Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The ‘King’ of Israel

Ariel Sharon and Rav Ahron Soloveichik
I know that a lot of people will strongly disagree with me about some of what I am about to say. But as a believer in Emes as I understand it, I feel obligated to make my views known.

Ariel Sharon was a truly great man. He was a man whose sole purpose in life was to serve the Jewish people. And he did so with great valor and distinction in his capacity as a general in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).  He was considered a brilliant military strategist - often referred to as the Israeli ‘Patton’. To just cite one example of his military prowess - he was actually able to pull victory from the jaws of defeat during the Yom Kippur War. Egypt pulled off a surprise attack against Israel on Yom Kippur of 1973. General Sharon was somehow able to encircle Egypt’s third army and nearly enter Cairo before a truce called a halt to his advances.

He was also considered the ‘father’ of the settler movement. In the early days after the 1967 Six Day War, Israel decided to set up settlements on their newly captured territory of Yehuda and Shomron  (on the West Bank of the Jordan River) and in Gaza. They believed that these settlements would act as permanent buffers to attacks by their belligerent Arab neighbors with an eye towards annexation.

Some of the larger settlements near the so called ‘green line’ that delineates Israel’s pre 6 day war from the territories captured have  grown to become fairly large and successful cities. The Gaza Strip was one of those settlements. Sharon was extremely popular among settlers – most of which were Religious Zionists that believed they had a messianic mission to resettle all of biblical Israel. When Sharon would visit them, they would start singing a popular Hebrew song called ‘ Dovid, Melech Yisroel’ (David, King of Israel)... and was literally carried on their shoulders while they danced to this song! This is how fond they were of him.

After a controversial period of service under the Begin administration, Sharon left the military for politics and became a member of the right wing Likud Party (the party currently in power). This party espoused his ‘winner take all’ philosophy of settling and retaining all the captured territories.

It is interesting to note that Rav Ahron Soloveichik was among those who believed that it was forbidden to return any recaptured parts of Eretz Yisroel to the Arabs under any circumstances and that doing so would endanger the lives of its citizens. As such he was a natural ally of the settler movement and people like Sharon – whose family incidentally stemmed from Lithuanian area of Brisk in Europe. Sharon was in fact the keynote speaker at the Brisk Yeshiva International Banquet held in New York.

But then something strange happened. Ariel Sharon became the prime minister of Israel. He eventually broke away from Likud  to form a new party, Kadima because of Likud’s stiff opposition to giving away any land to the Palestinians.

Sharon correctly viewed the growing Palestinian demographic as a threat to the very Jewish nature of the state. If things were left as they were, Palestinians would soon reach a majority and vote themselves into power. He was faced with a dilemma. He could either annex the West Bank and cease to be a democracy… or detach the growing Palestinian demographic from Israel. To the great consternation of his former political and settler allies, he chose the latter.

Unable to reach any kind of peace settlement with Palestinians, he quickly decided to unilaterally withdraw from those areas – starting with Gaza. Settlers went from calling him the ‘King’of Israel’ to calling him a traitor. What followed was one of the most gut-wrenching periods in the modern state of Israel’s relatively young history. In August of 2005, the Gaza Strip was evacuated. Settlers were initially urged to leave voluntarily and to the best of my knowledge the few that did that did were given new homes.  But many stayed and passively resisted leaving as military troops had to virtually drag them out of their homes.  Although all were promised new homes - some are still waiting for them 8 years later.

What’s worse is that Gaza was eventually taken over by the radical terrorist Hamas that has been firing rockets into Israel ever since.

It’s easy to look at the disengagement from Gaza with 20/20 hindsight. It was obviously a mistake. But we can only know that with that 20/20 hindsight we have.  In my view Sharon had no choice. He had to give Palestinians Gaza. It was in fact an experiment to see if they would take Gaza and live peacefully with Israel. The opposite happened.

In light of this - giving Palestinians the West Bank now would be a mistake of historic proportion. I was in favor of land for peace. I believe that lives are worth more than land. If a true peace would have resulted, it would have been worth it. But I now know that the West Bank would very likely end up the same way Gaza did. Which would make Israel  a far more dangerous place to live and threaten it existentially!

Had we not given them Gaza, they would all still be claiming to give peace a chance. Well, we did. And look what happened. I think this very sobering fact is being over-looked by Secretary of State John Kerry and his boss, the President, in their overly zealous pursuit of peace in the region.

Sharon should not be condemned for giving Palestinians Gaza. He should be praised for his courage in going against the grain of his own ideologues and ‘throwing down the gauntlet’!

There are some who would say that it is a good thing Sharon had a stroke before he did to the West Bank what he did to Gaza. I disagree and find that notion appalling. I do not think Sharon would have done that after seeing what happened in Gaza. He was too dedicated to the welfare of his people to do anything like that.

The day Sharon died was a sad day for Israel. They… we… have lost a great leader. A man of conviction,  vision, and strength. A man who loved his people and his country. A man who had the courage to fight his enemies in battle and his critics in politics in the cause of serving his people. Baruch Dayan HaEmes.