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Masters of War; Masters of Peace



When it was announced that Bob Dylan was chosen as the recipient of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature (a somewhat controversial choice), one of the first songs of his that came to my mind was the iconic Cold War area protest song “Masters of War.” And since that announcement came just a short while after the death of Israel’s eldest, and most distinguished politician in recent memory, Shimon Peres – and again, some new revelations and controversy came to light following his death, too – somehow (though one is dead and the other is alive) both legacies intertwined in my mind and made me think again about war and peace. And in particular, in this regard, about Israel’s leaders since independence in 1948.

The first one is, of course, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister (PM from here onwards), who was so instrumental in Israel coming into being, in the language of its Declaration of Independence – a most wonderful document, still – the War of Independence and the building of the Israeli Defense Forces (i.e. IDF), and so on and so forth. Growing up in Israel, I still remember him declaring that Israel seeks peace with its Arab neighbors, and will sit down with their leaders without any preconditions, anywhere anytime. He meant it, too, I believe. And when Israel captured some of the Sinai desert in 1956, and word came from Washington to get the hell out of there, he did so right away.

Following him, at least in my order of “Masters of War; Masters of Peace,” came Menachem Begin. He, who was the head of the Irgun; he, who was involved in and commanded plenty of operations, and fierce resistance to the British Mandate – the terrorist attack of the King David Hotel in 1946 comes first to mind – and he, who had been carrying the torch of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his philosophy of “Two Banks has the Jordan” (river). But when it came to peace with Egypt, he’d made a complete turnaround and did the right thing. He didn’t initiate it, but when push came to shove – by President Sadat of Egypt, and by the ‘Peace Now’ movement and forces in Israel, both among the citizenry and the army, and by the inevitable march of history – he did the right thing and made peace.

Later came Yitzhak Rabin, possibly the best example for the headline above, and the one who had paid the ultimate price. A protégé of Ben-Gurion, a Palmach & Haganah Commander and a builder of the IDF, who became its Chief of Staff and led its forces to its greatest victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, no one could accuse him of loving Israel’s Arabs neighbors too much. But again, he first initiated and signed the peace treaty with Jordan, and then, when time came to understand, and to realize the complexity of the situation in Israel with the Palestinians, the debt we owe them (for their Nakba, in which he’d played a major role, as described in Avi Shavit’s book My Promised Land), he chose peace over eternal war. And paid with his life for it.

Ehud Barak, Israel’s most decorated soldier still, the commander of Sayeret Matkal, and the IDF Chief of Staff, was also a master of war, until he became a man of peace. When he became PM, he declared and even put forward a plan for a comprehensive peace, in which Israel was supposed to have given back most of the territories captured in 67, including the Golan Heights, in return for peace. One might say he was naïve, and faced resistance first and foremost within Israel and the IDF itself. He was later ready to do just the same thing in the Camp David negotiations with Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat, but the folly of the latter, time constraints and other elements in the peace equation as well, worked against him.

Then came Ariel Sharon, believe it or not. He also became PM after being first a warrior and an IDF hero. He had led the settlement movement to an extent, and was the architect of the buildup of Jewish settlements in southern Gaza, Gush Katif as it was known, and in Northern Sinai previously. He, who fought the Arabs so viciously, was so extreme in his views of our never-ending war with them, had made a turnaround too, realizing his mistakes, and pulled Israel out of Gaza. It was later reveled, after he’d succumbed to his life-ending coma, that he had talked with his close confidants, and had begun to developed a plan of withdrawal from most of the West Bank, in order to make a lasting peace with the Palestinians, as he’d come (even if belatedly) to the realization of how crucial the demographic issue was, still is, to the future of the Israeli democracy, its Jewish dominancy and character.

Which brings me finally to our current PM, Benjamin Netanyahu. He is not a war hero (though he served honorably in the IFD in Sayeret Matkal), and most defiantly he is not a man of peace. Shimmy Peres, as we mentioned above, was also not a war hero, but worked tiredly under Ben-Gurion to establish Israel’s security capability, and to build its first nuclear reactor, but then in later years turned to making peace; i.e. the Oslo Accords. But what about PM Netanyahu, really? Will he finally realize, like the aforementioned leaders, his predecessors, the need for peace? The futility of constant war, and ruling over other people endlessly? Will he finally understand that his support of the settlement endeavor and movement leads to an Apartheid State, de facto, or to the end of Herzl’s Zionist dream of a secure, democratic home for the Jewish People? It remains to be seen, as this page hasn’t been written yet.

* The “Leave a Comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.


The Israeli Mandela

Mandela PWho is he, the Israeli Mandela? Where is he hiding? Let him come into the light, stand up and speak out. He is desperately wanted, and much needed. We actually had one, hadn’t we? His name was Yitzchak Rabin. Remember him?… He was a freedom fighter; he fought for the independence of his country; his Jewish, democratic state of Israel. And then, like Mandela, he was ready to forgive his enemies. He was ready to make peace, compromise and share the land. For all the world to see, uncomfortable as he was, he shook hands with his sworn enemy, whose name was Yasser Arafat. Our Mandela may not have been ready to embrace his enemy in his heart, but he did so in his actions. The same as Mandela had done, by forgiving the people who had imprisoned him for 27 long years. He made peace with them to unsure the future and justice of all his people. That’s why he was so admired.

But else, in Israel, this Jewish Mandela was murdered. Not by an Arab enemy, mind you, but by a Jew. A hero to many, still, who would like to see him go free. And if you ask the writer of this column, then he’ll tell you that he has serious suspicions – admittedly, without any proof – that the killers of Yasser Arafat came from the same camp. Why is it, one wonders, that the Israelis are so vengeful? Is that the only language we know how to speak: eye for an eye? We, the people of the book? It may have been understood, to live by the sword, in the early stages of the establishment of the Jewish state. There was no other option, supposedly. A reaction to the Holocaust, quiet possibly. Murdering squads roaming Europe, killing previous Nazis without a trial. And then doing so to Palestinian terrorists as well. All for the cause. But when is it going to end, this obsession with power and the use of power?

Take Netanyahu, for instance, who came up with the most ridicules excuse possible not to attend Mandela’s funereal services. Living large as he is, spending fortune on ice-cream orders alone; he who had demanded that a special bed be put on an airplane for him and his wife to fly to Margret Thatcher’s funereal. Can a person like that become his country’s Mandela? Fat chance. No wonder his refusal to go: Israel was such a close ally of the Apartheid regime of South Africa, building its army industrial powerhouse thanks to that collaboration. Now in reality, Israel is practically the pariah of this world. The new Apartheid state of this world, is how most of the world sees Israel these days. Hate it and despise it as you may, but the divestment movement against Israel is gaining ground, and going nowhere but forward. Now we are facing, Jews and Israelis, not only the Association for Asian American Studies endorsing of that boycott, but the American Studies Association’s as well. What Israel’s answer? It continues to occupy the land the Palestinians consider their homeland, continues to settle it even further, and continues to control and terrorize the lives of the Palestinian people.

Not a good answer. But if not Netanyahu, then who? The Palestinians may have one in the form of Marwan Barghouti, who has been called by some Palestinians “the new Mandela.” He is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison. And of course, Israel would never consider releasing him, to prevent exactly that possibility, of him becoming Mandela. What are they afraid of, exactly? That he’ll come out of prison and be ready to make peace? But where is he, the Israeli Mandela? Is there such a young leader in the making? Maybe there is one in the Knesset, who might possess these rare qualities to stand out bravely and deliver peace? Without being afraid for his own life. Rabin paid for it; Sharon paid for it. No wonder no leader in Israel is ready to fight for peace, even if he believes strongly in it. I don’t see Yair Lapid as such a leader; the false premise sign is written all over him. He and his twin, Naftali Bennett, are in the same sand box. Maybe the new leader of the Labor Party, Isaac Herzog, is the real deal. He said this upon election: “Only bold steps toward peace with the Palestinians will enable us to break through on all fronts.” Don’t know enough about him, honestly, except that he comes from a good stock. One can only hope.

What I do know, however, is that time is running out on this new leader to emerge. Facts on the ground are against him. The actions of the zealots/settlers are against him. They hear the words of God, not of man. The spirit of the ‘sane, liberal-democratic Israel’ is also against him, since it is largely missing in action. They prefer to look the other way, it seems; they choose to dance on the Tel Aviv Titanic’s beach-deck, while their ship and country is sinking. The Jews of America are against him, too. They are too obsessed with their old ideas about the glory of Israel, and how much they used to be proud of it, to realize what had happened to their beloved people and country. Their babies are adults now, yet they don’t resemble anything they thought they would look like. So they turn their eyes the other way. There are some good, encouraging signs though, of some awakening in American Jewry. Will they be suffice to push an Israeli Mandela to stand up and deliver? And be counted for? Regardless of his own personal safety and political future? I doubt it. It has to come from within. From a solid, firm inner conviction. Where is he, then, the new Herzl? The new Ben Guroin? The new Rabin? The New Israeli Mandela?

* Published first on “The Times of Israel.”
** “Leave a Comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

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