Israel’s controversial Prime Minister Ariel Sharon receives a long overdue, thoroughgoing, critical bio in “Slaves of the Sword: Ariel Sharon.” One section of a three-part “Slaves of the Sword” series profiling hawkish Israeli soldier/politicians (including Moshe Dayan and Itzhak Rabin), pic is a tad on the dry side, perhaps due to the co-production’s international nature. But intensive research, excellent interviewees and an informed view of Sharon’s divisive warmaking and governing strategies makes for strong stuff. Topical interest will also boost the pic’s theatrical life, starting with its Gotham engagement at Anthology Film Archives as well its march into vid provinces.
Israel’s long-divided view of Sharon is captured in the counterpoint of activist and writer Itzhak Laor defining “Sharonism” as “nonstop aggression,” while his journalist friend Uri Dan explains Sharon’s landslide re-election during a 2003 wave of Palestinian suicide bombings was the country saying, “We want a serious man to run things.”
Roots of Sharon’s hardline opposition to accommodation with Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular are seen to stem from his parents, who fostered a fear of invading Arab hordes and owned the only fenced property in their otherwise collectivized farm village. Unlike many on the Israeli right holding ultra-orthodox religious beliefs, the future PM himself wasn’t raised religiously.
In years following Israel’s founding, Sharon gained a reputation as the can-do military leader relied on by top generals and politicos to conduct top-secret raids (“of dubious legitimacy,” as helmer Paul Jenkins diplomatically terms it) across borders into Jordan and other Arab nations. Docu captures the extremely complicated nature of Sharon’s bloody tactics — a massacre he conducted in Qibya, Jordan, will be a disturbing revelation to many viewers. His usefulness to his superiors make him a kind of Gen. Patton for the new country.
Pic traces a pattern of Sharon victories (such as his routs of Arab forces during wars in 1967 and 1973) soured by measures largely perceived as either excessive (a 1970 bulldozing of Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip) or criminal, (the 1982 massacre by allied Lebanese Christian troops of Arab refugees in the Sabra and Shatila camps. Sharon’s amazing political revival from this low point is partly attributed to his fame on the right as “Arik, King of Israel” and championing of Jewish settlements, whose residents continue to deem him as their savior and key ally.
Several frank talking-head segments add immeasurable flavor to a somewhat starchy account. Vet journalist Uri Avneri best characterizes the paradoxical perceptions of Sharon as “an aggressive man, merciless, who knows no limits politically or morally, but strikes people like a kind grandfather.”