TIME Middle East

To My Father, Ariel Sharon

Ariel Sharon Takes Part In Lighting Of Hanukkah Candles
Kevin Frayer / Getty Images

A person does not really live in a place if he does not bury his dead there

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, 1967, when Omri was 3 and I was 11 months old, our older brother Gur was killed in a tragic accident.

Without a doubt, that event affected our family more than anything else in our lives. There is nothing sadder than the death of a child, with its sense of missing out on what could have been and will never be. The grief, the longing, the loss of a whole life full of promise. Gur was an exceptional boy with a wonderful sense of humor, a natural-born leader among his friends and an excellent horseman. The fact that my father carried on and did not take his own life then and there is almost beyond belief. How much pain can a person endure? And what purpose does it serve?

“The intensity of the pain does not diminish over time,” he once said, “but the intervals between the pangs become longer.” In this circumstance, his profound sensitivity and extraordinary intelligence became a burden.

But he kept going. After all, he had a wife and two other children, as well as a very strong sense of responsibility that was never confined solely to the family.

They say it is impossible to survive without kidneys for two weeks. So what if that’s what they say? They also said it was impossible to quash terror in the 1950s, until you launched the reprisal actions of Unit 101 and the paratroopers.

They said it was impossible to maneuver tanks through the dunes north of Umm Katef in Sinai, until the stunning battle in which you broke through the Egyptian lines in the Six Day War.

They said it was impossible to end the terror attacks from Gaza in the 1970s, until you took charge and the region was quiet for ten years.

They said it was impossible to cross the Suez Canal in the Yom Kippur War, until you led Operation Valiant and changed the course of the war.

They said there was no other option except to house the immigrants from the former Soviet Union in tents, but you made sure there wasn’t a single immigrant without a roof over their head.

A decade ago, they said it was impossible to put a stop to Palestinian terror. So what if that’s what they said. You gave the command for Operation Defensive Shield and created a new order that has remained intact to this day.

Time and again, you made the impossible a reality. That is the stuff of legends, the way a nation’s ethos is formed.

Always carry out a mission to the end, and never leave the wounded behind. Those are two of the values you instilled in the Israeli army. You learned to complete a mission as a child growing up in Kfar Malal, working the land of the Sharon region side by side with your parents, Vera and Samuel. You learned the principle of leaving no man behind first-hand, at Latrun. This is how you described that terrible day, May 26, 1948: “All around me, the dead and the wounded. All friends, all from the Sharon region, most from a single village. People you grew up with. Here they were, right in front of you, in this awful field, close to death, and there was nothing you could do for them. They were lost. That was the most difficult order I ever had to issue. There were others, of varying magnitudes, of different degrees of responsibility, but none was as grave as that one. I looked at my wounded. I knew I was seeing them for the last time. I knew they would be butchered. I gave the order. For the first and last time in my life as a commander, I gave the order: retreat, retreat and leave the wounded in the field. There was no choice. I had to save the few that were still alive. I lay there, tormented by pain. The few who were able to move passed me by. ‘Should we leave you here, too?’ Yes, me too. I saw the eyes of those who fled. They contained shock and sorrow, immense pain. That look accompanies me to this day, always.”

For close to 60 years you were at the forefront of events in Israel, playing an active and central role. There is no facet of the nation’s life that you were not involved in, that you did not influence and print your stamp on – from defending the country in the army, where you set standards and recorded outstanding achievements, to agriculture, industry, housing, foreign relations, and more. And there is no corner of the country where you have not left your mark in the shape of more than one hundred thriving communities in the Golan Heights, the Galilee, Samaria, Judea, the Negev, and the Arava. Even those who hold the loss of the settlements in Gaza against you would do well to remember this: you established over a hundred more Israeli communities than anyone else.

Look around you at the breathtakingly beautiful landscape. For years we drove together through these fields, among the sheep and the cattle, in the orchards and the pastures. When I was a child, you drove the jeep, and when I grew up, I was at the wheel. They were long drives. Sometimes we talked and sometimes we sat in silence, each alone with his thoughts. Many of our drives ended here, on this hill, where you sat on the wooden bench and shifted your gaze back and forth between the landscape and Mother’s grave.

A person does not really live in a place if he does not bury his dead there.

Shabbat, Room 10, Tel Hashomer hospital. We are with you, your grandchildren running around the room, the noise of home, the conversation lively and flowing. The scene could just as well be set in our living room, here on the ranch. Except that the hero of the play is lying motionless in bed. In the background, the music of Arik Lavie and Arik Einstein – Arik and Arik singing to Arik. I hold your hand and stroke your face, the face of my dying father.

Beloved Father, you have come home.

Gilad Sharon is the youngest of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s three sons and was a confidant to his father. Sharon holds a master’s degree in economics and writes a frequent column for a major Israeli newspaper. A major in the Israel Defense Force reserves, Sharon currently manages his family’s farm in Israel. His book about his father, Sharon: The Life of a Leader was published by HarperCollins in paperback in July 2013.

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