Newspapers have been gearing up for the “Ariel Sharon dies” edition for some eight years now, and true to form Sunday’s papers feature wall to wall coverage of the life and times of the warrior-cum-politician.
“Ariel Sharon, the 11th prime minister of the State of Israel, passes away,” reads the very formal headline in Maariv, accompanied by a very unformal picture of Sharon cradling a baby goat, while Yedioth Ahronoth goes with the creepy “Arik returns to his ranch, forever” on its front page, under a sweet picture of him with his second wife Lily. Both Haaretz and Israel Hayom opt for a simple name and “1928-2014,” accompanied by headshots of the leader, using up their black ink supply to highlight the solemnity.
Sharon’s many hats — fighter, politician, statesmen, farmer, father, Zionist — seem to most capture the imagination of the paper’s various commentators, who each try to boil his varied life and the people he influenced into a few hundred words.
“There are some who prefer the Arik who founded the Likud, and those who prefer the Arik who almost destroyed it,” Boaz Bizmuth writes in Israel Hayom, using Sharon’s omnipresent nickname. “There are those who prefer Arik the hawk and those who prefer the dove, which chose the 2005 disengagement from Gaza. There are those who are satisfied with the hero of the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War, and some who are still mad over the way he managed the war with Lebanon. Every citizen of Israel has a part in the success and prosperity of Israel. Some less and some more … Arik has a massive portion.”
In Maariv, Nadav Eyal remembers Sharon by his other nickname, the Bulldozer, not because he ran roughshod over everybody, but because he was a man of action, who did what needed to be done.
“If Sharon was great at anything, it was this: He could decide and take action. He could move big projects, whether it be the Yom Kippur War, the war in Lebanon, widening construction for the wave of immigration or other things that prime ministers move. Sharon was unafraid to do, to take on responsibility. He understood how to bang on the table and when to employ sophisticated leverage to get results. He was a Mapainik, as they always suspected in the Likud. And he deserves the highest praise you can give a Mapainik: He was a doer.”
While most papers are filled with platitudes, Haaretz does a good job of not forgetting Sharon’s various controversies, sprinkling its hagiographies with his less proud moments. Even while calling him the last true leader, the paper’s Yossi Verter reminds readers that he was also a manager who always had to get his way:
“Before he was elected prime minister Sharon was a senior minister for many years, including in the foreign affairs and defense ministries and as a member of the inner cabinet. What exactly was it that he didn’t know beforehand? How did he go from calling on the settlers to take over every hilltop, the better to create facts on the ground, to destroying settlements? The answer is simple: Until he was at the very top, he was not willing to allow other prime ministers, be they Shimon Peres or Benjamin Netanyahu, to take significant action when it came to Israeli-Arab affairs. He trusted no one but himself.”
For Yedioth’s Nahum Barnea, Sharon’s multitude of hats don’t add up to his most important one: human being. Writing the paper’s lead appreciation, he remembers Sharon as simply a man with a farm.
“I remember well his humanity,” he writes. “Visiting his farm, where he agreed to show me the remains of an Arab village that was once there, the hill where he will be buried tomorrow, telling me of his battle with the Yes remote control so he could watch the news from the kitchen, his courtly manners around young women, his flair for writing, for telling a story. I once described him as one of the geezers of the Knesset. The next day, he caught me on the phone. He identified himself with a hoarse voice: ‘This is Ariel Sharon from the local pensioners club,’ he said ‘I’m playing shuffleboard with my friends.’”
Continues Barnea: “This is how I remember him. Not in a uniform, not with a bandage on his head, not fighting for the microphone at a party convention, but with a mischievous, dastardly smile, of someone who eats people like me, and bigger than me, for breakfast. If there’s a heaven, I hope he’s sitting there, with Rabin and Shamir, Dayan and Ben-Gurion, beating them all at shuffleboard.”
Time to forgive?
While most of the aforementioned commentaries could have been written any time in the last eight years, and most of them probably were (some papers even go so far as to reprint commentaries from when Sharon first had a stroke in 2006), there’s still some news to report, even if the bulldozer is still the star.
Maariv reports that despite the passage of those eight years, and now the death of Sharon, evacuees from Gaza, many of whom still live in temporary housing, arel unable to forgive the man who kicked them out.
“When I see the state of those evacuees, it’s hard to forgive the man who created this situation,” one woman says.
However, another man is quoted saying he will forgive but not forget (the settlers slogan at the time was “we won’t forgive and won’t forget”), noting that had Sharon not collapsed, they probably would have been taken better care of. “He wouldn’t leave us like this,” the former Gaza resident says.
Speaking of settlers, Yedioth writes that a new report by senior defense officials warns of the danger of the price tag gangs, saying they are organized, and that the army and the government are unable or don’t care enough to take action.
“Price Tag actions can inflame the whole region but nobody is lifting a finger,” the report reads. “This is not a few stray weeds or spontaneous crime by lone wolves acting alone but a body with an organizational structure, communications networks, plans and leadership. It’s goal: to deter the government from acting against settlements.”