Remembering the man who wasn't there

"These elections would have been a culmination of what Sharon started with disengagement."

On the Election Day that he set into motion, only one MK came to Hadassah-University Hospital in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem, where Ariel Sharon lies comatose. And Labor MK Matan Vilna'i had come not to visit the prime minister, but a middle-aged Labor Party volunteer who suffered a stroke a few days ago. While many news photographers came to mark the event, there was nothing dramatic to record. The prime minister's aides visited, as did sons Omri and Gilad, and two people personally delivered letters for Sharon that were taken by hospital staffers, part of a small stream of letters addressed to him and his family from Israel and around the world which continue to arrive at the hospital. Sharon's long-time spokesman Ra'anan Gissin carried a mixed bag of emotions with him on Election Day. On the one hand, he said he felt a deep sense of sadness that Sharon missed the elections. "These elections would have been a culmination of what Sharon started with disengagement," said Gissin, who served as Sharon's spokesman for 10 years. "He carried out disengagement, and then disengaged from his party. This would have been the completion of that stage. It's sad that he went through so much, but is not around to carry out the process." On the other hand, Gissin said he was consoled that although Sharon was absent, what he initiated was now continuing. "I don't know any prime minister in our history who shocked and rocked the political system like he did." Election Day was "a sad reminder of what he missed," Gissin said. "Moses couldn't come into the Promised Land, but at least he saw it from Mount Nebo. I just wish Sharon could wake up and see how everything he set in motion was now unfolding." There are still no definite plans for when to move Sharon, felled on January 4 by a massive stroke, to long-term nursing facilities. His medical condition has not changed since the hospital issued its last report several weeks ago. Journalist and author Yossi Klein Halevi of The New Republic said he had been looking for a place that symbolized the elections. "It seemed to me that Hadassah was that place," he said. "The most obvious reason is because Sharon is here. He set the agenda for these elections and even the party structure by destroying one party of government and creating another. He also set the policy agenda of unilateral withdrawal. "Hadassah is also a place that symbolizes separation and terror, the main issues of this election. There is no place more integrated between Arabs and Jews than Hadassah hospital." A cameraman, here for an Italian station, mused: "Who knows, perhaps when Sharon hears that the party he created has won the election he might open his eyes?" One of the few ordinary citizens who did come to pay her respects was Chana Amar of Jerusalem, who said: "My connection to him is one of a human being, with much admiration." While she never met Sharon, she had done everything in her power to be near to him on Election Day. She said she had come in honor of Sharon and as a way of remembering previous elections, in which Sharon was healthy and so central to the political process. "It hurts very much," said the teary-eyed Amar at the hospital entrance, where she was required to remain by security guards. She said she had been planning to visit Sharon on Election Day for the past two weeks. "It's hard to see this day without him," she said sadly. "He is missing."