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Ariel Sharon was born on February 27, 1928, son of Samuil and Dvora Scheinerman, in Kfar Malal, a small agricultural community, or moshav, in central Palestine, some fifteen miles northeast of Tel Aviv on the coastal Plain of Sharon.
Samuil's father, Mordechai, a Hebrew teacher in Brest Litovsk, was a dedicated Zionist who had been a delegate to the World Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897, and had spent two years in Palestine from 1910 to 1912, teaching school in Rehovot. But he found life there too difficult for his wife and children and returned to Russia, intending some day to go back and settle permanently in Palestine. This was an ambition that did eventually materialize; he settled with his family in Tel Aviv just a few years before he died.
Mordechai Scheinerman indoctrinated his son Samuil with his own fervent Zionism, teaching him Hebrew and Bible studies at home, in addition to the classical education the boy received in Russian schools. When he was graduated from secondary school, Samuil, preparing for life as a farmer, entered the school of agriculture at the University of Tiflis near Baku where the family had moved to escape the fighting in the first World War. It was at Tiflis that Samuil met Dvora Schneirov, a medical student at the university, one of eight children, whose father was a timber merchant in a small Belorussian village.
Four years after the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Red Army was moving toward Baku and Tiflis. Samuil had finished his studies, but Dvora needed two more years to earn her medical degree, which she desperately wanted. However, because Samuil was a known Zionist, the Communists would certainly have arrested, and, most likely, executed him. Up to that time, he had been teaching Hebrew at the Zionist Club in Tiflis. On a day when he happened to be late to class, Communist activists raided the club and all the members were arrested and eventually sent to Siberia. After the raid, in February, 1922, Samuil and Dvora, who were recently married, fled to Palestine.
Dvora had hoped to continue her studies in their new home, but she found herself in a wilderness. This was very difficult for her: she knew only Russian and had never intended to become a farmer. She had to give up her dream of becoming a doctor, and this sacrifice was to haunt her for the rest of her life. And while she worked hard and was a dedicated helpmate to her husband, she did not entirely share his views. Years later, she said that her husband "had converted her to Zionism by force."
In 1921, Palestine was in turmoil. Bloody battles were raging between the Jews and Arabs and, in addition, there were internal conflicts amongst the Jewish pioneers themselves over security and land cultivation. It was against this background that in 1922 Dvora and Samuil settled in Kfar Malal on land purchased by the Jewish National Fund, an agency of the World Zionist Organization. Samuil chose this moshav over a kibbutz, a collective where everything was owned in common. Samuil was not interested in socialism, to put it mildly; he was a strong individualist who wanted to own his own land, and in a moshav, although farmers lived together in a community, each family owned its own house on its own property while the main farming and marketing operations were pooled.
Kfar Malal is now a fully developed, lushly landscaped village. But when the Scheinermans first moved there the settlement lacked water and electricity and the couple had to live in a tent while they built their own cabin. It was dangerous, too: the village had been destroyed by Arabs the year before, and was being rebuilt by the moshavniks. Land acquired by the early settlers was not always in arable condition, but was often a wilderness of stones, sand dunes and marshes.
The British Mandate Authority considered the growing Jewish settlements as yet another irritant in an already volatile Palestine. In 1929, a wave of anti-Jewish riots broke out to protest Jewish immigration and the practice of Jewish prayer at the Western Wall. In less than a week, 133 Jews were killed and 340 wounded and many more inhabitants of Hebron were later slaughtered. This violence led the settlers-without permission from the British authorities-to reorganize their defenses, creating a new militia called the Haganah.
Sharon grew up during the time when the Yishuv (as the Palestine Jewish community was called prior to the establishment of the State of Israel) was literally fighting for its survival. It is probably not possible to exaggerate the traumatic effect of this violence and social ferment on the young Sharon's consciousness. Since Kfar Malal had been destroyed by Arabs once before, the settlers could never feel safe. Samuil carried a pistol, and Dvora too knew how to use it. Samuil was ambushed twice, once coming back from an orchard and once by a sniper when he was examining a sabotaged irrigation line. Both times he escaped unscathed. From the time of his bar mitzvah, Sharon shared night guard duty, holding a knotted club, scanning the fields for marauders who could come silently in the dark to threaten the settlers' lives.
In reflecting on his early life, Sharon credits his parents' "strength, determination and stubborness" for their success as pioneers and for the influence these qualities had on his own life and perspective. They worked hard, but were obviously not given to demonstrations of open affection. "They did not wear their hearts on their sleeves," Sharon recalls, perhaps rather wistfully. The Scheinermans differed from their fellow moshavniks not only temperamentally, but also politically. Although Samuil was certainly an ardent Zionist, he stood out in the isolated agricultural communal world of the moshav as a militant individualist and this added to the difficulties of the Scheinermans' already hard life in Kfar Malal. There was more than simply political disagreement; Sharon speaks of a festering hostility that had a corrosive effect on the community. For one thing, Samuil wanted to be addressed by the title "Agronomist Scheinerman"-which the other farmers refused to do, resenting what they understandably considered a display of arrogance and self-importance.
Furthermore, Samuil built a fence with a locked gate around his orchard and even planted a grove of trees as a sort of buffer between his land and the road. The fact that his was the only fenced property in the settlement further alienated him and his family from other moshav members. He and his wife had little or no dedication to community, something which was important to settlers at that time. One incident which exemplifies their attitude toward their neighbors occurred when Ariel was only three years old: he badly cut his chin in a fall, and instead of consulting the doctor in their own community, Dvora ran to the office of a Russian doctor more than two miles away with the child in her arms. There were objections also to Samuil's radical agricultural innovations, although he was a trained agronomist, and ultimately his new methods of farming were to be adopted by many other Jewish settlements.
But according to Sharon himself, arguments about crops or agricultural techniques were far less traumatic than the bitterness that followed the murder in 1933 of Chaim Arlozoroff, a Zionist socialist leader. Sharon's parents were outraged by the fact that other Jews were being accused of killing him, a crime allegedly perpetrated by the followers of Zeev Jabotinsky, a militant Revisionist. Although Samuil was, like his neighbors, a member of David BenGurion's Mapai (Zionist Labor Party) his anger at the charges was so intense that it caused a serious rift between himself and the other moshavniks who were equally bitter on the other side. Feelings ran so high that the Scheinermans were barred from visiting the local clinic and synagogue and from using the moshav's cooperative truck, which meant that they could neither get deliveries from it nor use it to collect their produce. As a measure of the hatred that existed between them, in his will Samuil specified that no one from Kfar Malal speak at his funeral and that the aforementioned truck not be used to transport his body to the cemetery.
Dvora supported her husband in all his work. But, as we have seen, she lacked her husband's zealous dedication to Zionism. She frequently thumbed through her old Russian medical books, reliving the student days that had meant so much to her. Nonetheless, she worked barefoot in their citrus groves and fields and tended the goats and cows. She scrimped and saved every way possible for her children's education, even depriving herself of personal necessities. Both Dvora and Samuil-unlike most other moshavniks-were intent on their children having a high school education that included liberal arts.
According to some moshavniks who remember them, Dvora was very friendly. It was Samuil who was arrogant and remote. But Dvora did have a strong personality; it was she who made sure that both Ariel and Yehudit-Sharon's sister, two years older than he-took violin lessons and put particular pressure on her daughter to excel on the instrument. Sharon quit taking lessons fairly soon, but to this day one of his greatest pleasures is listening to classical music.
Years later, neighbors reminisced about the family. Rahel Gaffney, a classmate of Sharon's in grade school, said, "There was plenty of intelligence in that house. It was poor-I remember the jug under the leaking roof-but you felt that you entered into a world of intellect. They weren't any less Zionist than the others, but they were more interested in cultural pursuits than we were. The father had his own opinions, but the children were like the rest of us. We all played in the sandy road together." Yosef Margalit, who was in the same class with Yehudit said that "no one called them Yehudit and Ariel. They were Dita and Arik."
Rahel Gaffney mentioned a time in the fourth or fifth grade when the class became angry at one of the teachers. "We decided to boycott the school, but Arik disagreed. He said, 'I came to school to learn and if there is a problem with the teacher we ought to sit and talk.' We didn't go to school for three days and at the end we were punished. But Arik held to his opinion that we should have continued to go to class. I don't remember him ever lying. Sometimes people didn't like what he said, but he always said what he really thought. Arik always knew where he was headed. His mother always told him that it was important to be educated and to have a goal. He never sat quietly. Very ambitious."
Sharon joined the Labor Youth Movement and his group counselor, Yosef Gilboa, remembered that young Scheinerman sometimes helped him to discipline disobedient children, and that even then he disliked disorder.
In 1941, when Sharon was thirteen, he started high school in Tel Aviv, a long bus ride and an hour's walk from the moshav. He greatly enjoyed the new world that opened up to him in the city, made many friends, and was an eager student. His experience at school was a welcome relief from the rigors of his father's demanding discipline, although the boy did not question his parents' isolation from their neighbors.
The turmoil in the Middle East accelerated during the Second World War, and Allied troops moved back and forth across Palestine, responding to the Axis threats to Egypt and the Suez Canal. The Jewish Agency, headed by David Ben-Gurion, was agitating for a Jewish Army, a brigade that was destined to come into existence within three years. In the meantime, the Haganah, a poorly armed and partially undercover militia, was recruiting Jewish youth. Sharon joined when he was fourteen, and received training on Saturdays and one night a week. Soon he was transferred into the "Signallers," an elite force that also received training from the Jewish Settlement Police, established nationwide by the British to protect both the Jewish settlements and British installations.
Later he joined the Gadna, an acronym for "Youth Battalions," where he got one of his first tastes of concentrated military training in Ruchama, a remote kibbutz in the Negev desert. Sharon thus received military training from the British as well as from the Haganah-this despite the fact that the British were doing everything they could to prevent Jewish refugees from entering Palestine, causing frustration and rage to build in the Jewish community.
As early as 1907, Zionists had established a tradition of guarding Jewish settlements with a secret organization called Ha-shomer; Ben-Gurion had joined it when he first arrived in Palestine. These men, Martin van Creveld says, "were the first to take the military road not merely as a means to a military end, but with the explicit goal of shedding the supposed characteristics of the Wandering Jew, replacing him with a new, hardy, and courageous type who would take up arms in defense of himself, his settlement, and his country." When Ha-shomer was disbanded in 1920, it was replaced by Haganah, which, though illegal, was more or less tolerated by the British. The Haganah was later associated with the Histadrut, or National Labor Foundation, until an Arab uprising in 1929 demonstrated the importance of a strong militia, and control passed to Ben-Gurion, as head of the Jewish Agency. Gradually Haganah was strengthened by intensive training and an inflow of armaments with support from international Jewish communities. In addition, in the early thirties, Jewish immigration to Palestine increased markedly, spurred by the rise of the Nazis in Europe and the closing of admission to the United States.
In May, 1936, the Supreme Arab Committee called a general
strike that lasted for almost six months and gave rise to innumerable
terrorist attacks against both Jews and the British. After a
violent battle between the British Army and Arab guerrillas in March,
1938, a reasonable calm was restored. Although sporadic attacks
were still occurring when World War II began in September, 1939,
the British and the Haganah-the latter profiting from the excellent
training of British Captain Orde Wingate-held this unrest to a minimum.
However, the situation was not improved when in May, 1939,
the British issued the White Paper, refusing to honor the Balfour
Declaration, a promise made in 1917 to the Zionists, led by Dr
Chaim Weizmann, to establish a national home for the Jewish people
in Palestine. (The Arabs, for their part, were enraged by this promise,
which they considered a betrayal of British promises made to
them in 1916 and 1917 when they rebelled against the Ottoman
Empire.) The White Paper limited Jewish purchase of land and immigration
and promised Arab independence in the country in ten
Excerpted from Sharon by Anita Miller Copyright © 2004 by Anita Miller. Excerpted by permission.
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