Israel Conducts Funeral for Former Prime Minister Sharon

By:  Warren Mass
Israel Conducts Funeral for Former Prime Minister Sharon

Former Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon, who died on January 11 after spending eight years in a coma following a major stroke in 2006, was laid to rest on January 13.

Israel’s Haaretz daily newspaper reported that Sharon’s funeral ceremonies began Monday morning with an official ceremony at the Knesset, where the late prime minister’s body lay in state on Sunday. Among those delivering speeches at the ceremony were Israel’s  President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Other world dignitaries attending the memorial ceremonies were Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Czech Prime Minister Jirí Rusnok.

Following the ceremony at the Knesset, the funeral procession traveled from Jerusalem to Sycamore Ranch, Sharon’s farm in the Negev region of southern Israel, where he was buried. Peres, Netanyahu, Biden and many of the other visiting foreign dignitaries laid wreaths on Sharon’s grave.

JTA (the Jewish Telegraphic Agency) noted that Sharon left a mixed legacy, having achieved fame as a commander of the Israeli Army, where he was considered by his peers to be one of the country's greatest military strategists. After retiring from the military, Sharon entered politics, joining the center-Right Likud Party and serving in several ministerial posts in Likud-led governments from 1977–92 and 1996–99. Sharon became the leader of the Likud in 2000, and served as Israel’s prime minister from 2001 to 2006. Sharon left the Likud party in 2005 to form the new Kadima party. The major area of disagreement between Sharon and his supporters and Likud was resistance to the unilateral disengagement plan  he had proposed. The plan aimed to resettle all Israelis from the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the northen West Bank.

The JTA writer noted:

For Israelis, Sharon has been both hero and bete noir. For much of his career he was an outspoken founder of the settlement movement, declaring in 2002 that the fate of the Gaza settlement of Netzarim was tied to the fate of Tel Aviv. A year later, he betrayed his pro-settlement base by withdrawing from Gaza entirely. And while most Israelis admired Sharon as a dogged hero of Israel’s first four wars, his orchestration of the controversial 1982 Lebanon War ... and his role in the Sabra and Shatila massacre would forever tarnish his reputation.

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