January 11, 2006
Ariel Sharon and the Promised Land

By Ed Koch

Arik, Melech Yisrael, Arik, King of Israel.

I have seen crowds of Jews at meetings and in the streets during joyous Jewish festivals here in New York City dancing and singing the praises of the Prime Minister of Israel. While I did not join in, retiring fellow that I am, I applauded the sentiment.

I first met General Ariel Sharon in Egypt over 30 years ago when I was part of a Congressional delegation visiting Israel and wanting to see the Israeli troops, who led by General Sharon, had crossed the Suez Canal, surrounding the Egyptian Third Army. Israel turned defeat into victory after the Egyptian troops under President Anwar Sadat had unexpectedly crossed the Suez Canal going east and breached the Bar Lev line of fortifications established prior to the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Egypt and Syria were waging war against Israel, seeking to annihilate it. All of this happening when Golda Meir was Prime Minister and Moshe Dayan Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces.

I recall that during the crucial fighting along the Suez and on the Golan Heights, the media reported that Israel was running out of war materials, e.g., artillery shells and tanks, and asked the U.S. to resupply it, and Congressional supporters of Israel were calling the White House, State Department and the Pentagon every day asking whether the arms were on the way. We were told “it takes time, but it will happen.” Then, we heard the rumor that either Henry Kissinger or James Schlesinger were blocking the resupply so as not to injure Egypt too much, nor overly enhance the capabilities of the Israelis too much. I recall that I, like others, cried while pleading for the airlift, fearing at the worst moments that we were witnessing the destruction of Israel. Moshe Dayan is supposed to have said to Prime Minister Meir that he feared “we were witnessing the destruction of the 3rd Temple" -- a reference to the modern day state of Israel.

Whether it was Kissinger or Schlesinger -- and I admire and like both men -- who was really responsible for the delay and whether there was a delay at all, I don’t know, but ultimately the arms were shipped. The person who deserves full credit for ordering the resupply is Richard Nixon, our reviled President. For me, however, his saving Israel from destruction by the Arab states is sufficient to forgive him for his political sins on earth to the extent he doesn’t have to suffer in hell, but rather have a place in purgatory where he can work his way up to heaven. I am a secular Jew.

I first met Sharon in 1974 when I was part of a Congressional delegation visiting Israel after the Yom Kippur War. I remember meeting Sharon during a military briefing. I recall members of the IDF telling us and I don’t know if it is true, but it was exciting to hear, that in the 1967 war, the Israelis had also crossed the Suez and when they built the Bar Lev line, made up of sand embankments and forts along the east side canal, they marked areas which could most easily be opened by the IDF in the future were it necessary to re-cross the Suez. A nice James Bond touch.

When Sharon directed the war against Lebanon in 1982 in response to repeated terror attacks against Israel by the PLO led by Yassir Arafat, he was ultimately denounced by many for going to the outskirts of Beirut. There were those in Israel, primarily on the political left, who joined in the criticism. The attacks on Sharon in world opinion reached their zenith when Christian Arab militias entered the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps filled with Muslim Palestinians and butchered hundreds of them. This savagery among the Arabs -- Christian and Muslim -- is age old with each side avenging the last massacre committed by their opponents. In 1983, an Israeli government commission found Sharon, as the military commander in Lebanon, indirectly responsible for not preventing the slaughter. He denied any prior knowledge of the event. Prime Minister Menachem Begin summed it up best, saying, as I recall, “Goyim [Gentiles] kill Goyim, and they come to hang the Jews.”

Sharon sued Time magazine for libel for reporting in 1987 that he was aware of the plan to enter the camps. He established that he was libeled, but was denied damages because of the Supreme Court’s decision in New York Times vs. Sullivan which held that a public person cannot be awarded damages even if libeled unless the defendant acted maliciously which Time magazine did not. The savagery of spirit of Arab fanatics was demonstrated recently by al-Qaeda’s number two operative, Abu Musab Zarqawi, who was quoted this week by former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, as threatening the world saying, “Killing the infidels is our religion. Slaughtering them is our religion until they convert to Islam or pay us tribute.”

Sharon has gone through a number of surgeries since his recent stroke to relieve the hemorrhaging in his brain which we are told is extensive. Even if he were to survive, in all probability, he will have permanent brain damage and probably major motor and physical disabilities.

Having myself been a victim of a stroke in 1987, I remember how I prayed for death if the stroke were to leave me brain damaged or physically disabled. I did not want to be dependent on others, If Sharon is capable cognitive actions, I have no doubt he is asking God either to bring him to a state where he can adequately function independently as the Prime Minister of Israel or take him to His side. As I put it after my stroke, “Please God, no salami tactics. If you take me, take me all at once.” God was good to me and I recovered fully with no reduction of motor function, no physical disability and I resumed my life and continued to serve as mayor.

I fear that Sharon will not be that fortunate. What comes to mind is the prescient remarkable speech of Martin Luther King, Jr., the day before he was assassinated. Dr. King said, “And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Ariel Sharon is living in the promised land which he helped to create and secure. The promised land reference I have in mind is an ending of the Palestinian-Israeli war, with accommodations on both sides. Whether Sharon lives or dies, the promise of his newly-created party, moderate and secular, Kadima, should not be denied. Those following him should press forward with the pending Israeli elections and seek to enshrine Sharon’s memory permanently in the pantheon of Israeli heroes and martyrs by giving his party a majority in the Knesset. I believe the Israeli voters are up to the task.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

Ed Koch

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