Sharon's absence mars Independence Day

While Wednesday will be a holiday for the whole nation, for President Moshe Katsav, it will be one of the busiest days in his calendar, with a series of back-to-back events beginning with an early morning reception for the various commanders and high ranking officers from the War of Independence to the present day, and concluding in the evening with the Israel Prize awards ceremony. The morning events at Beit Hanassi are also attended by the prime minister, members of the government, Knesset members, the chief of general staff, former presidents and prime ministers and other dignitaries, most of whom also attend the next ceremony in which citations are handed out to the 120 most outstanding soldiers in all branches of the armed services. For the past several years, former prime minister Ariel Sharon was there in a dual capacity - that of a veteran army officer who fought in most of the wars of Israel, and as a prime minister. He was also at the Bible Quiz, the Israel Prize awards and other events. He reminisced with former comrades in arms, commiserated with the widows of those who had passed on, exchanged greetings with fellow politicians, made a couple of speeches, posed for the mandatory photographs for posterity and looked with pride at the young men and women in uniform who represented the finest qualities of the nation. Despite his bulk, he moved easily and quickly, was unfailingly courteous in his manner and patriotic both in conversation and in his official addresses. It was a day in which he tried to put whatever may have concerned him both nationally and personally on the back burner, as he exuded a sense of bonhomie, putting a twinkle in his eye and smiling broadly at every opportunity. Though entitled as a former prime minister, defense minister and IDF commander to attend the receptions at Beit Hanassi, Ariel Sharon will not be there this year - not because he would not have wanted to be there, but because he has yet to wake from the deep coma into which he sunk four months ago.