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The Many Faces of God’s Military Lion by Natalie Wood
The incident is burned into my brain. I’ll never forget how 44 years ago as a preliminary to a UK ‘A’ Level History course, our teacher invited the class to debate ‘greatness’ and the nature of leadership. Most of us, aged not quite 17, didn’t have a clue!
After all, it takes an acute intelligence and the wisdom of maturity to scrape even the surface of such a big issue. Thus it became the solemn duty of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to help solve the problem during his eulogy at the memorial service to Israel’s former Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon.
He’d been “a complex man”, said Biden, who’d “lived in complex times in a complex neighbourhood” and had been forever loyal “to the north star that guided him – the survival of the state of Israel and the Jewish people”.
But Sharon’s passing – like that of former U.K. Premier Margaret Thatcher nine months before – triggered both torrents of hate-filled jubilation and candid, tearful sympathy. I guess the pair, whose personal histories could not have differed more, were somehow mated by their doughty but intricate characters – and quirkily – an unwavering, mutual admiration for Israel.
If she were still alive, Mrs T. would probably appreciate the comparisons made between ‘Ariel’ (usually translated as ‘God’s Lion’) and biblical heroes like Moses, Samson and the first ancient Jewish kings. But I think a better parallel would be with Avner, who was King Saul’s cousin and his military commander in chief.
Avner, like Arik as he was popularly known, was a great strategist and also like him and his son, Omri was physically massive. Indeed, rabbinic legend says “it would have been easier to move a wall six yards thick than one of the feet of Avner, who could hold the Israelitish army between his knees”.
Further, Sharon was a super husband and father, who married Lily, younger sister of his first wife, Gali after she was killed in a road accident. The pair brought up Gur, Sharon’s son by Gali and went on to have two sons together, Omri and his brother, Gilad. Another tragedy beset the Sharon family when Gur was killed aged 11 in an accidental shooting. Then Lily predeceased Arik by many years..At the end, a sure sign that Sharon’s familial bonds were as strong as his physique came from Gilad’s remark that his father “went when he decided to go”. Never mind that he lay in a coma for eight years – he still called the shots!
Moreover, opined David Horovitz of The Times of Israel, late in life Sharon was viewed as “likable and gracious and considerate; he had always been rapier smart and spectacularly courageous. But it is the loss of (his) pro-active qualities that is most being mourned, because it is those qualities that are in shortest supply among those he has left behind”.
I’m swift to admit that I was never a fan while Sharon lived and that it would be hypocritical of me to pretend otherwise, but I’d like to share the mixed and very human reaction of a man who once served under him:
“I served in Sharon’s command in ’73”, he explained during discussion on the CIF Watch monitoring site hosted by Adam Levick “and thought him to be a lousy officer. As housing minister, the total number of new settlements he allowed was a grand total of – three”. However, he added, “he had his strong points as well as weak points. He had nothing at all to do with Arabs killing Arabs (at Sabra and Shatilla) – that they do all on their own!”
But what very few people ever realised was that the man infamously portrayed as an Arab baby-eating monster enjoyed warm personal friendships with Arabs along with the great enmities. A farmer, who had long done private business with Sharon, travelled to his funeral at the ranch in southern Israel from Dir Al-Assad – the village next to me in Karmiel, Lower Galilee. The Arab called Sharon a man of honour.
So we are left with a military hero and politician who was also a pragmatist; a loving head of family who was suffused with personal nobility and who not lost three of those dearest to him but as a man of probity was publicly shamed when his son served a prison term for fraud. So should any teacher wish to lead a class debate about greatness, perhaps they should start here!