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.
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