A state memorial for the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon began Monday at the parliament in Jerusalem, where delegations from 18 countries, including the United States, arrived to pay their respects and remember the man's divisive legacy. "You never rested in service of your people, when defending your land and making it flourish," said Israeli President Shimon Peres during the eulogy he delivered at the start of the service. Sharon passed away at the age of 85 on Saturday, after eight years in a coma caused by multiple strokes.
Sharon, renowned for his aggressive brutality, was a polarizing figure for many. To some, he was the "Warrior", a man who used his strength and military cunning to take what many could and would not. To others, he was the "Butcher," the powerful man behind multiple massacres.
"Prime Minister Sharon was a complex man.. [he] lived in a complex time in a complex neighborhood," said American Vice President Joe Biden. "He was indomitable." As Bustle reported:
After ending his army career, he became first defense advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, then minister of agriculture to Menachem Begin. Under Begin, he launched his project to install permanent Jewish settlements in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. A few years after that, he became minister of defense. In that role, he ordered the two ruinous invasions of Lebanon in 1982, during which his army laid siege to Beirut, forcing thousands of Palestinians into refugee camps. Breaking a promise he had given to the U.S., Sharon then allowed troops to go into those same refugee camps — the result was a death toll between 800 and 2,000 refugees, and an inquiry into the massacre that led to his prompt resignation.
"During his years in politics, it is no secret that there were times the United States had differences with him. But ... you admired the man who was determined to ensure the security and survival of the Jewish State," said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
[Sharon] stayed in government, though, and became Prime Minster in 2001. In that role, his two defining projects, although admired by some, drew anger from many, including Israelis, Palestinians, and the West. His building of the separation wall around the West Bank was widely condemned by the international community (and ruled illegal by the World Court) and his choice to withdraw settlers and troops from Gaza — which some saw as a sign of the possibility of peace — was aggressively criticized by settlers and Israel’s right-wing.
"His passing is another grim reminder that years of virtual impunity for rights abuses have done nothing to bring Israeli-Palestinian peace any closer," said the Middle East director of Human Rights Watch.
Sharon's legacy is no doubt complicated, and laced with the pride — and the pain — of many. Admittedly, though, Israel stands as it is today very much thanks to his policies, his ruthlessness, and his choices.
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