JERUSALEM – Ariel Sharon’s funeral underscored his triumphs and failures on and off the battlefield.
As befitting a legendary warrior, Sharon’s funeral procession on Monday stopped at Yad Lashiryon, The Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum at Latrun (near Modiin). The site overlooks the same pastoral green valley where 65 years earlier Sharon, a 20-year-old IDF battalion commander, endured near fatal wounds during a hopeless War of Independence battle against superior Jordanian forces and armed Palestinian villagers. Nearly all of the soldiers in Sharon’s unit were wiped out.
It was in Latrun, better known as the Ayalon Valley, where the biblical prophet and warrior Joshua asked for celestial mercy while battling the Amorites and where Sharon’s modern-day heroic battlefield prowess was shaped.
Years later, in both the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, General Sharon’s battlefield tactics, which resulted in the mass destruction of Egyptian forces in the Sinai and Suez regions, were so daring that his military doctrines were studied and taught at the United States Army War College.
However, as the funeral procession made its way southward through the Coastal Plain (Shefela) along Route 3 toward the Sycamore Ranch where the late prime minister was to be interred, Israeli politicians and world leaders found themselves surrounded by layers of IDF military hardware. The weapons and equipment included UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones), helicopters and an Iron Dome anti-missile battery. Just a few hours after Sharon was buried, the Iron Dome nearly had to be activated to fend off two rockets fired by terrorists from the nearby Gaza Strip.
The presence of an Iron Dome battery and the rockets fired at southern Israel in the funeral’s aftermath also accentuate Sharon’s tainted political legacy. His mixed record includes his 1983 resignation as defense minister following the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by Israel’s Lebanese Christian allies in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp during the first Lebanon War (Operation Peace for Galilee), and then-Prime Minister Sharon’s forced removal in 2005 of thousands of Jews from their homes in the Gaza Strip. That unilateral Israeli withdrawal resulted in Hamas’s rise to power in Gaza.
Reacting to Sharon’s death, several former Gush Katif residents expressed both sorrow and anger to the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom. Lior Calpa, who lived in Neve Dekalim and chairs the post-Gaza disengagement Gush Katif Residents Committee, said, “Against all of his virtues that’s the measure he took, which was unclear and illogically conceived. [It] brought us to the reality where rockets are falling on Rishon LeZion and Gedera and more than a million Israelis are living under a constant threat. I will always remember [this], not the other things he’s done.
“Every day that I go to work and come home in the evening,” Calpa continued, “I see the families in Nitzan. I know so many stories from every caravan and every family that has yet to see the horizon. This is my last memory of Sharon. I don’t respect people whose opinion before the election is one way and then changes 180 degrees.”
Dror Vanunu, a former Gush Katif spokesman, said, “Sharon led Israel to great achievements on the battlefield and other important areas, and brought about great development in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip. That’s something that cannot be taken from him. Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that, alongside all of his great achievements throughout his time, his last act was actually unsuccessful. On the contrary, it was a failure from all angles.”
Yossi Dagan, the deputy chairman of the Samaria Regional Council who was expelled from his home in the northern Samarian settlement of Sa-Nur during the disengagement, said Sharon’s death brought back bad memories.
“Everything pops up again on a day like this. All of the trauma of the expulsion, all the terrible images of people being dragged from their homes on the earth. On the one hand Sharon has ample virtues. But on the other hand his betrayal of the public, which admired him for so many years, turning against their values, maybe just to save himself from prosecution – it all makes for mixed feelings.”
Condemning joyful expressions by some following Sharon’s death, Dagan said, “When a Jew passes away, you should not show happiness. On the one hand it’s incorrect to ignore the terrible things he did, and on the other hand it’s forbidden to ignore the positive things he accomplished. We must respect his memory and recall both the bad and the good.”