By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
ARIK SHARON זכרונו לברכה
Arik Sharon gave the media plenty of time to prepare his obituary – eight years and one week to be exact. For it’s in early January 2006, while serving as Israel’s prime minister, that he had a stroke which rendered him unconscious until he died. And dying today, on a Saturday, when we’re told that the flow of news is usually slow, he provided journalists will welcome opportunities to fill the slack.
Reports of his death have already been broadcast all over the world and often at considerable length. Opinions cover the whole range. For the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular he was a villain whose death gives them cause for celebration. Others speak of him in much more positive terms.
In Israel, many leading politicians and generals have already been interviewed and no doubt we’ll hear from many others very soon. What’s obvious from what I’ve seen, heard and read in the last few hours is that he was a very complex character.
Two examples: the man who advocated and provided for settlement building on a large scale was also instrumental in dismantling settlements in Gaza; the man whom the Palestinians regard as their arch-enemy (even accusing him of having been responsible for Arafat’s death) was also the one who had proposed to cooperate with them to topple King Hussein of Jordan so that they could turn his kingdom into a Palestinian republic.
(That was his idea of keeping most Jewish settlements in Israel. Avigdor Lieberman’s suggestion of giving a future Palestinian state the area in the Galilee that’s largely inhibited by Israeli Arabs in lieu of the settlements on the West Bank is another version of the same scheme. Both are reprehensible and impossible and say more about the proponents than about the proposals.)
Not surprisingly, Israel’s allies have held different opinions about Sharon, sometimes simultaneously. Thus in the United States he had been a persona non grata after the 1982 Lebanon War when he was held responsible, inter alia, for the massacre of some 800 Palestinians in two refugee camps. (Though no Israeli was involved in the killing, it’s generally assumed that Sharon could have prevented or at least stopped it before it was too late.) Yet he was very much a persona grata when George W. Bush – “a fellow farmer” – was in the White House.
Among Israeli public figures he had friends and foes across party lines. Shimon Peres, who in so many ways seems to be the very opposite of Arik Sharon, regarded him as a close personal friend and spoke in those terms tonight. On the other hand, Sharon and Begin, whose political ally he had been and in whose government he served, had a much more complex relationship.
Many describe Sharon as warm and charming. Based on my brief experience of him when I was in a delegation that came to his office when he was prime minister, I can see why. The man whom the world knew as a ruthless soldier, his family and friends saw as a cuddly big man who loved his food.
The question that’s being asked is, of course, how he’d view the current attempt by US Secretary of State Kerry to bring Israelis and Palestinians together. Of course, nobody knows. All the answers I’ve heard so far are telling us what those interviewed would like to happen but they prefer to ascribe it to the deceased former prime minister.