The man who executed the vision
Op-ed: Ariel Sharon was everything the State's forefathers dreamed of seeing in the generation of the sons, the born Israelis: Handsome, strong, a farmer working his land, a soldier for life
The life of Ariel Sharon
and the life of the State of Israel
are intertwined. He was everything the State's forefathers dreamed of seeing in the generation of the sons, the born Israelis: Handsome, strong, a farmer working his land, a soldier for life. The forefathers provided the vision; the sons – the execution. And there wasn't a more determined, talented, scheming person of execution than Ariel Sharon.
The footsteps he leaves behind are huge. In the long week which passed between the announcement of his imminent death and his actual death, a lot was said about his key part in establishing the settlements and about his responsibility for the disengagement plan, but his career in the State's service included other stations with historical importance. He founded Unit 101 and commanded over it. In pure military terms the unit didn't do much, but in moral terms it created a revolution. It restored the IDF's
fighting spirit. He united it with the paratroopers, and planned and commanded over most of the retaliation acts. The policy was determined by Ben-Gurion
Sharon was the executing contractor.
After the Sinai Campaign (1956), Dayan compared the commanders working under him to horses: There is a lazy horse, which needs to be encouraged, and there is a wild horse, which races forward, initiates, attacks, sometimes while ignoring the orders of those in charge of him. Dayan preferred Sharon, the galloping horse. He didn't settle the score with him for entering the unnecessary battle in the Mitla Pass, which cost the lives of 42 fighters.
In the Six-Day War,
he commanded over the division which conquered the fortified Egyptian defense in the Um-Katef plateau, in eastern Sinai. The planning and conduct of this battle – a complicated combination of armored forces, paratroopers and artillery battalions – won marvelous praise at the time from the world's military experts. This battle was the greatest achievement in Sharon's military career, unlike his controversial role in the Yom Kippur War.
He arrived at that war a half-politician, surrounded by media flatterers, full of himself, deriding the orders he received from his commanders. He didn't know how to deal with the cult of personality built around him. Sharon was confused. The arrogance which stuck to him escorted him like a shadow in the political career he began, dragging him into unnecessary personal battles, making it difficult for him to build a supporting political system, sweeping him to the edge.
The 1982 Lebanon War
was Sharon's war. It reflected many of his traits: The urge to initiate, to do something big, reality-changing; the addiction to a secret plot, to a device – not just a secret conspiracy with the Christian Phalanges against the Fatah
but also leading a prime minister – who understood or did not understand what it was about – by the nose; and an arrogant attitude towards the government, parts of the public opinion and the American administration. Sharon learned his lessons. It took 20 years, but he learned, and learned them well. By the time he reached the premiership, he was prepared.
In between, he changed the land's map. Sharon was not the father of settlements in the territories: He was preceded by others - Yisrael Galili, Yigal Allon, Shimon Peres.
But he turned the drizzle into rain. His meeting with the people of Gush Emunim was fatal: Both sides sanctified the device, the wink, the plot; each side believed that the other side would serve it till the end – and on this they were both wrong.
In terms of the settlements, Sharon was a Mapai
supporter: The communities he established were not aimed at fulfilling a messianic vision, but on creating facts on the ground. They can be built; they can be evacuated. When he thought that the settlement in the Rafah Plain was beneficial, he did not hesitate to banish the Bedouin population from there; later on, when circumstances changed, he did not hesitate to evict the Jews from there. When he thought that the settlement in Gaza was efficient, he said that Netzarim
was as important as Tel Aviv; in the disengagement he evacuated it, without the slightest feeling of guilt.
I once suggested that he read Anita Shapira's biography, "Yigal Allon, Native Son." You will discover there that all the tricks you pulled for the settlements had been done before, by Kibbutz Ginosar, I said to him. He put the book by his bed. I'm not sure he read it.
He didn't believe in peace agreements. In that he was no different from most of the members of his generation, who were raised on the sword and found it difficult to accept any Palestinian as a partner. He believed in unilateral moves. They matched his activist character, and catered to his anxieties over an external solution, a forced solution. If he hadn't fallen asleep in 2006, he would have spent several months in negotiations doomed to fail with the Palestinians, and then carried out a one-sided withdrawal from most of the West Bank. That was his scheme.
Whoever summarizes his years as prime minister only with the disengagement,
and describes it as the reason for the love he got, is being untrue to himself. Sharon arrived at the premiership in the middle of the intifada.
The public saw him as a rescuer, a savior. And the public was right: Operation Defensive Shield
and the military moves which followed got the Israeli society out of one of the most difficult periods in its history. Sharon arrived at the disengagement riding on a wave of love and admiration. Unlike in the 1970s, this time he knew how to cope. He softened. The arrogance assimilated into sarcasm. The animosity towards anyone who rose up against him was replaced with reconciliation; the anger was replaced with humor, with tenderness.
I favorably remember his humanity. The visit to the farm, in which he agreed to show me the ruins of the Arab village which was once located there, on the hill on which he will be buried Monday; his battle with the YES satellite provider's remote control, in an attempt to watch the news on the kitchen television; the courtesy he adopted towards young women; his writing skills; his storytelling skills.
I once described him as one of the elderly Knesset members. The next day, on Saturday morning, he got hold of me on the phone. He imitated himself, in a husky voice. "This is Ariel Sharon from the regional council's pensioners' club," he said. "I am playing jackstraw with the friends."
Jackstraw, for those of you who don't know, is a game with straws in different colors. The aim is to pull them out of the pile one at a time, without touching the others.
That's how I'll remember him. Not in his uniform, not with a head bandage, not in a war of microphones with his party members, but with a mischievous, sly smile of a person who ate people like me, and bigger than me, for breakfast. If there is a heaven, I hope he sits there with Rabin
Dayan and Ben-Gurion, and beats them all in jackstraw.