Many memorable leaders have passed through the halls of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) during the State of Israel’s fifty eight years of existence, leaving their mark on the political, social, and geographic landscape of the region. In this section you will find articles on some of the major figures in Israel’s history, revealing the fascinating story of their lives, and concurrently the history of the country.
Menachem Begin: To Conquer the Mountain or Die
On a summer night in 1981, Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin stood poised to set the seal on his re-election. Supremely confident, his razor sharp tongue slowly cut the opposition labor party to pieces.
Lifted to the heights of euphoria, no one could foresee that within a year Menachem Begin would push the country into war in the quagmire of Lebanon – and then suddenly resign from the pinnacle of power – leaving behind no explanation. Shocking the nation by quitting the post he’d spent forty years fighting to win, Begin left the whole country asking why. Leaving home only for frequent medical treatment, Begin was constantly beset by demanding reporters.
In self-imposed seclusion at his home, Menachem Begin – whose whole life had been built on the power of his public image – withdrew into the silence of a recluse.
Menachem Begin told no one the reason he resigned. For ten years he refused to explain his solitude. And, at the end of the decade, he died – taking those secrets with him to the grave. Perhaps, in understanding Menachem Begin- his character and nature – it is possible to discover the roots of the mystery that still surrounds the last years of his life.
Born in Brisk, Poland, as the world hurtled headlong into the Great War of 1914, Menachem Begin took his first, faltering steps on no-man’s land – caught between the opposing Russian and German armies fighting their battles through the farms and villages of Eastern Europe.
For most Jewish refugees this was just another war between the gentiles, just another war for the Jews to suffer in silence. But a handful formed their own Jewish units in the British army – the Zion Mules Corps and later, the Jewish Legion. These men, the first fighting Jews in almost 2000 years, with their leader Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, shaped the minds of a generation. Jabotinsky – a soldier, poet, author, and translator of Dante’s Inferno – was above all the visionary leader of right-wing Zionism. Begin, a shy rather sickly teenager, joined its new paramilitary youth wing, Betar- falling under the spell of Jabotinsky’s charisma and his dream of creating a free Jewish state in Palestine.
However, the doors of Palestine were barred by the British mandate administration. As Hitler rose to power, a wave of anti-Semitism swept across Europe. Thousands of Jews sought refuge in the Promised Land, only to be turned away from the shores of Palestine by British Forces.
Begin’s time was split between organizing boatloads of illegal immigrants, and growing the ranks of Poland’s Betar into Europe’s largest Jewish youth movement. Within a year, Begin became high commander of Betar in Poland, head of over eighty thousand loyal followers. Somehow, he still found time for romance, marrying Aliza Arnold. She became his closest companion for the next forty-four years.
On September 1st, 1939, a million and a half German soldiers storm across the Polish border, signaling the start of World War II. With Betar in chaos, Begin, his young bride and most of Betar’s high command, fled east to the supposedly free state of Lithuania. Granted refugee status in Vilna, Begin soon found himself under the surveillance of the NKVD, the Soviet secret police. When they finally came to arrest him, Begin was waiting.
Throughout his interrogation by the NKVD, Aliza Begin remained with a small group of friends- providing whatever support and news they could. Now they pressed her to join them in trying to reach Palestine.
Convicted as an enemy of the state, the Soviets sentenced Begin to eight years corrective labor in the Gulags of Siberia. In September, 1942, German troops invade Russia – in ten days they cover two thirds of the way to Moscow. In panic, Stalin releases all Polish prisoners to form the Free Polish Army under general Anders. Thousands of Jews joined up to fight the Nazis on the North African front.
Begin arrived in Palestine as a Polish soldier. Arriving in 1942, reunited with Aliza and old friends from Betar, Begin quickly made contact with the national military organization – the Irgun – a clandestine army formed by Jabotinsky. Without direction since Jabotinsky’s death, the Irgun turned to Menachem Begin to lead them. But begin refused. After all, he’d sworn an oath of allegiance to the Polish army. Only when formally discharged Begin agrees to take command. Still not everyone was convinced that Begin was the right man for the job.
Even though mandate soldiers slammed shut the gates of Palestine to Jewish refugees, the underground armies shelved their plans to fight the British – and thousands joined the war effort against the common enemy in Europe. Breaking this consensus of self-restraint on February 1, 1944, Begin d the revolt against the British – with more guts than guns.
Disbelief and derision greeted his proclamation – posted on walls all over Palestine by Betar youngsters – but two days later the Irgun’s first home made bombs explode across the country. The revolt had really begun. Hitting British immigration and tax offices in all the major cities, the Irgun activists shocked the British out of their complacency. But still the majority of the Jewish population was against the revolt.
Coordinating their actions with a splinter group, the FFI Fighters – Fighters for Freedom in Israel – the Irgun wrecked havoc throughout mandate Palestine. They destroyed railway lines, banks, and stacked police stations across the country. Begin sent out raids on British army camps – ‘confiscating’ truckloads of badly needed arms and ammunition.
The British started hunting Begin – but despite the thousands of troops searching for him, Begin was nowhere to be found. Living underground with forged papers, Begin directed the Irgun to make true the promise he had made in proclaiming revolt: “there shall be no laying down of arms against the British administration in the land of Israel, which keeps our brothers in Hitler’s grip. There will be no retreat. Freedom- or death.”
A member of the FFI assassinated the British Minister for the Middle East, Lord Moyne, in Cairo. Begin denounced the killing – restating the Irgun’s total rejection of individual assassinations. Enraged – the British cracked down hard on Palestine’s Jewish community and issued an ultimatum – flush out the terrorists or face the consequences.
David Ben Gurion, leader of the Zionist Establishment, joined the British in the hunt for Begin. He d “open season” against the Irgun, even though the killing was the work of the FFI.
Hundreds of Irgun supporters were driven from their homes, held hostage by Ben Gurion’s own army – the Hagana – and denounced to the British. The Irgun was on the verge of collapse. Begin remained in hiding with his wife, and refused to fight back at the Hagana, because he was adamantly against fighting other Jews.
The Irgun went into high gear. No longer an isolated band of insurgents mounting sporadic attacks, they now emerged as a full-blown guerilla army fighting 100 thousand battle-hardened British troops.
Driven by desperation, Begin set about hitting at the very heart of the British occupation. Implementing a plan he had been cooking for two years, Begin sent the Irgun to blow up ‘the main kitchen’ – the British headquarters, based in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel. Following his long established pattern, Begin did not interfere with operational details, asking only that warnings be given to avoid casualties. The five hundred that destroyed all remaining illusions of British invulnerability – left nearly one hundred dead in the ruins. Overnight Menachem Begin became the world’s best known terrorist.
Begin accelerated the fight against the British. The Irgun retaliated to every British act, hounding the British until they finally broke the spirit of their occupation, driving the last British soldier from Palestine.
The Arabs too, waited for the British to withdraw. Palestine had been partitioned into tow small states – Jewish and Arab. But neither was satisfied – each wanting lands promised to the other. In the historic struggle between Jew and Arab, the Dir Yassin affair is remembered as a milestone. The repercussions of Dir Yassin – a small Arab village on the outskirts of Jerusalem carry the seeds of the Palestinian tragedy down to this day.
From Dir Yassin the Arabs could shoot at thirty percent of the population in Jerusalem. After constant killings and the city caught under siege, Begin gave the all clear for action against the village of Dir Yassin. Without getting into details of the operation, Begin ordered the commander to warn the Arabs before the attack. Approaching at dawn, the villagers opened fire before the Irgun could issue the warning. Using tactics learned from the British, the Irgun fighters advanced house by house with TNT in their hands – blowing up eleven homes. The village surrendered. Even then the firing continued and more Arabs died. The final death toll: four Jews and over two hundred and forty Arabs killed. Even though Begin was not present at the fighting, for the rest of his life opponents will call him ‘the butcher of Dir Yassin.’
On May 14, 1948 the last British soldier leaves Palestine. That day, David Ben Gurion, and Zionist leaders from across the political spectrum, sign the Declaration of Independence – the state of Israel is proclaimed. But Menachem Begin is not even invited to take part in the ceremony. The same day, Egyptian air force planes attack Tel Aviv, and full-scale war erupts between Israel and its Arab neighbors on four fronts. The new state is in jeopardy. Emerging from the underground, Begin is finally seen by his soldiers, as he sends them to fight alongside the Israeli army. Joining the battle for Israel’s existence, the Irgun take Jaffa and participate in the fight for Haifa and Jerusalem. But once again, the Jews come to the precipice of civil war – this time over a boat – the Altalena.
Laden with tons of desperately needed arms, ammunition and 850 Beta fighters, the Irgun send the Altalena from Europe to unload on the shores of Tel Aviv. Ben Gurion, convinced Begin is planning a coup, demands that the Irgun surrender the ship. All of a sudden shooting broke out, while Begin was aboard the Altalena. Begin denied his soldiers’ wish to fire back upon fellow Jews. Suddenly a cannon shell burst in the boat’s cargo hold. An elated Ben Gurion said: “Blessed be the cannon that shelled the ship.” The tragic collision left eleven dead.
Towards Israel’s first elections, Begin transforms the Irgun into the Herut – or freedom, Party – and turns to politics with a passion. Fully expecting public reward for the years of clandestine struggle, Begin believes Herut will run neck and neck with Ben Gurion’s socialist party. But when the country goes to the polls in 1949, Herut wins only 11% of the vote. Still, Begin proudly takes his seat in the first Knesset – Israel’s parliament.
Still confident, he leads Herut into the second elections two years later. On the background of mass immigration, rationing and black market profiteering, the socialists sweep to victory. Begin is unprepared for the rejection that reduces Herut to a splinter party, with just 5% of the votes, giving them only eight parliamentary seats.
The defeat shatters Begin. He resigns from politics, telling friends he will become a lawyer. But when Israel starts negotiations with Germany, Begin bounces back out of his depression. Electrifying crowds, he speaks out against negotiating reparations for the Holocaust’s six million Jewish dead – declaring “a war of life or death.” Begin’s supporters clash with police – leaving two hundred demonstrators and one hundred and fifty police injured on the streets of Jerusalem. Opponents denounce him as a fascist, more a demagogue than a democrat. Begin stands his ground – unbending in his principles and outspoken in his conscience.
In 1963 Ben Gurion finally retires, leaving the way open for dramatic changes on Israel’s political map. Ben Gurion’s successor Levi Eshkol, invites Begin to join the government of national unity in 1967, on the eve of the Six Day War. As the country prepares for battle, the new minister Menachem Begin, is at last accepted into Israel’s political mainstream.
Menachem Begin sits in the government for over one thousand days. In the spirit of national unity Begin and Ben Gurion forgive one another and put the past behind them. Menachem Begin’s political rehabilitation is complete.
The War of Attrition continues with Egypt across the Suez Canal. Daily causalities tarnish the glory of victory and sap Israeli morale. In the polls of 1969 the labor-alliance looses ground, and Prime Minister Golda Meir asks Begin to stay on in the coalition. But they are divided over the future of the territories occupied in 1967.
Begin’s life-long dream of a greater Israel is at last a reality within reach. He quits the government and leads the opposition against the pressure on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories.
In October 1970, Egyptian forces cross the Suez Canal and Syrian tanks roll over the Golan Heights. The country is in panic – caught completely by surprise. Israel is on the verge of destruction. Blaming the Labor leadership for not calling up the army’s reserves, the public demands the resignations of Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan. Menachem Begin could have made himself the political alternative, but he refuses to take this golden opportunity.
Riding a massive wave of support, Begin forges a new alliance – the Likud Party – into the spearhead for social change. The children of immigrants from places like Iraq and Morocco – born in transit camps while millions of dollars from German reparations poured into the pockets of the Jews from Europe – are now grown up. They take to the streets pouring out their frustration – and their love for Menachem Begin.
In 1977, after a severe heart attack, Begin leads his ninth election campaign. Accustomed to defeat – he is used to seeing his street popularity disappear into the ballot box. His opponent, Shimon Peres, already ordered a suit in which to appear as the country’s new Prime Minister. After all the Labor party had won every election in Israel’s history. But stunningly – after eight straight defeats – Begin’s popularity finally translates into his first election victory.
Begin discusses his first action as Prime Minister – “The first thought was, and the first action, to bring Vietnamese refugees whom our boat in the Pacific Ocean saved, but no country in Asia wanted to accept them. My first action was to bring them to Israel. Give them a home, a haven, a refuge. Because we are people of refugees who were denied such homes and refuge and havens. That was my first thing. And my second act was how to make peace. And then I went to several countries and I suggested to several rulers, perhaps you can bring about a meeting between Sadat and myself.”
The visit of Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat in November 1977 surprised the world. But Begin had worked for it from his first day in office. These moments inspired everyone. To see Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat address the Israeli parliament was seeing the impossible happen.
After the show, the real work began. For comprehensive peace with Israel Sadat demanded complete withdrawal from all of Sinai. For Begin this was too high a price. Negotiations often came close to breakdown. But in March there was finally a peace treaty to sign. The ceremony took place on the lawn of The White House in Washington. The price for Israel was complete withdrawal from Sinai and an autonomy plan for the Palestinians. For this historic accord Begin and Sadat received the Nobel Peace prize in October.
Directing his 1981 campaign for re-election single-handed, Menachem Begin ran on a peace ticket. But at the same time he was planning one of the most daring military operations ever conceived in Israel. Taking the decision with only Foreign Minister Shamir and Chief of Staff Eitan – Begin sent Israeli planes off in the early hours of June 5th 1981.
Alone in the sky, the pilots maintained radio silence for hours. Flying low to avoid Arab radar, the planes dodged anti-aircraft fire as they approach the target. Their mission – to destroy Sadam Hussein’s nuclear reactor, just weeks before its radioactive core was installed.
Likud supporters gave Begin an ecstatic reception when they heard the news – but the world condemned him as a criminal. His Labor party opponents – leading the opinion polls by 30% when the campaign began – denounced Begin claiming it was all a propaganda ploy to help secure his re-election.
Menachem Begin now squared-up for the most difficult task of his new premiership. The time had come to pay the price for peace- a price that would prove much higher than just sands of the Sinai desert. After a lifetime of dreaming of a greater Israel and encouraging settlement over the pre-1967 borders, Begin now had to convince thousands to leave their homes. They refused – and the dream turned into a nightmare.
But a month later Israel goes into the most controversial war in its history – the war in Lebanon. With Defense Minister Ariel Sharon given free reign, Israel watched as troops stormed to the gates of Beirut. From what Begin had promised as a limited police action clearing PLO bases twenty five miles into south Lebanon – Israel soon found itself embroiled in the Lebanese quagmire. By the time they drive 14,000 PLO terrorists from Beirut, Israel has suffered over 300 dead and 2000 wounded in Lebanon. But still the Israeli army does not withdraw, and the country will see another 300 soldiers fall. As the casualties continue to mount they become a weight Menachem Begin cannot bear.
Into the vacuum left by the PLO, Begin sends the Israeli army to buffer between Christian and Muslim neighborhoods, in an attempt to prevent further bloodshed. Without telling Begin Sharon orders Israeli troops to capture the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. When the Israelis step aside, the Christian allies massacre hundreds of men, women and children.
The report of a public inquiry into the massacre states the Prime Minister’s lack of involvement in the entire matter s on him a certain degree of responsibility. The board of inquiry finds Defense Minister Ariel Sharon “personally responsible” and suggests he draw the “appropriate conclusions.” Sharon resists and Begin under mounting public pressure removes him from office. With Israel still divided over Lebanon, Begin goes to Washington to meet President Reagan. But before the meeting another blow falls on Begin’s head, his receives word that his beloved wife Aliza has passed away.
Divisions in the country deepen over the continuing war in Lebanon. As the months pass Begin withdraws more and more into himself. Suddenly, on August 28, 1983, Begin announces his resignation – without giving any reasons.
As Begin retired into solitude at home for a decade, the question burning on everyone’s lips was – why could he not go on? This man who so loved his people – to appear before them, and convince them with the eloquence of his arguments. This man was now silent.
Over his grave his followers sing the anthem of the movement Begin led all his life. Its words – written by his mentor, Ze’ev Jabotinsky. “Whether a slave or a tramp – you are born as a prince. To conquer the mountain – or die.” These words echo the destiny of Begin’s life – a life devoted to the Jewish people.
Yitzhak Rabin and the Wars of Israel
Yitzhak Rabin was born in Jerusalem, on March 1, 1922, to Nehemiah and Rosa Rabin, Zionist pioneers who immigrated to Palestine in their youth. Rosa and Nehemiah actively contributed to their new society. A year after Yitzhak’s birth, Rosa Rabin became a commander in the Hagana- the Jewish underground defense. Nehemiah worked long hours for the Electric Company. Even though Rosa was a sickly woman suffering from a heart condition, she always ran from meeting to meeting and later became a member of the Tel Aviv City Council.
Rosa and Nehemiah sent Yitzhak to an experimental socialist elementary school. Despite his handsome appearance, Yitzhak was a quiet student, self-confident yet introverted. As a teenager Yitzhak gave no indications of his future involvement in the Israeli Defense Force. Yitzhak chose to study agriculture because he felt that being a farmer was the best way to contribute to his homeland. While studying at the Kadoori Agricultural High School, Yitzhak’s mother, Rosa, passed away. He continued his studies, despite his tragic loss.
In 1936 Palestine was shaken by bloody riots. The British authorities of Palestine ordered the closure of the school. Young Yitzhak joins the Hagana Armed Force of the Jewish Agency, and starts his military training. His task is to help protect the Jewish settlements. During this time, Rabin manages to graduate with honors and receives a British scholarship to study hydraulic engineering in Berkeley, California. Yitzhak decides to choose his duty to the Hagana over the scholarship to America.
With World War II brewing in Europe, Yitzhak joins the special assault unit of the Hagana, known as the Palmach. In 1940, the British authorities need help against Hitler’s French Allies that were heading towards Palestine via Lebanon. Rabin and his unit cross the border to Lebanon, some 50 kilometers by foot, and clash with French units. With the advancements of General Romell’s Nazi forces, the Jewish authorities in Palestine called for men to volunteer to fight. Thousands volunteer, but Rabin prefers to continue his elite role with the Palmach.
While the Hagana fought Nazi soldiers from conquering Palestine, many survivors of the Nazi Holocaust were arriving in Palestine. Seeking a new life and a place to call home after the world had turned their back on the plight on these European Jews, these refugees are stopped from entering Palestine by a hermetic British blockade. Rabin is one of the commanders of a successful operation to release over 200 illegal Jewish immigrants that have been detained by the British Army.
Inside the country, the British soldiers are hard-pressed to keep the peace. The ideals of over half a million Jews and a million Arabs clash, as each passionately pursue their own dream of independence. With most Arabs violently opposing the idea of a Jewish state, tempers begin to hover around boiling point.
As transport and isolated settlements come under increasing Arab attack, life for the Jews of Palestine became impossible. In a belated attempt to avert the inevitable showdown, on November the 29th 1947, the United Nations votes to end the British Mandate. Palestine is to be partitioned into two separate States. A 2000 year old dream for the Jewish people was realized.
The following day 5,000 Arabs march out of the Old City of Jerusalem, burning and looting their way to the Jewish Commercial Center. A bomb explodes on West Jerusalem’s busy Ben Yehuda Street, and leaves Jewish dead buried beneath the rubble. Arab Snipers make daily life ever more precarious. Setting out from the coastal plain, convoys of supplies make desperate attempts to run the gauntlet of continuous Arab attacks. Jerusalem finds itself cut off from the rest of the Jewish settlements.
After heavy fighting, 1500 Jewish soldiers under Rabin’s command succeed to open the road and take control of most of the strategic parts of Jerusalem. During this time, the British have just been packing and getting ready to leave Palestine. Now they are quick to respond – they issue an ultimatum for the Jewish troops to withdraw. Driving the Jewish fighters from their hard won positions is to be one of the final British acts in Palestine. On May 14 1948, the mandate ends. The Union Jack is lowered in Haifa port. As the last British soldiers sail away, David Ben Gurion proclaims the Independence of the new Jewish State in the land of Israel.
The War of Independence
The country-wide celebrations are short-lived. Within hours Egyptian planes bomb Tel Aviv and five Arab armies advance in a co¬ordinated invasion. The Lebanese set their sights on Haifa and Nazareth. Syrian tanks advance on the fertile farmlands around the Sea of Galilee. The Iraqi’s take up positions in Samaria, hoping to cut Israel in two. Jordan’s Arab Legion surrounds Jerusalem. And 10,000 Egyptians cross out of the Sinai Desert to threaten Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
New conscripts swell the ranks of the Arab Liberation Army. They came to join Iraqi General Sauzi el Kaukjy overlooking the Jezreel valley. The Arab regular armies advance more cautiously, in northern Israel each settlement battles for its very existence they have no choice but to repel the invading armies of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
With the whole country a potential battleground, the citizens of Israel soberly join in. The reality of giving birth to a new country has a dramatic impact on the way of life. The defendants did not have enough weapons for the soldiers, not even one piece of artillery. A small-arms industry is started – turning irrigation pipes into primitive mortars and making homemade grenades – as the Jews impatiently await the arrival of weapons purchased abroad.
In the south the Egyptian threat is even more ominous, as their armored forces roll ever closer to Tel Aviv. Here handfuls of barely armed defenders drive back wave after wave of attacks. Holding out for five days of Egyptian tanks, artillery and air bombardment – the defenders of Kibbutz Yad Mordechai finally evacuate under the cover of darkness.
The Egyptians advance to within 17 miles from Tel Aviv. After two weeks of bitter fighting, the turning point in the war comes when the first four aircrafts arrive in Israel from Czechoslovakia. With no time even for test flights, the first Jewish airmen take off. Their maiden flight is to attack the Egyptian column. Although militarily ineffective, the surprise attack sends fear into the Egyptian ranks. This heralds an end to the Egyptian advance.
But Israel’s situation remains critical. Jerusalem is still cut-off. New immigrants, many of them Holocaust survivors fresh off the boat, are dispatched onto the battlefield.
The fortress at Latrun, which dominates the entrance to Jerusalem, is securely in the hands of the Arab Legion. The Legion has orders to occupy every inch of Palestine. But King Abdullah’s main ambition lies with the holy city of Jerusalem. It is Jerusalem he wants as the jewel for his royal crown.
Waves of badly planned and executed operations lead to many casualties. Israeli attacks fail to dislodge the Legion from Latrun, or even loosen the stranglehold on Jerusalem.
When word comes of the fall of the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, morale hits rock bottom. A shadow falls across the Jewish nation. After two weeks of the war’s most savage fighting, the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem surrenders. From Mount Zion Rabin watches the Jews carrying white flags towards the Jordanian headquarters.
With the city of Jerusalem at the end of its limited supplies, a new road is paved to deter the Arab villages. Convoys loaded with sacks of supplies arrive at the entrance to Jerusalem via this road. Welcomed by the inhabitants with joy and relief, they are a sign that the siege is finally broken.
A day after his wedding to Leah Shlosberg in August 1948, Rabin is appointed Chief of Operations of Yigal Alon, head of Southern Command. During the negotiation of the Egyptian surrender, Rabin meets a young Egyptian liaison, Gamal Abdal Nasser.
The IDF is forged in fire to emerge as a well-equipped and organized fighting force which stamped its hallmark on Middle-East foreign affairs. Israel clears the Galilee and the center of the country. Egyptian forces in the south are routed from the Negev, and driven back into the Sinai peninsula while King Abdullah annexed the west Bank to the Kingdom of Jordan. But, Jerusalem remains a divided city – connected to the rest of Israel by a slender thread. The fighting is over and armistice agreements are signed. It is a bitter victory. Israel is established, but not one of its neighbors is willing to recognize it, in any way, shape or form.
The Arab fedayeen guerrillas crossed the borders, maintaining a relentless stream of attack on civilian targets. In one such incident, a bus was ambushed at the Scorpion’s Pass in the Negev. Eleven passengers were killed outright, many others were badly wounded. As always the tracks led back to the border.
The Israeli Army sees continuous action against the constant fedayeen incursions. Retaliatory raids often take the IDF deep into Arab territory, striking at fedayeen bases in Jordan and Egypt. Rabin, then head of training at General Head Quarters formulated Israel’s combat concepts, logistics and instructional methods.
In Egypt, at the same time, great social upheaval is underway. On a wave of popular support, Gamal Abdal Nasser leads a bloodless coup. King Faroukh is swept into exile. Egypt becomes a republic, with Nasser promising widespread reform. Aiming for leadership of the whole Arab world, Nasser is quick to raise the battle cry against Israel.
Negotiating a massive Soviet-backed arms deal with Czechoslovakia, Egypt gains a four-to-one weapons supremacy over Israel. Establishing a joint military command with Syria and with young King Hussein of Jordan, Nasser confidently begins to move. His aim, the destruction of both the Jewish State and Western influence in the Middle East.
The Sinai Campaign
Closing the Straits of Tiran with long-range guns at Bab al-Mandeb, Nasser cuts off Israel’s sea link to Africa and the Far East. Expelling British and French troops from their bases in the Suez Canal Zone, Nasser promptly nationalizes this strategic waterway. When he pours weapons into the Sinai Peninsula, war becomes inevitable.
The French approach Israel to present a secret plan. The French would supply Israel with badly needed weapons and Israel would invade the Sinai Peninsula threatening the Suez Canal. This would give the Allies an excuse to intervene and invade the Canal Zone. Moshe Dayan is the Chief of Staff.
On October 29 1956, Israeli planes fly low over Sinai, cutting telephone wires. Transport planes carry men and equipment that parachute into the Mitla pass. Advancing to the eastern entrance of the mountain pass, the Israelis are pinned down by an Egyptian air attack. Trying to find cover they are caught in a blistering crossfire from hidden Egyptian guns. To expose the Egyptian forces, one soldier volunteers to drive his jeep forward into the pass. A hail of bullets discloses the Egyptian positions – but leave the young soldier dead in his jeep.
The following seven-hour battle sees thirty-eight more Israeli paratroopers and over 200 Egyptian soldiers killed. The rest of the Egyptians retreat from the Mitla, escaping back towards the canal. With the Mitla pass secured, Israeli Armor rolls forward into the peninsula, along lines of movement dictated throughout history by the rigors of the terrain.
Picking up momentum across the desert sands, Israel’s armored corps proves a most effective fighting force in its own right. Previously thought of as support for the main infantry forces, this experience is to shape future Israeli military thinking. French-built Mystere and Vautour jet fighters attack Egyptian troops, artillery and armor. Israel finds itself on a hit-and-run chase with the tail of the fast retreating Egyptians. Roads were littered with abandoned equipment, and thousands of Egyptian soldiers who quit their positions to make their way by foot across the sand dunes of the desert.
In 100 hours of battle, that minor role captured the entire Sinai peninsula – taking the Suez Canal – cleared the Gaza Strip of fadayeen guerrillas, and finally destroyed the Egyptian gun batteries at Bab-el Mandeb re-opening the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping.
On November 1, as the Allies landed in the Canal Zone, Suez becomes an international crisis. Too reminiscent of gunboat diplomacy, and too close to nuclear confrontation, America and the USSR demand a unilateral withdrawal. Britain and France quickly buckle to international pressure and pulled out their troops. Reluctantly, and only after UN soldiers are placed in Sinai, do the Israeli troops pull out.
One of Israel’s few tangible gains from the Sinai war was a flourishing relationship with France. As well as a continued flow of conventional weapons, French assistance helped to build Israel’s secret nuclear reactor in Dimona.
Over the next decade the border with Egypt stays relatively quiet. In 1956, General Yitzhak Rabin is appointed head of the Northern Command at time when the friction between Syrian and Israel over the demilitarized zones is growing. Perched upon the Golan Heights, Syrian guns ominously threaten the farmers below. Life in the isolated Kibbutz, communal farm is especially tough. Settled in the remotest parts of the country these villages become a buffer against their hostile neighbors and a target for Syrian guns.
On January 1, 1964 Yitzhak Rabin is appointed by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to be Chief of Staff. Rabin starts his term in a time of growing tensions with Syria and Egypt. The next war seemed inevitable and Rabin is tasked with the duty of preparing the IDF for the next round of confrontation.
In Egypt, the masses call for jihad, holy war against the Zionists. Whilst Egyptian television sends a clear message to Israel: “The Arab nation has decided that the land of Palestine will be purified from your presence, pack your belongings and go now before death finds you.” Egypt demands a UN withdrawal from Sinai and Gaza.
The Six Day War
Confronted by an Arab effort that brings together over half a million heavily armed troops, Israel begins its biggest ever call-up of army reserves. The whole country waits for war. Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin supervises the preparation of one of the most daring battle-plans ever conceived. On the morning of June 5, 1967, the Israeli air force takes to the skies in a desperate, all or nothing bid to break the fighting-power of Egypt.
With split second timing, Israeli jets arrive simultaneously over eleven Egyptian airstrips – just as the Egyptian pilots below were having their morning coffee. Without reducing speed, in one pass after another, they devastate the aircraft laid out neatly on the tarmacs beneath them. Over the next three hours, the young Israeli pilots fly non-stop, destroying hundreds of Egyptian planes on the ground. Establishing control of the sky, they fly over a thousand sorties. In support of the ground troops barreling across the sands of Sinai, they do untold damage to Egyptian forces. Capturing the whole of the Sinai Peninsula in less than 100 hours, thousands of Egyptian prisoners fall into Israeli hands.
Israel’s navy took control of the Sea against Egyptian and Syrian warships, to then join the battles in the south, attacking harbors and shelling coastal targets.
The war with Jordan begins when King Hussein orders his artillery to open fire on Jewish West Jerusalem and along the borders. Told by Nasser that Egypt is scoring spectacular successes, Hussein rushes to join the ranks of the victors. It proves to be a fatal mistake.
Israel’s reply is a swift three-day campaign that sweeps the Jordanians from the West Bank and pushes the border back to the Jordan River. Not stopping there, Israeli armored columns press north – straight into action to dislodge the Syrians from the Golan Heights.
At noon, Israel turns its attention to Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. Their air forces are destroyed within an hour. For the first time in history air power had effectively won a war. It now remains for the ground forces to finish what the air force had begun.
In four days of almost uninterrupted fighting, with fierce tank to tank battles raging across the desert – Israeli armor and infantry breaks the back of 7 Egyptian divisions. Under pressure to complete the operation before a cease-fire comes into effect, Israeli armor attacks. In a maneuver they had been specially training for, in secret, Israeli tanks cut a road straight up the Golan’s steepest slope, exactly at the point where the Syrian defenses are weakest. Avoiding the killing fields prepared for them, Israeli tanks and infantry advance. With a great loss of life, in hand-to-hand fighting, the infantry overcomes a near-impregnable fortress. When it falls, the Syrian army crumbles. Rabin’s mission is completed on time. From there, Israel’s advance meets only pockets of scattered resistance. Many Syrians fall prisoner, and finally Israel occupies the Golan Heights.
But, without doubt, the central and most symbolic battle of the war came on the third day, in Jerusalem. After 30 hours of continuous and bloody fighting – in which they lost over one in five of their men – a reserve brigade of Israeli Paratroopers manage to break in through the walls of the old city, here at the Lion’s gate. In house to house fighting along every inch of its narrow lanes, with Arab Legion snipers covering them from every possible angle – the troops edge their way towards the Temple Mount. At last the Western Wall, holiest site of Judaism, is back in Jewish hands. Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin together with Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, arrive at the Wailing Wall – giving silent prayers of thanks.
Yitzhak Rabin the architect of this incredible victory is discharged after the war. He is appointed to be Israel’s ambassador to the United States. With his wife Leah he arrives in Washington when America is deeply involved in the Vietnam War.
The War of Attrition
Where the Six Day War had been a swift and decisive war, the next – the War of Attrition – will prove a long, drawn-out and painful campaign.
Trained for mobile and fluid military action, Israel’s Army reluctantly digs in to a line of defensive bunkers along the Suez Canal. The Egyptians, however, are content fortifying their side. For, with Soviet help, they are putting into place one of the largest arrays of anti-aircraft missiles ever seen. Egyptian commandos raid and shelling intensify. Snipers from observation towers keep the Israelis pinned down in their trenches, unable to raise their heads.
Israeli casualties rise to 70 a month – one massive Egyptian bombardment kills 15 soldiers in a single day. Gradually, Israeli counter-strikes silence the Egyptian guns, but tension remains high. President Nasser dies and is replaced by Anwar Sadat.
The lands gained during the Six Day War quickly become popular tourist sites. Meanwhile military ties between Israel and the United States improve. A few months after Rabin and his team are in Washington, the next round of war will devastate Israel.
The Yom Kippur War
The Day of Atonement 1973 – the Holiest day of the Jewish year. Nobody drives, no radios play. Believers give up the day to prayer and fasting. For Jews around the world it is a day of National Solidarity. For all it is a day of solemn respect. For Egypt and Syria, it is the perfect day to invade Israel.
At two o’clock in the afternoon, the combined power of three thousand artillery pieces opens fire. Over 10,000 shells fall in the first minute. The fires of hell seem to be raining down on the Israeli forces. The invasion of the Sinai and the Golan Heights begins with a vengeance.
Through the barrage, 8,000 Egyptian assault troops cross the Suez Canal in fiberglass boats. In a set piece movement, practiced to perfection, they establish a bridgehead. 70,000 troops and 1,700 tanks follow them across the bridges. Against them stand a meager 436 Israeli soldiers in isolated fortifications, 7 artillery batteries and three lone tanks on the canal itself. They are overwhelmed – soon the Egyptian flag flies proudly over the east bank of the Canal.
Israel’s first line of defense – 170 tanks – moves forward, only to be mauled by thousands of Egyptian infantry firing portable sager anti-tank missiles. By morning, 140 tanks are just burned-out shells. And Egypt holds a line 10 kilometers wide the length of the canal.
The surprise was complete. Without an official post, Yitzhak Rabin joins the Chief of Staff, David Eliezar during the first days of the war as an advisor.
Israeli intelligence swallowed Arab propaganda that Egyptian and Syrian activity was only in response to fears of impending Israeli attacks. Despite reports of Egyptian troops preparing to cross the canal, Dayan and Golda allow only a limited call-up of the reserves, and twice refuse permission to carry out a preemptive air strike.
Out of the smoke in the north, the first of 1500 Syrian tanks bear down on the solitary Israeli tank platoon in a forward position. Sweeping on, Syria’s central thrust is met by 150 Israeli tanks. Stopped in a death-lock that lasts for two days and two nights of continuous fighting, it leaves only 15 Israeli tanks operative. Elsewhere solitary tanks fight on, trying to block the Syrian advance towards the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee.
On both fronts Israeli planes crash into a solid wall of Sam missiles and conventional anti-aircraft fire. 50 jets fall in the first three days, victims of a desperate effort to check the Arab onslaught. For the first time ever Israel is of the verge of destruction.
Reserve tank forces arrive at the slopes of the Golan Heights. Sent up in platoon formation, they advance with orders to engage the enemy on sight. As superior Israeli marksmanship begins to count, they halt the Syrian advance.
A week into the war, 1,000 Egyptian tanks begin an offensive to break out of their stronghold and into the Sinai Peninsula. It was to lead to the biggest tank battle since world war two, and the turning point of the war in the south. The battle rages from dawn along the whole length of the front. By the end of the day, Israeli gunners have routed the attack, destroying over 260 Egyptian tanks, and a quarter of the total force – with just 10 losses.
On the momentum of its success Israel advances, pushing towards the Canal. Dragging portable bridges and under continuous Egyptian fire, the troops work their way forward. Divisional commander, Major-General Ariel Sharon, arrives first at the canal, but without bridges. Against orders and to the fury of his commanders, Sharon manages to get a force of only 30 tanks across the canal. In rapid movement on the lightly defended desert, they destroy missile bases, opening the skies to Israeli jets.
A UN cease-fire stops the Israeli advance, which by then is barely 100 kilometers from Cairo. For two days Israel chases the Syrians off the Golan Heights, across the ’67 border and into Syria itself. In Israel, people’s most precious belief – that the country has an impregnable shield the Arabs can never penetrate – is shattered. Many seek where to lay the blame. A public inquiry lets the politicians off the hook, pointing its finger only at the military. Widespread public criticism and demonstrations that followed them everywhere, eventually forced Golda and Dayan to resign. Yitzhak Rabin becomes Israel’s first native-born prime minister.
Despite Rabin’s success on the battlefield, relationships within Rabin’s government harmed his reputation. When it was disclosed that Rabin’s wife, Leah, held a foreign currency account in an American bank, Rabin chose to resign from the premiership. Shimon Peres led the Socialist Labor party to the next elections.
The 1977 elections prove to be a revolution in Israeli politics. Israel goes to the polls and elects long-time opposition leader Menachem Begin – doing away with the Socialist Labor Party. And if that were not change enough – barely six months later President Anwar Sadat of Egypt lands in Tel Aviv airport.
In March 1979, on the White House Lawn in Washington, US President Jimmy Carter, hosts the signing of the Peace Treaty between Israel and the largest Arab state.
Katyushas fall on towns and villages every night – fired from PLO strongholds over the border, making life unbearable. While talks progress towards peace in the south, Israel’s northern border is on fire. Hopes are high that Sadat and Begin can build a new era for their troubled region. But in 1981, the world is stunned when Anwar Sadat is gunned down by Islamic fundamentalists.
The Palestinian liberation organization creates a state within a state in Lebanon led by Yassir Arafat. Over 15,000 Palestinian fighters carry out constant attacks on Israel. Choosing General Ariel Sharon as his defense minister, Menachem Begin now turns his attention to the threat of PLO violence.
London, June 3rd. 1982, Outside the Dorchester Hotel, Israel’s Ambassador, Argov, is gunned down by Abu Nidal’s terrorist group. June 6 1982, 11.00 hours. The first Israeli forces invade the beaches of southern Lebanon, as armor and planes roar into action overland – operation `Peace for the Galilee’ is under way.
The Lebanon War
Promising an advance just 40 kilometers north to destroy the PLO’s military infrastructure, Defense Minister Arik Sharon assures the Israeli cabinet that the action would be over in 48 hours. Three days later, the coastal arm of Israel’s three-pronged advance stands seventy kilometers north – preparing to attack the PLO-held town of Damur. In subsequent street-fighting the PLO retreats. Masses of Soviet arms and heavy weapons are found in underground bunkers.
The central and eastern arms engage Syrian troops in fierce fighting. As the central thrust advances, it undermines the Syrian grip on Beirut itself. Israeli troops barrel towards the city. With no break in the fighting, Israel’s forward units drive into Christian East Beirut.
Begin believes the Christian Militiamen will finish off what is left of Arafat’s force. Sharon disagrees and orders planes and artillery to open fire on Moslem West Beirut – to pound the Palestine Liberation Army into submission and surrender.
Israel’s political goals in Lebanon changed the original size of the operation. Israeli opposition leaders take an excursion to see the Lebanese war zone with their own eyes. Yitzhak Rabin did not know the secret goals of the operation and encouraged Sharon to tighten the siege of Beirut.
In August 1982, Sharon orders the heaviest bombings on Beirut. The city once called the Paris of the Middle East is bombed for 10 straight hours, killing some three hundred people. In Israel, growing public pressure calls for a stop to the bombardment of Beirut, and demands the boys come home. For the first time in Israel’s history the moral conviction of the Israeli Army begins to break.
Early September sees over 14,000 PLO and Syrian forces leave Lebanon. Yassir Arafat, having held his position honorably throughout the whole invasion, is forced to move his headquarters from Beirut to Tunis.
In the wake of the withdrawal, Lebanon sees another wave of violence. The new Christian president elect – Bashir Gemayel – is assassinated. To prevent inter-communal violence, the Israeli Government orders its soldiers into West Beirut. Ariel Sharon takes the opportunity to surround the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, where, he claims, 2,000 armed PLO terrorists are hiding. The camps are then turned over to the Christian militiamen. With not a single armed PLO soldier in the camps, hundreds of unprotected men women and children are butchered in a night of senseless slaughter. It was too much for the national conscience to bear. Demonstrators all over Israel demanded a public inquiry into the massacres.
A commission found Defense Minister Ariel Sharon personally responsible. Later, Prime Minister Menachem Begin resigns. The Lebanon war also produced one of Israel’s fiercest enemies: the Hizballa. The Shiat Moslem of South Lebanon, once allies of Israel, turned into suicide bombers – ready to explode in the name of Allah.
The Palestinians of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip also took a stand. They had watched the misfortunes of their brethren in Lebanon – after the war ended, they were quick to act. Brave young men with nothing to lose confront Israeli security forces in a running battle. The teenage stone- throwers defy the curfews, tear-gas and rubber bullets. The Intifada, or Palestinian Uprising, had begun.
On the first week of the riots, Yitzhak Rabin was out of town- he did not take the uprising seriously, he viewed it as sporadic stone throwing. When he returned he gave orders to use strong hand to suppress the Intifada. The Palestinians of the territories have been passive and silent for decades. Suddenly they find they have a voice, and one the outside world wants to listen to. TV crews from every nationality jostle each other whenever the youngsters take to the streets. The younger they are, the more poignant the pictures. They became a generation of media stars, heroes of a TV war.
Throughout the towns and villages of the West Bank, and in the over-crowded and unhealthy refugee camps of Gaza – a new generation of Palestinians stop waiting for the world or some far away Liberation Organization to solve their problems. Night after night, Israeli families watch the news with a growing guilt over the injustice.
The Gulf War
Then, suddenly, media attention shifts when Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait, triggering the gulf war. Every resident of Israel and the territories is issued with a gas mask. Houses improvise hermetically sealed rooms against bacterial or chemical warfare. And most people avoid talk of a possible nuclear attack. It was with great fear that Israelis watch TV on the first night of the war, waiting to be sent to the shelters and told to put on their gas masks. As the first scud missile falls the whole country holds its breath. No nuclear explosion follows. Israel begins to pick its way through the rubble of mass devastation – but at least it can breathe freely again.
The Americans rush batteries of Patriot missiles to Israel. Within a few days half Israel’s population arrogantly sit outside, watching the Patriots and the Scuds high above their heads. This was perhaps the first war that the Israelis could sit back and watch, even if not really enjoy.
After the Gulf War, the world is not the same. A new friendship, forged in fire against a common enemy, has brought Arabs and the West closer than ever before. With new won confidence in united international action, moves begin towards peace. The headlines read “Upheaval in 1992 after 15 Years the labor party is back in power.” The newly elected Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, sets up new national priorities.
The Norwegian Minister Holst arrives in Jerusalem carrying a declaration of principles already signed by Yassir Arafat. Premier Yitzchak Rabin signs the Declaration.
The first phase is executed. The Israeli Army finally pulls out its bases in the Gaza Strip and Jericho, the end of 27 years of bitter occupation. Yassir Arafat quits Tunis and arrives to live in Gaza. Making a triumphant entrance, Arafat returns from exile to take up residence as leader of his people.
King Hussein of Jordan is next to sign his name on a new page of Middle East history.
The Likud, the right wing party in Israel, is called to the streets. Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu held a rallies throughout the country calling for Rabin to resign. Tempers heighten as demonstrators call Rabin a liar, murderer and a traitor. Despite the loud opposition Rabin advances on his peace process. He shakes the hand of Israel’s greatest enemy Yassir Arafat.
Yitzhak Rabin sings the song of peace. This will be the last performance of a military and political career that helped shape Israel. Back stage lurks an assassin, a religious Jew, Yigal Amir. Israel’s secret service did not expect a Jew to spoil the party.
Rabin leaves the rally, he is delighted with the show of public support for his peace efforts. As he walks towards his car, Rabin is shot in the back, not face to face like many of his friends on the battlefields. He died for peace and his legacy will remain alive in the hearts of many.
’BULLDOZER’ OF THE MIDDLE EAST
“One must always remember that Israel is the only place in the world where Jews have, and will always have, the right and ability to defend themselves when attacked.” Ariel Sharon – February 21, 2000 (Jerusalem Post)
In those few words Ariel (Arik) Sharon summed up the entire philosophy that drove him all the days of his life. His mission, was the security of Israel, and it was such a single-minded purpose that it seems to have justified all possible means in his mind.
Whether flattening the homes of weeping Palestinians, or the houses of violently struggling Jewish settlers, Ariel Sharon never shrank from using force to do a job. Nor did he think twice about doing the job he thought needed to be done – even if it was exactly the opposite of the one his superiors sent him to do.
From the day he took up arms as a thirteen year-old boy, through to his leading Israel’s unexpected withdrawal from Gaza, from his controversial exploits as an army officer through to his surprise quitting of the ruling Likud party, Ariel Sharon has been every step of the way his own man.
He is perhaps the last of a generation of great Israeli leaders in the mold of Yitzhak Rabin and Moshe Dayan, leaders who have set their stamp on the face of the Middle East and – loved or hated – have earned a place in history.
Armed Childhood & Early Army Career
Born Ariel Scheinermann on February 27, 1928, Sharon grew up in a small farming community under Palestine’s stern British mandate rule, well aware of the Jewish dream for independence, the increasingly armed hostilities of local Arabs, and the rising tide of Hitler’s anti-Semitism abroad.
At thirteen he was helping guard the village fields, at fourteen he enlisted in the youth wing of the main Jewish underground militia, the Hagana. By the time Israel’s War of Independence broke out in 1948, Ariel Sharon – just twenty – was already a ’seasoned veteran’, and a commander in the newly formed Israel Defense Force.
After the war he was called on to create Israel’s first Special Operations force, Unit 101. Established to target Palestinian terrorists operating across Israel’s borders, Sharon led the elite Unit in a series of spectacular but morally questionable cross-border raids.
Drawing international condemnation for one such raid in which scores of civilians died, Ariel Sharon was summoned to appear before Israel’s then Prime Minister, the legendary David Ben Gurion – it was their first ever meeting. According to a later Sharon TV interview, Ben Gurion said, “… It doesn’t matter what the world says about Israel; …… The only thing that matters is that we can exist here on the land of our forefathers. And unless we show the Arabs that there is a high price to pay for murdering Jews, we won’t survive.”
This stamped the strategy for Sharon’s lifelong war with the Arabs.
His Personal Life – Love & Tragedy
Sharon married twice. Early in his army career, on leave on the family farm, he met and courted 16 year-old Margalith. “It was while I was irrigating in our orange grove one day that I looked up and noticed a girl cultivating the vegetable field next to our property…. I had never noticed this girl before, and it seemed to me that I had never in my life seen anyone so beautiful.” (Warrior, Pg 37)
The two soon married, and had a son, Gur. However, Margalith was killed in a car crash in 1962, and Gur died in 1967 – shot dead playing with his father’s rifle.
After Margalith’s death, Sharon married her younger sister, Lily. They had two sons, Omri and Gilead. Lily Sharon died in 2002 and is buried on a small hill near their Negev Desert home. His son, Omri, was recently given a 9 month prison sentence on charges of fraud and perjury. Many believe Sharon just turned a blind eye to acts that Omri undertook to save the failing finances of the family farm. Whatever the motive, it is claimed to be another act in Sharon’s lifelong disregard of the rules.
Fighting Man – Fighting with Friends and Foe
During the 1956 Sinai Campaign, Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan accused Sharon of using ’a subterfuge’ to win approval for a ’tragic’ and ’unnecessary’ operation which led to the deaths of 38 Israeli soldiers with 120 more injured. The late Major General (Ret.) and former President of Israel, Chaim Herzog, (talking about the Sinai Campaign) said, Sharon “was to be accused, in this and later campaigns, of insubordination and dishonesty… Few, if any, of his superior officers over the years had a good word to say for him as far as human relations and integrity were concerned, although none would deny his innate ability as a field soldier.”
Due to his part in the 1967 Six Day War, he rose to exalted heights as a National Hero in a victory that changed both the face and the map of the Middle East. He was then appointed Head of the Southern Command, and was responsible for crushing Palestinian resistance in the Gaza Strip. Even then, some claim that his tactics drove moderates into the extremist’s camp.
In 1972 he was passed over for the post of Chief of Staff by the Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan, and Sharon resigned from the army, but was soon recalled – this time for the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In command of an armored division, Sharon again found himself involved in arguments with his superiors and fellow commanders, as he led both a debacle in which 300 men were killed (the Chinese Farm) and the spectacular crossing of the Suez Canal which helped secure Israel’s eventual victory.
National Hero – International Demon
Sharon finally quit the army and journeyed into politics. He was elected to Parliament in December 1973, working his way up to become Minister of Agriculture in the government of Menachem Begin. It was there that he began his aggressive policy of supporting widespread Jewish settlement in Arab territories.
From there Sharon jumps to the post of Defense Minister, leading – many say deceiving – Begin and Israel into the Lebanon War. During the war he drives Yassir Arafat’s PLO into exile, and is involved in the Sabra and Shatilla massacres that cause international outrage and eventually costs Sharon his job.
The Road Back to Power
Sharon quietly remains in government, continuing to drive Jewish settlement in various ministerial posts, as he carried giant maps in the boot of his ministerial limousine bulldozing aside critics, plundering government budgets, and helping nationalist zealots seize barren West Bank hilltops as strategic assets in his unending war. He then became Foreign Minister, heading permanent status talks with the Palestinian Authority. Thus continuing his political head to head with Arafat.
Sharon’s fateful 2000 visit to the Temple Mount, has garnered claims that it triggered the violence that became the Intifada. This in turn helped Sharon be elected Prime Minister just months later to the cheers of ’Arik King of Israel’ from the crowds. The violence of the Intifada escalated through suicide bombers on the one side, helicopter gun-ships on the other.
Did The Leopard Change Its Spots?
It was sometime during these years that Sharon hatched his disengagement plan – the idea of a complete unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip. Sharon’s journey is complex– it’s no simple story of a hawk transformed into a peace-loving dove. And it is a story denounced both by his friends and by his enemies. Many Palestinians see it as a ploy. Hard-line Israeli’s see it as a sell-out of all the principles he claimed to follow. It became an almost surreal reality in August 2005 – ending Israel’s 38-year occupation of the Gaza Strip.
The final act of Sharon’s highly controversial life was to quit his Likud party and form a new, more centralist one. With ’Kadima’ immediately gaining widespread political and popular support and slated for a landslide victory in the upcoming elections, Ariel Sharon was riding high.
Then, suddenly in mid-December, 2005, the world watched with relief as Sharon was released from hospital after suffering a minor stroke. However, on January 4, 2006, he was rushed back to hospital following another, much more serious stroke that caused massive brain hemorrhage and extensive cerebral bleeding. Months later he is still in a coma, fighting as always; but this time for his life.
From an interview Arik Sharon gave four years ago in his Negev farm: “You have to understand one thing. I am 73 years old. I’ve seen everything. I’ve met the kings, the queens, the presidents; I’ve been around the world. I have one thing that I would like to do: to try to reach peace. It’s a complicated thing. But I believe that I’m one of the only ones who can do it …”