The death of Ariel Sharon, a key figure in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, has been received with mixed feelings and opens many questions about his legacy. As only popular figures can be, controversy always surrounds their achievements, in a mix of lights and shadows, greatness and misfortunes, Sharon has linked his name in many ways as a military general or as a politician.
Ariel Sharon, born as Ariel Scheinermann, started his career in the paramilitary groups that can be considered the precursors of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Soon he made the marks as a genial strategist and commander, capable of unexpected actions and great achievements; nonetheless, he also showed another element that will always characterize his figure, whether as a soldier or a politician, insubordination and a tendency to force state of things not always following orders from above.
Sharon fought three wars, Independence (1948), Six-Day (1967) and Yom Kippur (1973), plus actions in the Suez Crisis and other skirmishes, and in all of them he showed, under a military point of view, incredible resources, strategic brilliancy and ruthlessness. During the Six-Day War some of his manoeuvres, such the ones that led to attack Egyptian forces in the Sinai Peninsula by simultaneously attacks in small forces has been regarded as one of the most influential innovations in military strategy at the time. During the Yom Kippur War (1973), when Sharon was already retired to join the Likud party, he was recalled due to the disastrous results of the IDF military campaign, receiving the lead of the forces to reconquer the lost Sinai. He mastermind the amphibious attack on the Egyptian forces known as “Operation Gazelle” which led to the isolation of the Third Egyptian Army and considered the salvation of Israel from a certain lost war.
Israel has therefore regarded him as a national hero and defender of the sacred borders, but Sharon;’s history has also another side that links with the Palestinian and Arab perspectives. Along his fearless and ruthless action during the numerous military actions Sharon made his mark in Palestinian minds especially as a politician, paradoxically. Soon after retiring from the army, he made special recommendations to Begin on the necessity, during the years 1975-1981, to increase Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories . On his settlement policy, Sharon said while addressing a meeting of the Tzomet party: “Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours. … Everything we don’t grab will go to them.”
By supporting Begin’s government election, Sharon received in 1981 the post of Minister of Defence, linking forever his name to a page of history that will never be forgotten. During the bloodiest Lebanon Civil War, in 1982, the Sabra and Shatila massacre occurred between 16 and 18 September. Between 762 and 3,500 civilians, mostly Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites, in the refugee camps were killed by the Phalanges Lebanese Maronite Christian militias, sent in to clear the camps from PLO fighters while Israeli forces surrounded the camps, blocking exits and providing logistical support. The killings led some to label Sharon “the Butcher of Beirut”.
The investigative Kahan Commission (1982) found the Israeli Defence Forces indirectly responsible for the massacre, although was established that no direct participation of IDF soldiers in the massacre occurred. Nevertheless, the commission recognized the Phalangist unit as responsible and acting on its own but whose entry was known to Israel and approved by Sharon. The Commission also concluded that the defense minister, Sharon, was personally responsible for not taking necessary measures to avoid the massacre. Following the verdict Sharon was forced to resign, although reluctantly, starting the darkest era of his career.
After this Sharon made a comeback in 2000 when, following years of renewed tensions in the Palestinian territories, he made the famous al Aqsa Walk that ultimately led to the Second Intifada. Whether planned or unintentional, this was a typical provocation that infuriating the Palestinian Authority and Arafat led to a four years bloody conflict. Nevertheless, Sharon in the years as Prime Minister showed along the above ruthless and crude calculations also unexpected overtures: swinging from isolating and undermining Arafat’s authority until hid death, only to find then himself surrounded by hostile terrorists groups now acting freely and without a control, Sharon decided to overturn his appeasement of settlements by declaring an unitlateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip. While his decision to withdraw from Gaza sparked bitter protests from members of the Likud party and the settler movement, opinion polls showed that it was a popular move among most of the Israeli electorate with more than 80% of Israelis backing the plans. But ultimately this split the party and Sharon left Likud to found a new party, Kadima. When Sharon was caught by a series of strokes and left in a coma in 2005, he was pursuing a new disengagement plan, likely to anger nationalist but to please Palestinians and pacifists in Israel and around the world now wary of years of senseless conflicts.
His death after 8 years in a limbo state, have reopen to many memories and nightmares, bitter fightings, admiration, and even sparked celebrations. Sharon, whatever is the angle or the point of view, has been a figure that linked great achievement but also accusations of serious crimes, closures and provocations as well as important diplomatic steps and even clamorous overtures.
Sharon will be remembered as a national hero in Israel, where in 2005 was voted the 8th-greatest Israeli of all time, and as the Butcher of Beirut from Arabs and Palestinian people, because history cannot be rewritten and this double identity will always accompany his legacy, and at the same time, without any doubts, Sharon will remain a key figures of the 20th Century and modern history of Middle East.