Thousands of Israelis Gather in Jerusalem To Bid Ariel Sharon Goodbye

Former Prime Minister Will To Be Buried on Monday

getty images

By Reuters

Published January 12, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s body lay in state on Sunday outside parliament in Jerusalem, where thousands of Israelis waited to bid farewell to the maverick warrior-statesman who reshaped the Middle East.

Sharon died at the age of 85 on Saturday after eight years in a coma caused by a stroke he suffered at the pinnacle of his political power. He will be buried on Monday in a military funeral on his farm in southern Israel.

“They say old soldiers do not die, they fade away. Arik Sharon faded away eight years ago, and now we truly say goodbye to him,” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, using Sharon’s nickname, wrote in a tribute on Sunday.

Sharon was one of Israel’s finest military strategists and most powerful political figures, spearheading military invasion, Jewish settlement-building on land the Palestinians want for a state, and making the shock decision to withdraw from one of those territories, the Gaza Strip.

Prime minister from 2001 to 2006, Sharon’s stroke happened shortly after he quit the right-wing Likud party and founded a centrist faction to advance peace with the Palestinians, whose 2000-2005 “Intifada” uprising he had battled as prime minister.

In parliament’s main plaza, Israelis filed past Sharon’s coffin, which was draped in the blue-and-white national flag.

The mood was sombre but not deeply mournful, eight years after Sharon fell from public view. A few in the crowd wept, but many others paused to snap photographs of the coffin with their cellphones.

“Whatever he decided to do, he followed it through to the end - and that was his greatness,” said Shlomo Tal, 74, from Jerusalem, who came to parliament to pay his respects.

LOVED AND HATED

Sharon was widely hated by Arabs over the 1982 massacre of hundreds of Palestinian refugees at the Sabra and Shatila camp in Beirut by Lebanese Christian militiamen allied to Israel.

But the United States and other foreign powers mourned him as a peacemaker, noting his pursuit of dialogue with the Palestinians. Those negotiations continue under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though differences remain wide.

“He was bound to the land. He knew that the land must be protected. And he understood above all else that our existence is predicated on our ability to protect ourselves by ourselves,” Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday after ministers stood for a minute’s silence as a mark of honour.

Many Israelis will remember Sharon as a brilliant but unpredictable military leader who fought in the 1948 war of Israel’s founding and went on to earn a reputation for trigger-happy disobedience.

But he was also hailed in Israel for the crucial counter-attack across the Suez Canal that helped to turn the tide of the 1973 Middle East war with Egypt and Syria.

In 1983 an Israeli state inquiry found Sharon, who as defence minister engineered Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon and war against Palestinian guerrillas there, indirectly responsible for the Sabra and Shatila killings, and he was forced to resign his post.

“The Palestinian people remember what Sharon did and tried to do to our people and their dream of forming a state,” Wael Abu Yousef, a senior member of the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organisation, told Reuters.

Palestinians in Gaza handed out sweets to passersby and motorists in celebration of Sharon’s passing.

“We have become more confident in victory with the departure of this tyrant (Sharon),” said Sami Abu Zuhri, spokesman for Hamas, the Islamist faction governing Gaza.

MEMORIAL

A memorial service will be held in parliament on Monday before an afternoon funeral at Sycamore Farm. Israeli generals will serve as pallbearers.

Among foreign dignitaries expected to attend the ceremonies are U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Israeli-Palestinian peace mediator and former British prime minister Tony Blair, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and delegates from Russia, Canada, Spain and the Czech Republic.

“As Israel says goodbye to Prime Minister Sharon, we join with the Israeli people in honouring his commitment to his country,” said U.S. President Barack Obama.

“We reaffirm our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security and our appreciation for the enduring friendship between our two countries,” said Obama, whose relationship with Netanyahu has been strained by issues such as Iran’s nuclear programme and Israeli settlement-building.

Palestinians also accuse Sharon of sparking their “Intifada” with a provocative visit to the al Aqsa mosque plaza in Jerusalem’s Old City in 2000, a year before he took power.

He further angered them with a crushing army sweep of self-rule areas of the West Bank in 2002 after a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings and with his siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in his Ramallah compound.

But Sharon surprised many by withdrawing soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005 under a policy of “disengagement” from conflict and a pursuit of dialogue with the Palestinians.

The pullout, however, led to Gaza’s takeover by Hamas, which, unlike the West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas, spurns co-existence with Israel and often trades fire with it.

Sharon was resented by many settlers who once saw him as their champion. Israeli media quoted lawmaker Orit Strouk of the Jewish Home, an ultranationalist party in Netanyahu’s coalition, as thanking God that Sharon was removed from power before he could order West Bank withdrawals. The remarks sparked outrage and she later apologised.

As Sharon’s finance minister in 2005, Netanyahu quit in protest at the Gaza plan. Netanyahu points to Hamas’s rise as vindication of his stance.

A lifelong farmer renowned for his big appetite, Sharon was known as “the Bulldozer”, in part for his headlong pursuit of hardline policies that included the settlement expansion in territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.