Sharon: A fighter to the very end
Former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon has died at 85. Born in Israel, he fought in every war – and lived eight years after a devastating stroke that doctors expected to kill him in weeks or months. He’ll get a State funeral according to latest Israeli media reports. The general-turned-politician who inspired both love and hate as one of Israel’s most controversial leaders, passed peacefully says his son.
With CTV, NPR, The Associated Press, Wikipedia,
Ariel Sharon, the general-turned-politician who inspired both love and hate as one of Israel’s most controversial leaders, is reported dead at the age of 85, after eight years in a coma. Israeli media first reported Sharon’s death Saturday afternoon, but there has been no official state announcement yet.
Love him or hate him, every Jew held him in respect. A Sabra who had fought his countries enemies in every war and forged a career to the top culminating in his appointment as Defence Minister and Prime Minister.
Known by the nickname: The “bulldozer” – for his bold tactics, Sharon became incapacitated after a devastating stroke at the peak of his political power.
In early January, 2014, doctors said Sharon’s family was by his bedside at a hospital near Tel Aviv as his condition deteriorated.
Sharon had a first, milder stroke in December, 2005. He was put on blood thinners before suffering a severe brain haemorrhage on 4 January 2006.
His incapacitation came as a shock to many Israelis, who had expected Sharon to lead his new Kadima party to victory in pending elections. Sharon had left the Likud party just weeks earlier to form the new movement.
Acting prime minister Ehud Olmert became his successor, and went on to win the March 2006 elections, but by a smaller margin than was expected with Sharon at the helm.
A turbulent life
Sharon’s death brings a quiet end to a turbulent life. Many Israelis consider him a war hero who defended the country through some of its greatest struggles. However, he is widely hated by many in the Arab world for the bloody military campaigns he led against Palestinian guerrillas in Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere.
Sharon was born the son of Shmuel and Dvora Scheinermann, Russian immigrants in the agricultural village of Kfar Malal in British-mandate Palestine on February 27, 1928.
He was widowed twice, and had two sons.
A born soldier, Sharon joined the Hagana, an underground military organisation that provided security to Jewish towns and settlements, at the age of 14.
PICTURED RIGHT: Sharon as
a 19-year-old Haganah fighter
in February 1948, armed
with Mk 2 hand grenades
In the early 1950s, he led an attack in Jordan that became known as the Massacre of Kibya. Sixty-nine civilians were killed, most of them women and children.
During the Six-Day War of June 1967, he commanded a division that led to the capture of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Sharon also masterminded the counterattack across the Suez Canal that effectively ended the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
By the 1970s, Sharon was fully engaged in politics as well. He was first elected to Israel’s parliament, or the Knesset, in 1973, but resigned one year later. He was re-elected in 1977.
He led the first invasion of Lebanon in 1982 to uproot a small group of Palestinians who aimed to carry out raids on Israel. He managed to root out the PLO, but not without scores of casualties that would later cause him to be expelled from the Knesset.
In 1983, a year after he led the invasion of southern Lebanon, an inquiry found him responsible for the slaughter of more than 800 Arab refugees, and he was forced to resign as defence minister under Menachem Begin.
Sharon gave up his post but remained in the Knesset. By 1996, he returned to cabinet. In 1998, Benjamin Netanyahu named Sharon foreign affairs minister in a Likud government.
When Netanyahu lost to Labour’s Ehud Barak in the 1999 election, Sharon became leader of the party he’d helped found.
In 2000, Sharon was blamed for triggering the second Palestinian Intifada (uprising) with his visit to the al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem, a site also holy to Jews. However, on 6 February 2001, Sharon defeated Barak by a huge margin, taking 62.5 per cent of the vote.
He called upon his Palestinian neighbours to cast off the “path of violence” and resolve the conflicts by peaceful means. Instead, Palestinian suicide bombers continued to target Israelis, prompting Israeli helicopter gunships to retaliate in an unending cycle of violence.
Championed security barrier
Though he refused to back down from Israel’s policy of “targeted killings,” Sharon took steps towards peace. On 25 May 2003 his cabinet reluctantly accepted the US-backed ‘road map to peace’ by a vote of 12-7.
He promised to dismantle “unauthorized outposts” in the West Bank, but also committed to the building of a “security barrier” around the West Bank, which some Palestinians denounced as a land grab.
In the summer of 2005, Sharon began to carry out his plans to withdraw Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank, a shocking reversal for a man who had been a leading player in constructing Jewish settlements in captured territories. This led to significant tensions within Likud, and Benjamin Netanyahu led an unsuccessful effort to overthrow Sharon.
In response, Sharon again shocked his nation by announcing that he would be quitting Likud and forming a new centrist party. Old political foes like Labour’s Shimon Peres announced he would join with Sharon.
But Sharon would never recover from his first stroke. After spending months at the Jerusalem hospital where he was first treated, Sharon was transferred to a long-term care facility at Tel Hashomer hospital. Though he was taken home for a brief period, he was taken back to the hospital where he spent his final days.
Sharon was born on 26 February 1928 in Kfar Malal, an agricultural moshav, then in the British Mandate of Palestine, to a family of Belarusian Jews—Shmuel Scheinerman (1896–1956) of Brest-Litovsk and Dvora Scheinerman (1900–1988) of Mogilev.
His parents met at the Tbilisi State University, Georgia, where Sharon’s father was studying agronomy and his mother had just started her fourth year of medical studies. As Bolshevik forces advanced towards independent Georgia, his parents emigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine, fleeing the pogroms associated with the Russian Civil War.
The family arrived in the Third Aliyah and settled in a Kfar Malal, a socialist, secular community where, despite being Mapai supporters, they were known to be contrarians against the prevailing community consensus:
The Scheinermans’ eventual ostracism … followed the 1933 Arlozorov murder when Dvora and Shmuel refused to endorse the Labour movement’s anti-Revisionist calumny and participate in Bolshevic-style public revilement rallies, then the order of the day. Retribution was quick to come. They were expelled from the local health-fund clinic and village synagogue. The cooperative’s truck wouldn’t make deliveries to their farm nor collect produce.
The Sheinermans’ children
Four years after their arrival at Kfar Malal, the Sheinermans had a daughter, Yehudit (Dita), and Ariel was born two years later. At age 10, Sharon entered the Zionist youth movement Hassadeh.
As a young teenager, he first began to take part in the armed night-patrols of his moshav. In 1942 at the age of 14, Sharon joined the Gadna, a paramilitary youth battalion, and later the Haganah, the underground paramilitary force and the Jewish military precursor to the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).
Closer ties between Zim and Israel rattles ANC
Zimbabwe and Israel have had full diplomatic relations since 1993, but further overtures by our northern neighbour to the Jewish state could cause conflict with South Africa, particularly certain factions in the African National Congress (ANC).
According to an article by Carien du Plessis published on News24 on Wednesday, 3 February, “Zimbabwe has been seeking closer ties with Israel in the hope of securing more investment and doing away with sanctions. This move has caused unease within the ANC, which has a pro-Palestinian stance, although it’s unlikely the party will act on it.
“The ruling party [in Zimbabwe], ZANU-PF, has historically positioned itself as pro-Palestinian, but Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s latest move closer to Israel represents a change in policy direction,” Du Plessis writes.
She reports that although the head of the ANC committee on international relations, Lindiwe Zulu, said that, “We cannot interfere with the sovereign decisions of the governing party of any other government”, there have been divisions within ZANU-PF and within the ANC about the Israel matter.
“A pro-Palestine lobby within the ANC wants South Africa’s governing party to take a more hardline approach to its Zimbabwean counterpart, while the pragmatists prefer not to push this issue for diplomatic reasons,” Du Plessis says.
Darren Bergman, the shadow minister for international relations and cooperation and a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Parliamentary Forum Human Rights Committee, didn’t mince his words about South Africa’s response.
“The people of Zimbabwe are suffering. The internal affairs of Zimbabwe couldn’t get South Africa to act, the situation in Zimbabwe couldn’t get South Africa to act, but the relationship with Israel gets South Africa to act,” he said.
“This is a sinister situation that must make the SADC and African Union [AU] question what exactly South Africa’s situation is with regard to the Middle East,” Bergman said.
“It’s one thing to have an opinion and a position, but it’s another to keep a hard-pressed, almost spiteful stance at all times that can actually harm and injure the people and the continent. To this I would say that South Africa should show diplomatic constraint, and hold back.”
One of Mnangagwa’s recent moves to improve relations with Israel is the appointment last year of Israeli national Ronny Levi Musan as honorary consul of Zimbabwe to Israel.
The Afro-Middle East Centre reported in October 2020 that, “Musan has set plans into motion for Mnangagwa’s official visit to Israel. His activities in Zimbabwe include collaboration with Pentecostal churches to push for Christian support for Israel. Zimbabwe’s honorary consul is also pushing for Israeli businesses to invest in Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector, and he recently announced the intention to open an Israeli academy of agriculture in Zimbabwe. On the diplomatic front, Israel hopes that Mnangagwa will follow the example of his Malawian counterpart, Lazarus Chakwera, who announced plans to open an embassy in Jerusalem.”
Musan told the SA Jewish Report he had worked in Africa for the past 20 years to strengthen links between churches and the Holy Land. “About five years ago, I was invited to visit Zimbabwe which lasted about two weeks. I tried to do everything possible to connect Zimbabwe to Israel on a practical level. After the first visit, I visited Zimbabwe several more times, and met a number of ministers and church leaders, and just fell in love with the place.
“From there, it continued through my activities with the Israeli foreign ministry and the foreign ministry in Zimbabwe to promote diplomatic relations between the countries.” He was eventually appointed to this role.
“My main responsibility is to do everything possible in every field to bring knowledge and support from Israel to Zimbabwe, and vice versa. The main issue is technology in the field of agriculture, education, and innovation. These are the cornerstones that will return the crown to Zimbabwe as the ‘grain basket of Africa’.”
Local political analyst Daniel Silke says that Zimbabwe’s overtures to Israel “could well be an attempt by Zimbabwe to follow the Sudan example, in which currying favour with the United States via the channel of restoring relations with Israel allows the country to receive assistance and perhaps even escape some of the worst sanctions. But, of course, [former US] President Donald Trump is no longer in the White House. Whether this will have any traction with Joe Biden, who I think will be a lot more critical of the Zimbabwean regime, remains to be seen.”
In terms of the impact it could have on South African-Israel relations, Silke says, “Many other African countries are forging their own path in terms of relations with Israel. For President [Cyril] Ramaphosa, it’s a difficult balancing act given the demands from within his own party. But I don’t think South Africa has any leg to stand on in terms of interference with any country which wishes to forge some sort of close relationship with the Jewish state. As head of the AU, Ramaphosa is again in a tough position because of the changing dynamics across Africa, but I don’t think it’s an issue that will really get much attention.”
Rowan Polovin, the chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation, says, “We see this as a positive development, particularly for Southern Africa, which is part of the momentum that is being created by the Abraham Accords.
“Northern Africa has been very much part of the momentum. In the southern region, Malawi, which is diplomatically and geographically close to South Africa, has signalled its intention to open an embassy in Israel. If all this has an impact on South Africa’s neighbours, then South Africa will see the benefits. It’s very hard to ignore the importance of building ties with Israel, which has so many solutions for African issues, particularly water, electricity, agriculture, and security. Notwithstanding the noise that the ANC might make, ultimately it’s positive.”
Just how successful is Israel’s vaccine push?
Israel is reporting promising initial results from its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the fastest in the world.
The first official findings released by the health ministry show that only 0.04% of people caught the virus a week after their second dose, and a mere 0.002% needed hospital treatment.
Clalit, the country’s largest health service organisation, has also released its preliminary data. It compared 200 000 people aged 60 and over who’ve been vaccinated with 200 000 similar unvaccinated older adults. It found that the rate of those who tested positive dropped 33% among the vaccinated 14 days after they received it. No decline was seen in the unvaccinated.
Maccabi, another healthcare organisation, saw an even larger drop. Infections decreased 60% among 430 000 people 13 to 21 days after they received the vaccine. The data also suggested the vaccine was 92% effective, close to the 95% efficacy claimed by Pfizer.
Israeli researchers are conducting more in-depth analysis, and point out that real-world effectiveness of vaccines is often lower than the efficacy seen in clinical trials due to a number of factors.
But experts warn that this data has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal so it should be viewed with some caution.
There are also various factors that could be influencing the results. The current lockdown and behaviour such as travelling and gathering less, wearing masks, and greater physical distancing might be decreasing infections.
The first people to receive the vaccine were mostly from vulnerable populations, so they are more likely to take precautions which could also skew the data.
In spite of the encouraging news, the death toll from COVID-19 continues to climb. Of the 4 816 fatalities at the time of writing, 30% occurred in January when the vaccination rollout was already in full swing. The government blames this on the more transmissible British variant of the virus, especially among children. According to Clalit, when the vaccination campaign started in late December, the new variant caused 30% to 40% of infections, whereas now that figure has doubled.
As for the South African strain, there are currently 80 detected cases in Israel, and there is concern that the vaccine isn’t as effective against this variant. A number of Israelis who previously had COVID-19 have been re-infected with the South African strain, with the most recent case identified two days ago.
Compounding the situation is the flagrant disregard by the ultra-Orthodox community, that comprises just less than 13% of the population, for lockdown rules. Since the start of the pandemic, one in five ultra-Orthodox has tested positive.
Many in the community doubt the safety of the vaccine or believe the country’s citizens are being used as guinea pigs to test its efficacy. Prominent rabbis have also said that communal prayer and study needs to overwrite lockdown concerns.
Last Sunday, 31 January, thousands of ultra-Orthodox mourners, many without masks, crowded together to attend two funerals of famous rabbis who died from coronavirus. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been criticised for not cracking down harshly enough on the community for political reasons – he needs their votes in the upcoming 23 March election.
Residents of Tel Aviv spoke to the SA Jewish Report, complaining that the actions of the ultra-Orthodox were forcing the whole country to go repeatedly into lockdown, and it wasn’t fair. It’s no surprise thus that the latest word from the government is that the current – third – nationwide lockdown may not be Israel’s last.
Many Israelis want cities and towns to once again be divided into red, orange, yellow, and green zones and scales of restrictions to be put in place accordingly. This would mean those who obey the restrictions wouldn’t have to pay the price of those who don’t.
In recent days, there’s also growing concern in some quarters in Israel that because the mass vaccination campaign is running in parallel with an active coronavirus outbreak, it could lead to an “evolutionary pressure” on the virus in which it would ultimately become immune to vaccination. Doctors are suggesting that in future, people will need to take an annual anti-COVID-19 jab, much in the same way the annual flu injection is taken.
But for now, the race to innoculate everyone is on. Among the first to be injected were people aged 60 or older. More than two-thirds of this age group have already received the required two doses. Up to 200 000 people are being injected each day, and the vaccine is now available to anyone over the age of 35. High-school students aged 16 to 18 are also included in the hope that they will be able to sit for exams. It seems Netanyahu is on track to fulfil his promise of innoculating five million of the country’s nine million citizens by the end of March.
To date, just more than one in three Israelis has been inoculated – about 1.7 million of them twice. Because this is a far higher fraction than anywhere else in the world, it makes the country a test case for the international vaccine push.
The right to demonstrate, even during lockdown
Israelis are being allowed out of their homes in full lockdown to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi), who is viewed by many on both sides of the political spectrum as corrupt.
This freedom in a lockdown which ordinarily limits you to being no more than one kilometre from your house is based on the country’s constitutional right to protest. On bridges, at junctions, and outside Bibi’s house in Jerusalem, daily protests occur, resuming after Shabbat goes out on Saturday night.
“Lech! Lech!” (Go!) is shouted loudly – which is also the name for the movement against Netanyahu.
There are some staunch Likud followers who scream, “Arafat and Rabin sold out the country,” prompting laughter amongst some demonstrators, who point out that their arguments are old and outdated. Demonstrators including doctors, lawyers, pilots, accountants, and students point out that this isn’t about the Israel-Palestine issue, it’s not about being leftist or rightist, but about ethics and bringing to justice an allegedly corrupt prime minister.
The protestors are passionate, some defying orders not to camp outside Bibi’s residence. At 21:30, police order the drums, trumpets, and whistles to cease. The protestors obey, but continue to demonstrate quietly, so as not to disturb the Jerusalem neighbourhood.
Then, at about 23:00, carrying Israeli flags in blue and white and others in red and white, the protestors pack up and go home to lockdown.
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