Israelis remember Sharon as ‘more than a military man’

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At the Hadar Mall in Jerusalem, shoppers at an electronics store paused Saturday in front of one of the dozens of TV screens broadcasting images from former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's long life and career.
"Sharon was one of the most influential people in Israeli history," said Eddie Amiga, a young artist, watching footage of Sharon being transported by ambulance after suffering a stroke eight years ago. "He was swept up in controversy because he was the defense minister of the Lebanon war" in 1982, "but he was also a devoted public servant."
Sharon, one of his nation's most controversial and iconic leaders for a half-century — on and off the battlefield — died Saturday at the age of 85.
Amiga praised Sharon for his role in absorbing nearly a million Russian immigrants following the fall of the former Soviet Union.
"It's never easy integrating so many immigrants, but as housing minister, Sharon made sure there was sufficient housing. He also set up ulpans (intensive Hebrew language courses) that enabled the immigrants to acclimate. Sharon was much more than a military man."
Malki Michaeli, an Orthodox Jewish kindergarten teacher enjoying an ice cream in the food court, said Sharon "never stopped working for the country. It's a pity there aren't more leaders like him."
Michaeli said that although she was deeply disappointed when Sharon decided to uproot Jewish settlements both in the Sinai and in Gaza, she understood why Sharon did what he did.
"Being a politician presents dilemmas. Sharon wanted to make peace but felt there was no peace partner. I think he made a mistake but that he didn't realize it at the time," Michaeli said. "(Prime Minister) Netanyahu learned from Sharon's mistake and that's one of the reasons he's so protective of the settlements."
Munir Atrash, an Arab resident of Jerusalem, agreed that Sharon faced many dilemmas.
"Despite his reputation as a warmonger, I think that, at heart, Sharon was a man of peace. He tried to get rid of terrorists, not civilians, but sometimes civilians got caught in the crossfire," Atrash said. "Ultimately, I can judge Sharon only on what I saw, and not on what others say. He moved the settlers out of Gaza and that's a big part of his legacy."
Still, not everyone remembered Sharon as a friend. Omar Attoun, another Arab Jerusalemite, had only negative things to say about Sharon.
"Sharon was a terrorist. He let innocent people be murdered in Sabra and Shatilla," he said.
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