In 1974 Benny Katzover stood with Ariel Sharon and other Gush Emunim activists against the IDF at the ruins of the Sabastia railway station, in an attempt to build the Elon Moreh settlement there.
But on Monday, Katzover, who heads the Samaria Citizen’s Committee, has no plans to participate in the public ceremony in Jerusalem or the funeral at Sycamore Ranch in the Negev.
“My emotions are very mixed,” he told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. He had heard of Sharon’s death from his wife when he returned from synagogue on Saturday night to their Elon Moreh home.
“I was sad,” he said. His death, said Katzover is “very painful. But I can not help but see the great harm he did to the Jewish nation and to himself.”
He recalled how he and other pioneers of the settlement movement sought Sharon’s support already in 1973 – when Sharon was still head of the Southern Command – to build settlements in the Samaria region of the country.
“We had created a nucleus to build Elon Moreh near Nablus. We wanted his support,” said Katzover. He and the other settlers spoke with Sharon of the region’s geographical significance and the biblical roots that dated back to Abraham and Isaac.
“Nothing is more important than settling Samaria,” Sharon told them, according to Katzover.
In 1974, Sharon took Katzover and others settlers in his car to find a suitable location for Elon Moreh.
“He brought us to Sabastia. We were there at his suggestion,” Katzover said as he spoke of a battle that is often described as a critical one in the birth of the settlement movement. Sharon helped lead a delegation of parliamentarians there, recalled Katzover.
Throughout Sharon’s various ministries – Agriculture, Construction and Housing, and Infrastructure – he threw his weight behind the settlement movement, said Katzover. But in spite of his vast contribution to settlement, he added, he never felt that he could trust Sharon fully as a member of the Right.
He recalled how in 1977 Sharon wanted to build a centrist party, Shlomzion, with left-wing politician Yossi Sarid. As defense minister in 1982, he oversaw the evacuation of Yamit, noted Katzover, “He had a deep connection to Jewish people and the land, but we knew he could go in any direction,” said Katzover. “He could act out of great friendship or great cruelty,” he said.
Already in 1999, as Sharon took over the Likud Party, he showed signs of distancing himself from Judea and Samaria, Katzover said.
“I was in Homeh in 1979 when he created it with his own hands and with his own hands he destroyed it [in 2005],” said Katzover of the isolated Samaria settlement.
“He has a remarkable history, but it is stained by the terrible undertaking of disengagement,” said Katzover, referring to the 2005 withdrawal from and destruction of 21 Gaza settlements and four others in Samaria.