Ariel Sharon, 1928-2014

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon passed away this Shabbat, still under the coma that took him in 2006. He leaves behind a deeply mixed legacy, both beloved and reviled by many, and perplexing in his final years. I am not ambivalent about Sharon’s legacy. He goes down in history as a reluctant late-comer to peace and, unfortunately, as a military commander condemned by his own country for permitting the massacre of innocent civilians in Qibya and in Sabra and Shatila. His legacy upon Israeli history is less honorable than I prefer for a leader of the Jewish people.
As a young minister, he satisfied the settlement movement’s horrible appetite by unearthing the bygone Turkish-era law that allowed the seizure of Palestinian land. Defeated at first by the Israeli High Court from building openly on privately-owned land, a Sharon confidant recounts in the documentary The Law in These Parts, Sharon discovered he could appropriate property if he could prevent the owners from farming it for a year. That legal gimmick, aided by a snaking security barrier and countless checkpoints, would dispossess thousands of Palestinians of land upon which today sit the red tile roofs of Israeli settlements.
And Sharon will be remembered with perplexity and mystery. Ariel Sharon in his final years turned against his life-long allies, the settlers. He uttered support for the two-state solution. He did what Israeli doves could not, uprooting Gush Katif. He commissioned the Sasson Report, which revealed how much settlement had gone beyond “legal” methods to the outright theft the Supreme Court had forbidden him decades before. Just before his stroke, debate swirled around whether he would also disengage from the West Bank or whether it was a ruse to put full negotiations in “formaldehyde.” Can we really know how he saw the settlement machine that he himself had built?
I do believe that warmongers can redeem themselves by taking true steps towards peace. Shimon Peres conducted terrorism against the British, Rabin was a hard general of war, as was Arafat, and so too Abbas. But Sharon’s redemptive acts were too late, too little, too counterproductive.
Refusing to work with the Palestinian Authority when withdrawing from Gaza handed Hamas a victory proving that Israelis only understand violence and never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Sharon shares in the creation of the context for the rockets that rained down for years upon Sderot and the brutality of Operation Cast Lead. Innocent lives on both sides wasted. And now withdrawal, a peacemaking necessity, is tainted by unilateralism and the fear of which is why today Israelis haven’t believed they can trust Palestinians to rule.
His mistakes have been our burden to carry. Peace has taken this long as a result of his participation in history. Israel’s democracy today is imperiled by the forces he aided and abetted. I admit the possibility that in the future, we will look back at Sharon’s destructive decisions and see their purpose in the grander scheme. But it’s hard to imagine that such a delay could be to our benefit.
Ariel Sharon will remain a larger than life figure. May he be peacefully laid to rest, the same peace that every man deserves regardless of life’s actions. May someday the pain of the victims of Qibya, of Sabra and Shatila, and of the all the fighting between Jews and Arabs ever since also be peacefully put to rest. A beautiful, full peace that Ariel Sharon will bear little credit in having made possible.

5 thoughts on “Ariel Sharon, 1928-2014

  1. Here’s a fragment of another perspective…
    Ariel Sharon was man whose ingenuity and action and courage and valor aborted Israel’s strangulation in the border wars, then again in ’56, brought brilliant victory in ’67, and mitigated the “fall of the Third Temple” in ’73. A man whose victories on the battlefield, using strategies and tactics condemned by a gutless political and military command eager to hang him at the first opportunity, and then celebrated after he had succeeded, forced the Egyptians to sue for peace and thus made a multi-front war against Israel impossible, effectively ending decades of real slaughter in the Jewish-Arab conflict, saving countless lives and forming the basis for Israel’s astonishing era of peace, development and prosperity.
    Not a paper pusher. Not an empty suit. Not a man who practiced verbal diarrhea.
    A man who revolutionized the Israeli way of war, single-handedly inventing the concept of special operations forces, along with the tactics to make them effective. A man truly for his time, who believed deeply in Jewish security, in exacting a price for the spilling of Jewish blood, so cheap when he started, that an ever shrinking few were willing to pay. A man who studied his enemy, respected his enemy, put the fear of G-d in his enemy and – while weaker men were fainting, finding a rock to crawl under, finding a scapegoat to slaughter or calling the Americans with the terms of their own surrender – drew on a well of deep courage, with a weight of Jewish history firmly on his shoulders, and butchered his enemy, leaving it to lesser men to claim the credit and the nobel prizes.
    A man at the head of every formation, battalion, division and political party he led, who challenged orders and command when they contradicted the pledge of loyalty he took to his men and his country and (what’s remarkable) succeeded more often, and more brilliantly than anyone could have imagined, in spite of the opposition he faced, the pressures and responsibilities…
    And so much more.
    Ariel Sharon’s life work is the foundation stone for all the peace work the progressive community is engaged in for which there is any hope of success. He was a man for his time, who did his duty for his country and his people, from an early age to his final day. May we merit to have a tiny fraction of his courage, at the time when it must be found.
    Despite many works about his being made available in English in recent years – many of which I’ve read – his authobiography remains my favorite. A man who never stopped imagining, innovating, thinking… truly an inspiration. It’s very cheap used – read it.

  2. Thanks, Victor.
    Dan, a historical error on my part, as Peres joined the Hagannah in 1947, which pulled out of an alliance with Lehi and the Irgun who in 1947 were kidnapping and assassinating British soldiers. I was under the impression that the Haganah was still engaged in guerrilla attacks against the British.
    israel, I believe Arafat was even more a warmonger than Sharon but who also whose decisions ultimately played a larger role in peacemaking.

  3. what peace? bombs on buses are peace? the insanity of even mentioning arafat together with peace is truly horrific. If you believe sharon was in need of redemption but was not successful, it boggles the mind that you could place arafats name before his.

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