Home > Politics, World events > Mourning Ariel Sharon

Mourning Ariel Sharon

SharonIn the strange world of politics, there are the clowns (Bush, Palin, French President Hollande), the phenomenal, hard-to-classify figures (Bill Clinton), the tough, practical ones (Angela Merkel), the absolute villains (Assad, Cheney), the also-rans (Chris Christie), the complicated may-runs (Hillary Clinton), the much-admired (Mandela), the no-longer-admired (Aung San Suu Kyi), etc. And then there are the Shakespearean, monumental characters. I realize that I’m applying here one of the favorite cliché of people who love clichés–mixing apples and oranges–by mentioning these public figures in the same breath although some are important or infamous for the reality of their exercise or pursuit of power, past or present, and others simply there as background brouhaha. The point I want to make is that a look at today’s media demonstrates that Ariel Sharon who just died after eight years in a coma is in a category of his own, remarkable in bad as well as in good, on a scale different from that of ordinary politicians–and with much vaster consequences. I used to detest the man, particularly after the Israeli forces under his command looked the other way while Lebanese militia massacred hundreds and perhaps thousands of Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Chatila camps in 1982. The decades that had preceded and those that followed don’t make him any more endearing. He was an unbending, self-serving and self-promoting bastard, bulldozing his way through obstacles, facing off with a conniving, corrupt Yasser Arafat on the Palestinian side, both men finding their bread and butter in making sure that no agreement would ever bring peace to that benighted region.

Sharon was a nationalistic, conservative and callous warrior, siding with the settlers, battling to great victories (during the six-day Arab-Israeli war in 1967, as commander of a southern division, he was greatly responsible for adding to Israel Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, an expansion that remains a huge obstacle to peace, if peace is to come one day) and knowing setbacks that would have broken a lesser man. Yet in 2004, in a stunning turnabout brought about by pragmatism, by his awareness of the growing Arab population and perhaps his understanding that a boiling cauldron eventually spills over and scalds everyone, Sharon, then Prime Minister, completely changed course. After three decades of incessant expansion and colonization, he pulled out of Gaza both Israeli army and settlers, without conditions or a single incident. His own party, the Likud, having turned against him, he founded the centrist Kadima, vowing more liberation of occupied territories and an all-out effort toward putting an end to the terrible regional conflict. Another point in his favor, he didn’t act out of ideology or a mystical belief in Israel but out of practicality and seeing the need for a radical change of policy. And then he fell, victim of a stroke.

Observers and commentators, particularly from the Middle East—the same who know for a fact that appearance only serves to mask hidden truths, the same who are much too smart to be taken in—argued then and argue now that Sharon’s volte-face was not due to the realization that the Israeli-Palestinian strife had to end but was an excuse to deflect public attention from his sons’ legal problems. Never mind that unilaterally reversing a long and brutal history of colonization and war-mongering for such a flimsy reason seems rather extreme–but how else would little minds see the world if they didn’t cut it down to their own size? Call me naïve but I believe Sharon’s stroke in 2006 was a terrible blow from fate. Had it not happened, he would have followed his own roadmap to a very different situation from the one we have today. Every time his name came up during the last eight years, I felt the same twinge of regret at a great opportunity lost. And today, yes, I’m in the camp of Sharon mourners. Not an unconditional one but a mourner still.

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  1. January 12, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    Sharon is a tragic figure, much like Shakespeare’s monumental character, “King Lear”: Both were driven and blinded by their ego, which destroyed others and parts of themselves. Then they “saw the light” — a relief from their demon-driven egos — and then, sadly, they died.

  2. January 12, 2014 at 11:25 pm

    Unfortunately, Israel is now left to Netanyahu who has many of Sharon’s destructive flaws and none of his constructive qualities.

    • January 13, 2014 at 2:06 pm

      I wouldn’t compare the two men. Sharon was a major historical figure, Netanyahu is an ordinary politician, and a nasty one at that.

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