Paul Greenberg

The life of Ariel Sharon, better known in Israel as Arik, has ended at long, long last after eight comatose years lost to everyone but himself. It was a life almost co-extensive with that of the State of Israel, or at least its army. And some would argue he was just as vital a factor in Israel's survival.

How sum up such a life? The handiest way might be to describe Sharon as Israel's own Patton, always veering between being insubordinate and indispensable. He would be sidelined again and again for some reckless act, but then, when all was falling apart, be called back to save the day. The way Ike, who tried to keep his best or at least most aggressive general on a tight leash, would call on George S. Patton to turn his Third Army around on a dime -- on a sliver of a dime, really -- and rush to the rescue when the Battle of the Bulge erupted. The enemy had broken through in a surprise offensive and panzers were everywhere. Patton arrived like the U.S. Cavalry, literally. And snatched victory from the jaws of panic. What others call desperation, a Patton -- or Sharon -- seized as opportunity.

It won't surprise to learn that Ariel Sharon came by his stubborn streak honestly. His father and mother, Sam and Dvora Sheinerman, had fled Georgia -- the one in Russia -- as the Bolsheviks advanced and the fleeing was good. (Not that there is ever a bad time to flee Russia.) They would join the still nascent Zionist experiment in what was than Palestine under the British mandate. Soon enough, at 14, their boy would be going on night patrols with Gadna, a paramilitary youth movement whose existence, or at least nocturnal activities, were strictly illegal under the Mandate.

There was scarcely a battle in Israel's war of independence that young Arik missed. He would live to recall that whole war as one extended battle. Somewhere in its midst, young Sheinerman was renamed Sharon by David ben Gurion himself, who may have been the first Israeli leader to note his battlefield prowess for future reference. It would have been hard to miss. Shot up again and again, the young man always came back to fight another day. Or rather night, his preferred time for combat.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.