Grandchildren of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stand at his grave during his funeral near Sycamore Farm on Monday in Havat Hashikmim, Israel. Photo: Baz Ratner - Pool/Getty Images.
In an age of hotly disputed news, two things seem indisputably clear this week:
One that former Israeli leader Ariel Sharon has died.
Two that he was buried at the family ranch in the Negev desert.
While the first goes without question, the second is less clear, as a Palestinian-born Toronto physician, academic and best-selling author explains.
Sharon’s ranch was, in fact, on the land of the home village of Izzeldin Abuelaish’s family in the western Negev.
“The village was called Houg, and my grandfather was mayor,” says Abuelaish. “In 1948 the family was forced to leave, though they thought they might just be internally displaced for a few days or months. Instead it became years and decades in Gaza.”
When the UN General Assembly passed a resolution to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states in late 1947, unrest spread, and the Arabs rejected the plan. The Abuelaish family – once well-to-do farmers – moved to nearby Gaza for security until the strife died down, becoming impoverished refugees. The rest blends into the painful history of both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis.
Abuelaish was born in Gaza and lived in the refugee settlement of Jabalia, while Sharon fought his way upwards in the military and political establishment to be tagged “Arik, King of Israel.” His victories over the Arabs won him fame and adulation in Israel, and growing resentment among Palestinians.
In 1973, while Abuelaish was a struggling student, Sharon purchased a large tract of land in the western Negev where the Arab village of Houg once stood and built Havat Shikmim, or Sycamore Ranch, which became his beloved retreat. It can be seen in the distance from Gaza.
Abuelaish, author of the widely-acclaimed autobiography I Shall Not Hate -- which followed the death of his three daughters and niece from an Israeli shell – feels the bitter irony of Sharon’s widely-publicized burial on his family land.
“No Palestinian can be buried there, nor even visit it,” he says.
But he believes, it could also be a symbol for an elusive peace that is still under contention, even as the settlements Sharon advocated continue to grow on Palestinian land.
“I hope we can learn the lessons of all those people who have lost their lives,” he says. “At the end of the day we must all leave the world, but we must decide what legacy to leave behind. Sharon was buried in the place where he lived. I hope in the future we can find a place to live, and to share together.”
Olivia Ward has covered conflicts, politics and human rights from the former Soviet Union to the Middle East and South Asia. With filmmaker Shelley Saywell she worked on the film Hamas: Behind the Mask.