Former Israeli PM And military commander Ariel Sharon dead at 85

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the trailblazing warrior-statesman who transformed the region and was reviled by Arab foes, died on Saturday aged 85, after eight years in a coma caused by a stroke.

Sharon left historic footprints on the Middle East through military invasion and Jewish settlement-building on land the Palestinians seek for a state but also with a shock decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.

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

Sharon died at Sheba Medical Center, near Tel Aviv, where he had been in a coma since being hit by a stroke at the pinnacle of his power as prime minister in January 2006. His condition had declined precipitously since the middle of last week.

“Arik was a valorous soldier and a bold statesman who contributed much to the security and building up of the State of Israel,” said President Shimon Peres, a former political ally of Sharon and, with the ex-premier's death, the last of the Jewish state's founders still in public life.

“Arik loved his people, and his people loved him,” Peres said, using the nickname of Sharon, a famously burly and blunt figure with a prizefighter's rolling gait.

“He knew no fear and never feared pursuing a vision.”

Officials said Sharon, who took power in 2001 soon after the start of a second Palestinian uprising that raged until 2005, would be given a state funeral to which foreign dignitaries would be invited.


Palestinians accused Sharon of sparking their “Intifada” with a provocative visit to the al Aqsa mosque plaza in Jerusalem's Old City.

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

But he 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 the Palestinian Hamas Islamists who, unlike the West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas, spurn co-existence with Israel.

As Sharon's finance minister in 2005, Netanyahu quit in protest at the Gaza plan. Netanyahu points to Hamas's rise in balking at similar West Bank withdrawals sought by Abbas.

Mourning Sharon, Netanyahu emphasized his military, rather than political, exploits: “He was first and foremost a brave warrior and great strategist, among the greatest of Israel Defence Force commanders.”

Palestinians in Gaza were handing 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 Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

“Our people today feel extreme happiness at the death and departure of this criminal whose hands were smeared with the blood of our people and the blood of our leaders here and in exile.”

[Related: Uri Dromi's salute to Ariel Sharon]


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

As a young paratroop officer in the 1950s, he championed night-time reprisals – one of which killed dozens of civilians in the village of Qibya – for cross-border Arab guerrilla raids on the fledgling Israel.

He was widely hated by Arabs over the 1982 massacre of hundreds of Palestinian refugees in Beirut by Lebanese Christian militiamen allied to Israel.

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 camp 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 Youself, a senior member of Abbas's umbrella Palestine Liberation Organisation, told Reuters.

“Despite the settlements and wars that he launched against us, here and in Lebanon and with the war crime of Sabra and Shatila (camps), Sharon has departed and the Palestinian people remain on their land.”

Sharon's devastating illness struck shortly after he quit the right-wing Likud party and founded a centrist faction with the declared aim of advancing peace with the Palestinians, whose 2000-2005 uprising he had battled as prime minister.


Former U.S. President George W. Bush, a Republican, saw in Sharon's strategy a reflection of his own “war on terror” and they formed a close alliance. On Saturday, appreciation for Sharon came from both sides of the U.S. political divide.

“We reaffirm our unshakable commitment to Israel's security and our appreciation for the enduring friendship between our two countries,” said President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

“We continue to strive for lasting peace and security for the people of Israel, including through our commitment to the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security,”

“As Israel says goodbye to Prime Minister Sharon, we join with the Israeli people in honoring his commitment to his country.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron called Sharon “one of the most significant figures in Israeli history”, saying he “took brave and controversial decisions in pursuit of peace”.

“Ariel Sharon … has been a major actor in the history of his country. After a long military and political career, he made the choice to turn towards dialogue with Palestinians,” French President Francois Hollande said in a statement.

Many Israelis will remember Sharon as a maverick military leader who fought in the 1948 war of Israel's founding and went on to earn a reputation for trigger-happy disobedience, but also for battlefield bravery and brilliance.

Sharon's nurse Marina Lifschitz said he had not suffered while lying comatose, though he had at times given basic responses to stimuli. She recalled at one point holding up a picture of his late wife Lily for him to view.

“And suddenly I saw a tear simply rolling out of his eye. That is very difficult to forget,” Lifschitz told reporters.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mugrabi in Gaza, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Andrew Roche

Condition of former Israeli leader Sharon worsens

The condition of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in a coma since 2006, has deteriorated sharply in recent hours and he is close to death, the hospital treating him said on Thursday.

Sharon, 85, has been on life support and out of the public gaze since suffering a massive stroke eight years ago. His vital organs started to fail a week ago at the Sheba Medical Center, near Tel Aviv.

One of Israel's most famous generals, Sharon left his mark on the region through military invasion, Jewish settlement building on captured land and a shock, unilateral decision to pull Israeli troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005.

Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Crispian Balmer

An insider’s view of Ariel Sharon

Ariel Sharon was a figure of controversy throughout his long career in war, politics and diplomacy, but no one can deny that he looms large in the making of the Jewish state.

Sharon was hailed as “Arik, King of Israel” when he returned from battle in the Six-Day War, a kind of latter-day David. But some of his critics still recall his role in the events leading up to the mass killings of Palestinians by Christian-Lebanese Phalangists at Sabra and Shatila, while others are second-guessing his courageous decision to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza. Today, because of the strokes he suffered in 2005, Sharon is no longer an active participant in debate or decision-making in Israel, but people all over the world still ask: “What would Arik do?”

“Over the course of nearly sixty years my father has been on the front line of all major national events in Israel,” his youngest son, Gilad Sharon, writes in “Sharon: The Life of a Leader” (HarperCollins, $29.95), a biography that is, at once, intimate and magisterial. “His fingerprints can be found all across the length and width of this country — in the form of over one hundred blooming settlements in the Galilee, the Golan Heights, Samaria, Judea, the Negev and the Arava.”

As part of a national book tour, Gilad Sharon will be in Los Angeles on Nov. 4 to participate in a public conversation with Rob Eshman, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Jewish Journal, part of the annual Celebration of Jewish Books at American Jewish University. (For tickets and information, call (310) 440-1246.)

“Sharon” has been released simultaneously in Hebrew and in an English translation by Mitch Ginsburg. As we should expect from a biography written by its subject’s son, “Sharon” is sentimental rather than critical; indeed, Gilad opens the book with a touching account of the death of his father’s firstborn son, Gur, in a gun accident, an event that cast a long shadow over the life of his father and their family. “Even an early age, I had the feeling that I was supporting my father,” Gilad writes, “despite the objective fact that he was big and strong and I was small and young.”

Yet often this intimate relationship plays to the book’s advantage. When Gilad describes his father’s celebrated experiences in combat — the beginning of the Sharon legend — he is able to offer a wholly surprising insight: “During the Yom Kippur War,” he writes, “soldiers would cling to his shirt, needing to touch him amid the madness.” To be sure, Gilad offers a detailed account of his father’s high-profile experiences as prime minister of Israel, but he always includes a telling detail that an impartial biographer might never know: “ ‘If you’re invited to dinner with the queen, you’d better know your table manners,’ our parents would say.”

In a telephone interview, Gilad Sharon spoke from the family farm in Israel in advance of his visit to Los Angeles.

Jonathan Kirsch:  I think the whole world will be interested in the very last pages of your book, where you describe how your father is today.  Am I correct in my understanding that he is not in a coma?

Gilad Sharon: “Minimal consciousness” is the medical term for his condition. Unfortunately, I cannot talk to him the way I am talking to you right now. When he is asleep, he is asleep, and when he is awake, he opens his eyes. He moves fingers when I ask him to.

JK: If I asked you to single out the one thing your father will be remembered for — and the one thing for which he ought to be remembered — would they be the same thing? Is he misunderstood in any way?

GS: If you ask me why my father was controversial in the early years, I’d say he was so dominant that no one could stay indifferent toward him. His abilities, his achievements, the victories he led the [Israeli Defense Forces] to achieve — all of these put almost everyone else in the shade. As prime minister, however, he enjoyed love and support across political boundaries and all over the world. That’s what counts. Fighting terror is something he did since the end of the 1940s, but for me, the human side of him, which is less known, is the most important part the book. A warm and loving family man with a great sense of humor — these are the qualities that I most care about.

JK: You write that you prepared a position paper for your father on the question of “unilateral action,” which ultimately led to his decision to withdraw from Gaza. What was the extent of your role in that decision?

GS: It was clear that we had to destroy terror, or terror would destroy us. It was clear that the Palestinian Authority would do nothing.  For instance, building the fence to prevent terrorists from coming from Judea and Samaria was also a unilateral step. No one ever put it as a policy. Coming up with an idea is a nice thing, but the ability to listen to people and to decide and then to execute, this is real leadership. I don’t see anyone else in those days, or even today, who would have been able to do it.

JK: Given the troubled state of affairs in Gaza, what is the verdict of history on the decision to withdraw from there?

GS: Some people used to say the results from Gaza brought rockets on Israel. That’s false. The first rocket was fired on April 16, 2001, more than four years before the withdrawal.

There were more rockets and mortars fired during the year before withdrawal than the two years after. There was, and is, a consensus that if we have a peace treaty with the Palestinians, we will not be in Gaza. The only question remaining was: Should we wait for the Palestinians or should we get out of Gaza now?  When my father realized that there was not going to be a peace treaty with the Palestinians, and that we cannot count on them even if there were a treaty, he decided not to wait. 

JK: Your father, it seems to me, had the stature that was required to lead Israel into a very tough decision. Do you think that the current prime minister — or any prospective prime minister — comes anywhere close to your father in terms of stature?

GS: In a moment of honesty, the current prime minister would admit that he still has a long way to go. That’s not a secret.  And that’s what I think, too.

JK: Do you think that the Palestinians will be successful in achieving statehood without a peace treaty with Israel?

GS: The Palestinians declared statehood in 1988, and many countries recognize it. I don’t think that the Palestinian state is the big obstacle. The question is borders.  Israel has lived without fixed borders, too, but we cannot accept the 1967 borders from which we were attacked with no provocation in the past.  If the Palestinians had accepted the U.N. partition in 1947, they would now have a state as old as Israel is right now.

JK: There is one question that I guarantee you will hear on your book tour: What would your father make of President Barack Obama?  Would he regard President Obama as a friend of Israel?

GS: The answer is, yes. The friendship between Israel and the United States is deep and is based on shared values of peace and justice.  We are engaged in a mutual fight against fundamentalist Islamic terror. After the 9/11 attacks, the feeling of mutual destiny became even stronger. It goes well beyond the personal. Prime ministers and presidents come and go, but the ties remain.  Of course, it is much better to have relationships like the one my father had with President Bush. They reached a high level of mutual understanding, and it helps a lot when you have someone whom you know and trust.

For more information about American Jewish University’s Festival of Jewish Books, please visit ” title=””> and can be reached at

Report: Ariel Sharon is responsive, moves fingers

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is responsive and has gained weight, his son told The New York Times.

Sharon, who has been in a coma since suffering a stroke nearly six years ago, moves his fingers when requested and looks at people when he is awake, Gilad Sharon told the newspaper on Oct. 20, in advance of the release of his biography of his father, “Sharon: The Life of a Leader,” set to be released in Hebrew and English on Oct. 26.

Ariel Sharon, 83, remains in a hospital near Tel Aviv following a brief stay at his ranch in southern Israel.

Gilad Sharon wrote in his book that he gave his father the idea of unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza, according to the Times. His accounts of his father’s dealings with current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are unflattering to Netanyahu.

Gilad Sharon, a member of his father’s Kadima Party, is said to be interested in entering politics.

UPDATE: Gabrielle Giffords continues her recovery in Houston

March 4, 2011, 9:05 a.m.: Eight weeks after the tragedy that struck Arizona, Gabrielle Giffords continues to recover in Houston ” title=” reports”> reports.

Jan. 13, 2011, 9:12 a.m.: President Obama went off script last night to let the crowd in Tucson know that Gabrielle Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time since last weeks shooting. Those in the room believe she was aware of their presence and that she seemed to be responsive. CNN reports:

Giffords was squeezing and stroking Gillibrand’s hand, as doctors previously said she had been able to do.

Giffords “absolutely could hear everything we were saying,” Gillibrand said. “And Debbie (Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida) and I were telling her how much she was inspiring the nation with her courage, her strength, and we were talking about the things we wanted to do as soon as she was better.”

Jan. 12, 2011, 1:15 p.m.: Dr. Peter Rhee says Gabrielle Giffords is making ‘spontaneous movements,’ the ” title=”Washington Post reports” target=”_blank”>Washington Post reports.

Giffords, 40, remains in critical condition after she and 19 other people were shot Saturday at an event she was holding to meet constituents outside a Tucson supermarket. Six were killed and 14, including Giffords, were wounded when a young man with apparent mental problems opened fire on the gathering with a handgun. The suspect, Jared Lee Loughner, 22, was arraigned in federal court in Phoenix on Monday. He faces federal murder and attempted murder charges.

Read more at ” title=”” target=”_blank”>

Sharon marks five years in coma

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remains in a coma five years after suffering a massive stroke.

There were no official events Tuesday to mark the five-year anniversary of the stroke, which ended Sharon’s political career. But he was briefly remembered Monday at a Likud Party briefing and in a column written by former colleague Tzachi Hanegbi in The Jerusalem Post.

Sharon remains hospitalized at the Sheba Medical Center of Tel Hashomer Hospital in Tel Aviv. He has returned home for weekend visits, according to reports.

Ariel Sharon moved to ranch first time since coma

Ariel Sharon was moved to his ranch for the first time since he fell into a coma in January 2006.

The former Israeli prime minister will spend the weekend at the ranch in the Negev desert, aides said of his move Friday.

Next week, he will return to the Tel Aviv hospital where he has been since he suffered a massive stroke while prime minister.

He will return to the ranch in upcoming weekends to test the possibility of moving back to his home permanently.

More on this story from these sources:

New York Times: In Coma, Ariel Sharon Is Moved Home
Ha’aaretz: Comatose ex-PM Ariel Sharon about to return home

Ariel Sharon going home

Ariel Sharon, who has been in a coma for nearly five years, is expected to be moved from an Israeli hospital to his Negev ranch.

The former Israeli prime minister, 82, who suffered a stroke on Jan. 6, 2006 that left him comatose, will be moved within the next few weeks from the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer in Tel Aviv to his home for a trial period, Yediot Achronot reported Wednesday.

If the trial is successful, Sharon reportedly will be taken back permanently to the ranch, which has been equipped with the necessary medical equipment and access to his second-floor bedroom, the newspaper reported.

Sharon’s sons, Gilad and Omri, reportedly requested the move.

Northern Israel needs investment to bolster it — security and development are linked

The graffiti on the Galilean bomb shelter that greeted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wasted no words: “Wake up Sharon, Olmert’s in a coma.”

Watching Olmert tour upgraded and refurbished bomb shelters in the north after the release of the Winograd Report last spring prompted jokes in Israel about rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic. Much worse, the hapless images of Olmert checking the bomb shelter shower knobs suggested unfortunate associations for more than 1 million Israelis who fled the war temporarily, many of whom have been scouting for new locations ever since.

As a former intelligence chief told me upon reading Milken Institute’s data on Galilean economic conditions: “You are right. There is negative out migration from the north to the center of the country and from the center to the Diaspora.”

And that out migration is Israel’s enemies’ ultimate objective in launching wars they can’t win in conventional terms. They seek to create the perception that the country has no future.

Thanks in part to the Israeli government’s inaction, that plan is succeeding. The economic situation of northern Israel was deteriorating even prior to the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War. Five years before rockets fell, the north experienced net negative out migration of 23.2 percent. In other words, 33,000 Israelis had already abandoned the north even prior to rockets falling.

These problems were only exacerbated after the war. Poverty levels continue to hit 29 percent of families in the north vs. 20 percent nationwide. Regional family income in the north is only 74 percent of the national average, and unemployment rates run 20 percent higher in the north than in the rest of country.

But now we are told, the showers in the bomb shelters now are supposed to be working, even if the people aren’t.

All measures of the growing social and economic gaps in Israel are refracted and amplified in northern Israel. According to national security authorities, the strategy of Iran and Hezbollah is to weaken Israel’s northern region what Israelis call “the periphery” economically and make a small country claustrophobic.

This strategy successfully weakens morale and created military and diplomatic advantages during and subsequent to the war. Facing conditions of asymmetric warfare, where the home front and front lines of conflict blur, the linkage between national security and economic security become central. Investment is of urgent importance to fully integrate regions of Israel that are peripheral, due to lack of physical, transportation and social infrastructure.

Many long-term and long-promised projects by the central government in the sphere of infrastructure and commercial/industrial development have been postponed. Emergency aid that poured into the north was insufficient and targeted to relief, rather than economic development. Conditions in northern Israel remain vulnerable and its status is worsening.

According to the evaluation by the government examiner’s report (May 21, 2008), most of the Israeli government’s actions in response to the north remain unfulfilled. The report concludes:

  • The government budgeted NIS 4 billion for northern Israel economic development but only allocated NIS 1.6 billion since the war.
  • The government based the budgetary increase upon contributions from abroad that failed to materialize or were deployed to the southern front with the attacks on Sderot and the northern Negev.
  • The government did not operationally execute the rehabilitation plans proposed by government ministries.
  • Government ministries were not obligated to execute northern Israel rehabilitation plans and failed to allocate budgets for that objective.

The next Israeli prime minister, like all the others, will speak loudly and often about national security. But the goal of national security is inextricably linked to economic development.

The next government must lead a private-public partnership that will invest billions in infrastructure and economic projects to fully integrate the north to the country’s dynamic growth center. Israel and the Diaspora have the resources to make “periphery” an anachronistic word in the Hebrew lexicon. But we don’t have much time.

Glenn Yago directs the Milken Institute’s capital studies program and the Koret-Milken Institute Fellows program in Israel. Further information can be found in their report on northern Israel at

No Compassion?

The day my mother was transferred from a nursing home to a hospice, I raced from Baltimore to northeastern Pennsylvania. This 80-mph excursion into death — my mother’s death — might rescue me from whatever boredom and tedium had enveloped me, but it would also plunge me into a realm where I didn’t necessarily relish going. But go I went. For you see, there was no choice.

Arriving at the hospice, I finally found my mother’s room, then paused briefly in the doorway, not quite ready to enter. After a few minutes, I caught my mother’s eye. With a finger curved from years of arthritis, she motioned me toward her. Approaching her bed, I bent down. I didn’t want to miss what might be her final words, words of wisdom or longing or regret or love, words that could rival the most poignant deathbed scene of the most melodramatic (or the most cornball) film. Indeed, this could be a true moment of reconciliation, of empathy, of demolishing the walls of distance and reserve that had risen between us over the years — walls that belied all the enviable myths and fables about mothers and sons, stories that I knew were true (at some level) because I saw, occasionally, mothers and sons getting along as mothers and sons were intended to.

As I stooped at her bedside, I saw her summon her strength. I waited, and then came her last verdict of me.

“You have no compassion,” she rasped out, syllable by syllable, wagging her bent finger more or less in my direction. “All you care about is the money.”

That was the last I heard from her. Shutting her eyes, she slid into a coma. It was late afternoon. Hours later, I finally shooed my nephews out of the room, sat down next to my mother and delivered a two-hour monologue about our relationship and the pain of her parting words:

“You have no compassion” — This from a woman who saw me as an interloper and a destroyer: my birth had caused such damage to her interior that she couldn’t resume sex with my father until she had an operation 12 years later.

“You have no compassion” — This from a woman who saw me as so distant, so aloof, so inscrutable that we couldn’t talk to each other until I was about 8 because of my severe speech impediment. After I’d gone through years of speech therapy, she finally didn’t have to ask a cousin who lived near us to run over and “translate” my babble to her.

“You have no compassion” — This from a woman who had a hard time relating to my love of books and literature and ideas and always proclaimed, a bit too defensively, “I didn’t go to college, but you don’t need a college education to be smart.”

“You have no compassion” — This from a woman who elevated self-sacrifice to an art, self-effacement to a talent and scolding to a craft. That finger with which she motioned me to her bedside was no aberration. Throughout my life, when that finger pointed at me, I knew I was in trouble.

My mother was not in the same league as writer Mary Gordon. In fact, she probably never read anything by Gordon. But the same apprehension that gripped Gordon when her doctor told her she was having a boy probably gripped my mother for many years after giving birth to me: “Oh my God! What am I supposed to do with one of them?”

The problem is that I wasn’t just “one of them.” I was damaged, I had damaged her, and the breach between us was so wide and so antipodean that countenancing even the possibility of abridging it was almost the same as risking what might happen if we didn’t try. Either way, there was the probability of two strangers staring across an abyss. The gap between us was as corrosive and daunting as it was frightening, which may be why it had become permanent.

From Oedipus onward, all of us have seen moms through prisms that are as inaccurate as they are sometimes hopeful and dreamy: A king marries his mother and stabs his eyes out in shame; Harriet bakes brownies every damn day for Ricky and David (and, of course, for her husband, Ozzie), and everything’s right with the world or, at least, at 522 Sycamore Road in idyllic Hilldale.

But enough of Oedipus’ mother/wife. And enough of Harriet, famed chef of Sycamore Road. There are real-life moms and real-life problems and swirling around us are real “headwinds of darkness” — Sophocles’ words about Oedipus which, I pray, is all we have in common with that cursed son/husband.

“You have no compassion!” — It might be true. I hope not. I’ve lived my life with respect for others, volunteering for good causes and working for a few years at slave labor wages for a major public interest group. I also tried to have compassion for my mother. Maybe what’s most important now is not whether she was right or wrong, but the impulse that chose her particular parting words.

By mustering whatever compassion I truly have — compassion that I prefer to believe my mother didn’t know about — I can suggest that she was really trying to help me by deflating whatever myths I might harbor about mothers and sons: Begone, Harriet of Sycamore! Away with thee, June Cleaver! But I honestly don’t think that was her intention: Even she wasn’t that compassionate. No, I think she was a very angry woman — angry, literally, to the end. I also believe that I just happened to get in her way. And that was most unfortunate, for both of us.

Arthur Magida’s latest book, “The Rabbi and the Hit Man,” has just been released in paperback by HarperCollins. He is the University of Baltimore’s writer in residence.