Sharon: Israel's Warrior-Politician

Sharon: Israel's Warrior-Politician

by Anita Miller MILLER, Jordan Miller, Sigalit Zetouni

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Ariel Sharon, Israel's former Prime Minister, was perhaps one of the most controversial public figures in the Mideast.
He was born in 1928 in a moshav—an agricultural community in which, unlike a kibbutz, residents own their own property—and was raised by parents who were not only ardent Zionists but also rugged individualists. His father


Ariel Sharon, Israel's former Prime Minister, was perhaps one of the most controversial public figures in the Mideast.
He was born in 1928 in a moshav—an agricultural community in which, unlike a kibbutz, residents own their own property—and was raised by parents who were not only ardent Zionists but also rugged individualists. His father especially was contemptuous of socialism and believed in individual enterprise, raising his son to be self-reliant and physically strong in order to prepare him for the inevitable struggle to establish a Jewish state.

Sharon was perhaps best known as the organizer of what was called Commando Unit 101 and for his original ideas for the training of commando forces, which he later adapted to the training of larger, more traditional armies. During his military career he personally led many raids into Arab territory and has been criticized for his role in the destruction, in 1953, of some forty Arab homes—which he insisted he thought were empty and in which sixty-nine Arabs died. Later, in 1982, he was blamed also for allowing the Lebanese Christian Militia into a Palestinian refugee camp in which hundreds were killed.

His political career was of course indelibly colored by his military exploits. What made Sharon tick? What kind of a man was he? How did his childhood and early life condition him to become a brilliant commander, controversial soldier and an as-yet-untested leader of a small democracy which is divided both within and without? This first biography in English—frank, but balanced—will perhaps answer some of the questions raised by his career both as a soldier and politician.

Editorial Reviews

This is the first biography of Sharon in English, and the authors have provided a comprehensive examination of his life from his youth to the present time. We learn much about Sharon’s activities as a young defender of his family’s farm, his role in the War of Independence and of course his activities as an important military and political figure over the last thirty years. . . . [T]his is a necessary and well-written look at the career of a man who will remain at the center of the Middle Eastern turmoil
Publishers Weekly
The authors . . . lay out clearly Sharon’s early rise through the Israeli army and his developing reputation as a loose cannon. . . . Many trying to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will turn to this . . . first English language biography of Sharon.
New York Times Book Review
As a former army field commander, Ariel Sharon puts great stock in holding the physical high ground, controlling the lines of sight and measuring distances in terms of artillery range. But those military doctrines are deployed in the service of more basic beliefs, developed during his years of growing up just north of Tel Aviv on a moshav, a small semi-cooperative agricultural community, during the years of the British mandate, when Israel’s eventual statehood was far from a certainty and Jewish survival on the land seemed a daily battle against harsh conditions and hostile neighbors. . . . [This book] is the first full biography of Sharon written in English. (Uzi Benziman’s "Sharon: An Israeli Caesar," published in 1985, was translated from the Hebrew.) It begins with Sharon’s birth in Palestine in 1928 and races quicly through his controversial and occasionally brilliant military career, which included combat in all of Israel’s major wars. . . . As this new biography makes clear, Sharon has lived his life as a ferocious fighter, sometimes at great cost to innocent Arab civilians. . . . Occasionally, the authors’. . . research yields nuggest of underreported unformation: for instance, they track down an appearance of Australian television las year by the Palestinian intifada leader Marwan Barghouti. . . . Today, Sharon in prime minister with one of the highest voter approval rating in Israel’s history. This astonishing reversal of fortunes could never have happened without his unyielding belief in his own righness, his refusal to accept defeat anywhere and his unquenchable appetite for power. For the foreseeable future he is the man who will decide how Israel deals with Palestinian terror, Palestinian democracy and any redional repercussions of an American attack on Iraq. Understanding how Sharon is predisposed to respond to any of these situations is important for Americans and Israelis alike.
Library Journal
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been a hard-line fixture of Israeli politics since he retired from the army in 1974 after approximately 30 years of service. He has promoted the expansion of settlements as a way of solidifying control over the occupied territories and consistently advocated a policy of retaliation against Arab villages when Israeli settlements in the territories or in Israel proper have been attacked. Not truly a biography, this work spotlights Sharon's public career as he wended his way through recent history; two-thirds of the text is devoted to the eight years since the Oslo Accords of 1993. Miller (Arnold Bennett: An Annotated Bibliography, 1897-1932) draws solely on news stories and secondary sources, providing little behind-the-scenes material about his public life or information about his private life. Sharon's autobiography, Warrior, appeared 13 years ago, and while the new work does provide a summary update of his career since, it offers very little else and stops before the latest outbreak of violence in the Middle East. A marginal purchase.-Marcia L. Sprules, Council on Foreign Relations Lib., New York
Anita Miller (an author), Jordan Miller (a poet), and Zetouni (an art historian)<-->all of whom are also editors<-->co-authored this biography of Ariel Sharon, set against the backdrop of Israeli history. The Millers are Americans, and Zetouni is an Israeli. They begin with Sharon's 1928 birth on a small farm in central Palestine and extend to June 2002. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
From the Publisher

"This is a necessary and well-written look at the career of a man who will remain at the center of the Middle Eastern turmoil." — Booklist

"Many trying to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will turn to this... the first English language biography of Sharon." — Publishers Weekly

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Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
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Israel's Warrior-Politician

By Anita Miller, Jordan Miller, Sigalit Zetouni

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2002 Academy Chicago Publishers and Olive Production & Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61373-340-0



Ariel Sharon was born on February 27, 1928, son of Samuil and Dvora Scheinerman, in Kfar Malal, a small agricultural community, or moshav, in central Palestine, some fifteen miles northeast of Tel Aviv on the coastal Plain of Sharon.

Samuil's father, Mordechai, a Hebrew teacher in Brest Litovsk, was a dedicated Zionist who had been a delegate to the World Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897, and had spent two years in Palestine from 1910 to 1912, teaching school in Rehovot. But he found life there too difficult for his wife and children and returned to Russia, intending some day to go back and settle permanently in Palestine. This was an ambition that did eventually materialize; he settled with his family in Tel Aviv just a few years before he died.

Mordechai Scheinerman indoctrinated his son Samuil with his own fervent Zionism, teaching him Hebrew and Bible studies at home, in addition to the classical education the boy received in Russian schools. When he was graduated from secondary school, Samuil, preparing for life as a farmer, entered the school of agriculture at the University of Tiflis near Baku where the family had moved to escape the fighting in the first World War. It was at Tiflis that Samuil met Dvora Schneirov, a medical student at the university, one of eight children, whose father was a timber merchant in a small Belorussian village.

Four years after the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Red Army was moving toward Baku and Tiflis. Samuil had finished his studies, but Dvora needed two more years to earn her medical degree, which she desperately wanted. However, because Samuil was a known Zionist, the Communists would certainly have arrested, and, most likely, executed him. Up to that time, he had been teaching Hebrew at the Zionist Club in Tiflis. On a day when he happened to be late to class, Communist activists raided the club and all the members were arrested and eventually sent to Siberia. After the raid, in February, 1922, Samuil and Dvora, who were recently married, fled to Palestine.

Dvora had hoped to continue her studies in their new home, but she found herself in a wilderness. This was very difficult for her: she knew only Russian and had never intended to become a farmer. She had to give up her dream of becoming a doctor, and this sacrifice was to haunt her for the rest of her life. And while she worked hard and was a dedicated helpmate to her husband, she did not entirely share his views. Years later, she said that her husband "had converted her to Zionism by force."

In 1921, Palestine was in turmoil. Bloody battles were raging between the Jews and Arabs and, in addition, there were internal conflicts amongst the Jewish pioneers themselves over security and land cultivation. It was against this background that in 1922 Dvora and Samuil settled in Kfar Malal on land purchased by the Jewish National Fund, an agency of the World Zionist Organization. Samuil chose this moshav over a kibbutz, a collective where everything was owned in common. Samuil was not interested in socialism, to put it mildly; he was a strong individualist who wanted to own his own land, and in a moshav, although farmers lived together in a community, each family owned its own house on its own property while the main farming and marketing operations were pooled.

Kfar Malal is now a fully developed, lushly landscaped village. But when the Scheinermans first moved there the settlement lacked water and electricity and the couple had to live in a tent while they built their own cabin. It was dangerous, too: the village had been destroyed by Arabs the year before, and was being rebuilt by the moshavniks. Land acquired by the early settlers was not always in arable condition, but was often a wilderness of stones, sand dunes and marshes.

The British Mandate Authority considered the growing Jewish settlements as yet another irritant in an already volatile Palestine. In 1929, a wave of anti-Jewish riots broke out to protest Jewish immigration and the practice of Jewish prayer at the Western Wall. In less than a week, 133 Jews were killed and 340 wounded and many more inhabitants of Hebron were later slaughtered. This violence led the settlers — without permission from the British authorities — to reorganize their defenses, creating a new militia called the Haganah.

Sharon grew up during the time when the Yishuv (as the Palestine Jewish community was called prior to the establishment of the State of Israel) was literally fighting for its survival. It is probably not possible to exaggerate the traumatic effect of this violence and social ferment on the young Sharon's consciousness. Since Kfar Malal had been destroyed by Arabs once before, the settlers could never feel safe. Samuil carried a pistol, and Dvora too knew how to use it. Samuil was ambushed twice, once coming back from an orchard and once by a sniper when he was examining a sabotaged irrigation line. Both times he escaped unscathed. From the time of his bar mitzvah, Sharon shared night guard duty, holding a knotted club, scanning the fields for marauders who could come silently in the dark to threaten the settlers' lives.

In reflecting on his early life, Sharon credits his parents' "strength, determination and stubborness" for their success as pioneers and for the influence these qualities had on his own life and perspective. They worked hard, but were obviously not given to demonstrations of open affection. "They did not wear their hearts on their sleeves," Sharon recalls, perhaps rather wistfully. The Scheinermans differed from their fellow moshavniks not only temperamentally, but also politically. Although Samuil was certainly an ardent Zionist, he stood out in the isolated agricultural communal world of the moshav as a militant individualist and this added to the difficulties of the Scheinermans' already hard life in Kfar Malal. There was more than simply political disagreement; Sharon speaks of a festering hostility that had a corrosive effect on the community. For one thing, Samuil wanted to be addressed by the title "Agronomist Scheinerman" — which the other farmers refused to do, resenting what they understandably considered a display of arrogance and self-importance.

Furthermore, Samuil built a fence with a locked gate around his orchard and even planted a grove of trees as a sort of buffer between his land and the road. The fact that his was the only fenced property in the settlement further alienated him and his family from other moshav members. He and his wife had little or no dedication to community, something which was important to settlers at that time. One incident which exemplifies their attitude toward their neighbors occurred when Ariel was only three years old: he badly cut his chin in a fall, and instead of consulting the doctor in their own community, Dvora ran to the office of a Russian doctor more than two miles away with the child in her arms.There were objections also to Samuil's radical agricultural innovations, although he was a trained agronomist, and ultimately his new methods of farming were to be adopted by many other Jewish settlements.

But according to Sharon himself, arguments about crops or agricultural techniques were far less traumatic than the bitterness that followed the murder in 1933 of Chaim Arlozoroff, a Zionist socialist leader. Sharon's parents were outraged by the fact that other Jews were being accused of killing him, a crime allegedly perpetrated by the followers of Zeev Jabotinsky, a militant Revisionist. Although Samuil was, like his neighbors, a member of David Ben-Gurion's Mapai (Zionist Labor Party) his anger at the charges was so intense that it caused a serious rift between himself and the other moshavniks who were equally bitter on the other side. Feelings ran so high that the Scheinermans were barred from visiting the local clinic and synagogue and from using the moshav's cooperative truck, which meant that they could neither get deliveries from it nor use it to collect their produce. As a measure of the hatred that existed between them, in his will Samuil specified that no one from Kfar Malal speak at his funeral and that the aforementioned truck not be used to transport his body to the cemetery.

Dvora supported her husband in all his work. But, as we have seen, she lacked her husband's zealous dedication to Zionism. She frequently thumbed through her old Russian medical books, reliving the student days that had meant so much to her. Nonetheless, she worked barefoot in their citrus groves and fields and tended the goats and cows. She scrimped and saved every way possible for her children's education, even depriving herself of personal necessities. Both Dvora and Samuil — unlike most other moshavniks — were intent on their children having a high school education that included liberal arts.

According to some moshavniks who remember them, Dvora was very friendly. It was Samuil who was arrogant and remote. But Dvora did have a strong personality; it was she who made sure that both Ariel and Yehudit — Sharon's sister, two years older than he — took violin lessons and put particular pressure on her daughter to excel on the instrument. Sharon quit taking lessons fairly soon, but to this day one of his greatest pleasures is listening to classical music.

Years later, neighbors reminisced about the family. Rahel Gaffney, a classmate of Sharon's in grade school, said, "There was plenty of intelligence in that house. It was poor — I remember the jug under the leaking roof — but you felt that you entered into a world of intellect. They weren't any less Zionist than the others, but they were more interested in cultural pursuits than we were. The father had his own opinions, but the children were like the rest of us. We all played in the sandy road together." Yosef Margalit, who was in the same class with Yehudit said that "no one called them Yehudit and Ariel. They were Dita and Arik."

Rahel Gaffney mentioned a time in the fourth or fifth grade when the class became angry at one of the teachers. "We decided to boycott the school, but Arik disagreed. He said, 'I came to school to learn and if there is a problem with the teacher we ought to sit and talk.' We didn't go to school for three days and at the end we were punished. But Arik held to his opinion that we should have continued to go to class. I don't remember him ever lying. Sometimes people didn't like what he said, but he always said what he really thought. Arik always knew where he was headed. His mother always told him that it was important to be educated and to have a goal. He never sat quietly. Very ambitious."

Sharon joined the Labor Youth Movement and his group counselor, Yosef Gilboa, remembered that young Scheinerman sometimes helped him to discipline disobedient children, and that even then he disliked disorder.

In 1941, when Sharon was thirteen, he started high school in Tel Aviv, a long bus ride and an hour's walk from the moshav. He greatly enjoyed the new world that opened up to him in the city, made many friends, and was an eager student. His experience at school was a welcome relief from the rigors of his father's demanding discipline, although the boy did not question his parents' isolation from their neighbors.

The turmoil in the Middle East accelerated during the Second World War, and Allied troops moved back and forth across Palestine, responding to the Axis threats to Egypt and the Suez Canal. The Jewish Agency, headed by David Ben-Gurion, was agitating for a Jewish Army, a brigade that was destined to come into existence within three years. In the meantime, the Haganah, a poorly armed and partially undercover militia, was recruiting Jewish youth. Sharon joined when he was fourteen, and received training on Saturdays and one night a week. Soon he was transferred into the "Signallers," an elite force that also received training from the Jewish Settlement Police, established nationwide by the British to protect both the Jewish settlements and British installations.

Later he joined the Gadna, an acronym for "Youth Battalions," where he got one of his first tastes of concentrated military training in Ruchama, a remote kibbutz in the Negev desert. Sharon thus received military training from the British as well as from the Haganah — this despite the fact that the British were doing everything they could to prevent Jewish refugees from entering Palestine, causing frustration and rage to build in the Jewish community.

As early as 1907, Zionists had established a tradition of guarding Jewish settlements with a secret organization called Ha-shomer; Ben-Gurion had joined it when he first arrived in Palestine. These men, Martin van Creveld says, "were the first to take the military road not merely as a means to a military end, but with the explicit goal of shedding the supposed characteristics of the Wandering Jew, replacing him with a new, hardy, and courageous type who would take up arms in defense of himself, his settlement, and his country." When Ha-shomer was disbanded in 1920, it was replaced by Haganah, which, though illegal, was more or less tolerated by the British. The Haganah was later associated with the Histadrut, or National Labor Foundation, until an Arab uprising in 1929 demonstrated the importance of a strong militia, and control passed to Ben-Gurion, as head of the Jewish Agency. Gradually Haganah was strengthened by intensive training and an inflow of armaments with support from international Jewish communities. In addition, in the early thirties, Jewish immigration to Palestine increased markedly, spurred by the rise of the Nazis in Europe and the closing of admission to the United States.

In May, 1936, the Supreme Arab Committee called a general strike that lasted for almost six months and gave rise to innumerable terrorist attacks against both Jews and the British. After a violent battle between the British Army and Arab guerrillas in March, 1938, a reasonable calm was restored. Although sporadic attacks were still occurring when World War II began in September, 1939, the British and the Haganah — the latter profiting from the excellent training of British Captain Orde Wingate — held this unrest to a minimum. However, the situation was not improved when in May, 1939, the British issued the White Paper, refusing to honor the Balfour Declaration, a promise made in 1917 to the Zionists, led by Dr Chaim Weizmann, to establish a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. (The Arabs, for their part, were enraged by this promise, which they considered a betrayal of British promises made to them in 1916 and 1917 when they rebelled against the Ottoman Empire.) The White Paper limited Jewish purchase of land and immigration and promised Arab independence in the country in ten years. The reaction of the Yishuv to this news can be imagined. Hope that the Zionists could work with the British was abandoned, although there was certainly awareness that the Axis powers presented an imminent danger.

There were other small military organizations besides the Haganah in the late thirties: the Irgun Tsvai Leumi (National Military Organization) had engaged in guerrilla activities against Arabs and British, but at the outbreak of war had announced it would cooperate with the British against the Axis. However in December, 1941, the Struma, a decrepit cattle boat holding 769 Jewish refugees, was turned away from the Constantinople harbor after a wait of two months while the Turks and British negotiated; in the end, the Turks refused to allow the passengers entry to Palestine. The ship sank as soon as it went to sea, and both crew and passengers — including 250 women and 70 children — perished with the exception of a single survivor. The Irgun split over this catastrophe and an extremist faction, led by Abraham (Yair) Stern, broke away to resume actions independently against the British. They were known as the Stern Gang.


Excerpted from Sharon by Anita Miller, Jordan Miller, Sigalit Zetouni. Copyright © 2002 Academy Chicago Publishers and Olive Production & Publishing, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Anita Miller is a founding editor of Academy Chicago Publishers. Jordan Miller earned his MA at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Sigalit Zetouni earned her BS at the University of Illinois at Chicago and studied at Freiburg University in Germany and Tel Aviv University in Israel. She has written extensively on art history.

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