On January 11, 2014, Ariel (Arik) Sharon A”H passed away, losing his final battle. He fought valiantly for eight years trying to overcome the massive stroke that ravaged his body and left him in a coma, when he was prime minister of Israel and at the height of his political career.
Born in 1928, in Kfar Malal, he joined the Haganah at the age of 14. When he was 20, he commanded an infantry company in the Alexandroni Brigade, during the Israeli War of Independence. He later founded and led the 101 Special Commando Unit, which carried out retaliatory operations against Palestinian guerrillas and three years later, he was appointed commander of a paratroop corps and fought in the Sinai Campaign. Then he went to college in Great Britain.
After briefly serving as Infantry Brigade Commander and Infantry School Commander, he attended law school at Tel Aviv University. In 1964 he was appointed Head of the Northern Command Staff and two years later Head of the Army Training Department. He participated in the 1967 Six Day War as commander of an armored division. In 1969 he was appointed Head of the Southern Command Staff.
He resigned from the army in June 1972, but was recalled to active military service a year later during the Yom Kippur War to command an armored division. He led the crossing of the Suez Canal which helped secure an Israeli victory and eventual peace with Egypt.
He was elected to the Knesset in December 1973, but resigned a year later, to serve as Security Adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He was elected to the Knesset again, in 1977. Following the elections, he joined the Herut Party and was appointed Minister of Agriculture in Menachem Begin’s first government. One of his priorities was to pursue agricultural cooperation with Egypt.
In 1981, he was appointed Defense Minister and was instrumental in renewing diplomatic relations with the African nations which had broken off ties with Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Then in 1983, he resigned as Defense Minister and served as Minister of Industry and Trade from 1984 to 1990. In this capacity, he concluded the Free Trade Agreement with the US.
Sharon served as Minister of Construction and Housing and Chairman of the Ministerial Committee on Immigration and Absorption from 1990 to 1992. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, and the waves of immigration from Russia, he initiated and carried out a program to absorb the immigrants throughout the country.
He served as a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee from 1992 to 1996, when he was appointed Minister of National Infrastructure and was involved in fostering joint ventures with Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinians. He also served as Chairman of the Ministerial Committee for Bedouin Advancement.
In 1998, Sharon was appointed Foreign Minister, during which time he met with US, European, Palestinian and Arab leaders to advance the peace process. He worked to find a long-term solution to the region’s water crisis.
Following the election of Ehud Barak as Prime Minister in 1999, Sharon was called upon to become interim Likud Party leader. Later that year, he was elected chairman of the Likud. He also served as a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the Knesset.
On September 28, 2000, Sharon made a visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. After that visit, the Palestinians, under the direction of Yasser Arafat, launched an unprecedented wave of violence and terror against the Israelis. Palestinian leaders claimed that Sharon’s visit sparked the violence, but an investigatory committee led by former US Senator George Mitchell concluded that Sharon’s visit was not to blame.
In a special election held February 6, 2001, Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister of Israel. He presented his government to the Knesset on March 7, 2001. After calling early elections to the 16th Knesset, which were held on January 28, 2003, he presented his new government to the Knesset on February 27, 2003.
After several years of bloodshed, terror, and stalled peace talks with the Palestinians, Sharon devised a controversial plan. He decided to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip. He also dismantled all settlements in the area, including four settlements in northern Samaria. Between August 16 and August 30, 2005, Israel evacuated more than 8,500 Israeli settlers and, on September 11, 2005, Israeli soldiers left Gaza, ending Israel’s 38 year presence in the area. The implementation of the disengagement plan sparked bitter protests from ministers of Sharon’s Likud Party, causing a party schism. Facing bitter infighting in Likud, Sharon resigned from the party to form a new centrist party, Kadima, which means forward.
The goal of Sharon’s new party was to closely follow the US-backed plan for peace with the Palestinians. He declared that there would be no more unilateral withdrawals from the West Bank, and insisted that Palestinian terrorist groups be disarmed and dismantled.
In mid-December, 2005, Sharon suffered a minor stroke. Sadly, the following January, he was rushed to the hospital following another, more serious stroke. He suffered a massive brain hemorrhage, which caused extensive cerebral bleeding and slipped into a coma, in which he remained for eight years. He never awoke. Ariel Sharon passed away on January 11.
Sharon played a highly significant role in every important moment of modern Israel’s history, from pre-state Israel and Israel’s wars of survival, to politics and the disengagement plan. He devoted the last years of his life to pursuing peace.
Israel’s top officials turned out en masse for Sharon’s funeral on January 13th. US Vice President Joe Biden and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair were among the international leaders who attended the official ceremony, which began at 9:30 am, outside the Knesset. Under bright sunshine, rows of mourners gathered around his coffin over which the Israeli flag was draped. Keynote speeches were delivered at the ceremony by President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Vice President Joe Biden.
Other dignitaries in attendance included Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Czech Prime Minister Rusnok.
At the conclusion of the Knesset ceremony, the funeral procession departed from Jerusalem for Sycamore Ranch, Sharon’s farm in the Negev, the site of his burial.
Sharon’s son Gilad described how his father remained strong after the death of his son, Gur, and highlighted his military achievements, saying, “Time after time you transformed the impossible into reality.”
Israeli President Shimon Peres said, “You never rested when in service of your people, when defending your land and when making it flourish.” Peres, a friend and sometimes rival of Sharon’s, compared him to a lion, adding he contributed an unforgettable chapter to Israel’s history.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Ariel Sharon played a central role in the struggle for the security of the State of Israel. He was, first and foremost, a courageous fighter and an outstanding general, and was among the IDF’s greatest commanders. From his youth, he served the people of Israel on the battlefield. He did so as a soldier in the War of Independence, a commander in the Sinai Campaign and the Six Day War. He played a decisive role in the battle over the Suez Canal that led to the turning point in the Yom Kippur War. He established Unit 101, a special forces unit of the IDF, and took the initiative in the war against terrorism. Upon leaving the military, he continued to work on behalf of the people of Israel both in his many government roles and as the 11th prime minister of Israel. His memory will be enshrined forever in the heart of the nation.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman added, “Ariel Sharon served the State of Israel from its establishment until the last moment he could, taking part in the central events that shaped its character. His political legacy has always been controversial, from his tenure as chairman of the Ministerial Settlement Committee which strengthened Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria, to the disengagement from Gaza which he initiated and implemented. He will go down in the history of Israel as one of the most noteworthy and influential figures.”
US President and Mrs. Barack Obama sent their condolences to Sharon’s family, calling Sharon a leader who dedicated his life to the State of Israel. “We reaffirm our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security and our appreciation for the enduring friendship between our two countries and our two peoples. We continue to strive for lasting peace and security for the people of Israel, including through our commitment to the goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security. As Israel says goodbye to Prime Minister Sharon, we join with the Israeli people in honoring his commitment to his country.”
Former President Bill Clinton said, “It was an honor to work with him, argue with him, and watch him always trying to find the right path for his beloved country.”
Vice President Joe Biden added, “Like all historic leaders, Prime Minister Sharon was a complex man who engendered strong opinions from everyone. But like all all real leaders, he had a North Star that guided him—a North Star from which he never deviated. His North Star was the survival of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”
Biden quoted Sharon, ‘Before and above all else, I am a Jew. My thinking is dominated by the Jews’ future in 30 years, in 300 years, in a thousand years. That’s what preoccupies and interests me first and foremost.’ And because he possessed such incredible physical courage and political courage, he never deviated from that preoccupation and interest, as he referred to it. It was his life’s work.”
“I remember the iconic picture of him, with a bandage around his head, standing there after a decisive victory, which seemed to symbolize an Israel that had reclaimed its roots of standing up and fighting, needing no help, standing on its own. The political courage it took, whether you agreed with him or not, when he told 10,000 Israelis to leave their homes in Gaza in order, from his perspective, to strengthen Israel—I can’t think of a much more difficult and controversial decision, but he believed it and he did it. The security of his people was always Arik’s unwavering mission, an unbreakable commitment to the future of Jews.”
He continued, “Prime Minister Sharon was not only loved by the Jewish people, he not only loved them, but he loved the land of Israel. Not just the idea of it, but the actual land itself. Born on a farm, about to be buried on a farm, a ranch. The Book of Genesis says, ‘Arise and walk the length and breadth of the land.’ Arik Sharon did just that. He tilled it as a farmer. He fought for it as a soldier. He knew every hilltop and valley—every inch of the land. Arik Sharon’s journey, and the journey of the State of Israel, are inseparable. They are woven together, in war, in politics, in diplomacy. Toward the end of his life, he said, ‘I’ve been everywhere. I’ve met kings, queens, presidents. I’ve been around the world. I have one thing that I would like to do: to try to reach peace.’ He left us too soon, but the work of trying to reach peace continues.”
The late Joseph Lapid, head of Shinui Party and political ally of Sharon, said it best, “He was one of a kind. I don’t know any other man like him.”