The Warrior is about to go to his fathers.
If press reports are accurate, 85-year-old Israeli legend Ariel Sharon is near death. In a coma for almost eight years, “Arik” is slipping from life. Not wanting to falsely anticipate his demise (we still remember the early Titanic headlines: “All Saved!”), I do want to offer a tribute to the titanic personality.
Sharon with his troops in Beirut, 1983.
A sabra, a native Israeli, Sharon was born 20 years before the state was established, and his first love was probably always the land. The earth. A farmer/soldier, he retired to his ranch in the Negev in 1973, but was called back to active duty during the nearly apocalyptic Yom Kippur War, launched October 6, 1973, by the Syrians and Egyptians. The surprise attack was devastating to Israel, and it was Sharon’s daring plan to cross the Suez Canal that saved the day. Encircling Egypt’s vaunted Third Army, he was prepared to destroy it when international diplomacy hammered-out a cease-fire. Sharon’s tanks were an hour from Cairo. In the north, the IDF had overcome gruesome conditions to push back the Syrians, and they were were within an hour of Damascus.
Sharon held most of the top military and political positions in Israel, and his 2006 stroke ended his premiership. He was always controversial—hated by the left, which saw him as a butcher. Late in his life, the right hated him for withdrawing from Gaza.
An Israeli diplomat friend of mine, long retired, had an interesting perspective a few years ago when I asked him about Sharon’s later, controversial decisions.
“Listen,” he began quietly, “In 1973, he [Sharon] gave us our nation and our life.”
In other words, criticize him if you wish, but the old lion had fulfilled his God-given duty on a momentous stage in history.
I met Sharon once, at his office in Tel Aviv. He wasn’t tall, and not as fearsome as I thought he’d be—although his handshake was crushing. Frankly, though, he was still intimidating. A nice interview, he talked easily of politics, culture, farming, his own career. But it was a jolting digression midway through the discussion that I carry with me.
Coming off a lengthy discussion of peace prospects with the Palestinians, Sharon abruptly shifted gears.
“Do you know what our problem is in this country? He looked at me, a lifetime of wisdom in his eyes.
“It is that we do not teach enough Bible to our children.”
Well. Here was the old man, an almost mythical fighter and commander, a wily politician…and he was signaling that he knew where Israel’s strength came from. It was similar to a statement he made in his autobiography, Warrior, in which he acknowledged, “Something keeps this nation.”
Some recent reports indicate that Sharon’s doctors have detected brain activity. There is speculation that he can hear. If so, I must wonder: as he nears the end, what occupies his thoughts? Is it his boyhood days, wandering the land? Or might it be the sounds and sights of the Battle of Latrun, during the War of Independence? The Suez Crossing? His two wives, both of whom preceded him in death? His son, Gur, whose tragic death at a young age diminished the Six Day War victory for his father?
No one knows, of course. But I hope he knows and feels that many of us remember him fondly.