Six Years After a Debilitating Stroke, Ariel Sharon Remains Responsive, His Son Says


sharonThe New York Times reports: Ariel Sharon, who suffered a debilitating stroke nearly six years ago while serving as prime minister of Israel and remains in a coma-like state, responds to some requests and, despite being fed intravenously, has put on weight, according to his son Gilad Sharon.

“When he is awake, he looks at me and moves fingers when I ask him to,” Mr. Sharon said in a telephone interview. “I am sure he hears me.”

Details of Mr. Sharon’s health and status have been closely guarded by the family. His son agreed to discuss the matter as he prepares to publicize a biography of his father that he has finished after four and a half years.

Titled “Sharon: The Life of a Leader,” and due out Tuesday in Hebrew and English, the book says of the famously stout former general: “He lies in bed, looking like the lord of the manor, sleeping tranquilly. Large, strong, self assured. His cheeks are a healthy shade of red. When he’s awake, he looks out with a penetrating stare. He hasn’t lost a single pound; on the contrary, he’s gained some.”

A year ago Mr. Sharon, who is 83, was transferred from a hospital outside Tel Aviv to the family ranch in southern Israel. But Gilad Sharon said that the stay was brief and that his father was returned to the hospital, where he had remained. He hopes that in the coming year his father will come home permanently.

“The problem is Israeli bureaucracy,” Mr. Sharon said. “I think it would be better for him to be at home.” He added that his father had been visited every day since his stroke either by him, his wife, Inbal, or his brother Omri. “We haven’t missed a single day,” he added.

He said that in recent times there had been no improvement in his father’s condition.

The book asserts that doctors and nurses urged the family to let Mr. Sharon die after his stroke in January 2006 because, as it paraphrases one doctor as saying, “Based on the CT scan, the game was over.” The Sharon brothers would not hear of it and insisted on an operation and other efforts to keep their father alive.

“I told them about a dream I had had many years ago,” Mr. Sharon recounts in the book, speaking of his discussions with the medical staff of Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem. “In that dream I was with my father in the hospital. He was lying in bed, surrounded by medical staff, and they had all either given up or lost hope and were about to leave, and my father didn’t say a thing, but he stared at me with this look, with those green-gray eyes of his, and I knew I would never give up, and that I simply would not leave him. This was a dream I had when my father was healthy and strong and the scenario was completely divorced from reality. I did not tell a soul about the dream at the time, but now I shared it with them and my fear that it was happening now and that I would never be able to forgive myself if we did not fight to the end.”

While it has long been assumed in Israel that Mr. Sharon was kept alive due to his sons’ insistence, the book offers the first public acknowledgment and detail of the decision. Mr. Sharon was widowed twice, and his sons are in charge of his farm and his care.

Gilad Sharon adds in the book that while he insisted on not letting his father die more out of instinct and sentiment, it turned out he also had medicine on his side: the CT scan had been misread. Doctors acknowledged after the operation that his father was healthier than they had realized, according to Mr. Sharon.

Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister in 2001 and was at the height of his power when he had the stroke. Having spent his career as a hawk and a champion of the settler movement – amply documented in the new biography – he shocked his political base by removing Israeli settlers and soldiers from Gaza only months earlier, in the summer of 2005. He then left his political home in the rightist Likud party and established the centrist party, Kadima.

In the book, Gilad Sharon says he gave his father the idea of Israel’s unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza, saying that it had become impossible to protect the Jewish settlers there adequately and that most Israelis did not want to pay the price to keep the territory.

Two months after Mr. Sharon’s stroke, his deputy, Ehud Olmert, was elected prime minister.

Gilad Sharon, who was a confidant of his father’s and had access to his private papers, is not kind to his father’s longtime rival Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister and Likud leader. Mr. Sharon says in the book that in 1997 Mr. Netanyahu promised to make his father finance minister but then reneged.

“Netanyahu summoned my father to a meeting in his office,” he writes. “Standing at the entrance to the room and putting an end to the shortest meeting in the history of the prime minister’s office, my father said to Netanyahu, ‘A liar you were and a liar you have remained.’ ” (Mr. Netanyahu’s office denied that Mr. Sharon said that.)

Recounting his father’s decision to withdraw from Gaza, Mr. Sharon says that Mr. Netanyahu – who was by then his father’s finance minister – hesitated and demanded that the withdrawal be subject to a referendum. Mr. Sharon refused, and Mr. Netanyahu walked out of Parliament as the vote on the withdrawal was taking place. At the end, according to the book, Mr. Netanyahu returned to the floor and voted in favor.

“This was a true manifestation of Netanyahu’s character,” Gilad Sharon writes. “Not only was he subversive, but he was also a coward.”

A spokesman for Mr. Netanyahu’s office said, “Gilad Sharon has a long history of being highly critical of Prime Minister Netanyahu, and these charges are neither new nor surprising.” The spokesman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, added that the parliamentary vote in question was a procedural one and that when the real decision about the Gaza withdrawal took place the following summer, Mr. Netanyahu voted against it and left the government.

Gilad Sharon joined the opposition Kadima Party last year and is thought to be interested in entering politics. He said, however, that having just finished the book, he was still contemplating his next step.

{NY Times/ Newscenter}