16 January 2014
By Gabsy Debinski
The death of Ariel Sharon z”l marked the end of an era. The former Prime Minister was perhaps the last founding father of the state. His history is finely intertwined with the establishment of Israel’s independence. Having joined the Haganah in 1942 at the age of 14, Sharon was fearless and bold, willing to sacrifice anything to protect Israel and its citizens. This saying often manifests as cliché, but for Ariel Sharon it is mere fact. His vast military achievements stand as testament.
Obituaries have abounded in recent days. From the New York Times to Al Jazeera, the Herald Sun to The Times of Israel, it seems that everything that could have possibly been written about the military man turned politician has been sourced; perspectives both flattering and defamatory.
It is hard to eulogize one of Israel’s most influential leaders without rehashing the obituaries that have flooded our inboxes over the last week. Sharon’s drawn-out illness meant that journalists and leaders around the world had prepared their statements years in advance.
What emerges is that Sharon was a brilliant, savvy soldier. He founded and led the “101” special commando unit which carried out retaliatory operation against terrorist groups and served as a commander in the 1948 War of Independence, 1956 Suez War, 1967 Six-Day War and 1973 Yom-Kippur War, where he led the crossing of the Suez Canal, which brought about victory in the war and subsequent peace with Egypt.
Sharon was involved in the Battle for Jerusalem among other crucial military operations, and was seriously wounded in clashes with the Jordanian Arab Legion during the First Battle for Latrun.
In reading the influx of material it struck me that I seemed to know so little about the human being Ariel Sharon, the man. One of the last true founding father’s of the state; his hands literally stained with the soil of the earth. A beautiful article written by Elliot Abrams in Commentary Magazineencapsulates the spirit of the man with no facades and no guises. It is raw but it is real and worthy of your time.
Sharon has always been portrayed as stoic and hard-hearted. He was indeed resilient and strong, never revealing a glimpse of the personal losses he had endured. Sharon’s first wife, Margalit, a psychiatric nurse, was killed in a car accident in May 1962, leaving Sharon to raise their young son, Gur, alone. Margalit’s sister, Lily, stepped in to help with the child and shortly after her and Sharon married and had two sons of their own, Omri and Gilad. Sharon’s son, Gur, died in October 1967, in a tragic accident, which occurred as he and a friend were playing with a rifle kept by Sharon at home. He was ten years old.
I am amazed by those who have experienced profound heartbreak, yet go on to achieve greatness. Sharon epitomized this ethos. He was strong and averted pity. When many would have crawled into a ball and withdrawn from the world he was resilient and dedicated his life to the state of Israel and its people. For this, he deserves our unwavering admiration.
“We extend our hand towards peace. Our people are committed to peace. We know that peace entails painful compromise for both sides.”
Many will disagree with my assessment (and I have come to expect and even appreciate the rebuff) but Sharon was no warrior turned peacemaker. His aims and principles were constant. Peace was his ultimate pursuit, but not at the expense of the security of Israel and her citizens. This is something he was unwilling to compromise on even in the face of dwindling popularity or condemnation. Many of our modern day politicians have much to learn from this strength of character and political backbone.
Indeed, Ariel Sharon was a political pragmatist and he was a realist. The former PM was renowned for his capacity to make bold decisions to ensure Israel’s security. Yet his military experience did not preclude a commitment to pursuing peace. In 1998 Ariel Sharon was appointed Foreign Minister and headed the permanent status negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. As Foreign Minister he oversaw and advanced many projects to create dialogue and cooperation between Israel and the Arab states. Most notably Sharon spearheaded the Flagship Water Project to find a lasting solution to the region’s water crisis and a foundation to peaceful co-existence between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians.
In February 2001 Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister, reaffirming the Israeli government’s determination to achieve peace with the Palestinians. He maintained a strong relationship with former President Bush and his administration and in May 2003 Sharon’s government accepted the US road map for a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He was committed to Israel’s security, implementing the security barrier which has significantly reduced terrorist infiltration. See here a great article written in Tablet Magazine on Sharon’s political milestones
Controversy was never far behind the trailblazer. Much of the smut circulated over the last week has been rooted in arbitrary analysis of the Shatila and Sabra massacres of 1982, which culminated in Sharon being forced to resign as Defence Minister. The murder of these Palestinian refugees has been erroneously attributed to Sharon’s leadership.
While Sharon had formed an alliance with the Lebanese Phalangist and Lebanese Forces militia in order to eradicate PLO terrorism, it was the Lebanese Phalangist group led by commander Elie Hobeika that committed the atrocity. While Hobeika went largely under the radar after the event, going on to become a longstanding Lebanese MP until he was killed in a car bomb years later, Sharon became the scapegoat and accused war criminal. It is a complex situation warranting greater analysis and understanding than the media has portrayed. Honest Reporting has published a comprehensive guide to distinguishing such propaganda from truth; Ariel Sharon: Debunking the media myths.
Ariel Sharon never regained consciousness after his stroke in 2006. But his legacy lives on. Sharon’s leadership transcended the boundaries of right-left divides. He sought solutions pragmatically, fixed on Israel’s security yet equally committed to maintaining its Jewish democratic character. When this meant fighting terror he went to war. When it meant withdrawing he implemented the disengagement from Gaza and four settlements in the West Bank in June 2004.
Whether you align with the right or the left or somewhere in the middle, if you love Israel and what it stands for then you owe Ariel Sharon z”l your eternal gratitude.