Sharon's Grave Condition Leaves Israelis Uncertain
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Critical but still stable, that's how Ariel Sharon's doctors are describing his condition today after five hours of emergency surgery. This operation was done to stop more bleeding in his brain and to relieve pressure. But hope is fading that the Israeli leader can recover from the massive stroke he suffered earlier this week. And, as NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Jerusalem, his illness has left many Israelis feeling uncertain about the future.
DEBORAH AMOS reporting:
The morning headlines in Israeli papers had already prepared shoppers here for the worst as Ariel Sharon fought for his life in a Jerusalem hospital. It has been a sudden and dramatic illness. The looming loss of a powerful political leader will be difficult, says Safora Alon(ph), who, like many Israelis sees Sharon as a father figure.
Ms. SAFORA ALON: I don't feel that the country's prepared. I really don't. It's like wanting your--it's like wanting to believe that your family is going to make it but--and not preparing. But he had our best interests in store.
AMOS: His popularity at an all-time high, Sharon was expected to sweep the next elections in March. He enjoyed so much trust that many Israelis are convinced he cannot be replaced. Moti Aviv(ph), a taxi driver and ex-soldier who fought in most of Israel's wars, says he prays for the prime minister as he drives the streets of Jerusalem.
Mr. MOTI AVIV (Taxi Driver): God, give him a life and make him to be back like he was before he fall down. We haven't another like him and I'm sorry about that.
AMOS: Sharon always fought for Israel's security as a soldier and as a politician, but then convinced the country to take a risk. He gave up the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians. That is now part of his legacy.
(Soundbite of village street noise)
AMOS: In the West Bank village of Baleen north of Jerusalem, there is another part of his legacy, a fence that will cross the rocky hills in this rural village separating these Palestinians from an Israeli settlement nearby. It is another segment of a 400-mile-long barrier in and around the West Bank. Sharon believed in separation, but not all Israelis agreed. Israeli protesters challenged soldiers in this village to stop a bulldozer making way for another fence on Palestinian land. Uron Caspy(ph) comes here every week to protest Sharon's policy but still he respected the man.
Mr. URON CASPY (Protester): I think he was brilliant. I think he was--there were not many politician as smart as him, as intelligent as him and as charismatic as him but...
AMOS: Would you vote for him?
Mr. CASPY: No, I wouldn't vote for him. Never.
AMOS: And while the protest continued in Baleen, in a Jerusalem coffee shop, Aziz Hyder(ph), an Israeli Arab, says he would have voted for Sharon. It is an unusual admission for an Israeli Arab, but Hyder, a sociology professor, says he came to believe Sharon wanted to find a way out of Israel's occupation of Palestinian land. His students, mostly Palestinians, are also concerned about the end of the Sharon era.
Professor AZIZ HYDER (Sociology Professor): My students are concerned about the situation because they believe that Sharon is the only person in Israel can take decisions.
AMOS: It was Sharon who always took the bold decisions and many wonder who will take them now. At the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, a holy site for Jews, many came to say prayers, including Yuron Fasi(ph).
Mr. YURON FASI: As a matter of fact, I'm Israeli but I'm not religious. But I'm here. I'm Jewish, even I don't know how to pray.
AMOS: Like many Israelis, Fasi is not yet ready to mourn.
Mr. FASI: When you look at the history of Sharon in this country, nobody would like him to end his life in this way.
(Soundbite of people singing in a foreign language)
AMOS: Some worshippers broke into traditional Israeli songs, clasping shoulders, comforting each other as Israelis begin to come to grips with the end of an era. Deborah Amos, NPR News, Jerusalem.
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