about rockets on Sderot and Ashkelon and even Tel Aviv were dismissed as scare-mongering, whining and war-talk.

To calm his right-wing Sharon proposed a referendum about the Disengagement, which duly took place. The result was a resounding “NO”. Being the bulldozer that was his nickname, he proceeded to ignore the referendum’s results, undemocratically fired every minister who disagreed with him, disbanded his own political party, setting up the Kadima party, and then forced through the expulsion.

The Disengagement very nearly split the nation, raising fears of civil insurrection and even (G-d forbid) civil war.  To this day, nearly 9 years later, many of the 10,000 settlers expelled from Gush Katif are still homeless and jobless, living in what would be called “refugee camps” if they were not Jewish.  And of course every one of the right-wing’s warnings about the dangers of the withdrawal came true, with rockets on all of Israel’s south, and even reaching Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012.

Former chief of staff Haim Bar-Lev, center left, consults with Maj. Gen. Ariel Sharon (with bandage) and Moshe Dayan, center, during the Yom Kippur War. (photo credit: GPO/Flash90)

Since the Disengagement was one of the last major political moves that Sharon made before his stroke, it is very hard now to remember all the good things that he did. But it is very important that these be remembered and noted too: he formed and commanded Unit 101, the forerunner of the IDF’s special forces, to combat deadly cross-border raids by Arab Fedayeen; he led the astounding counter-attack across the Suez Canal in the Yom Kippur War, encircling the Egyptian Third Army, forcing the Egyptians to a cease fire; he actively and aggressively encouraged the building and expansion of Jewish communities throughout Judea, Samaria and, yes, even Gaza. He also led the push-back against the Palestinians during the deadly Second Intifada, ultimately planning the Security Barrier whose effectiveness is so evident today.

There are several obituaries in the press today. Here are a few that I thought interesting:

Marc Goldberg, writing at Harry’s Place, has a surprisingly moving obituary, “The Passing of a Warrior“. (Surprising because I rarely agree with Marc’s politics). His closing words are particularly apt:

He will be revered, respected and hated for many years to come. Perhaps no higher accolade can be uttered than to say he helped shape this nation. Though I sense he would prefer to be remembered in perpetuity for his courage, for always doing what he felt was right.

Now fade away old soldier, we will miss you.

At Arutz Sheva there are “Mixed feelings on the right“, with MK Orit Struk saying he was “one of the great builders of the land of Israel, and its greatest destroyer”.

Another Arutz Sheva obituary lists the timeline of his life and military and political careers.

The Times of Israel takes a long look at Ariel Sharon’s life, from his early beginnings on a moshav (collective agricultural community), through his controversial and brilliant military career to his last days in politics.

The ToI also writes about the ugly celebrations in the Arab world at Sharon’s death.

The Jerusalem Post, in an obituary entitled  “The Life of a Lion”, gives us a much deeper insight into the personal motivations of Ariel Sharon which led to his brilliance on the battlefield and his wiliness in politics.

Ariel Sharon’s body is being brought today (Sunday) to the Knesset to lie in State. His funeral will take place tomorrow when he will be buried at his farm at Havat Hashikmim in the Negev.

ברוך דיין אמת. יהי זכרו ברוך

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28 Responses to Baruch Dayan Emet. Ariel Sharon, 1928-2014

  1. Chaim says:

    In the first photo he is not standing on the Temple Mount but looking at it, probable from Har Hazeitim

  2. NormanF says:

    I am sorry – I cannot overlook what he did to his brethren! His sins against them testify against him. It is no accident he did exactly ten years to the day after he first announced the expulsion of the Jews from the Land Of Israel. He did not repent and did not forgiveness from those whom he harmed! He harmed the living and uprooted the graves of the dead!

    Its not my place to forgive and say I’m understanding. Every sense of decency in me prevents me from extending Ariel Sharon the respect he would not accord his fellow Jews in life! I cannot mourn for him as a result. And we must all be better than he was so his fate will not befall us also!

    • anneinpt says:

      Norman, I agree that what he did was terrible. The only benefit of the doubt that can be given is that he didn’t have a chance to repent because the stroke incapacitated him. We’ll never know what he would have done had he seen the result of his betrayal.

  3. JudyPT says:

    It was so obvious that Sharon changed his political direction to deflect the criminal charges that were piling up against him and his family. As soon as he announced his gaza plans the left wing media were salivating over every detail not caring a jot for all the destroyed lives and hopes of the residents who had been encouraged to make the desert bloom.All the dire warnings re violence came true , but thesupporters of Sharon took a long time till many of them finally admitted it had been a mistake.Now they are again sounding the waters about doing the same to yehuda and the shomron.Be warned!!!

    • anneinpt says:

      I agree it is absolutely terrifying to think that a repeat of Sharon’s betrayal might be in the offing. You’d think our leaders would have learned their lesson by now. I wonder if there is any stomach for another withdrawal amongst ordinary Israelis if they realise that missiles will be right on their doorstep, next to Kfar Saba, Netanya, Petach Tikva and Jerusalem, and not in “far-away” Gaza (which isn’t so far any more with their new long-range missiles).

  4. PeteCA says:

    Really fine piece – thanks for posting.
    You never want a man’s (or woman’s) obituary to be clouded with the grime of politics. People tend to do that, but its not what life is all about. It is good to remember Ariel Sharon for the remarkable accomplishments he made. What strikes me is how long he was active … he knew Israel from the very beginning. He fought for your country when there were few allies, and a lot of dangerous enemies. It is worth celebrating the good things … and for him there were many!
    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      Thanks for the kind words Pete. I wasn’t sure how to go about writing this piece. At first I thought just to quote from the various press obits, but then I decided it’s my blog and my opinions (as my title declares!) so I shall write what I feel. It was hard to keep a balance between the negative and the positive.

      Sharon was indeed right in the action from the very beginning.

      I edited the above line because it can be read as if I approve of Sharon’s withdrawal of Gaza settlements.

      What I wanted to say was Sharon was indeed present and highly involved in Israel’s military operations right from the beginning of the State, and even before.

      He’s amongst the last of our generation of giants, the founding fathers. And you’re right, we mustn’t lose sight of the good things he did despite the bad stuff at the end of his life.

  5. Chaim says:

    Perhaps he is now standing before the Dayan Haemet from Whom he will receive the final judgement he deserves.

  6. Reality says:

    Chaim you are so right. I’ve been so ambivalent all day. On the one hand I look at all these communities that have been built in the Yehuda & Shomron , but then look at all the broken families since the expulsion from Katif,be it financially(some still paying mortgages with no home to show for it 9 years later,) or from having loved ones killed & maimed. There are people who say “He who messes around with Israels’ land and its people will get their punishment. A bit harsh? perhaps .But then we cannot judge him .As Chaim says , Ariel Sharon is standing now before the Dayan Emet. I wonder if during the pasdt 8 years these thoughts were in his head. We will never know.
    Baruch Dayan Emet.

  7. Brian Goldfarb says:

    Everyone here will be aware that I am hardly a fan of the Ariel Sharon’s politics. Perhaps I should be less antagonistic and more understanding, because there is a surprisingly sympathetic obituary by Benny Morris in The Tablet of today’s date: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/158153/ariel-sharon-obituary?utm_source=tabletmagazinelist&utm_campaign=0b62231f67-1_12_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c308bf8edb-0b62231f67-206701645

    Surprising, because Morris, as a former “new historian”, was on the left of Israeli party and academic politics. However, as those who have read his later books (“1948: The First Arab-Israeli War” and “One State: Two States”) will know, he has in the past few years moved towards the centre of Israeli politics, although hardly as far over as Sharon. Two quotes will show what I mean. Firstly, “A product of the Labor movement, Sharon was a Mapainik at heart: Mapai was the pragmatic socialist party, led by Ben Gurion, that had led the Zionist enterprise to statehood and ruled Israel between 1948 and 1977.” No surprise here: true for both Sharon and Morris. The other quote, to show even more sympathy, comes right at the end of the piece: “When Sharon disappeared from the political arena, in January 2006, both Palestinian and Jewish extremists rejoiced. But there was a real sense of shock, sadness, and loss among most Israelis, who felt—probably correctly—that the only political figure willing and able to extricate—liberate—Israel from the West Bank and thus able to change the course of the country’s history, was gone.”

    I urge you to read the bits in between as well.

    • anneinpt says:

      Whilst I agree with most of Morris’ obituary, I think he misses an important point, which I made in a comment up-thread, which is that no one actually knows what Sharon would have done had he lived to see the terrible results of his impetuous withdrawal from Gaza.

      Would he have initiated another “Defensive Shield” operation against Gaza in retaliation for the thousands of missiles launched at Israel from Gaza? Would he have ordered the settlers to return? Who knows? The man was unpredictable, a maverick, impetuous.

      As for the praises over his “peace-making” and the mourning over the “loss” of the chance to abandon the West Bank to terrorists, do people really think he would have gone ahead with another withdrawal from the West Bank in the light of the Hamas takeover of Gaza, and given the fact that the West Bank is not out in the boondocks in the south, with only the poor people of Sderot the victims, but right in our heartland with Israel’s “bubble” yuppieville: Tel Aviv and its environs as the likely targets?.

      I somehow doubt it.

      Then again, we’ll never know.

      • Brian Goldfarb says:

        Anne, I wasn’t, of course, arguing that. After all, (as Enoch Powell said – at least some of us here will remember him!), “all political careers end in failure”: and so it was, in that sense, for Sharon, whether he knew it or not. And, who knows, maybe in 50 years time, when only the youngest readers here will be able to recall it, “history” (or, rather, the socio-political commentators of the time) may well rehabilitate him. As I believe will eventually happen to Lyndon Johnson, despite his reputation as the man who expanded the Vietnam war: his domestic success will overshadow his war record.

        What I was trying to say was that, even now, his political legacy is viewed remarkably disparately and from surprising parts of the political spectrum – such as Benny Morris!

  8. Anne Diamond says:

    I am sorry that I have not had time to read the wonderful piece describing Ariel Sharron for personal resons. How ever I have hear and listened to him at the Israel most wonderful place which I feel has the most fair and been in several times to hear speeches … He spoke from the heart and with conviction I admired him very much, You don’t have always agree just support a point of view.
    I wish his family long life ….
    Anne Diamond

  9. DavidinPT says:

    I wonder if Bibi will learn from one of Sharon’s characteristics, mentioned today, I think, by Joe Biden – the ability to say loud and clear to the US President “No!”. Ben Gurion survived the economic boycott initiated by the US following Unit 101′s retaliatory attack on Bidya (or Bikya?) led by Sharon (who set up 101 for just this sort of operation), and Sharon warned Bush (the father) that Israel would not be the world’s Czechoslovakia. It looks like the time for another loud and clear “No” is rapidly approaching.

    • anneinpt says:

      I think you mean Qibya, not Bidya, back in the 50s.

      Also, didn’t Bibi too warn the Americans that we wouldn’t be another Czechoslovakia? Or was it only Sharon. I remember the Americans were rather offended.

  10. Aridog says:

    I will remember General Sharon for the drive on Ismailia in the Yom Kippur War. I was at work when a neighbor (an Israeli student’s wife here in the US) called to tell me that the IDF crossed the Suez and were near surrounding the Egyptian 3rd Army. I was delighted, but flabbergasted by that outcome.

  11. PeteCA says:

    “that Israel would not be the world’s Czechoslovakia”

    you are bringing back old memories there. Most younger people would not even understand that reference you are mentioning. However, in the context of today’s politics it is particularly relevant. Someone IS going to wind up being the “new Czechoslovakia”.
    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      Well, let it be the Palestinians and not Israel. I still think that if only Israel and the Palestinians were left to their own devices by the rest of the world, and the international community would just leave us alone, we’d manage to come to some sort of cold peace if not a full-fledged peace treaty.

      As soon as outside parties are involved both sides “play to the gallery” and that’s a sure-fire way to failure.

      • Aridog says:

        Funny you should say that, as you know I live in a majority Arabic community, and the “Palestinians” are barely tolerated by the Iraqi, Yemeni, Lebanese, et al in the community. Without international meddling the “Palestinians” might just figure out that their BEST potential allies are the Israelis. The Lebanese would be well advised to acknowledge the same thing and I have raised this multiple times in conversation with Lebon friends and none have really disputed it, although they’ll not say it in public. Syria is certainly the least of Lebanon’s “friends” and not a single one I know has disputed that position. Israel is GOOD for the Levant and the sooner this is accepted as fact the better. Israeli politics can leave me cross-eyed with confusion, however, I get it…it is called FREEDOM.

        • anneinpt says:

          Interesting that the Palestinians are barely tolerated anywhere in the world. The only place that is required to tolerate them is Israel.

          As for recognizing that Israel is good for the ME and a stabilizing force, I’m sure you know as well as I that Middle Easterners have never been known to act in their own interests if it involves recognizing that infidel state, aka Israel.

          And yeah, I agree with you about Israeli politics. :-)

  12. Aridog says:

    Something happened in the post….first line is supposed to say: “Funny you should say that, as you know I live in a majority Arabic community, and the “Palestinians” are barely tolerated by the…etc.

  13. peteca1 says:

    Anne … copying a news report from Tuesday, Jan 14′th. Looks like the dispute between Irael and the US Administration is heating up. Could 2014 be the year where the two countries go on separate political paths??

    Pete, USA

    Jerusalem (AFP) – Israel’s defence minister accused US Secretary of State John Kerry of an “incomprehensible obsession” with his push for Middle East peace, drawing an angry response from the Jewish state’s chief ally Tuesday.

    The US State Department described Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon’s comments as “offensive,” in a mark of the degree of outrage in Washington at the latest public spat between the two allies, which follows a major row over Iran policy.

    Israel’s top-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot quoted Yaalon as expressing hope that Kerry, who has visited the region 10 times since taking office in February 2013, would end his peace push and focus his energies elsewhere.

    “The American plan for security arrangements that was shown to us isn’t worth the paper it was written on,” Yaalon was quoted as saying in private conversations with Israeli officials, accusing Kerry of being naive and implying he is a nuisance.

    • anneinpt says:

      Pete, you’ve been reading my mind! I wrote my next post about this exact story before I read your comment here. :-D

      To answer your question, I don’t actually think that relations between Israel and the US will split. We’ve always had our ups and downs, even with the present administration. I think the Americans are getting very frustrated with both sides but they know that they’ll never get anything out of the Palestinians so they are pressuring the Israelis.

      Israel just has to learn to grow a backbone and stand firm until we get all the conditions that we deem necessary for our security.

      No, I’m not holding my breath…

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