Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon died Saturday, eight years after a debilitating stroke put him into a coma. He was 85.
Sharon’s health problems first came to my attention when he suffered a minor stroke on Dec. 18, 2005. At the time, I was helping to cover national and international news for McClatchy Interactive in Raleigh, N.C.
We were following the prime minister’s medical condition and quickly became concerned after his second stroke on Jan. 4, 2006. When it looked like he might pass away, my boss asked me to create an interactive feature about Sharon’s life and legacy.
Sharon was a polarizing figure who had a tremendous influence on the development of Israel. He also was deeply involved in the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.
Sharon served as an Israeli Army commander, minister of defense and prime minister. His military career stretched from Israel’s founding to the 1982 Lebanon War. Sharon also encouraged the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and then he expelled settlers from Gaza and several areas of the West Bank. He was engaged in peace negotiations with the Palestinians when he fell into a coma.
To explain his life and it’s impact on the region, I contacted Dr. Ronald W. Zweig, a professor at New York University’s Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies. Zweig, who was in Jerusalem at the time, is an expert on the state of Israel and modern Jewish history. I recorded our phone conversation and used the audio clips in the project.
Sharon stayed in a coma, and the project was never used. After I read about his death on Saturday, I searched my computer and found it.
I can’t post the entire project online, but here are three of the questions I asked Zweig during our interview eight years ago. Click the link after each question to hear his reply.
1. Ariel Sharon grew up close to the land. He farmed it and guarded it from Arab raiders. Later, he became the largest landowner in Israel. How did his background as a farmer and a landowner influence his life and politics? (Listen to the answer)
2. Sharon suffered many setbacks in his career, such as the Mitla incident and the Kahan Commission’s investigation into the Sabra and Shatila massacre. How was Sharon able to recover from potentially career ending setbacks and ultimately end up in positions of more power? (Listen to the answer)
3. In his early years, Sharon was a man of war. Later as prime minister, he claimed he was pursuing peace with the Palestinians. Did he have a change of heart, and if he did, how could he be taken seriously by the Palestinians as a partner in peace? (Listen to the answer)
The Associated Press contributed to this report.