Conflict & Justice

Ariel Sharon's complicated legacy: 'The Bulldozer' to some, 'Butcher of Beirut' to others


This file photo shows former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his office in Jerusalem on Jan. 4, 2006. Admired by some and reviled by others, Sharon's health is failing eight years after he suffered a massive stroke.



Admired by some and reviled by others, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon bears a complicated legacy.

Sharon, 85, died Saturday after spending eight years in a coma brought on by a massive stroke in 2006.

A controversial figure in Middle East politics, Sharon earned several nicknames among Israelis and Palestinians during his decades-long military and political career. Two of them, in particular, highlighted just how polarizing Sharon could be.


"The Bulldozer"

Many on the world stage simply called Sharon "The Bulldozer," at first because in the military he was seen as headstrong and insubordinate. Later in life, the nickname also began to reference Sharon's girth — 5 feet, 6 inches tall and 230 pounds — and his autocratic political style.

Sharon adopted the cause of settlement building in the 1990s and pushed for a huge wave of development in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It was the most frenetic time for settlement building since Israel took over the territories in 1967. 

Then, he ordered Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank in 2005, despite vehement opposition at home, forcing the upheaval of thousands of those same Jewish settlers.

"He inspires extremes of emotion," author Marguerite Johnson explained in 1982. "To his admirers, especially his troops, he is a brave and brilliant field commander who is not afraid to take risks, even at his peril.

"To his critics, among them many of his generals and Cabinet colleagues, he is an arrogant and dangerously ambitious megalomaniac with little or no respect for opposing points of view, much less democratic process."


"The Butcher of Beirut"

Some others, including Palestinians, Arab nationalists and the Lebanese, know Sharon as the "Butcher of Beirut," the mastermind behind the 1982 Lebanon War, during which up to 3,500 Palestinians were massacred in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut.

Sharon, then Israel's defense minister, denied responsibility. The Israeli Kahan Commission later found that while Sharon was not directly responsible for the killings, he did play an indirect role. The controversy forced his resignation in 1983.

Sharon eventually mounted a political comeback that culminated when he was elected Israel's prime minister in 2001.