For eight years, Ariel Sharon has largely been out of the public eye, laying in a coma in an Israeli hospital. His death has finally enabled us to say a proper goodbye to one of the most pivotal figures in the history of the modern state of Israel.
Whether you loved his policies or hated them — or whether your views changed as he himself evolved as a warrior and as a statesman — you can’t help but watch with reverence as this man of Israel is laid to rest.
Not since the tragic death of Yitzhak Rabin, assassinated by an Israeli bullet in 1995, have we been privileged to recapture the remarkable history of the nation through the lens of one man’s life, to reflect back on one of the last figures from Israel’s founding generation, a man who devoted his life to protecting and leading our one and only Jewish state.
A New York Times Magazine profile in 2004 rightly noted that “Sharon can plausibly lay claim to having shaped his state’s geographic and moral terrain and international image — for better or for worse — more than any other Israeli leader since David Ben-Gurion.”
The article also noted, as have many eulogies and obituaries this week, Sharon’s military and political highlights to back up that claim: from winning one of the most sensational battles of the 1967 Six-Day War to leading the crossing of the Suez Canal that helped end the Yom Kippur War. He created the rightist Likud Party, led Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon and was the architect of Israel’s settlement movement.
One year after that profile, he stunned the world — and most notably, much of his political base — with his decision to move forward with his plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip. With that single move, he was vilified by the right and newly embraced by many on the left.
We don’t know what would have happened had Sharon lived past that moment; soon after, he suffered two successive strokes, the second of which left him in a vegetative state for eight years.
All we can do now is look back and respect the man whose military prowess both rescued Israel from near destruction in 1967 and 1973 and led it astray with an incursion into Lebanon in 1982 that, by most measures, went too far. But it was his political evolution, his fierce determination and courage to pursue his vision for a secure Jewish state, for which he will be most remembered.
What also shouldn’t be lost is the fact that, despite the tensions that developed with American Jewry as a result of some of his policies, he always made clear his love not only for the Jewish state but for the Jewish people everywhere. He embraced us as he embraced the Jewish nation. May he rest in peace.