On Saturday night, I remarked to a friend that Ariel Sharon had passed away over shabbat.
His response seemed apathetic and ignorant: “Hasn’t he been dead for, like, ten years?”
“No! Well, not really. I mean, eight years, not ten years. No. Wait. Not at all.”
He looked at me quizzically and walked away. I felt bad that I hadn’t given a straight answer – Ariel Sharon had not been dead for eight years.
But if he hadn’t been dead for eight years, why was it so difficult for me to give a straight answer?
Because while Ariel Sharon may not have been dead, he hadn’t been alive in any meaningful way either. While Ariel Sharon – one of the great shapers of the State of Israel – lay in a hospital bed in Sheba Medical Center, he would never again have a say about what would happen in the country that he loved so much.
As he lay in that hospital bed, Hamas took over Gaza, leaving terrorists in charge of the territory where he had tried to plant the seeds of peace.
As he lay in that hospital bed, the first rocket was fired from Gaza into Israel. And the second. And thousands more.
As he lay in that hospital bed, Israeli leaders rose and fell. The Kadima party that was his brainchild came into power, and then gave way to the Likkud party that he had renounced. Prospects of peace came and went. The man known as “The Bulldozer” had to be silent during a war in Lebanon and two operations in Gaza.
But still, as “The King of Israel” lay in his hospital bed in Sheba Medical Centre, his mere presence was an inspiration to Israeli leaders and the Israeli public. When difficult decisions had to be made in the Knesset, Israel’s movers and shakers knew that a man lay not far from them who had never been afraid to use force in order to protect the people of Israel, but also didn’t falter in the face of opportunities for peace. When it seemed like Israel’s prime ministers and politicians were lacking responsibility and leadership skills, a man lay in his hospital bed who had never been afraid to take responsibility for his actions and admit his mistakes.
Ariel Sharon’s death leaves many with mixed feelings. They ask, How can a dead man die? The question has no simple answer. Sharon was no stranger to death – he was at home in the battlefield, his first wife died in a car accident, his five-year-old child died in his arms, and his second wife died from cancer. He spent the last eight years of his life in a state between life and death. Surely, when he finally left this world, he was at peace.
As one of the last great Zionist pioneers leaves his hospital bed to lie with his wife in the land he loved so much, it feels like the end of an era. But the lessons that Ariel Sharon taught the Jewish people will never be forgotten.