Ariel Sharon’s son writes compelling biography about his father

By Repps Hudson, Special to the Jewish Light

Would that all fathers have sons who think so highly of them as to say virtually nothing bad about them, no matter their reputation.

Gilad Sharon, the youngest son of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has done just that in his book, “Sharon: The Life of a Leader” (Harper, 625 pages, $29.99), documenting his father’s life in an overwhelmingly non-critical, even complimentary, way.

Though the elder Sharon has lain in a coma since suffering a stroke early in 2006, Gilad Sharon has mined his father’s diaries, personal papers, transcripts of conversations and speeches to recreate much of his public and private life over more than five decades which define much of Israel’s history.

The result is a fascinating read, devoid of the usual negative comments that accompany most accounts of Ariel Sharon’s actions and decisions. Therefore, Gilad Sharon, a major in the Israeli Defense Force reserves, has written part of the larger story of his father’s life, and it serves a valuable purpose in trying to understand what motivated his father. But it’s far from the whole story, which historians and time eventually will provide.

Its chapters are sprinkled with Gilad Sharon’s observations about political leaders that reveal what a blood sport Israeli politics can be.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Ohmert, who followed Sharon into office after his stroke, “is smug as well as arrogant,” the author writes. “He assumed the office of prime minister without the necessary awe and reverence. Ohmert is a shrewd individual, but his main problem, in my opinion, is that he preferred his own good over the country’s.”

The present prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Gilad Sharon writes, is not only “subversive,” but also “a coward” for the way he voted in the Knesset on the matter of Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The current president, Shimon Peres, gets a similar treatment from the younger Sharon.

Ariel Sharon, of course, is arguably the most contentious Israeli to come along since the founding of the state in 1948, a living Rorschach test of attitudes towards Israel’s existence. His life as a bold and highly effective military leader follows the arc of Israel’s short history, from raids into neighboring Arab countries to retaliate for murdered Israelis in the 1950s to efforts in the last decade to cement a lasting peace with Israel’s Arab neighbors-on terms that would assure Israel’s security.

And one can’t overlook his drive with the IDF to the outskirts of Lebanon in Operation Peace for Galilee in 1982 or his decision to quit Gaza by withdrawing Israeli settlements in 2005 or his signature provocative tour of the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif) that kicked off the second Palestinian intifada in 2000 and helped to propel him to the prime minister’s office,

When, on Sept. 28, 2000, the elder Sharon, accompanied by a large security detail, decided to walk on the grounds near the two Islamic mosques in the heart of the Old City, his son, the author, saw the need for armed guards as a sign of weakness.

“What type of sovereignty do we have over the place if in order to visit the courtyard, without even stepping foot in the mosques, we need this type of security? This is Jerusalem, our home, not some distant colony,” he writes.

One can make that argument. One can also argue that respect for Islamic control of the area above the Western Wall is one proven way to allow two conflicting religions contending for one space to live and let live. Ever since Israel captured Jerusalem in the Six Day War in 1967, Israeli authorities had deferred to the Islamic authorities to manage the Muslim holy places above the Western Wall.

But the Sharon provocation happened, and the second Palestinian uprising was under way, resulting in hundreds of deaths on both sides. It was a typical Sharon moment, if you will, and it predictably ignited the tinder of Palestinian frustration that had built up in the aftermath of the failed Camp David talks between then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestinian Authority.

That Arafat had turned down the best offer yet for a state that included a presence in East Jerusalem was beside the point for angry Palestinians. They hated Sharon, for all he had done over the years as an aggressive military and political leader. So his very presence on Haram al-Sharif was oil on a smoldering fire.

The elder Sharon has lived quite a storied life as an Israeli with a fierce and highly controversial reputation, depending upon one’s point of view: warrior extraordinaire over several decades; oppressor and murderer of Palestinians; in the eyes of many in the Arab world, a Jewish tyrant who has spread chaos and fear wherever he has gone.

Yet today Sharon lies in a coma several years after suffering a stroke, an incapacitated former military genius who transformed himself into a political leader some believe could have cemented a peace deal with Palestinians that would have had a decent chance of lasting.

One can make the analogy that Ariel Sharon could have been the Israeli leader who plays the Nixon-goes-to-China scenario to make a tough, durable accord because his own people knew he would not give away too much in negotiations.

Former President Bill Clinton recently declared: “The two great tragedies in modern Middle Eastern politics, which make you wonder if God wants Middle East peace or not, were [former Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin’s assassination and [former Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon’s stroke.”

Perhaps Sharon was the man who could have arranged enduring peace. But a telling exchange near the end of the book, with Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak, in which these two aging military men sound sincerely respectful of each other, shows just how much times have changed in recent years.

Mubarak is out, and Sharon is off stage, too. Lesser leaders in Israel, perhaps, and untested leaders in the new Arab world, brought to power by the Arab Spring, are indicative of the challenges and uncertainties that lie ahead. And there’s no apparent Sharon-like figure on the Israeli landscape to lead the way, regardless of the direction.

Gilad Sharon

BOOK: “SHARON: The Life of a Leader”

SESSION: 7:30 p.m., Nov. 7