Sharon: The Life of a Leaderby Gilad Sharon
Drawn from extensive personal archives and filled with startling revelations, the definitive biography of Ariel Sharon illuminates his life and work from the penetrating perspective of his youngest son, Gilad Sharonone of his fathers closest confidants. Readers of George W. Bushs Decision Points, Tony Blairs A Journey, Yitzhak Rabins The Rabin Memoirs, and Moshe Dayans Story of My Life, as well as Benjamin Netanyahus A Durable Peace, will be fascinated by Gilad Sharons piercing, authoritative, and intimate portrait of Ariel Sharon the Prime Minister, the father, and the military hero, in a narrative that traces his evolution into a powerful and influential force at the center of Middle Eastern and world politics.
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SharonThe Life of a Leader
By Gilad Sharon
HarperCollinsCopyright © 2011 Gilad Sharon
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMy father's mother was never known as "Grandma." She
wouldn't have it; to her "it sounded old." Instead we just
called her by her given name, Vyera.
My father's deep appreciation and respect notwithstanding,
his relationship with his mother was nothing like my relationship
with my parents, nor my relationship with my children. Her feelings
for her son, while undoubtedly deep, never took physical expression.
She did not hug or kiss him, did not display her affection.
I imagine that Vera herself was not shown much tenderness. She
was born in 1900, one of eight brothers and sisters, the sole Jewish
family in Galevencici, a small village in the Mogilev region, in
what is now Belarus, along the Dnieper River.
Somewhere along her father's line one of the men was awarded
a swath of forest as recognition for his exemplary service in the
czar's army, a rather rare commendation for a Jew in those days.
As a result, her father worked as a forester. On the Hebrew holidays
a Jewish family or two would occasionally come to stay to
celebrate with them.
Mordechai Schneeroff, my father's maternal grandfather, was
said to be a man of great physical strength. That description
seems to sit well with his work as a forester and the fact that he
was able to protect his family in a region where, for hundreds of
years, attacks on Jews had been somewhat of a sanctified tradition
for the locals, and they were the only Jewish family in the village.
No one dared lay a hand on the Schneeroffs. One day Mordechai
heard that some villagers were planning to break into his
barn and steal from him. He asked the family to lock him in the
barn, where he waited for the thieves. When they showed up, he
gave them a solid beating and the lesson was learned.
The Schneeroff family, circa 1910.
Vera is in the middle, between her parents, Mordecai and Tehila.
There's nothing left of the family in that small village, which
even at its most populous never exceeded a few hundred souls, but
neither has it changed radically over the years. As prime minister,
my father received pictures of the village along with a listing of the
families from his mother's day. The pictures revealed that little
had changedapparently there was still no electricity, no running
water, no sewage system, no paved roads; the houses were
still made of wood and heated by coal. Nonetheless, the Schneeroffs
secured an education for all of their children. Some of them
became doctors, one an engineer, and all were well settled in their
different localesIsrael, Russia, Turkey, France, and the United
States. Perhaps this sheds some light on Vera's own educational
methodology and on the importance she placed on studies. Vera,
a brave, downright fearless woman, used to describe how, when
she was in medical school in Tbilisi, she once noticed a mouse
moving under the tablecloth while she studied with her friend.
Realizing that her friend would scare easily, she clapped her hand
over the mouse and held it, without her friend noticing, until they
were done studying, at which point she got up and took care of
Samuil ("Shmuel" in Hebrew), my father's father, was born in
1896 in the town of Brest in the southwest part of what is today
Belarus. Jewish life thrived in the city, but with the outbreak
of World War I and the expulsion of the Jews from all parts of
southwest Russia, the family journeyed to Baku, on the shores of
the Caspian Sea, in what is today Azerbaijan. That is where he
completed his studies in a Russian high school, studying French,
German, and Latin. At home his father taught him Hebrew and
the Bible, and imbued in him a strong love of Zionism. Samuil's
father was a religious man who had been ordained as a rabbi. He
himself was not observant, but he knew the religion and its customs
well. Still today on Passover we sing the songs in the manner
in which they were sung at Samuil's house. As for Vera, I'm not
sure she knew all of the customs and laws, but she most certainly
knew how to catch a chicken and convert it into chicken soup for
the Sabbath. While Samuil was an ardent Zionist, Vera had no
exposure to Zionism in her small village.
With the Communist Party victorious and the Red Army
approaching, Vera and Samuil, who met, so the story goes, on a
Tbilisi train, realized that they had to flee. Zionist activists were
being arrested, and both of them were realists. They harbored no
illusions as to their fate, and so at the last moment, as the Red Army
closed in around them, they fled to the Black Sea city of Batumi
and from there boarded a ship to the land of Israel. For Samuil,
who had completed his studies, was a certified agronomist, and
spoke Hebrew well from home, it was the realization of a dream.
His father had already lived in the land of Israel for a period and
taught Hebrew there, and had always wanted to return with his
family. So for Samuil, settling in Israel and working the land was
the pinnacle of his aspirations. But for Vera, it meant the end of her
medical school studies during her fourth year, with a short time
remaining until she would be a doctor. Even though she thought
she might continue her medical studies at the American University
in Beirut, she never had the opportunity to do so, an eternally sore
subject with her. When she came to Israel, she had no idea what
she might find, and in truth she did not find much. She also knew
no Hebrew, a language that, even after she had spent close to seven
decades in Israel, she still spoke with a thick Russian accent.
Vera, my father, and his sister Dita, with their cow Tikvah ("Hope") in their village, circa 1930.
They arrived in the land of Israel, and about one year later, in
November 1922, settled in Kfar Malal, a cooperative agricultural
community. Only after living in a tent for a year and a half in
the village did Vera and Samuil move into a shack they had built
by hand themselves. At first, it had two rooms, one for Vera and
Samuil and one for the cow and the mule. Later on, a barn was
built for the animals.
Vera bore two childrenArik, my father; and his sister, Yehudit
("Dita"), older by two yearsin the village, in the shack she
and Samuil had built.
My father would say that he was the most well-mannered
child in the village. It happened only once, he said, that "I
didn't get up when a woman entered the room, and that never
happened again." He would not specify what type of punishment
he received for this grave crime, but from experience I can say
that I never once saw him remain seated when a woman entered a
room or came to the table, even when he was prime minister. The
discipline worked; it withstood the test of time.
Vera's disciplinary measures left their mark on my father for
years. Whenever in her opinion he acted improperly, she would say,
"I'll talk to you later," and that seemingly simple sentence would
bother him immenselyhe hated the uncertainty of not knowing
when she would approach him or how, and it seems he preferred to
take his punishment on the spot and not be left hanging.
Samuil, like Vera, was extraordinarily stubborn, and when he
believed in something, he was willing to be obstinate, come what may.
During those years, and in fact well into the 1970s, socialism
was the dominant doctrine of the land. There was very little
patience for anyone who showed flashes of ideological independence,
particularly in the early years. Vera and Samuil lived in a
village that was part of the Socialist Workers movement, an ideology
that did not suit them, not least because they were unwilling
to be told how to think or what to do. But there were no other
options available to them.
Samuil, for instance, decided to plant clementine and mango
trees in addition to oranges and lemons, even though the board of
the village commune had decided on the latter two. His intransigence
brought sanctionshis produce was not sold with the rest
of the village's, but marketed separately.
Already in the 1930s, Samuil had pioneered the cultivation of
avocados in Israel, calling them the fruit of the future. Until
recently several avocado trees remained on their plot in Kfar Malal,
but back then no one had heard of an avocado, and his decision
was greeted with perplexity and ridicule.
At that time the family's clementine grove was one of the first
in the country and a marvel for all fruit growers, and its produce
helped the family through the lean years of World War II.
Samuil claimed, rightly as it turned out, that potatoes could be
planted not only in the spring as had previously been done and as
the board of the village had determined, but also in the fall. As
an agronomist, he took it as a matter of principle that he practice
what he preached.
Occasionally, in the evenings, political party hacks would come
to the village and dance with the weary, fervently idealistic village
My grandmother Vera was the only woman in the Socialist
Workers movement whose bottom was never pinched by Herzfeld.
He was a central figure in the powerful workers union, and he
dealt mainly with new settlements. At times, after a night of dancing,
Herzfeld was able to convince village members to relinquish
some of their land for a new settlementin this case, Ramot Ha-Shavim.
In exchange, they were promised a new home. Samuil believed, once again rightly,
that the village farms needed larger plots than were deemed necessary by the party.
He was blessed with foresight. In the future, he said, children would be born,
and each family would need more space so that they could make
a living from their plot. Nonetheless, the village board decided
to relinquish some of the community's land. Although Vera and
Samuil voiced their opposition to this decision, the village went
ahead and allowed a parcel of their land to be fenced off for the
new community. Samuil was not at home that night, but Vera set
out anyway, alone, with her two children sleeping in the shack.
She crossed the few miles to the fence at a quick clip and snipped
the wire, an act that could lead to arrest. Although an investigation
was launched, Vera had made her position to the contractor
plain: Do not stretch a wire over our land, or it will be cut again.
Later on, Vera said that the only thing she worried about that
night was the safety of her two sleeping children. The family
continued living in the shack for several more years.
This kind of nonconformism alienated the family from others
in the village and even led to a workers' union hearing, where the
village board tried to have Vera and Samuil ousted from the
village and the union. On a visit to the union as prime minister, my
father was given the seventy-seven-year-old court dossier.
11 August 1924
To the Agriculture Center!
We hereby come before you with the absolute appeal that the trial
of Comrade Scheinerman be carried out in a principled manner,
without any compromises or concessions. To us it is clear that there
are but two choices here: either to oust them from the workers' union
or to demote and expel the board in a whirlwind of intrigue. We
recognize no other option.
Y. Ben Yehuda
The verdict arrived some two months later.
2 October 1924
To the Village Board
. . . During our last session we once again discussed the matter
and reached the following conclusions:
1. Under no circumstances can we abide the expulsion of Comrade
Scheinerman from the village. Expulsion is the harshest, most severe
punishment we can serve and despite the complexity of the current
predicament we have yet to reach the conclusion that said punishment
2. We recognize that Comrade Scheinerman was utterly
undisciplined and therefore we find cause to serve him warning and
also to punish him with the negation of his active and passive right to
vote on village matters for the period of six months.
3. We further find that the board did not exhaust all measures in
the pursuit of peace and the resolution of said misunderstanding,
measures that would have been helpful in this situation. We
favorably recognize the actions of the board but it is incumbent upon
us to note that it failed to grasp how to keep matters peaceful in this
In the coming days members of the Agricultural Central Committee
will visit you, offering a more detailed account of the committee's
With Greetings from Your Comrades,
The effect of the village's ostracism reached the point of absurdity
when my father, age five, fell off his donkey and split his chin
open. Rather than rushing him to Kfar Malal's medical clinic,
which was nearby, Vera ran with him in her arms, bleeding, for
several miles to her friend Dr. Fogel's clinic in Kfar Saba. My
father recalled that he saw the light in the windows of the village's
clinic as she ran, but that she continued past it, in the dark, a
dangerous time to be on the road back then. When they finally
arrived, Vera pounded on the iron gate. Dr. Fogel and her husband,
a Ukrainian, appeared with a lantern in hand, and by its kerosene
light my father saw his mother drenched in his blood.
Excerpted from Sharon by Gilad Sharon Copyright © 2011 by Gilad Sharon. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins. 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
Gilad Sharon is the youngest of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's sons. Gilad holds a master's degree in economics and writes a column for the prominent Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. A major in the Israel Defense Force reserves, he manages his family's farm in Israel.
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The book was written by his son, but perhaps some embellishment aside, the story of Ariel Sharon is also the story of the modern State of Israel. It is a story of trials and tribulations, of successes and failures. Most of all, it is about Jews, in general, and Israeli Jews, in particular, and how they made a land of swamps, malaria, sand, rocks, and other nasty things come back to life. Sharon was extremely hard headed about many things, but he was a devoted Zionist, a devoted and loyal Israeli and Jew. His son's book is a fascinating story of a fascinating man, and of modern Israel's first 60+ years. If you're into Israeli history, or want a very good biography, Sharon is an excellent and spell binding read.