Major general Israeli Defense force, 11th Prime Minister of Israelby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Ariel Sharon was born in 1928, in Kfar Malal, in the British mandate of Palestine. Palestine had been given to England after World War I as a mandate country, and was controlled by the British. Israelites and Arabs had mixed reactions to this mandate, causing great tension, which usually precipitated violence such as the Arab riots of the 1920s. Faced with this threat, the Israelites banded together to create the Haganah to protect Israeli farms and communities. In its beginning, the Haganah was a paramilitary organization of Israelites formed into units for defense.
In 1942, at the age of 14, showing a bravery that would continue throughout his military career, Ariel Sharon joined the Haganah. By the Israeli war for independence of 1948, Sharon was a company commander in the Alexandroni infantry brigade. By the end of the war in 1949, the Haganah had become the Israeli defense force, with Sharon moving up through the ranks. In 1953, Sharon was promoted to the rank of major, and was tasked with the establishment of the 101 commando unit, which staged attacks behind enemy lines, and was used to locally suppress terrorist attack against Israeli civilians. Another job of the 101 command unit was to retaliate against Arab attacks. After an attack against Israel, the commandos would stage a raid across borders in retaliation. One of their most controversial raids was against the village of Qibya in Jordan.
Palestinian terrorists had been coming through Jordan and attacking Israeli civilians. As the attacks continued, Israel decided it must make an example of the Arabs. With Sharon in command, the 101 commando unit crossed the border into Jordan, and attacked the village of Qibya. The Israeli military had orders to destroy as many buildings as possible. Soldiers would kick in the doors, yell a warning, wait, and than destroy the building. In the aftermath of the attack, Israel was condemned for the deaths of at least 50 Jordanian civilians. In response to these allegations, Sharon had the following to say in autobiography “Warrior”:
"I couldn't believe my ears. As I went back over each step of the operation, I began to understand what must have happened. For years Israeli reprisal raids had never succeeded in doing more than blowing up a few outlying buildings, if that. Expecting the same, some Arab families must have stayed in their houses rather than running away. In those big stone houses... some could easily have hidden in the cellars and back rooms, keeping quiet when the paratroopers went in to check and yell out a warning. The result was this tragedy that had happened."1
Widespread usage of titles such as “Qibya Massacre” brings to mind the planned and excessive killing of civilians. However, when the facts are revealed (i.e, that those killed refused to obey a warning to leave an area designated for attack), the “massacre” comes more fully into focus.
Soon after the attack on Qibya, the 101 commando unit was integrated with the 202nd Parachute Brigade. Sharon continued to gain successive promotions, eventually attaining the rank of Major General and being appointed the Infantry School commander. By 1966, Sharon was the head of the Army Training Branch. Soon after, Ariel Sharon was back to a forward military command. Then, the Six-Day War erupted in 1967. Sharon served as the commander of an armored division on the Sinai front against Egypt. After the Israeli preemptive air strike against the Egyptian air force, Sharon entered the heavily occupied Abu-Ageila-Kusseima region. Within six days the war was over, leaving Israel victorious, and in control of the Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, West Bank, and Golan Heights. After the war, Sharon was appointed to command the Israeli Defense Force’s southern command. Sharon served until 1973, when he retired from the military. However, it was not even a year until he was recalled in October of 1973 for the Yom Kippur war.
The October war, as it was also known, was fought when Egypt and Syria, along with monetary aid and small amounts of tactical support from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Libya attacked Israel without warning. Yom Kippur is an important Jewish religious event, so when Egypt and Syria attacked, they expected most people in Israel to be preoccupied. Sharon again lead an armored division against the Egyptian army. The armored division under Sharon’s command penetrated beyond the battle line, in between the Egyptian 2nd and 3rd armies. On the night of October 16th, Sharon’s division constructed a bridge across the Suez Canal, cut the 3rd army’s supply lines, and began to encircle the Egyptian army, forcing it to surrender. With the cease fire on October 23, tensions remained high with sporadic fighting. Not until May 31, 1974 did tensions ease enough for an exchange of Prisoners of war.
In December, after the cease fire, Sharon was elected to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. He resigned a year later, however, and served as a security adviser to the Israeli government. He was again elected to the Knesset, and appointed minister of agriculture in 1977; only this time, he shifted political parties to the conservative Likud party. As minister of agriculture, Sharon began to concentrate resources toward settling the West bank and Gaza strip.
In 1981, Sharon was appointed Defense Minister and served in this position during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which occurred after an attempted assassination of Shlomo Argov, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations. During the conflict, Lebanon Christian militias entered the Refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, looking for members of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Israeli troops were assigned to guard the exits, thinking the Militias would apprehend the PLO members, and remove them. What occurred instead was a massacre. With IFD troops guarding the exits to the camp, Israel was assumed complicit in the attacks. For this, Ariel Sharon was removed from his position as Defense Minister. From 1982 to 1992, Sharon served as the Minister of Trade and Industry, during which time he finalized a Free Trade agreement with the United States, and then he served as Minister of Construction. From 1992 to 1996, Sharon served on the Knesset Foreign affairs and Defense committee, and from 1996 to 1999, Sharon served as Minister of National Infrastructure.
In 2001, Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister of Israel. Even before Sharon was elected, Tensions in Israel began to mount. The al-Aqsa Intifada began in 2000. Intafada roughly translated from Arabic is “Uprising”, and after its beginning, violence and political tensions between Arabs and Israelis ramped up considerably, although outright war has so far been avoided. In fact, in February of 2005, a summit was held in Sharm el-Sheikh. Ariel Sharon, the president of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Jordanian King Abdullah II. At the summit, a treaty was reached, signaling an end to the Intafada, and a new dedication to the Road Map.
The Road Map is the peace plan proposed by the United States, Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union. The plan calls for the Establishment of a Palestinian state, which would include a stop to all terrorist activities, a ban on refuges entering Israel, and democratic reforms. In turn, Israel would support the establishment of the new, terrorist free Palestinian government, and would withdraw all it minor settlements from the Gaza strip, and the West Bank while maintaining major population centers. While the road map has been revised, and the end seems uncertain, peace has tenuiously continued. A major step forward in the peace process was the death of the Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, and the election of the “moderate” Mahmoud Abbas in 2005. Arafat was intimately connected to the beginning of the Intafada, unlike Abbas. With Abbas’s commitment to peace, and Sharon’s staunch defense of the Israeli people, the future of Israeli, God willing, will achieve peace.
1. Sharon, Ariel. Warrior. Simon & Schuster; 2nd edition (October 1, 2001)
“Sharon, Ariel” Wikipedia.org, 2005
“Sharon, Ariel," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2005
http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
“Sharon, Ariel” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Feb.