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Ariel Sharon: A Life
By Nir Hefez and Gadi Bloom
Authors Nir Hefez and Gadi Bloom start Ariel Sharon: A Life with one of the most pivotal moments in Sharon's life: the Battle of Latrun during the War of Independence. Critically injured by a gunshot wound in his stomach, he was rescued from the field by a friend named Ya'akov Bugin, after another had abandoned him.
In describing the moment for the authors, Bugin recalled, "Every once in a while, when an artillery round would land near us, Arik would say, 'Leave me, save yourself.' But I didn't leave him. In my heart, I'd reached a conclusion: I would not let this man die."
In the book, Hefez and Bloom write that, "Over a lifetime of crises - military, political and personal - he [Sharon] would often recall the moment he was allowed to 'rise from the dead' at Latrun. In his darkest moments he could always return there to draw the strength necessary to rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes."
From the battle, the book goes back in time to speak of Sharon's Russian-immigrant parents, Samuel and Vera. Hefez and Bloom describe how Sharon's grandfather and Menachem Begin's father smashed the door of a local synagogue in Brest Litovsk after the rabbi there refused to hold a memorial service for the Zionist founder Theodor Herzl.
The book then describes Sharon's isolated childhood and the difficulties his parents had relating to their neighbors on the farm in Kfar Malal. According to one neighbor, "There was a terrible loneliness in the home and a sense they were surrounded by enemies. Arik took the struggle to heart. He saw and heard how his father was ostracized and how the whole campaign against them only made Vera's suffering that much worse."
Sharon's parents did not raise him to be a prime minister, says Hefez in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. According to the author, his father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and become a farmer.
Throughout his life Sharon held on to his agrarian identity. "When he was prime minister his secretaries would interrupt him to tell him when a cow was born on his farm," says Hefez.
THE BOOK charts the choices Sharon made to move away from the farm and toward the military where his leadership qualities became apparent. Sharon conducted a cross-border raid and kidnapped two Jordanian soldiers in 1952, based only on the musing of his commander, Moshe Dayan, as to whether such a thing was possible. He left a note in Dayan's office telling him that the soldiers he wanted were in a holding cell.
As a military commander Sharon won accolades for - among other things - reaching the Suez Canal in the Six Day War and crossing it in the Yom Kippur War, an event that was attributed with turning the tide in Israel's favor.
But he was condemned for his difficulty following orders and his brutal methods with respect to quelling Palestinian terrorism. The book tells how he developed Unit 101 to conduct harsh cross-border reprisal raids. In one such raid in 1953, in the Jordanian town of Kibya, 69 people were killed including women, children and seniors. Sharon would later claim that civilians were hiding in their homes and had been undetected by his men who had inspected each structure before demolishing it.
The authors also offered the counterclaim that his soldiers had merely sprayed the ceilings of the buildings with bullets and called out, "Is anyone there."
Sharon's personal side is also well documented. In 1962, his first wife was killed in a car accident. He was left alone with their five-year-old son, Gur. In 1963, he married Margalit's sister, Lily, and together they had two sons, Omri and Gilad.
But tragedy struck two more times.
In 1967, Gur was accidentally shot when he and his friend took an antique gun off the wall to play with. The friend's family said that Gur mistakenly pulled the trigger while peering down the barrel; Sharon was adamant that it was the friend who accidentally shot Gur.
The book chronicles his actions as the father of the settlement movement and his belief in their strategic importance. It charts the slow shift he made starting in the 1990s toward the more pragmatic political center, which culminated when he announced the disengagement from Gaza.
Unlike many people in Israel, Hefez is not quick to speak of the withdrawal from Gaza as a mistake.
"It's still too early. Will we think in 20 or 30 years that Ariel Sharon was right when he supported the settlements or that maybe he was right for leaving Gaza?" asks the author.
The authors' manuscript, in its present English form, ends with the election of Ehud Olmert as prime minister in April 2006 and Sharon's transfer to Sheba Hospital, east of Tel Aviv, where his wife died in March 2000.
The book ends with the line, "In the summer of 2006, Omri and Gilad, his sons and legal guardians, still clung to the hope that their father would perform the impossible - as Ariel Sharon always has - and spring back to life."