In Israel, the country’s prime minister Ariel Sharon is fighting for his life after he suffered a significant stroke last night. Doctors say he is now in an intensive care unit after undergoing nine hours of surgery to stem bleeding in his brain. Even if he survives, the 77-year-old is not expected to ever regain leadership of the country. [includes rush transcript]
In Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is clinging to life in after suffering a massive stroke and brain hemorrhage. Doctors say the stroke caused severe bleeding in the brain and paralyzed half his body. This is Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director of Hadassah University Hospital.
- Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, Hadassah Hospital Director General.
There is no word on how much damage the bleeding may have caused. But Israel Radio reported : "The assessment is that Sharon is in a life-threatening state." Sharon’s hospitalization comes less than three weeks after he suffered a mild stroke and one day before he had been scheduled for a heart operation. Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is acting as Sharon’s interim replacement. Olmert spoke at an emergency cabinet meeting earlier this morning.
- Ehud Olmert, Acting Israeli Prime Minister
Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Sharon has been one of the most dominant political figures in Israel’s history. He has been involved in each of Israel’s major wars dating back to its founding in 1948. As Prime Minister, Sharon has overseen Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip. The Gaza disengagement caused a serious rift in Sharon’s Likud party, which led to his departure from Likud last month. Sharon has formed a new party, Kadima, which wants to maintain the Gaza disengagement but keep Israeli control over the major settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank. Kadima has been leading polls for national elections scheduled for late March.
Among Palestinians, Sharon is one of the reviled political figures in the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict. He is seen as the father of the settlement movement and the architect of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which killed a reported 20,000 Palestinian and Lebanese. An Israeli commission of inquiry found Sharon had "personal responsibility" for the massacre of over 1,000 Palestinian refugees at the Sabra and Shatila camps in Lebanon in 1982.
- Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei
The news of Sharon’s condition was greeted with a different reaction from many Palestinian civilians. This is Mahmoud Al-Hwareh, a resident of Gaza.
- Mahmoud Al-Hwareh, a resident of Gaza
Joining us on the phone is Uri Avnery, an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a former member of the Israeli parliament and was a member of the rightwing Irgun underground in the 1940s. He speaks to us from Tel Aviv.
We;re also joined by Michael Lerner. Rabbi Lerner is rabbi of Beyt Tikkun and the editor of TIKKUN magazine: A Bimonthly Jewish Critique of Politics, Culture and Society. He speaks to us from California.
- Uri Avnery, an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. Speaking from Tel Aviv. He is a former member of the Knesset and was a member of the rightwing Irgun underground in the 1940s.
- Michael Lerner, Rabbi Lerner is rabbi of Beyt Tikkun and the editor of TIKKUN magazine: A Bimonthly Jewish Critique of Politics, Culture and Society.
JUAN GONZALEZ: This is Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director of Hadassah University Hospital.
PROF. SHLOMO MOR-YOSEF: — of Prime Minister Sharon is completed. After seven hours of surgery, he was transferred to the imaging center, and a CT scan showed that the bleeding stopped. He’s now transferred to the neurosurgery intensive care unit for evaluation and treatment; and we’ll keep you informed in the next hour. Prime Minister Sharon is in a severe condition. He is stable. All his signs, blood pressure and pulse, are within normal limits, but his condition is severe.
AMY GOODMAN:Hadassah University Hospital director, Shlomo Mor-Yosef. There is no word on the extent of the damage the bleeding may have caused; but Israel Radio is reporting, quote: "The assessment is Sharon is in a life-threatening state." Sharon’s hospitalization comes less than three weeks after he suffered a mild stroke and one day before he had been scheduled for a heart operation to close a hole in his heart. Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is acting as Sharon’s interim replacement. Olmert spoke at an interim cabinet meeting earlier this morning.
EHUD OLMERT: At this moment we all join in prayer, hoping for our prime minister to fully recover. We are all following in concern after the developments in these harsh times. Our eyes, along with the rest of the world, are raised at the hospital hoping to see the Prime Minister, who survived so many battles in the past, getting over this battle and quickly returning to his strengths.
AMY GOODMAN: Israeli Deputy Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert. Sharon has been one of the most dominant political figures in Israel’s history, involved in each of Israel’s major wars dating back to its founding in 1948. As prime minister, Ariel Sharon has overseen Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip. The Gaza disengagement caused a serious rift in Sharon’s Likud Party, which led to his departure from Likud last month. Sharon has formed a new party, Kadima, which wants to maintain the Gaza disengagement but keep Israeli control over the major settlement blocks in the occupied West Bank. Kadima has been leading polls for national elections scheduled for late March.
Among Palestinians, Sharon is one of the reviled political figures in the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict. He’s seen as father of the settlement movement, an architect of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon which killed a reported 20,000 Palestinian and Lebanese. An Israeli commission of inquiry found Sharon had personal responsibility for the massacre of over 1,000 Palestinian refugees at the Sabra and Shatila camps in Lebanon in 1982. This is Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei.
PRIME MINISTER AHMED QUREI: First, no doubt there will be — the Israeli will miss Sharon as a leader and as a decision maker. For us, Palestinian, what concern us? First of all, we hope that he will recover. And second, we are looking all the time for leaders in Israel to be in favor of peace, to be ready to sit with the Palestinians to start a very serious and credible negotiation. This is what we hope.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei. Among Palestinian civilians, reaction was mixed. This, Mahmoud Al-Hwareh, a resident of Gaza.
MAHMOUD AL-HWAREH: [translated] Sharon is a man of blood. He has blood on his hands. He is a criminal. He has been sentenced by the international court of justice. He is a criminal who does not respect the rules of peace. He has committed crimes against our people.
AMY GOODMAN: Mahmoud Al-Hwareh, a resident of Gaza. Joining us on the phone right now from Israel is Uri Avnery. He is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom, former member of the Israeli parliament and was a member of the rightwing Irgun underground in the 1940s. He’s speaking to us from Tel Aviv. And we’re joined in this country by Rabbi Michael Lerner. He’s rabbi with Beyt Tikkun and the editor of TIKKUN magazine, a bi-monthly Jewish critique of politics, culture and society. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Uri Avnery, your response to the latest situation, where Israel goes from here with Sharon now having suffered a massive stroke and cerebral hemorrhage?
URI AVNERY: Well, Sharon has departed from the political scene. He’s fighting for his very life. Israel without Sharon is a different country than Israel with Sharon, because Sharon was just about to assume absolute power in Israel. The elections which are going to take place in March were about to give him a kind of political position which for the first time in the history of Israel would give a single person nearly absolute power, like Peron in Argentina. This has been prevented. And this is, I think, good for the future of Israel.
Sharon, himself, was a man of stature. He was certainly, by far, above the ordinary Israeli politicians. He was a leader with a lot of charisma and charm, and he radiated power. And he could have done things, for better or for worse, which other Israeli politicians could not have done.
What Israel will be now, it will be an ordinary country with ordinary political parties led by ordinary politicians, who are not better and not worse than the politicians in your country. So it will be up to the Israeli people on March 28 to decide which side of Israel will assume power. I would guess that the elections will result in a political scene in which three political parties will have, more or less, equal power: the Likud on the right, the Labour Party on the left, and Sharon’s party, Kadima, what will be left of it, in the middle. So there could well be a rightwing coalition. There could be a leftwing coalition. And I think it will be up to the voters of Israel to decide which of the two coalitions will come about.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But you’re assuming then that the new Kadima Party will be able to continue in the absence of Sharon to amass a significant vote. Is there a possibility that without Sharon at the head of the new Kadima Party, that it will not be able to get much popular support?
URI AVNERY: It will shrink — I assume that it will shrink to half or maybe even less. According to public opinion polls, Sharon was going to amass something like 40, 42, maybe even 45 seats in the Knesset out of 120, which would have given him a commanding position in Israeli politics for the next four years.
Without Sharon, this will become a much smaller party of the center, riding on the sentiment for Sharon, riding on a non-program, which — Sharon’s program was a non-program, not to say what he really wants to do. This will be much harder to do without Sharon. But I suppose that there are enough votes in the middle, of people who don’t want to be either on the left or the right, who are not for war and not for peace, not for anything especially.
Who will vote for this party? I would say that this party now, which went from 40-plus to 20-minus, anything between 15 or 20. This would be my guess. Of course, we are very, very early in the game. They still have three months of election campaign in front of us.
AMY GOODMAN: Uri Avnery is speaking to us from Tel Aviv. We’re also joined by Rabbi Michael Lerner from San Francisco. Your response to this latest news from Israel.
RABBI MICHAEL LERNER: Well, of course, I share with many people in the peace movement the sense that this is very mixed reactions. On the one hand, many of us have called for Sharon to stand trial for crimes against humanity, and I think that that background, that sense that this is a person who has played a terrible role in history and done some really terrible things leads one to not be hysterically upset at him being removed from power, although, of course, nobody wants to see another human being suffering in the way that he is right now.
On the other hand, there was at least the possibility that Sharon would be forced into a coalition with the Labour Party in order to create a new government, and that if he was going to be in that kind of a situation, that the Labour Party would be in a position to, number one, deal with social justice issues in Israel, and number two, push Sharon towards a moderating position in relationship to the Palestinian people.
But there’s no question that Sharon’s own agenda was to retain control over a significant part of the West Bank to set the boundaries of the state of Israel in the middle of the West Bank, unilaterally to reject negotiations with the Palestinian people. And this was a very bad thing that was potentially on the agenda. However, what’s going to come next is, as Uri Avnery correctly says, is very questionable whether it’s going to be any better and could be worse than what we were going to face with a Sharon/Labour government.
AMY GOODMAN: Rabbi Lerner, let me go back to Uri Avnery for this last minute in Tel Aviv. We only have 60 seconds. Are we seeing in the election, Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud, Olmert of the new party, Kadima, and Amir Peretz of Labour, is this the battle? And who do you think will prevail?
URI AVNERY: There will be mainly a battle between Netanyahu and Peretz, and of both against Olmert. And I do very much hope that the Labour Party — new Labour Party with its new leader will win the elections.
AMY GOODMAN: And what will that mean for the Palestinians, in ten seconds?
URI AVNERY: It would mean a new chance for peace with the Palestinians, because Peretz clearly advocates negotiations and agreement with the Palestinians. Both other parties do not.
AMY GOODMAN: Uri Avnery, I want to thank you for joining us, Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom, speaking to us from Tel Aviv; and Rabbi Michael Lerner of TIKKUN magazine, the bi-monthly Jewish publication.