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last updated June 25, 2009 11:37 AM (EST+7)
Ariel Sharon
Sharon was born in 1928 in Kfar Malal in the British Mandate of Palestine (now Israel) to a family of Lithuanian Jews. His parents immigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine during the Second Aliyah wave to escape from the Red Army in Russia. At the age of ten, Sharon entered the Zionist youth movement, Hassadeh, and in 1942 he joined the Gadna, a paramilitary youth battalion. He later joined the Haganah, the precursor to the Israeli military.

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Sharon served in the military for over 25 years and retired with the rank of Major-General.

During the 1948 Arab Israeli War, Sharon commanded an infantry company in the Alexandroni Brigade. In 1953 he founded and led the ‘101’ special commando unit which carried out retaliatory operations. He was appointed commander of a paratroop brigade in 1956 and fought in the Sinai Campaign. In 1957 he attended Camberley Staff College in England.

From 1958 until 1962, Sharon served as an infantry brigade commander, then as infantry school commander. He was appointed Head of the Israeli miltary’s northern command in 1964 and head of the army training branch in 1966. He participated in the 1967 Six Day War as commander of an armored division, and in 1969 he was appointed head of the southern command.  

Despite his military achievements Sharon was blocked from becoming chief of staff, after his brutal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip brought accusations against him of ‘disregard for human life’. He resigned from the army in 1973 but was recalled to active military service during the Yom Kippur War in October 1973 to command an armored division. He led the crossing of the Suez Canal.

In December 1973 Sharon was elected to the Knesset, but resigned a year later to serve as security advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin from 1975 until 1976.

He was elected to the Knesset again in 1977 on the Shlomzion list, and was appointed minister of agriculture in Menachem Begin’s government until 1981 when he was appointed minister of defense. In this post he made peace with Egypt and African nations which had broken off ties with Israel during the Yom Kippur War. He led Israeli forces into Lebanon and removed Yasser Arafat from Beirut and destroyed the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) infrastructure.  This came at a huge cost to civilian lives, including the massacre of more than a thousand Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila camps. The Kahan Commission established by the Israeli government found Sharon ‘indirectly responsible’ and he resigned from office.

Despite this incitement, Sharon remained a popular figure among conservative Israeli leaders and was able to continue his political career. From 1983, Sharon served as minister without portfolio, before becoming minister of trade and industry from 1984 until 1990, when he was appointed minister of Housing and construction and chairman of the ministerial committee on immigration and absorption until 1992. As housing minister he presided over the biggest expansion in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since Israel occupied the territories in 1967.

From 1992 he served as a member of the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee, until he was appointed minister of national infrastructure by Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996. He also served as chairman of the ministerial committee for Bedouin advancement, responsible for the internal displacement of several Bedouin communities within Israel.

In 1998 Sharon was appointed foreign minister and headed the permanent status negotiations with the Palestinian Authority (PA). While in this position, Sharon met US, European, Palestinian and Arab leaders to advance the peace process.

Following the election of Ehud Barak as prime minister in May 1999, Sharon was called upon to be interim Likud leader, and in September 1999 was elected chairman of Likud. He served as a member of the foreign affairs and defense committee.

On September 20, 2000, Sharon made a controversial visit to the al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem. This visit, in which Sharon declared that the site would remain under perpetual Israeli control, was one of the sparks for the second Intifada.  Palestinian commentators accused Sharon of purposely inflaming emotions to provoke a violent response and to obstruct the success of delicate ongoing peace talks. The following day, a large number of Palestinian demonstrators and an Israeli police contingent confronted each other at the site.

On February 6, 2001, Sharon won a landslide victory and was elected prime minister after the collapse of Barak’s government. He pledged to achieve “security and true peace”, while insisting he would not be bound by previous negotiations with the Palestinians.

In May 2003, Sharon endorsed the Road Map for Peace put forth by the United States, European Union and Russia, which opened a dialogue with President Mahmoud Abbas. Sharon announced his commitment to the creation of a future Palestinian state. He went on to implement his Gaza disengagement plan in the face of great hostility from members of the Likud party and other right wing members. Israel withdrew from Gaza and from four settlements in the northern West Bank.

Sharon resigned as head of Likud on  November 21, 2005 and dissolved the parliament to form a new party called Kadima. After the formation of Kadima, he ruled out any further unilateral withdrawals. Opinion polls indicated that Sharon was likely to be re-elected Prime Minister in the general elections, but he was incapacitated due to a stroke and Ehud Olmert replaced him as Kadima’s leader.






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