No 459 Posted by fw, April 17, 2012
“It seems surprising that Israeli soldiers, young men and women, who were raised in what is seemingly a democratic society, are willing to enforce this brutal occupation because they do it very willingly and they do it very brutally. But what we need to realize is that the Zionists’ education system taught these young men and women that Palestinian life is worthless.” —Miko Peled
In 1997, a tragedy struck the family of Israeli-American Miko Peled: his sister’s 13-year old daughter Smadar was killed by a suicide bomber in Jerusalem. That tragedy propelled Peled onto a journey of discovery. It pushed him to re-examine many of the beliefs he had grown up with, as the son and grandson of leading figures in Israel’s political-military elite, and transformed him into a courageous and visionary activist in the struggle for human rights and a hopeful, lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
The journey that Peled traces in his ground-breaking memoir, The General’s Son, echoes the trajectory taken 40 years earlier by his father, renowned Israeli general Matti Peled. Miko tells us about growing up in Jerusalem in the heart of the group that ruled the then-young country, Israel. He takes us with him through his service in the country’s military and his subsequent global travels… and then, after his niece’s killing, back into the heart of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. The book provides a compelling and intimate window into the fears that haunt both peoples — but also into the real courage of all those who, like Miko Peled, have been pursuing a steadfast grassroots struggle for equality for all the residents of the Holy Land.
This post, featuring Peled’s narration of a 27:33-minute video, with excerpts from his book, is followed by my transcript with subheadings. This entry is dedicated to Miko Peled for saying in public what many Israeli, American and Canadian Jews — and our political leaders — still choose to deny. Fortunately, although the video is almost one year old, the content remains compelling.
Voiceover — Miko Peled is a peace activist who dares to say in public what others still choose to deny. Born in Jerusalem in 1961 into a well-known Zionist family, his father, Matti Peled, was a young officer in the war of 1948 and a general in the war of 1967 when Israel conquered the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and Sinai. Miko’s unlikely opinions reflect his father’s legacy. General Peled was a war hero turned peacemaker.
[Miko begins his narration]
It’s time to sweep away some of the myths and to uncover the truth so that we can finally live in peace, together. The three myths that I like to uncover – the three most popular, most common myths –
- The myth of 1948, where, well the myth was that there was a country without a people;
- And then the myth of the existential threat of 1967;
- And finally the myth of Israeli democracy.
Palestinians did not leave on their own – Jewish militias launched an unprovoked, systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing — massacring, terrorizing and looting of a people
[Reads from his book] Growing up, we were taught to believe that the Arabs had left Israel, partly on their own, partly at the directive of their so-called leaders, and that therefore that taking their land and taking their homes was morally okay. It never occurred to us that even if they did leave willingly, we had no right to prohibit their return.
But then Israeli historians found, just as Palestinians had been saying for decades, none of this was true. And it’s interesting that when Palestinians claim something we tend to doubt it. But then when Israeli historians come up and say the exact same thing, well then now we accept it, as though the Palestinian word is not good enough. And so Israeli historians had confirmed that Israel was created on the ruins of Palestine.
Now obviously Palestine was not a state yet at the time – we’re talking about 1948. But it would have been a state very shortly thereafter had it not been so completely destroyed. It had bustling cities. It had a middle class. It had trade and commerce. Palestinians had judges and scholars and they had a rich political life. And they had all the characteristics of a state to be.
But the one thing in which they didn’t invest, the one thing which Palestinians did not have was the military, any kind of militia. And so when the Jewish militias attacked, even though the Palestinians constituted the vast majority of the population, when the Jewish militias attacked, they were helpless.
The Jews, on the other hand, in Palestine at the time, were a minority, probably less than half a million, but they had put together state-like institutions. So they had their own schools. They had their own universal health care system for example. They had a quasi-government of which my grandfather was a member. And all of these were created based on the principle of hafrada, which in Hebrew means “segregation” — in other words to be completely separate from all institutions that the Palestinians had had. And the one thing in which they did invest, heavily, was a very strong militia. A militia of young men, well indoctrinated, well trained, of which my father was a member. And they were determined to create a Jewish state in Palestine completely disregarding the fact that the majority of the population was not Jews but were Palestinian Arabs.
[Reads from his book] It turns out that the creation of Israel had not, after all, been a haphazard fight in which the Arabs fled their homes due to the directives of their own leaders, but it had been an unprovoked, systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Jewish militia involving massacres, terrorism, and the wholesale looting of an entire nation.
Now it’s interesting. My mother was born and raised in Jerusalem. She was born in 1926. And she recalls the Palestinian neighbourhoods in West Jerusalem. And when the residents of these neighbourhoods were forced to leave their homes, which are still in Jerusalem – they’re beautiful spacious homes with beautiful gardens – were offered to Jewish families. And one such home was offered to her being the wife of an officer and so forth. And she refused it. She said she could not bring herself to move into the home of a family that had been forced out and is now living in a refugee camp.
She also said – and I heard this confirmed by many people – that when the Jewish forces came into the homes, the coffee was still warm on the table. The people had just left. And then the looting began. And again she recalls seeing the truckloads of furniture and rugs and what have you, being taken away from those homes.
The phony “existential threat” was a cruel and calculated tactic to launch a devastating attack on unprepared Arab forces, seize coveted territory and strategic resources, and capture the crown jewel, Jerusalem. (See also, Wikipedia’s account, Six-Day War).
Another widely accepted Zionist myth is that in 1967 Israel faced an existential threat where the armies of three Arab countries were invading and miraculously the Jewish forces were able to beat them all and conquer huge, huge tracts of land. Now setting aside for a moment the fact that countless books have been written in Hebrew and English and Arabic and other languages and that documentaries have been filmed disproving this completely and showing that the purpose of the war was conquest — in my own research in preparation for this book, I spent days at the Israeli army archives. And I read from the minutes of the meetings of the Israeli general staff, the top IDF, the top brass, and the things that were said during those meetings. And again, I want to quote from my book one such passage –
In the stormy meeting of the IDF [Israeli Defence Force] top brass and the Israeli cabinet that took place on the 2nd of June, 1967, my father, General Matti Peled, told the cabinet in no uncertain terms that the Egyptians needed at least a year and a half in order to be prepared for a full-scale war. His point was that the time to strike a devastating blow against the Egyptian army was now not because of an existential threat but because the Egyptian army was not prepared and it was an opportunity to destroy it once again. The other generals agreed, but the Cabinet was hesitant. The Prime Minister was not sure that a full-scale war was the right thing to do, and a tug-of-war of unimaginable proportions ensued. During that same stormy meeting, my father said to the Prime Minister, “President Nasser is advancing an ill-prepared army because he’s counting on the cabinet being hesitant. He’s convinced that we will not strike. Your hesitation is working to his advantage.” Later on, he accused the Prime Minister of insulting the army – this army that had never lost in battle – by not allowing the army to attack right now.
So there was never any mention of an existential threat, just an opportunity to once again assert Israeli strength. In the end, the Cabinet succumbed to the enormous pressure placed upon them by the general and they decided on a preemptive strike that began on June 5, 1967. And again I want to quote from my book.
The surprise attack led to the total destruction of Egypt’s air force, the decimation of the Egyptian army, and the re-conquest of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula in a matter of days. The Israeli army also knew the Syrian army was in shambles, and the Jordanians were no match for the IDF strength. After the campaign went so smoothly, the generals turned their attention to the West Bank and the Golan Heights, two regions that Israel had coveted for many years. Both had strategic water resources and hulls overlooking Israeli territory, and the West Bank contained the heartland of Biblical Israel, and the crown jewel – the old city of Jerusalem. In six days it was all over. Arab causalities at 15,000, Israel casualties 700, and the territory controlled by Israel had nearly tripled in size. Israel had in its possession not only land and resources it had wanted for a long time, but also the largest stockpiles of Russian-made arms outside of Russia. Israel had once again asserted itself as a major regional power or as the neighbourhood bully.
Now here is something of immense importance that takes place, and take into account this is over four decades ago. And again I quote –
At the first weekly meeting of the General Staff after the Six Day War, Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin was beaming with the glory of victory. But when the meeting was near its end, my father raised his hand. When he was called on, he spoke of the unique chance the victory offered — to solve the Palestinian problem once and for all. For the first time in Israel’s history, they were face to face with the Palestinians without any other Arabs between them. Now we had a chance to offer them a state of their own in the West Bank and Gaza. He claimed with certainty that holding onto the West Bank and the people who lived in it was contrary to Israel’s long-term strategy. Popular resistance to the occupation was sure to arise, and Israel’s army would be used to quell that resistance. It would turn the Jewish state into an increasingly brutal occupying power and eventually into a bi-national state.
And this is precisely the reality in which we live today nearly four and a half decades after that. So can we really expect that five million Palestinians will keep living under a regime that is democratic to Jews but is brutally repressive towards Palestinians? With about six million Jews and five and a half million Palestinians living under the same rule, the same government but with different laws.
My father who was a military expert spent the remainder of his life after he retired from the military fighting for justice for the Palestinian cause. And being a former military man he was often asked about Palestinian terrorism. On one such occasion when he was being interviewed by the Israeli television he said this about terrorism:
“Terrorism is a terrible thing, but the fact remains that when a small nation is governed by a larger power, terrorism is the only means at their disposal.” Matti Peled
My father’s predictions have all come true.
Now the work of the Israeli lobby in the United Sates notwithstanding, more and more people around the world are beginning to realize that there are in fact two nations who live between the Jordon River and the Mediterranean and that the conditions under which Palestinians live are completely unacceptable.
Recently we had an event here in San Diego which was a vigil to remember the names of those in Gaza who were killed by the Israeli army. And as this vigil was taking place there was a large contingent of Israeli supporters. We were separated from them by a line of police and what I think is a sense of morality, and they were dancing and singing as those of us that were at the vigil tried to recall the names of fourteen hundred people that were killed. These were three weeks of such death and destruction that one can hardly comprehend. And I remember the stories of the Israeli air force pilots who flew sortie after sortie dumping hundreds of tons of bombs on a civilian population in Gaza and would ten return home to celebrate the festival of Hanukkah. The attacks on Gaza at the end of 2007 (sic) took place during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. Then, these same pilots, having celebrated with their families, slept in the comfort of their beds, got up the next day and did it again, and again, and again.
I recall that while we were at the vigil, these supporters of Israel held signs that said the Israeli army had warned them. The Israeli army had dropped thousands of leaflets warning the Palestinians that this horror was about to begin. And I can only imagine the mother, seeing these warnings knowing that this horror was impending but also knowing that there’s nowhere to go. There’s nowhere to run. There’s nowhere to hide. There’s no way to save her children from the bombs and from the fire, from the smoke and from the chemicals and from the phosphorous that consumes the flesh and won’t be extinguished because Gaza is locked down. Gaza is under siege, a siege that was imposed by Israel on the people of Gaza.
So for these young Israeli pilots, these young men who most Israelis and Israeli supporters around the world consider their finest, this was really nothing but shooting fish in a barrel as they began the merciless onslaught at exactly 11:25 in the morning on December 27, 2008. And that date, December 27, 2008, will forever be etched in our memories as the darkest and most shameful day in the long history of the Jewish people as Israel began a shameful and merciless attack on the people of Gaza. The attacks began at 11:25 in the morning, the precise time that the children of Gaza are on the streets, between 11:00 and 11:30 children of Gaza are either on their way to school or on their way home from school because that is the time of the two shifts of the school day change.
Now the Israeli supporters who come to the vigils, who always maintain that they support Israeli brutality, their claim is that Israel had the right to defend itself, that Israel’s actions were justified because Israel was defending itself against the onslaught of rockets that were being shot into Israel by Hamas militants out of Gaza — thousands and thousands of rockets that were designed to harm Israeli citizens.
Now I know a thing or two about these rockets. I recall sitting on a Saturday afternoon with my family and my children at a kibbutz not far from Gaza. And at one point we heard those rockets flying overhead and we heard the sirens and the warning signs. And we all had to run into the protective rooms that were built for that. And it was frightening. Only last December I visited that kibbutz again a Qassam rocket fell by the kindergarten on the kibbutz while the children were present and were outside. There was shattered glass everywhere. Children were hurt, were bleeding, some of the children had to be hospitalized, some of the children were in shock. It was horrible. I went, and I walked and I saw the hole in the ground created by the rocket – the size of a large soccer ball.
And then I remembered what a crater that is created by a one-ton bomb looks like. It’s the size of a city block. Children aren’t scratched and they’re not in shock as a result of that. They’re decimated. They are burnt. They choke from the fumes and they are buried in the rubble. Now multiply that by a hundred, and then again, and then again and keep in mind that Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
Yet Israeli supporters will justify this. Many Jewish people will recall the story in the book of Genesis, Chapter 18 where God decides to destroy the city of Sodom because they were sinners. And the patriarch, Abraham, the shared patriarch of Jews and Arabs, chastises God and says to him “Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked.” Perhaps there will be fifty righteous in the city. You see Abraham is chastising God, and God promises that if he finds fifty righteous people he will spare the city. Well in Israel there is no Abraham today. And no Palestinians are righteous in the eyes of the Israelis. And as we know, the 800,000 children of Gaza were not spared this horror.
You know I’m often accused of being one-sided and of not mentioning Palestinian terrorism and the suffering that Israelis have to go through. So I’m going to touch on that right now. As my father said decades ago, when a larger power rules a smaller nation, some form of violent resistance is to be expected. And as for my own family’s brush with terrorism, in our case it drove all of us to engage with the Palestinians, and to reach out. And the same thing happened to me personally. And again I want to quote a passage from my book, The General’s Son –
Then in the fall of 1997, disaster. My niece Smadar was killed by Palestinian suicide bombers in Jerusalem. Hours later, there we were, driving along the road to the cemetery. Police escorted our procession on motorcycles, making way for vans carrying the devastated family members of another Jewish casualty. As we got out of the van, someone approached and asked me to carry the small coffin. My heart felt far heavier than the heartbreakingly slight weight on my shoulders. Israelis and Palestinians, family members and friends, famous leaders and ordinary people, came to give eulogies or express their sorrow at this unspeakable loss. Smadar was laid to rest near my father, her grandfather, in the small hilltop cemetery just outside of Jerusalem. To this day Nurit cannot forgive herself for leaving her baby girl out, alone in the cold, damp ground.
But when my sister did come out to greet the mourners, the thousands who came to mourn, she did not ask for retaliation, she did not talk about revenge. The first words that came out of her mouth were these: “No real mother would want the same horror to happen to another mother.”
And I quote again from the book –
I stayed in Jerusalem for the week of Shiva, the seven days of mourning. It wasn’t easy to return home and resume my routines after it was over. How do people do this? I kept thinking to myself. How do people keep on living as though nothing had happened? How many songs have been sung, poems read, and stories written about this feeling – the feeling one has when the unthinkable happens, yet the world doesn’t end? It seemed impossible to carry on. But my mother, Zika, always said that life was stronger than death and so we went on.
But something had changed. I knew I had to do something, and that the right thing to do was to meet with Palestinians. And I did this right here in San Diego. And I was welcomed by the warm embrace of the local Palestinian community. The experience of meeting with Palestinians was comforting, it was liberating and it was also heart-wrenchingly difficult. It was comforting to know that we’re all very similar. And it was liberating to know that we don’t have to be enemies. But it was heart-wrenchingly difficult to realize that I did not possess… I did not have full possession of the truth. And that is what I think Israeli supporters, mostly Jews, are… that’s I think where most of them are. And I think it’s time for Israeli Jews and American Jews to join what was very eloquently described as the “constituency of conscience”.
One can only imagine what white South Africans went through when they saw that apartheid was coming to an end. Clearly they wanted to hold on to their way of life, corrupt as it may have been. The whites in the southern [United] States were probably trying to hold on, as much as they could, when they saw the end of legalized segregation and discrimination and racism come to an end in this country. We see this with leaders in the Middle East right now, holding on to the last minute, not wanting to give up their way of life and their control. And Zionists in Israel are now doing the same, trying to hold on.
We see brutal tyrants everywhere these days from Libya to the Gulf States do the same thing, holding on even as they fall one by one. Now Zionists and their supporters do the same, holding on to the notion that a racist regime can last, that injustice and horror can last and the crimes against others who are different can go unpunished. But we are near the end.
Israeli soldiers, young men and women, raised in what is seemingly a democratic society, willingly enforce this brutal occupation
The Zionists’ dream of an ethnically homogenized state was shattered by the Zionists themselves by their insatiable hunger for land. In their own hands they created a bi-national state where almost half of the population is not Jewish or Israeli but are Palestinian Arabs. True that they have no rights. It’s true that they’re not counted. But this will come to an end sooner than most people think.
I think it’s safe to say that the non-violent resistant movement in Palestine will prevail. We have Israelis and Palestinians hand-in-hand marching every single week in many places. They face the brutal force of the Israeli army every single week but they’re dedicated and they’ll prevail. And the dedication of these people is the reason that people, like myself, who believe in justice and democracy, are optimistic.
In Nabi Saleh, another beautiful spot in the West Bank where settlers have made their ugly mark, Israeli reservists, clumsy and armed to the teeth, are faced with the undaunted courage of mothers and their children who just want the settlers and the army out of the villages and out of their lives.
It seems surprising that Israeli soldiers, young men and women, who were raised in what is seemingly a democratic society, are willing to enforce this brutal occupation because they do it very willingly and they do it very brutally. But what we need to realize is that the Zionists’ education system taught these young men and women that Palestinian life is worthless.
So for those people who do want to associate themselves with Israel and with Zionism, and drape themselves in the Zionist flag, the flag that has come to symbolize intolerance, hate, racism and brutality, they can feel free to do so. But they need to know this, that when the trials begin, and the tribunals take their place, and when the truth and reconciliation commission begins its work and they’re finally shamed into admitting that they were wrong, they need to remember to go down on their knees and beg forgiveness from the people they so blatantly wronged. Because they need to realize that we will never forget them. And that their conscience will never allow them to forget that they supported the killing, they draped themselves in the flag and they mocked the bereaved.
The rest of us will move on and along with the rest of the Middle East, we will follow the example of the people of Egypt to create something that will surely be a tremendous accomplishment – a democratic, secular state in our shared homeland. A state where Muslims, Christians and Jews live as equals and educate their children to love their diverse homeland with a multitude of cultures, its rich history and its promising future.