Published in The News International – cover photo by by Gideon Markowicz
In Jewish myth, a golem is a monster made of clay. Legend has it that a rabbi fashioned one from the fresh soil of a riverbank, to protect his people from the Romans. Many a golem story follows, but the theme stays tragic: the creature protects the Jews, the creator loses control of its creation, and the golem runs rampage.
One such story goes, ‘When the Gaon (Jewish scholar) saw that the Golem was growing larger and larger, he feared that the Golem would destroy the universe. He then removed the Holy Name that was embedded on [the Golem’s] forehead, causing him to disintegrate and return to dust.’
Ariel Sharon was Zionism’s own plus-sized golem, well on his way to wrecking the universe before a coma turned him back to dust. But by the time Sharon finally crumbled, it was too late. The dream of a Jewish democracy had turned into the nightmare of Greater Israel.
Consumption defined Ariel Sharon. Nothing sated him. Like the monster from lore, Sharon couldn’t stop himself from eating – food or land. A boulder of a man, Sharon was famously ashamed of his weight. But as with his lust for ‘living space’ – a term straight from the Nazis’ dictionary – his appetites ultimately consumed him.
Though he fought in every war Israel won, his military career was baptized in blood, massacring women and children in Qibya. ‘Arabs may have the oil,’ Sharon once laughed, ‘but we have the matches.’ Even in a life of unusual cruelty, Sharon’s Lebanon war in 1982, directing a three-day bloodbath in Shatila and Sabra via Christian militias, visited physically sickening violence on the bodies of innocents at his mercy.
But today’s media houses are ordering whitewash by the truckload. We’re told he was the soldier wounded in the Sinai, a handsome bandage around his head. He was the gentleman that rose to his feet each time a woman entered the room. He was the warrior-king Shimon Peres eulogized in fluent Babylonian, ‘He defended his land like a lion, and taught its children to swing a scythe.’
That’s not the most ironic part. Though Sharon was fond of the Bible, even he could never have dreamed that Matthew 5:9 – ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ – would one day be attributed to him. The obits were unanimous in lauding his last act of evil: withdrawing from Gaza in 2003, when he was cheered for bulldozing out the settlers he had once bulldozed in.
Forget while we do that it was Sharon that planted them there in the first place, it may be best to remember his aide Dov Weisglass’s take, that the ‘disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem.’
Explained Weisglass, ‘The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there won’t be a political process with the Palestinians.’
Sharon knew it was bad economics to protect less land with more guns, so he got out of Gaza and into the West Bank. And he drove a wall into the earth – declared obviously illegal under international law – to keep the Palestinians (and their birthrates) out. ‘The Bulldozer’ though he was, Sharon’s lasting legacy is what he built: the 25-foot-high West Bank Barrier, the closest thing to a Berlin Wall today.
Was there ever remorse? Before she became a raving Islamophobe, the journalist Oriana Fallaci had a way of laying bare her interviewees’ souls. The Sharon she met in 1982 was still General Sharon, Lebanese blood warm on his hands.
When Ariel said that a photo of an armless little girl from the war was misleading, Oriana replied, ‘General Sharon, if we want to fight this out with photos, I can drown you in photos, I can suffocate you with photos of children killed and wounded in those bombings. I have one in my purse that I wanted to show you, but that I no longer want to show you… It hurts me. And it makes me too angry.’ The Bulldozer wasn’t moving: ‘I want to see it anyway,’ he said.
Fallaci pulled out a photograph of a pile of dead children, aged around one, three, and five, saying the most frightening thing ‘isn’t that they are dead; it is that they are reduced to pieces, mangled.’ Sharon took the photo ‘with a steady hand, then he looks at it, and for a fraction of a second his face contracts.’
The general mumbled, ‘I’m sorry…I’m very sorry. Very…I’m very sorry.’ It was the closest Ariel Sharon came to any kind of reckoning – not before a war crimes panel, but a brittle little Italian jounalist. Of course, no sooner had this happened that his ‘eyes harden, he composes himself immediately, and hands the photo back to me, a little embarrassed.’
Today, Binyamin Netanyahu sits in his chair, bossing the Likud Party Sharon founded. The age gap is clear: Netanyahu is the first prime minister to be born after the Israel he leads – a time when 19-year-old Arik Sharon was busy lobbing grenades and getting shot in the groin.
And with his Philly accent and MIT degree, Bibi is worlds sleeker. If Sharon was once tripping up over Fallaci, Netanyahu goes on Real Time with Bill Maher, and wows audiences. The difference these differences make? About zero.
As Bob Gates’ new book hits shelves, the U.S. defence secretary reveals he found Bibi downright offensive, ‘not to mention his arrogance and outlandish ambition,’ and tried to get him banned from the White House lawns. Imagine how Bibi’s enemies feel.
Though it seems absurd to think now, even a butcher like Sharon considered Netanyahu an aberration: a far-right huckster that would upend the general’s carefully laid plans for apartheid. ‘It is impossible to have a Jewish, democratic state and at the same time to control all of Eretz Israel,’ Sharon said towards the end of his (conscious) life. ‘If we insist on fulfilling the dream in its entirety, we are liable to lose it all. Everything.’
But this was little more than a mea culpa: General Sharon rebuking his younger self. Binyamin Netanyahu may have made the hawks look like chickens, roadblocking peace at every turn. But the sooner the world realizes a two-state solution is poison to Netanyahu Inc., the less it deludes itself about the peace process. And the sooner it will understand the man Netanyahu inherited it from.
The nickname the late Ariel Sharon gave Mr. Netanyahu? Golem.
It seems while Sharon was running Israel, Israel was becoming Sharon.