Where were all the mourners this weekend, as Ariel Sharon lay in state?

The World
Sharon funeral

A soldier recites psalms next to Ariel Sharon's coffin in front of Israel's parliament.

Daniel Estrin

There weren't many people who came to pay their last respects to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem over the weekend.

Sharon, the controversial and polarizing warrior-turned-politician, fought in Israel’s independence war and nearly every other battle in the country’s history. He was among the last founders of the Jewish state still alive.

Yet, as he lay in state in the outside plaza of Israel's parliament building on Sunday, there was just a small trickle of visitors lined up to view his closed coffin.

An hour before his coffin was placed back inside the parliament building, visitors had left fewer than a dozen flower bouquets on the grass. Some who had come were taking somber selfies with their smartphones.

Where was everyone?

Maybe it was the blustery chill and grey skies. Maybe everyone was at work on Sunday — a work day in Israel.

Maybe Israelis felt torn about Sharon’s complex legacy. Some call him a war hero, others, a war criminal.

For years, he championed Jewish settlements in war-won territories, but then stunningly changed course and pulled Israeli settlers and soldiers out of the Gaza Strip and uprooted a few small West Bank settlements. He abandoned his hawkish Likud party to start a centrist party, which supported a Palestinian state in the same lands he had worked so hard to help settle for Israel.

Maybe it was simply because Ariel Sharon’s death had been a long time coming. His sudden stroke in 2006 left him in a coma for eight years.

I asked one Israeli woman, who came with her grandson to say goodbye to Ariel Sharon, why she thought there were so few people there to pay their last respects.

For Israel, Ariel Sharon already died eight years ago, she said.

Will you help our nonprofit newsroom today?

Every week, more than 2 million listeners tune into our broadcast and follow our digital coverage like this story, which is available to read for free thanks to charitable contributions from listeners like you. But less than 1% of our audience supports our program directly. From now through the end of the year, every gift will be matched dollar for dollar by a generous donor, which means your gift will help us unlock a $67,000 challenge match.

Will you join our growing list of loyal supporters and double your impact today?