Whether Prime Minister Sharon lives or dies, we are all already in mourning. Like many Israelis, I was watching television last Wednesday evening when it happened. Engrossed in a new Israeli television drama, enjoying some pleasant escapism… and suddenly, the news breaks in. A special report.

Within minutes, I forgot about the drama series and everything else. Prime Minister Sharon was being rushed to the hospital and it was serious. You could hear it in the tone of the newscasters, see it on their faces, read it in the Hebrew newspapers updating on the Internet. Something was very wrong.

No matter what happens to Ariel Sharon, we are all already in mourning – all of us: those who always liked Sharon, those who never liked him, and the vast number of Israelis who once vilified him, but over the past several years have looked in wonderment as he embodied the definition of the word ‘leader’.

Yes, he had deep flaws, yes, there was scandal, he was far from perfect. There isn’t an Israeli who hasn’t opposed his positions or his actions bitterly at some point. But no one can deny that he was a leader. We had a leader. And we no longer do.

There are echoes of the feelings we had ten years ago, when we lost Yitzhak Rabin. Of course, we are not dealing with an assassination this time, with internal violence, with the same level of utter astonishment, with the same depth of national tragedy.

But something very similar is happening on an emotional level, and that is the sense of being in a pit of insecurity stemming from the fact that the country is not really being led at the moment. And we don’t know who our next real leader will be. If you want to get Freudian about it, we’re losing our father figure.

Left-wing or right-wing, even if you felt like men like Yitzhak Rabin or Ariel Sharon were wonderful – or if you felt that they were completely wrong, completely misled, overly violent or completely corrupt, you never doubted for a minute that their absolute top priority was the security and well-being of the State of Israel and its citizens.

Every success and every mistake they made flowed from his deep determination to see this country survive, thrive, and succeed. With figures like these as prime minister, we felt that there was someone watching over us. And when they vanish suddenly, whether by the hand of an assassin or the fickle hand of fate, it leaves us devastated, deeply insecure and very worried about the future.

And so we worry, watch and wait, unable to let an hour pass without checking the television, radio and Internet for a medical update. He’s still alive, and the experts are telling us that that is something to be thankful for.

We?re also being told that it is impossible to expect a level of recovery that would allow him to truly function as Prime Minister, as our leader.

So on the level that we need Ariel Sharon – as a leader – we’ve already lost him.

And still we can’t help but hope. Those of us who believe in miracles are praying for one. And those of us who don’t believe in miracles wish that we did.