Being the leader of Israel is one heck of a tough job. But if you do it right, it’s one of the most rewarding.
Those are just two of many lessons contained in Gilad Sharon’s newly released memoir and ode to his father titled Sharon: The Life of a Leader (HarperCollins).
The 625-page tome – replete with archival photos, maps and personal correspondence – is the culmination of more than four years of research and interviews by the youngest son and confidant of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.
He embarked on writing it just after his father famously lapsed into a stroke-induced coma in early 2006 while still in office.
As the title suggests, the book spans the life of the senior Sharon, from his youth spent learning how to care for the land from his Zionist, agrarian-minded parents, through to his turbulent military career and ending with his role as the leader of Israel.
Throughout, Gilad provides readers with a candid look at how Ariel Sharon’s dogged determination to safeguard the land of the Jewish people helped inform both his military and political decision-making. He also shows how his father’s no-nonsense, straightforward approach to interpersonal relationships helped win him the respect, and in some cases solid friendships, of many world leaders.
Speaking to The CJN from St. Louis while on tour promoting the book – he spoke in Toronto last Thursday – Gilad said putting the memoir together was an absorbing and exhausting experience.
“I felt responsibility to share all the stories and events I witnessed with my father. It was fascinating,” he said. “Looking through my father’s archives, I’m not sure even he remembered having all those letters.”
In the book, Gilad notes that his father meticulously kept records of conversations, letters, maps, articles and speeches involving his activities in Israel and abroad. These turned out to be a treasure trove for use on the book.
The material, once compiled, turned up letters from iconic Israeli figures such as Moshe Dayan, David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir as well as from numerous world leaders and, Gilad added with amusement, from a bevy of adoring women who all wanted to make Ariel’s acquaintance over the years.
Some of the latter letters are smattered throughout the book and add some levity to the otherwise weighty material within.
Asked how his father is today, Gilad said doctors describe Ariel as being in a state of “minimal consciousness.”
“When he’s asleep, he looks like he’s the sleeping lord of the manor. He looks strong, healthy. And he hasn’t lost weight. In fact, he’s gained some pounds and no one knows how,” Gilad said with a laugh. “We love him and miss him and his great sense of humour.”
When awake, he said, his father is somewhat more responsive these days, moving fingers when asked and making eye contact. While it’s impossible to know if his father can ever make a full recovery, Gilad said he hasn’t lost hope.
Doctors initially said there was no way he could survive the stroke, but once he did, Gilad said he was told by Ariel’s surgical team that they couldn’t provide a long-term diagnosis “because no one had ever survived such a thing.”
That answer just proved what the Sharon family already knew about their father, Gilad said; namely, that Ariel Sharon is a survivor. He’s survived all the wars he fought in. He’d survived all the political machinations devised against him when he first entered politics, and he continues to defy the odds to this day by not succumbing to his medical condition.
As for Ariel’s recollections of Canada, Gilad said his father had good relations with former Canadian prime minister Paul Martin, even briefing him on the gravity of the growing threat of a nuclear Iran in 2004.
“My father even called Martin up to congratulate him on his son’s upcoming wedding in 2004. Martin was surprised that Ariel knew about this and complimented Israeli intelligence gathering. To which my father replied, ‘If we were able to learn about the wedding, you can imagine we know other things as well,’” Gilad said.
He added that his father “appreciated a lot” Canada’s stance against global terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, and the country’s historic role in fighting against Nazi Germany in World War II.
With regards to recent reports that Iran could soon acquire nuclear weapons capability, Gilad said if his father was still in office, he believes Ariel would “never allow that to happen.”
As for the ongoing peace process with the Palestinians, Gilad said his father, who made the decision for Israel to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005 in the hopes of furthering the process, understood that it was likely a futile effort.
Gilad said his father began talking about creating a demilitarized Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank as early as the mid-1970s to try and circumvent more bloodshed between the two peoples. But the Palestinians have never shown they truly care about the actual land dispute, he said.
“My father said for many years that our dispute [with the Palestinians] was not territorial. The source of the conflict is the fact that the Palestinians never recognized… a Jewish state,” he said. “That’s the reason you can’t find a map of Israel in textbooks in any Arab country. Not even the ones we have peace agreements with.”
After his book-promotion tour ends, Gilad said he looks forward to returning home to his family farm and recommencing his visits with his father.
“I wrote this book by hand. My wife typed it. My brother, Omri, read and edited… my children were involved because I was so busy with it. It’s been a major part of their life. This has been a family project.”
On whether he’s ever considered following in his father’s footsteps in politics, Gilad said right now all he wants is to “spend time on the farm and go horseback riding with my kids. I don’t know what will be in the future.”