How will Sharon be remembered?
Op-ed: A glorified commander or the man who got Israel entangled in unnecessary wars? A man of war almost his entire life or a man who strove for peace in his final years? Ariel Sharon was a multi-faceted, complex man, who people loved and hated with the same intensity
One of the recommendations Ariel Sharon
liked to give, and acted on his entire life, was that you should always confuse the enemy. Throw him off balance, he used to call it. He applied it both in battlefield and in political life. On Saturday, 10 days in which after the media held its breath and counted down his minutes, one can say that Sharon did it in his death too.
He managed to confuse us. And if he could summarize these days, he would surely laugh his joyful laugh, right? The one everyone loved imitating, and with his fantastic theatrical ability he would describe how he managed to deceive us. With malicious sarcasm he would describe the wait for his death at the hospital lobby. Not to mention the cynicism he would use to address the way his lovers and haters stood up one after the other on Saturday and eulogized him. My condition continued to deteriorate even after my death, he would say.
But this time Sharon can no longer say – as he would always say when he thought someone was trying to take his place, to eulogize him prematurely – that we should calm down, that he is planning to be here for many more years.
Over and done with. After eight years of coma and more than one week of dying, the man who even those who didn't like him, and there were such people, cannot ignore his huge contribution to the shaping of this state, for better or for worse, has passed away. A person who it seems has always been here, and who even during the many years he lay unconscious, was both present and absent. The living dead.
Nothing came easy to him, to Sharon. He reached his good years, during which he gained public recognition even among circles in which he was an outcast, hated and despised for nearly his entire life, in the last five years of his healthy life. After Lily, the woman who stood by him throughout all the bad years, passed away.
One of the most unforgettable pictures from the album of his life is from 2001, after he beat Ehud Barak in the elections. On the stage at the Exhibition Grounds, a moment after he was declared the winner, one could see the magnitude of the moment on Sharon's face. A mix of the joy of victory with the weight of the responsibility, of the pride upon recognizing the achievement – almost wonder – along with great solitude.
Anyone who followed the course of his life could have learned a lot about the political system. About its hypocrisy, disloyalty, inconsistency. Sharon was familiar with it more than anyone else. Less than a year before he was elected prime minister, he was still sitting in the Knesset cafeteria on his own, a white-cloth napkin attached to the collar of his shirt, while his assistant passed by the journalists and begged them to go sit with him.
Several years later, he won unprecedented popularity and was on his way to lead a party consisting of more than 40 Knesset seats. One can say that Sharon proved on himself what he had always advised his friends in politics to do: Even when you're at the bottom, always make sure to stay on the move.
Many things can be said about Sharon. Not all of them are good. There are quite a few people among us who feel they are victims of his lack of restraint, of his destructiveness, of his ambitions. They include bereaved families whose sons were led by Sharon to the first Lebanon War,
the biggest wound – not to mention the stain – in his remarkable career, which he only managed to blur in his last years.
But alongside the criticism, one has to mention the charisma, the capabilities, the magnetism, the ability to make fun of himself. A meeting with Sharon was pure joy. He was a man with unusual diagnoses, with a fantastic understanding of the human soul, its motives and impulses, who knew how to identify weak points and didn’t hesitate to use them. But Sharon also knew how to charm people, and mainly women. An instinctive person, who knew how to flirt with the same joy with which he ate, listened to music or inhaled the scents of nature. A warm person towards his lovers, and a cruel person like no other towards his rivals.
It seems to me that in all the years I have worked in the political system I have never met a person who succeeded, like Sharon, to recreate himself in such an exemplary manner. To turn from one of the most hated people to the loved grandfather he was in his last years. From the man who led the IDF into Lebanon, went up to the Temple Mount and ignited the Second Intifada
– to a person who acknowledged the pointlessness of the occupation. The man who was the father of the settlements and the first to dismantle them. A person who did not believe Arabs for a single minute in his life, but realized the need to disengage from them. A person who built an entire career on lack of discipline and obedience to orders, and today we all miss his responsibility and discretion.
Had he died then, eight years ago, on that cold night in which he lost consciousness and never woke up again, Sharon would have had a funeral reserved for outstanding personalities. Who wouldn't have arrived to attend the last journey of a leader who turned into a legend, a legendary figure both in his life and death?
His sudden departure at the time caused a shock. Like Rabin, it left a sense of a missed opportunity. What would have happened if? What would have happened if Sharon had been reelected prime minister, continued the unilateral disengagement from the Judea and Samaria communities as well, and maybe even taken Israel
back to the 1967 borders?
What would have happened if this warrior, who never stopped at nothing, would have set red lines which would have allowed us to live a sane life? What would have happened if at times like these we had a strong leader, who knew how to make decisions and also knew how to execute them? But what ended eight years ago was completed on Saturday, and Ariel Sharon ended his life.
How will he be remembered? As a glorified commander and legendary fighter, or as a man who got Israel entangled in unnecessary wars more than once; as the person who established the settlement enterprise or as the first who identified the damage of this enterprise;
as the prime minister who took Israel out of Gaza but failed to take Gaza out of us; as the man of war he was almost all his life, or as the man who in his final years strove for peace, or at least for no combat?
And perhaps this is the secret of his charm. That he was all of these. A multi-faceted and complex man, the man who people loved and hated with the same intensity.