Published in The Kansas City Star, The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle
The media, the Arab world and his opponents like to portray Ariel “Arik” Sharon as a man of war who can’t make peace. They blame him as the man whose visit to the Temple Mount, the holiest site for Jews, provoked the recent three months of Palestinian violence. They continue to hold him ultimately responsible for the massacre of Palestinians by Christian Lebanese militiamen that occurred in the Sabra and Shatilla refugees camps in Lebanon in 1082.
However, many of Sharon’s supporters, including myself, have always seen him as a Jewish hero — similar to King David — and as someone who has worked tirelessly all his life to save Israel from its enemies and to protect Israel’s security.
I was 14 when I heard about Sharon. I had just begun high school when the Yom Kippur war began, on October6, 1973- when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on its holiest day. We all expected the war to be over with the usual quick Israeli victory. However, the Egyptian- Syrian sneak attack penetrated deep into the Golan heights and Sinai, reaching close to Israel proper. Israeli suffered heavier casualties than in any other war. Then we heard about Major General Arik Sharon. In a daring and unexpected maneuver, he led his tank division to re-cross the Suez canal into Egypt, surrounding the Egyptian army and effectively ending the war in Sinai. I will never forget the picture of Sharon with a bandage on his head , leading his soldiers.
Now Israel is facing the most crucial time in its history. A terrorist quasi- state has been created by Yasser Arafat in the seven years since the Oslo agreement. This exists in close proximity to the heart of Israel where 80 percent of its population lives. Arik Sharon has been the leading warrior who has fought and defeated terrorism since the establishment of Israel. He is the only Israeli leader the Arab leaders, including Arafat, fear. Fear is the only language of power understood in the Middle East, which houses some of the most brutal dictators in the world.
Sharon has participated in all the wars of Israel . He was born in British ruled pre-Israel and joined the resistance movement, the Haganah, at age 14 to force the British out. During the 1948 War of Independence , he commanded an infantry unit and was badly injured. After the victory in that war, Israel was faced with its first wave of Palestinian terrorism. From 1951 to 1956 Arab terrorist groups called Fadayeen launched brutal raids inside Israel, mainly from Egypt and Jordan, in which 967 Israelis were murdered. In 1953, Sharon founded and led a special anti – terrorist commando unit 101, which carried successful, retaliatory operations against terrorist bases. After the Sinai campaign against Egypt in 1956, terrorism stopped. In 1967, Sharon participated in the Six Day War as a commander of an armored division, and in 1969 he was appointed head of the southern command staff to fight a new generation of terrorists under the leadership of Arafat’s PLO. Starting in 1968, terror mushroomed in Gaza against the Arab population as well as the Israelis. Sharon was able to, over a period of seven months in 1971, destroy the PLO terrorist infrastructure in Gaza . For 10 years afterward, there was no terrorism in Gaza.
After his success in the Yom Kippur war, Sharon went into politics and helped to establish the Likud party. As the Begin government’s Minister of Defense from 1981 to 1983 and in retaliation for persistent attacks against northern Israel by a PLO mini-state in Lebanon, Sharon – with cabinet approval – orchestrated an invasion of Lebanon. He drove the PLO terrorists north and secured the civilians in northern Israel. Arafat’s forces, in violation of numerous American- brokered cease fires, continued to attack the Israeli army. The Begin government then ordered an advance upon Beirut aiming to eliminate the PLO threat . After that, the PLO surrendered , and 9,000 of them were expelled to other countries.
Tragically, in the chaos following the assassination of the newly elected Christian president of Lebanon by a fellow Christian Arab, a massacre of Palestinians was conducted by Christian militia units in which not a single Israeli participated. Enemies of Israel and Sharon cynically blamed Sharon for the Sabra and Shatilla massacres without any basis in fact. Christian militia units had previously operated under the IDF direction and had conducted themselves exceptionally well. Their leader had been murdered by a fellow Christian, not a Moslem, and there was no reason to anticipate revenge attacks. Neither the Israeli government nor the head of the Mossad , who knew of the presence of the militia units in Palestinian camps, had feared such an action. In his libel suit against Time magazine, Sharon proved that the allegation that he had discussed the need for the Christians to take revenge for the assassination was a lie.
It is ironic and hypocritical that those people who condemn Sharon are the same ones who portray Yasser Arafat as a man of peace. Arafat is directly responsible for 25 years of terrorism by ordering the murder of women and children in schools hotels, airports and residential buildings. He also ordered the murder of Olympic athletes.
Those who blame Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount as the provocation for the recent months of Palestinian violence should know by now that the visit was used by Arafat as a pretext for premeditated violence to gain more Israeli concessions in the negotiations. His gamble worked since Ehud Barak’s last offer was more generous than what was proposed before the violence began.
Those who like to portray Sharon as a warmonger prefer to forget that he was in many governments that were involved in peace negotiations. In 1977, as a minister in the Begin government, he supported the peace agreement with Egypt, in which all the Sinai was given up. He was the defense minister who was responsible for evacuating Jewish settlers in Sinai and destroying their settlements.
He was a minister in the Shamir government, that was involved in the Madrid peace conference. He was foreign minister in the Netanyahu government and supported the Wye River Agreement, which gave an additional 13percent of Judea and Samaria to Arafat. He was one of the first on the right who stated that a Palestinian state is inevitable, but he has always emphasized that Israel’s security and its strategic assets should be not be compromised in the process.
Those who like to portray him as a destructive man forget his record as a builder. He is a farmer in private life who, in his political life, was the minister of agriculture responsible for establishing Jewish settlements on state owned land in the barren areas of the West Bank and Gaza in addition to the Galilee. He was the minister of industry and trade, minister of housing and construction and minister of national infrastructure.
Now Arik Sharon is needed to re-establish Israel’s deterrence power and to protect its security. The humiliating withdrawal from Lebanon by the Israeli army and the offering of additional concessions by Barak to Arafat after three months of Palestinian orchestrated violence have weakened Israel’s previously strong image in the Arab world.
Moreover, Sharon is needed to reestablish a Jewish consensus that existed since the Six day war:Jerusalem should never be divided , the Temple Mount must always remain in Israeli hands , Israel must not return to the 1967 borders and Israel must hold on to the strategic mountainous ranges of Judea and Samaria and to the Jordan Valley.
Despite his heroics in serving Israel, Sharon has been falsely demonized and vilified. As any leader with a rich and long past he has made mistakes, but through it all, his love for the land of Israel, including Judea and Samaria, and his pride in being Jewish has never wavered or been questioned. He is a man of principle who does not act according to popularity polls. Ariel Sharon has earned the right to become Israel’s prime minister and ensure it ultimate survival.