Ariel Sharon Without Apology

Ariel Sharon (Michael Thaidigsmann/ WJC)

Ariel Sharon (Michael Thaidigsmann/ WJC)

Ariel Sharon’s long, highly decorated and celebrated life in Israel’s military and political spheres is a rich source of material for constructing a meaningful remembrance. The complexity of his life and the different roles he played in service of the State of Israel have been on display since the general and former premier died Jan. 11 — in newspaper columns and articles, news releases and in the voices of world leaders who gathered in Jerusalem Monday for a state memorial ceremony.

Sharon, who was 85, was a man about whom it was impossible not to have an opinion, and usually a strong one. From his military service in the 1948 War of Independence through his tenure as prime minister in 2006, when he was incapacitated by a stroke, Sharon did things forcefully, in a big way, without apology. He became known as “the Bulldozer,” and historians will debate for some time which of his controversial actions were at the bidding of his military and political superiors and which were of his own volition.

If Sharon did not create Israel’s right wing, he was certainly its shepherd. In 1973, as virtually his first act in politics, Sharon brought together a bloc of rightward-leaning parties to form the Likud under Menachem Begin, who four years later became the first non-Labor prime minister in Israel’s history. As agriculture minister in Begin’s government, Sharon was seen as the patron of the Gush Emunim settler movement.

But decades later, Sharon was the only prime minister to dismantle settlements — in Gaza and the northern West Bank in 2005. He also took charge of the destruction of the town of Yamit in the Sinai in 1979, as Israel was preparing to leave under the terms of its peace treaty with Egypt. For Sharon, settlements were important, but not sacred.

On the simplest level, both left and right have their own narrative regarding the arc and twists and turns of Sharon’s life. For the left, Sharon was the warrior whose brutality reached its height at Sabra and Shatilla in 1982, when he allowed the Israeli army in Lebanon to stand by as Christian militia slaughtered hundreds of Palestinians. Yet, the hardline Sharon, after he became prime minister, realized that it was not enough to pound the enemy into acquiescence. He concluded that Israel could not indefinitely rule over the Palestinians and needed to begin withdrawing from territories.

For the right, which cheered Sharon through his years of settlement building and fighting the PLO and who hailed him as arik melech yisrael — “Arik, King of Israel” — the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza was an unforgivable betrayal of Greater Israel and the Jews who went to settle the territories. It is disturbing that some members of this camp proclaimed that Sharon’s stroke the following year was a punishment from God.

There’s no telling what Sharon would have done next, if he had not fallen ill. His stroke occurred not very long after his founding of the Kadima Party and at a time when he seemed poised to move even more forcefully to a final, peaceful resolution with the Palestinians. In any case, eight years have passed since then, and others have taken the reins of command. Now there is no Ariel Sharon in Israel. That means there is no single leader who people believe is the only one with the authority and the political strength to push through dramatic change.

At a time of political and cultural deadlock in the Middle East, when Israel continues to face a host of existential challenges, we think back fondly on the leadership of Ariel Sharon, who showed a remarkable ability to capture a mandate and cut through the infighting to do what was right for the country. We will miss him.


  1. Mark Jeffery Koch says

    Ariel Sharon’s Israel was an Israel where all of its neighbors, on a daily basis, threatened to annihilate the State and drive all the Jews into the sea. It was and is an Israel where the Palestinians name their streets in honor of terrorists who have slaughtered innocent men, women, and children on busses, in restaurants, schools, shopping malls, and supermarkets. It was and is an Israel that witnessed Arab terrorists targeting little children and being lauded in Arab cities for murdering Jewish children.

    In 1979 Palestinian Sami Kuntar and his group of terrorists broke into an apartment building in Israel and kidnapped a young father, 31-year-old Danny Haran, and his 4-year-old daughter, Einat, taking them to a nearby beach. Kuntar was found guilty of murdering Haran in front of Einat, then turning to the child and crushing her skull against a rock with the butt of his rifle. When he was released from jail many years later in a swap with Hezbollah for two Israeli soldiers who had been captured he received a heroes welcome with people dancing in the street upon his return.

    On 11 March 2011, Palestinian terrorists murdered five members of the same family in their beds. The victims were the father Ehud Fogel, the mother Ruth Fogel, and three of their six children: Yoav, 11, Elad, 4, and Hadas, the youngest, a three-month-old infant. The infant was decapitated. Palestinian television aired an interview with the relatives of the Fogel family murderers, praising the two cousins convicted of the brutal attack as “heroes.” The mother of the main perpetrator praised her son.

    This was and is Ariel Sharon’s Israel. It is easy for the Diaspora, living in the comfort of their homes in America, to criticize Sharon’s strong arm tactics but he did what had to do for his people.

    The Left will never understand a man like Sharon. They don’t have to worry about the safety of their children going to a nightclub, to school, getting on a bus, going out for lunch to a restaurant, or going to a shopping mall to meet their friends. Israeli’s have endured dozens and dozens of terrorist attacks. What happened in Boston a year ago at the Marathon has been duplicated a hundred times all across Israel with terrorist attacks against innocent men, women, and children. What the Left will never understand is that you cannot negotiate with people who want your annihilation. There is nothing you can ever offer them that will placate them except your death and destruction. Sharon understood that, and yes, his tactics were brutal at times, but they were effective.

    Unless you have family living in bomb shelters as many families in the North of Israel have during Hezbollah missile attacks, and unless you have received that horrible call about a loved one who was blown to pieces while on a bus, a restaurant, a school, or a shopping mall then you cannot and never will understand what the average Israeli had to deal with on a daily basis. Sharon responded in the only language those sending out terrorists to slaughter Jews understood. Should he be lauded? Perhaps. Understood? Most definitely yes.

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