Home > current events > Remembering Ariel Sharon: A Real-Life Hero

Remembering Ariel Sharon: A Real-Life Hero

Ariel Sharon died today.

It was eight years ago that a stroke left the prominent Israeli leader in a coma, and about two weeks ago, while I was in Israel, that news reports circulated that Sharon’s condition had “worsened.”

In a sense, it was ludicrous. How much worse could the comatose 85-year-old’s health get?

In another sense, it didn’t even seem like news. Except to those who knew him personally, what did it matter, really, whether the man was in a permanent vegetative state or whether his kidneys and liver gave up, too? But it wasn’t just news. It was the lead story across Israel.

Ariel Sharon lived a life of controversy. Born in 1928 in the pre-Israel British Mandate of Palestine E.I., he joined the Israeli army as a paratrooper, achieved officer status, and distinguished himself militarily by, for instance, forming the elite Unit 101 of the IDF and by mounting successful if contentious operations during the 1956 and 1973 wars. For these the public dubbed him the “King of Israel” and the “Lion of God,” launching his political career.

Sharon’s military boldness was matched by his bullheaded personality, at attribute for which he was called “the Bulldozer.” Reports of military insubordination had already surfaced in the 1950s. Later, for his actions as Defense Minister during the 1982 Israeli military campaign in Lebanon, he was charged with personal responsibility for Muslim deaths at the hands of Lebanese Christians. Unlike most such accusations, this one came not from Israel’s critics but from the Israeli government itself.

Repeating his pattern of provocation, Sharon led a contingent of 1,000 Israeli Jewish police offers to the Temple Mount in September of 2000, all but ensuring a violent response from the local Muslims who considered the site the 3rd holiest place in Islam.

In 2001, Sharon became Israel’s Prime Minister, thus giving his argumentative personality a larger pulpit, such as when he enraged all of France by declaring that French Jews should leave immediately because of the rampant and unchecked antisemitism in that country.

In 2004, he made an everlasting contribution to a 3,000 year-old struggle when he led his government to a unilateral disengagement from the occupied Gaza Strip (biblical Philistia, where David slew Goliath). Sharon’s move was met with widespread disapproval. Many Palestinians accused him of refusing to negotiate, while many of the Israelis living there refused to leave peaceably.

Yet Sharon’s autobiographer David Chanoff also reports that the leader said of his own life that “I begin with the basic conviction that Jews and Arabs can live together” and that even though Israel should remain Jewish, “Arabs should … be full citizens in every sense of the word.”

By 2005, this side of Sharon had become more widely recognized. He resigned as head of the Likud party, which he himself had founded, and established a new party, which he called “Kadima” — a Hebrew word that means “forward,” and also, more colloquially, “let’s go already.” It was in this context that he was widely seen as Israel’s greatest hope for permanent peace.

And then he suffered a series of debilitating strokes that left him in a coma, that left his party without a strong leader, and that devastated the spirits of many newly-made optimists.

Flawed though he was — as real-life heros always are — Sharon was larger then life, and he wrote a chapter of a book that began 150 generations ago. Yet alongside monikers like “King of Israel,” he was also known by his humble nickname: Arik.

Perhaps this Jew born to Russian immigrants can remind us that our own lives, too — in ways we often cannot fathom — are part of the unfolding story of the Jewish people. Now there’s a new chapter waiting to be written. And each of us has been invited to contribute.

Categories: current events
  1. Harry Calnan
    January 11, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    Hmmm… Here is what Christopher Hitchens wrote (in part) about Ariel Sharon in the February 19th, 2001 edition of “The Nation”:

    “As I write, it looks as if the same Sharon will become Israel’s prime minister. If you recall, he occupied West Beirut in September 1982, after the assassination of the Maronite Prime Minister Bashir Gemayel, on the announced and highly believable pretext that Palestinian civilians would need protection from Phalangist reprisal. He then sent into their undefended camps the most extreme faction of the Phalangist militia and backed up the dirty work of these notorious fascists with flares during the night, and rear-guard cover during the day, for thirty-six hours before having them escorted out in triumph and thanked for their work. In other words, the bulk of US overseas military aid is about to be lavished on a man who stood with hands on hip, in belt and boots and steel helmet and binoculars, and saw a mound of human corpses rise, and who thought it good.”

    Some hero …

    • January 12, 2014 at 8:23 am

      In 2001 Hitchens didn’t have the full story.

  2. January 12, 2014 at 3:20 am

    I always thought he was a scary guy.
    David and Goliath is a story of mystic significance. It is only a story. It never ‘happened’. The stones and the forehead of Goliath symbolize the esoteric dynamic of mystic concentration at the third or ‘single’ “eye” — David’s ego-self, Goliath’s forehead. Even the number of stones is significant. Five (1 Sam. 17:40) is the number of names in the mantra given even today to mystic practitioners to aid in mental concentration ( I was initiated into the five Shabds myself in 1976 by an Indian master).

    • January 12, 2014 at 8:29 am

      Of course the David and Goliath story is fictional, but it’s historical fiction, set against the real backdrop of an Israelite monarchy in Jerusalem and a Philistine culture in what is now the Gaza strip.

      Incidentally, for most of Sharon’s career, I thought he was pretty scary, too.

      • January 12, 2014 at 2:08 pm

        Yes, I was aware. Thanks.
        How familiar are you with Dr. Robert Eisenman’s work?

  3. Harry Calnan
    January 12, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    Your assertion that “Hitchens didn’t have the full story” is a rather weak defense. The Kahan commission found that Ariel Sharon “bears personal responsibility”.

    If there is evidence that exonerates Ariel Sharon, I (and others, too, I believe) would certainly like to know what that evidence is.

    • January 12, 2014 at 7:56 pm

      I think you’re missing the point. I’m not defending what Sharon did at Sabra and Shatila. And I’m not ignoring it. (I had all of Sharon’s life to summarize in a few hundred words, and I specifically chose to include Israel’s conclusion that Sharon bore personal responsibility for what happened in Lebanon.)

      Hitchens didn’t know in 2001 what Sharon would do later.

  4. Harry Calnan
    January 12, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    Rather than missing your point, I’m making a different one – Sharon’s behavior during that awful time makes him unworthy of being called a hero. Nothing he did after that can redeem letting the Christian Phalangists into those camps. We can agree to disagree about this man.

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