Ariel Sharon contended yesterday that he has won the paramount prize in his bloodless Battle of the Paragraph -- his honor -- even though he lost his $50 million lawsuit over his role in the 1982 Beirut massacres.
"I feel we have achieved what brought us here, and I accept it," the former Israeli defense minister told reporters on the steps of the courthouse in New York City. "It was a very long and hard struggle, and it was worth it.
"I came here to prove that Time magazine lied; we were able to prove that Time magazine did lie."
Sharon "didn't come here for any money," said his lawyer, Milton Gould. "He came here for vindication and he's been vindicated."
Sharon, 56, has, for many here and in Israel, taken on near-mythic proportions as a brave yet bullheaded warrior-politician whose hawkishness has helped polarize Israeli society. Some say he is dangerous and undisciplined, driven by his ambition to become prime minister. But to his admirers, many of them young hard-liners, he is known as "Arik -- King of Israel."
Sharon's name has been linked with massacre more than once. Indeed, Time has argued that it could not injure Sharon's reputation because it is that of a "bloodthirsty, insubordinate militarist."
Sharon nonetheless considered it more than a fine point when Time magazine, in a Feb. 21, 1983, cover story, printed a paragraph that in effect said, as his lawyers successfully argued, that Sharon had "consciously intended" to foment mass murder.
Although critics, and Time, contended that he was using the lawsuit only to "recoup his political fortunes," Sharon has presented himself to the public as a stocky mass of fulminating indignation, railing at the endless "lies" told about him.
In the September 1982 slaughter at the Beirut refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, more than 700 men, women and children died at the hands of Israeli-backed Lebanese Christian Phalangists. Because Sharon had been warned that the Phalangists were hungry for revenge following the assassination of their leader but let them into the camps anyway, an Israeli commission found him guilty of "indirect responsibility" for the violence.
Condemned and forced to resign as defense minister, he now is minister of industry and commerce.
Sharon has denounced the commission report as politically motivated and described his giving Phalangists the job of "mopping up" in the refugee camps "a small part in a very big complicated operation."
Sharon was born into a virtually constant state of war in Palestine in 1928, the son of poor Russian emigres, and began his career as a soldier while still a child, fighting off Arabs who raided his father's farm. As a teen-ager, he joined the Haganah, the underground army. He received his first war wound at age 20.
Thirty-one years ago, the young Sharon led a commando raid into the West Bank village of Kibyia, in reprisal for terrorist attacks by Arabs against Israelis. Women and children were killed and a school was destroyed.
Sharon insists that he was only following orders, and that he had no intention of killing women and children in the raid.
Sharon and his second wife, Lili, 46, have two sons, one a paratrooper in the Israeli army, the other beginning mandatory army service. Sharon's first wife, Lili's sister, was killed in a car crash at age 29. Another son was killed at age 11 in an accident with one of his father's guns.
Sometimes when he is being pressed, Sharon speaks reflectively about his family's 1,000-acre farm in the Negev, and how much he has enjoyed the pastoral periods of driving his tractor and taking care of his sheep.
Few take such talk seriously, however. Now Sharon, bearing a good part of the bounty he was seeking, is headed home to the political wars, where, as he said yesterday, "I have plenty of things to do."