Obituary: Ariel Sharon

Divisive political and military leader oversaw expansion of West Bank settlements and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

The Arab world reviled Sharon for masterminding the 1982 invasion of Lebanon [Reuters]

Ariel Sharon, who has died aged 85, was for decades one of Israel’s most controversial figures.

Long the darling of the far-right, Sharon angered Arabs and Israeli doves by championing Jewish settlement on land taken in the 1967 Middle East war.

Al Jazeera’s Tom Ackerman looks back at major events in the life of Ariel Sharon

Sharon was widely reviled for masterminding the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, during which Israel’s Lebanese Christian allies massacred Palestinians in two refugee camps in Beirut.

Sharon was forced to resign as defence minister after an Israeli inquiry found him indirectly responsible for failing to prevent the killings in Sabra and Shatila camps.

His provocative visit to Islam’s third holiest site, al-Haram al-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary), in Jerusalem while opposition leader, was said to have sparked the second Palestinian intifada (uprising) in September 2000.

Sharon then shocked Jewish ultranationalists in 2003 by announcing he would remove all 21 Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and four from the occupied West Bank.

Legendary battlefield record

He found popularity as prime minister from 2001 to 2006. As leader of Likud, Sharon was elected prime minister twice, in 2001 and 2003, vowing to restore security and stamp out Palestinian violence.

Known for his girth and booming voice, Sharon was a career army commander, with a legendary record on the battlefield.

Born on February 26, 1928 in Kfar Malal, an agricultural moshav, then in the British Mandate of Palestine, to a family of Belarusian Jews, he joined a paramilitary youth battalion in 1942 aged 14, and later an underground paramilitary force, the Haganah, the Jewish military precursor to the Israel Defence Forces.

As a commander, Sharon was known for bold tactics and an occasional refusal to obey orders.

After retiring from military service, he was instrumental in establishing Likud in July 1973 by a merger of Herut, the Liberal Party and independent elements and became chairman of the campaign staff for that year’s elections.

As a politician he became known as “the bulldozer”, a man contemptuous of his critics while also capable of getting things done.

A prominent hardline voice over the decades, he led Israel’s military response to the second intifada.

Gaza troop withdrawal

In mid-2005, he directed a unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops and about 7,000 Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Often portrayed as a shocking turnaround for a man who had been a leading player in building Jewish settlements in captured territories, the move came as Sharon put thousands more Israelis in settlements across the occupied West Bank.

A decade earlier, Sharon had famously urged Israeli settlers in the West Bank to “grab more hills, expand the territory. Everything that’s grabbed will be in our hands, everything that we don’t grab will be in [Palestinian] hands.”

He left the Likud Party, which he helped found, in 2005, and formed the centrist Kadima, a party designed to be centred largely on his own personality.

Sharon’s decision to found a new party was a typically bold bid to reshape the Israeli political landscape.

The move was designed to bypass far-right criticism and press ahead with plans to end conflict with the Palestinians, including the pull-out from Gaza.

It seemed he was on his way to an easy re-election when he, at the age of 77 and considerably overweight, suffered a stroke in January 2006. 

Sharon first had a small stroke in December 2005 and was put on blood thinners before experiencing a severe brain haemorrhage on January 4, 2006 that left him comatose.

After spending months in the Jerusalem hospital where he was initially treated, Sharon was transferred to the long-term care facility at Tel Hashomer hospital.

He was taken home briefly at one point but returned to the hospital, where he remained until his death.

He is survived by his three children. 

Click through for a slideshow of scenes from Sharon’s life.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies