Newspaper article International New York Times

Respect, and Disdain, for Sharon ; Reflections of Israelis Highlight Former Prime Minister's Complexities

Newspaper article International New York Times

Respect, and Disdain, for Sharon ; Reflections of Israelis Highlight Former Prime Minister's Complexities

Article excerpt

To Israelis, Ariel Sharon was a polarizing figure, despised by some for giving up settlements in Gaza and admired by others for his decisiveness.

In life, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was a polarizing figure, particularly after his turnabout from a builder of Jewish settlements to a man who forced their evacuation.

But regardless of their political views, many Israelis who came here on Sunday to view his coffin admired Mr. Sharon as a bold decision-maker unafraid to take risks, something they say they are yearning for in the nation's current leadership.

"He was a person that once he decided, he carried it out -- decide and execute," said Shlomo Shapira, 68, who rode for an hour on a bus provided by the state to get here. "Today, we have people who don't decide and don't execute."

David Merklin, 40, said he, like most members of Mr. Sharon's Likud Party at the time, voted in 2004 against Mr. Sharon's plan to remove Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip. But Mr. Merklin said he nonetheless respected Mr. Sharon for carrying out the disengagement, just as he had defied a commander's orders when he led troops across the Suez Canal during the 1973 war.

"It's hard to control people like that if they work for you," said Mr. Merklin, an investment adviser who brought along his 11- year-old daughter, Daphna. "You want leaders like that -- leaders with guts."

Mr. Sharon died Saturday afternoon at 85, after eight years in a state of minimal consciousness following a stroke that felled him at the height of his power. His body lay in state outside Israel's Parliament building here on Sunday in a gray chill. Soldiers in berets murmured Tehillim, the Psalms Jews recite over bodies until burial, beside his flag-covered coffin, which was encircled by nine wreaths of orange, yellow, red and fuchsia flowers.

A military funeral was scheduled for Monday afternoon on a hill overlooking his sprawling sheep farm in the Negev Desert, after a morning memorial service at Parliament. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., was to be among the eulogizers; the prime minister of the Czech Republic and leading politicians from Russia, Germany, Spain and Canada were also expected to attend.

On Sunday, thousands of Israelis filed past Mr. Sharon's body, pausing to say a prayer or to take a picture with their smartphones. Among them were old soldiers who had served under the former general, who was known as the Bulldozer, and a busload of high school students who had learned of him in history class. There were religious Jews and secular ones, right-wingers and left-wingers, natives and tourists.

A Belgian businessman with a velvet skullcap who despised Mr. Sharon's late-in-life moves regarding the Palestinians said he had come "to make sure he's dead. …

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