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Iron Dome to Guard Sharon Burial from Gaza Rockets

By, DEBKAfile & The Times of Israel

Security for the 2:30 p.m. (Israel Time- 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time) funeral of Ariel Sharon Monday is among the tightest for any funeral in Israel's history. Hundreds of soldiers and police will be on hand, and helicopters, light planes, and drones will fly above the funeral procession as it works its way south from Jerusalem to Sharon's Sycamore Farm Negev ranch. The Iron Dome system will also be on alert, in case Gaza Arab terrorists decide to fire rockets at the Negev as Sharon is being buried.

The unprecedented security, said MK Moti Yogev (Jewish Home) clearly shows, he said just how much of a mistake the 2005 Disengagement was. "The drones, the Iron Dome, the planes, the soldiers – all the security – would not be necessary if Israel was still in control of Gaza, instead of Hamas."

Among those guarding the funeral will be 800 police, soldiers, and border patrol officers. The funeral will take place in an area of the Negev where Hamas rockets are able to reach, and have struck in the past. Israeli officials expressed concern Sunday night that Hamas terrorists would "salute" Sharon with rocket attacks on the area.

"Sharon's good name will be remembered through the building and boost he gave to settlement throughout the Land of Israel," said Yogev, despite the damage the Disengagement did. "We must immediately establish settlements in the Galilee in his memory."

Around 10,000 people filed past his coffin in the Knesset forecourt Sunday. The security services are ready for large numbers of Israeli and foreign dignitaries attending the funeral Monday, including Vice President Joe Biden at the head of the US delegation, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and many other dignitaries.

Omri Sharon and Gilad Sharon will recite Kaddish. Though open to the public, room at the funeral will be limited, and seats will only be allocated to those with invitations. Sharon's casket will be carried by six major generals and he will be laid to rest alongside his second wife, Lily, who died in 2000. The event will be broadcast live on TV.

The area of the farm, which is situated east of rocket-battered Sderot and barely five miles (eight kilometers) from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, has been hit in the past by Gaza rocket fire. "We are preparing for every conceivable scenario," Israel's Southern District Police chief Yoram Halevy said, "from minor provocations" by Israeli extremists "to gunfire from the Gaza Strip."

Hamas leaders on Saturday hailed Sharon's death as a "historic moment" and some Gazans marked the prime minister's death by burning photos of him and distributing celebratory candies. The Shin Bet security agency is handling security for the foreign dignitaries from the moment they arrive, in coordination with the Israel Police, the Border Police, and the IDF.

Reading through the various statements made by presidents and prime ministers in the aftermath of Sharon's death, one could get the impression that Sharon, in his 32 years in the Knesset and two terms as prime minister, did nothing but remove settlers from Palestinian territories in the pursuit of peace. Only statements coming from the Arab world — and Iran — focused on Sharon's earlier days, when he was not yet the champion of the two-state solution, but rather a tough military man and later a political hawk. (And that of Human Rights Watch, which lamented that he "died without facing justice" for the 1982 "massacres" in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon and the "war crime" of expanding Israeli settlements.)

Western politicians, with almost no exception, looked only at Sharon's life after he broke away from Likud and created the centrist Kadima party in late 2005, soon after he had overseen the dismantling of the Gaza settlements and the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, for instance, focused his statement on the one action that the world appears to want to remember about Ariel Sharon: the "painful and historic decision to withdraw Israeli settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip." Sharon's successor, Ban continued, without naming any names, now "faces the difficult challenge of realizing the aspirations of peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people. The Secretary-General calls on Israel to build on the late Prime Minister's legacy of pragmatism to work towards the long overdue achievement of an independent and viable Palestinian state, next to a secure Israel."

A statement by Secretary of State John Kerry also came off as less a personal tribute to Sharon and more a plea addressed to Netanyahu, imploring him to muster the courage to make the concessions necessary for the peace process to advance. Kerry called Sharon a "big bear of a man," who, after he became prime minister, "sought to bend the course of history toward peace, even as it meant testing the patience of his own longtime supporters and the limits of his own, lifelong convictions in the process. He was prepared to make tough decisions because he knew that his responsibility to his people was both to ensure their security and to give every chance to the hope that they could live in peace," Kerry said of Sharon.

Tough decisions and difficult choices — that's exactly what Kerry is asking of Netanyahu (and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, conspicuously silent in the immediate aftermath of Sharon's passing). "We are now at a point where the choices narrow down and the choices are obviously real and difficult," Kerry said on January 5, during his last visit in Jerusalem. As he prepared to present the two sides with a "framework agreement," a position paper trying to help the two sides find some common ground, it was becoming "much more apparent to everybody what the remaining tough choices are and what the options are with respect to those choices," he said.

The Kerry message to Netanyahu in his statement on Sharon could not have been clearer, or more similar to his recent peace-related remarks. Sharon "surprised many in his pursuit of peace," Kerry stated, "and today, we all recognize, as he did, that Israel must be strong to make peace, and that peace will also make Israel stronger."

Exactly 10 days ago, speaking at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, Kerry had said: "We know that Israel has to be strong to make peace. And we also know that peace will make Israel stronger not just with its near neighbors, but throughout the world."

Other world leaders also used the opportunity of eulogizing Sharon to talk about Netanyahu — or rather, talk to Netanyahu. In a rather formulaic statement, President Barack Obama paid tribute to a leader "who dedicated his life to the State of Israel," and then went on to reaffirm America's unshakable commitment to Israel's security. "We continue to strive for lasting peace and security for the people of Israel, including through our commitment to the goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security."

UK Prime Minister David Cameron's implied message to Israel's current prime minister was blunt, as he praised Sharon as a leader who "took brave and controversial decisions in pursuit of peace." German Chancellor Angela Merkel, through a spokesman, applauded Sharon's "courageous decision" to withdraw settlers from the Gaza Strip, during the Disengagement, a "historic step on the path to a deal with the Palestinians and a two-state solution."

Netanyahu is 21 years younger than Sharon and in good health. But as world leaders chorused their warm praise for a former Likud hawk who turned into a champion of the two-state solution, willing to take on the settlers, they were plainly hoping the prime ministerial incumbent, too, will want to be remembered this way.

To his death, he was widely hated as a war criminal, but some who came into direct contact with him conceived a certain grudging appreciation

On Sunday morning, the most popular story on Al Arabiya, the widely read website of a Saudi-owned TV station, was its report on the death of Ariel Sharon. That Sharon, out of the headlines for eight years, would still prompt that kind of interest underlined the Arab world's deep and abiding curiosity about him — in life and death.

There was always hate and revulsion, plenty of it. But in some quarters — in some countries in the region, at least, and even among certain Palestinian leaders — there was also considerable respect for the man, for his status, and even for what was considered his late-life political bravery.

Yes, Sharon was overwhelmingly considered an enemy who led fierce battles against the Egyptians during the Yom Kippur War, the man behind Sabra and Shatila, the initiator of Jewish settlement in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, and even the man who set off the Second Intifada.

But he was also perceived in some quarters as a leader who could make decisions and see them through. Or, as one Palestinian official longingly put it recently to an Israeli acquaintance, implying a comparison with other, more hesitant Israeli prime ministerial successors: "At least with Sharon his word was his word. We knew that what he said, that is what he would do."

Still, in contrast to the Israeli left's forgiving attitude to Sharon for his considerable political moderation in later years, the Arab world, and especially the Palestinians, never forgave him his past.

Sharon, for the Palestinian public, was a war criminal. He is widely blamed for giving the order to poison Yasir Arafat, and no matter that Russian and French experts insist Arafat wasn't poisoned. He is held accountable for the first Lebanon war and the expulsion of the PLO from Lebanon; for the retaliatory cross-border IDF actions during the 1950s; for the clearing of terror groups from Gaza in the 1970s and, of course, for his ascent to the Temple Mount in September 2000 and for a series of assassinations carried out when he was prime minister, most notably that of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder of Hamas. The Hamas leadership's reaction Saturday, expressing joy at the man's departure, was thoroughly unsurprising.

For his part, it is worth noting, Sharon was never much of a fan of the Arab world. He regularly told his circle, "Remember that after all, we are talking about Arabs" — a sentence so frequently invoked it became something of a joke in his office.

Nonetheless, from the moment he was elected prime minister in 2001, those Arab and Palestinian leaders with whom he came into contact did gain a certain regard for the man.

A relationship between Sharon and the Palestinian leadership was fostered first by his son Omri and by his close associate, Dov Weisglass, the lawyer who later became Sharon's bureau chief. Mohammad Rashid, Arafat's adviser, was in Weisglass's office, together with Omri, watching the results of the election that brought Sharon to power. Soon afterwards, preparations got underway for a meeting between Arafat and Sharon, and a Second Intifada ceasefire deal of sorts was drafted, but Arafat torpedoed all that. The two would never meet face-to-face.

Even in the years when Arafat was besieged in the Muquta'a in Ramallah, on Sharon's orders, Omri maintained contact with Mahmoud Abbas, who was then Palestinian Authority prime minister. Abbas and fellow Fatah leadership veteran Ahmad Qurei even visited Sharon at his Sycamore Farm in the Negev.

The editor of the Palestinian Ma'an News Agency, Nasser a-Laham, on Saturday published a commentary on Sharon's death. He focused on Sharon's various conflicts with the Palestinians over the years. But he ended by saying that in contrast to the Israeli media, which celebrated Arafat's death, and unlike the Americans, who rejoiced when Osama bin Laden was killed, Palestinian traditions and customs don't allow for dishonoring the dead. Not true in Sharon's case, as seen by Hamas's celebrations, but a tolerant note nonetheless.

Sharon remains, even in death, one of the most hated Israelis in the Arab world, and nothing will change that. But he also generated considerable interest, a degree of awe, and, among a minority who came into direct contact with him, just a little grudging appreciation.

"Words escape me. He was just a man who was larger than life," said a choked-up Shlomo Mann, 68, who served under Sharon's command in the 1973 Mideast war. "Those who didn't know him from up close can't truly understand what a legend he was. There will never be anyone else like him."

Norman Zysblat, 64, called Sharon a "hero of Israel," whose death left the 90-year-old Peres as perhaps the last remnant of Israel's greatest generation. He recalled crossing the Suez Canal in 1973 under Sharon's command, a move widely seen as turning a war against Egypt and Syria in Israel's favor. "I saw and felt firsthand the strength he gave the soldiers. He was the one who pushed ahead and provided the spirit," Zysblat said. "He was one of the greats. When the history of Israel is written, he will be in the first row."

Before being driven to its final resting place, Sharon's coffin will be transported to Latrun, in the hills west of the city, where his body will be saluted by the Israel Defense Forces General Command in a brief ceremony. The site, which Sharon tried several times to capture in 1948 and where he was badly wounded, is today home to Israel's Armored Corps museum and memorial.

In the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon, where Sharon was blamed for allowing a massacre in 1982, his death was met with joy. "My heart beats with happiness because he is dead," a Palestinian man in Shatila was quoted saying by the Lebanese Daily Star.

Born in 1928, Sharon fought in Israel's War of Independence, where he commanded five ill-fated attempts to take the strategic post of Latrun. In the 1950s he led a number of raids into Jordanian territory as reprisals for attacks on the young state. In 1967, he planned the IDF's first divisional battle, against the Abu Agheila stronghold in the Sinai, completely on his own.

During the Yom Kippur War in 1973, he led Israeli troops across the Suez Canal, breaking the back of the Egyptian offensive. As his troops encircled Egypt's Third Army, Sharon, a reserves officer at the time, instructed them to plant Israeli flags on the high ground, so that the Egyptians would look back across the water and see that they were trapped.

Sharon had a first, small stroke in December 2005 and was put on blood thinners before experiencing a severe brain hemorrhage on January 4, 2006. After spending months in the Jerusalem hospital where he was initially treated, Sharon was transferred to the long-term care facility at Tel Hashomer Hospital. He was taken home briefly at one point, but was returned to the hospital, where he had been since.

He is survived by his older sister Dita, his two living sons, Omri and Gilad, his daughter-in-law Inbal, and his six grandchildren.

Tel Aviv Unveils Memorial for Gay Shoah Victims


Israel's cultural and financial capital unveiled a memorial Friday honoring gays and lesbians persecuted by the Nazis, the first specific recognition in Israel for non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Tucked away in a Tel Aviv park, a concrete, triangle-shaped plaque details the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people under Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. It resembles the pink triangles Nazis forced gays to wear in concentration camps during World War II and states in English, Hebrew and German: "In memory of those persecuted by the Nazi regime for their sexual orientation and gender identity."

The landmark joins similar memorials in Amsterdam, Berlin, San Francisco and Sydney dedicated to gay victims of the Holocaust. While Israel has scores of monuments for the genocide, the Tel Aviv memorial is the first that deals universally with Jewish and non-Jewish victims alike and highlights the Jewish state's rise as one of the world's most progressive countries for gay rights.

"I think in Israel today it is very important to show that a human being is a human being is a human being," Mayor Ron Huldai said at the dedication ceremony, where a rainbow flag waved alongside Israel's blue-and-white flag. "It shows that we are not only caring for ourselves but for everybody who suffered. These are our values — to see everyone as a human being."

Israel was born out of the Holocaust and its six million Jewish victims remains seared in the country's psyche. Israel holds an annual memorial day where sirens stop traffic across the nation, it sends soldiers and youth on trips to concentration camp sites and often cites the Holocaust as justification for an independent Jewish state so Jews will "never again" be defenseless.

But after 70 years, Tel Aviv Councilman Eran Lev thought it was time to add a universal element to the commemoration. Lev is one of many gays elected to public office in Tel Aviv, a city with a vibrant gay scene that has emerged as a top international destination for gay tourism. "The significance here is that we are recognizing that there were other victims of the Holocaust, not just Jews," said Lev, who initiated the project during his brief term in office.

As part of their persecution of gays, the Nazis kept files on 100,000 people, mostly men. About 15,000 were sent to camps and at least half were killed. Other Nazi targets included communists, Slavs, gypsies and Jehovah's Witnesses.

Unlike their persecution of Jews, however, there was no grand Nazi plan to exterminate gays. Nazis viewed being gay as a "public health problem" since those German men did not produce children, said Deborah Dwork, director of the Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. "The idea was to change their behavior, not to eradicate them, not to murder them," Dwork said.

The policy was far from sweeping — as evidenced by the rampant homosexuality among the ranks of the Nazi Party's SA paramilitary wing, which helped pave Hitler's path to power. The most famous gay Nazi was Ernst Röhm, one of the most powerful men in the party before Hitler had him executed in 1934.

Later, the Nazis outlawed homosexuality and the Gestapo set up a special unit targeting homosexuality. In the Buchenwald concentration camp, the Nazis carried out experiments to try and "cure" homosexuality. Those sent to the camps were forced to wear pink triangles, compared to the yellow stars that Jews bore on their clothing. Gay Jews wore an emblem that combined the two colors.

Today, Israel is one of the world's most progressive countries in terms of gay rights. Gays serve openly in Israel's military and parliament. The Supreme Court grants a variety of family rights such as inheritance and survivors' benefits. Gays, lesbians and a transsexual are among the country's most popular musicians and actors.

Moshe Zimmermann, a professor from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the memorial project's historical adviser, said the Tel Aviv monument marked a big step in Israel by ridding itself from what he called a monopoly of victimhood. "We are finally shedding the load of being the lone and ultimate victim," he said. "We can learn from this that by recognizing the victimhood of others, it does not diminish the uniqueness of your own victimhood."

Ministers Approve: Calling Someone Nazi Would be Illegal


The Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved Sunday a bill forbidding the use of Nazi symbols and labels. The bill will be brought before the Knesset on Wednesday.

MK Shimon Ohayon (Likud-Beiteinu), who proposed the bill, told Ynet: "The rise of neo-Nazi groups that use these symbols poses a danger to Jews around the world, but as long as the State of Israel doesn't ban them, we cannot complain about their appearance around the world."

According to the bill, the use of word Nazi will be forbidden, as well as Nazi-related nicknames. The ban relates to both verbal and written slander, targeting an individual, a group of people or a corporation.

Wearing striped attire reminiscent of Jews' uniform in Nazi camps or a yellow Star of David, or any use of swastikas could lead to six months in prison and NIS 100,000 fine.

Ohayon noted in his proposal: "Unfortunately, the use of Nazi symbols and nicknames is becoming prevalent in recent years. "The unbearable lightness of the daily use of these terms as part of the public and political discourse, while completely disregarding the feelings of Holocaust survivors and their families, should be condemned. In this reality, we must ban the use of Holocaust related signs, in order to prevent the spread of the phenomenon."

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