I have been to Israel several times and I am not sure when it was exactly that I encountered Ariel Sharon, although it was roughly in the mid-eighties. I do remember I despised the man in those days. Now, ironically, I think of all world figures I admire him most. Some of this has to do with my change, but not all. The image of the warrior morphed into the peace maker is something deeply moving to most people.
Anyway, I was walking through the Old City of Jerusalem, I don’t remember who was with me, when I came to a house deep in the Arab Quarter surrounded by Israeli soldiers. This, I was told, was Sharon’s house. (As I recall, maybe I had even asked my guide to show me the place.) How awful General Sharon had pushed his way among the Arabs, I remember thinking – or something like that, when the soldiers started walking towards me and I realized the man himself was emerging from the building, flanked by more troops. They came walking briskly past me in the informal IDF manner (Sharon was in a short sleeve shirt – already a rather husky fellow) and then they were gone in a crowd of Arabs. I thought about that moment over the years, meaningless as it was, as my image of Sharon changed.
And speaking of irony, even the European image of Arik has undergone a sea change. From the AP, dateline Paris:
European leaders on Thursday fretted over the fate of Ariel Sharon, a man once seen in Europe as a danger for the Middle East but now viewed as a more complex, even crucial figure.
The concerns reflect a subtle shift in Europe – where there has been surprised admiration for Sharon’s dismantling of settlements, satisfaction with the role now played by Europeans on the Gaza-Egypt border, and a growing wariness with the Islamic world.
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