The State of Israel said its final goodbye to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon this week. While I vehemently disagreed with the decisions that Sharon made towards the end of his career, I will forever respect the daring and innovative military leader who spared no effort in defending his people.
Starting with his brave fight to end the siege on Jerusalem in 1948, Sharon served as a model of courageous and daring thinking that still serves as the model for today’s Israeli army. He would often tell me how that battle at Latrun, in which he was badly wounded, taught him that we could only count on ourselves when it comes to defending our homeland. Unit 101 that he founded in the 1950s instilled a new sense of brazen fighting spirit in the Israel Defense Forces and, most importantly, made it clear to our enemies that we will never accept terrorism against our citizens.
Sharon was a strong believer in the vitality of the Jewish people. He was especially supportive of aliyah, and it was thanks to his vision that Israel successfully absorbed a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union. These new Israeli citizens that Sharon welcomed with open arms, suitable housing, and a path to meaningful employment became the economic engine of today’s “Start-up Nation.”
Arik always felt that it was important to instill values amongst the younger generation of the Jewish people. That is why he would often attend the annual 11 of Adar Betar ceremony at Tel Hai. He loved to speak with the young activists from around the world about Jewish and Zionist values. I served as chair of Betar at the time and we would travel together to the far northern Galilee. Arik loved to point out the communities along the way. He would always remind me that Jewish homes and fields are more important than tanks when it comes to strengthening our hold on this land.
The building of the Jewish communities of Judaea, Samaria, and Gaza was another great project of Sharon’s that I wholeheartedly supported. I fully believed then, as I do today, that these brave pioneers are fulfilling our biblical, historical, and strategically important rights to build in every part of our ancient homeland. I would often accompany him on his visits to these communities. No one knew those mountains and valleys better than Arik, yet he would insist on closely examining detailed maps of the territory. For him, to examine in detail the geography and topography of the land was the same as reading a letter from a beloved friend.
Arik and I eventually became so close that he was the guest of honor at a ceremony that we held after the birth of my son. To my great sorrow, Sharon later abandoned the values that I hold so dear and made the grave mistake of destroying the Jewish communities of Gush Katif and northern Gaza. At this point, Sharon left the Likud Party that he had helped found, and I personally ended my affiliation with him.
While I cannot forget the travesty forced on the Jewish communities of Gaza, the contributions that Ariel Sharon made towards the safety and security of the country he loved will forever be honored.
Danny Danon is Deputy Defense Minister of the State of Israel and the author of “Israel: The Will to Prevail.”