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Celebrated Israeli General, Rehavam Ze'evi:
A Murderer of Prisoners, a Serial Rapist, an Associate of Prominent
By Uri Avnery
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, May 3, 2016
|Uri Avnery, writing on the
Apartheid Wall: Down with the Israeli occupation of Palestine
The Other Gandhi
IN 1975, I was stabbed in the
chest at the door of my apartment. The assassin missed my heart by
He was caught by my female neighbors and arrested. It
appeared he had no political motives – he was upset because I had planted
listening devices in his head.
While in hospital, I got a call
from London. It was from the representative of the PLO, who conveyed to me
the best wishes of Yasser Arafat.
A few minutes later I had a
visitor: General Rehavam Ze'evi, known by his nickname Gandhi,
an extreme rightist, came to see me. The hospital staff were
"What gun do you carry?" he asked. I told him it
was a Webley, a British service revolver.
"Very bad," he judged.
"The hammer is too exposed. Where do you carry it?" I told him that I
generally carried it in my belt.
"Even worse," he remarked.
"Before you can draw it, you are dead."
He showed me his own gun.
It was a special revolver produced for bodyguards – a Colt with a hammer
which did not protrude from its body, so you could carry it cocked without
the danger of it going off unexpectedly. "You must carry it in your hand
at all times, he admonished me.
And so I did. For 15 years I had
the revolver in my hand all the time except in my home and office. I
developed a special way of hiding it while holding my finger on the
trigger. No one ever suspected.
After 15 years, when
my magazine, Haolam Hazeh, shut down, I went to the police and gave them
my two handguns as a present.
I REMEMBERED this story this week,
when a TV program aired an investigation into Ze'evi, disclosing
that he was a murderer of prisoners, a serial rapist, an associate of
prominent underworld figures and more.
That is very
embarrassing, because some years ago the Knesset passed a special law to
"eternalize" the "heritage" of Ze'evi.
Why, for God's sake? Well,
he was a man of the far-far Right. When Yitzhak Rabin, a man of the
moderate Left, was assassinated by a Jew, such a law was passed for him.
The Right wanted to have a martyr, too. They chose Ze'evi, who was
assassinated 15 years ago by Arabs.
The TV program causes a
headache. What to do now? Continue to "eternalize" a murderer of prisoners
and, on top of that a rapist? To annul the law? Nobody knows, and there we
ACTUALLY, THERE was little that was new for me in the TV
revelations. My relations with the man were always on several different
levels. Politically, we were polar opposites. Personally, we belonged to
the same group, the fighters of the 1948 war.
between us started in 1953, when a group of youngsters attacked me after
midnight in the street in front of my office. I had just got into my
covered Jeep when they attacked me with heavy sticks. They did not succeed
in dragging me out of the car, but broke the fingers of both my hands.
(This had a happy result. Since I was unable to perform even the most
elementary tasks, a girl I hardly knew volunteered to move in with me for
a week or so in order to help me. Her name was Rachel and she stayed with
me until she died, 58 years later.)
The question was, who had sent
the attackers? My first guess was Ariel Sharon, the commander of "Unit
101" which had just committed a terrible massacre in an Arab village
called Qibya. My magazine had condemned the act.
Another guess was
the Shin Bet, the secret service whose chief had a pathological hatred for
But then I got a secret message from Ze'evi, telling me that
it was Moshe Dayan who was responsible. He warned me to take care. Ze'evi
was the brother-in-law of a member of my staff. Dayan, the quintessential
Arab-fighter, was already my deadly enemy.
REHAVAM ZE'EVI was a
child of his time. Even his nickname was typical: at a high school
celebration he had appeared wrapped in a bedspread, which made him look
like the adored Indian leader. The nickname stuck. Ze'evi, a man of
violence par excellence, was, of course, the very opposite of Gandhi.
In his teens he joined the semi-secret Zionist underground militia , the
Palmach. In the 1948 war he was a combat soldier known for his physical
courage but not much more. Later, as a battalion commander in 1951, he
took part in the battle of Tel Mutilla against the Syrians, which was a
disaster. Since then he did not command troops, but climbed steadily up
the ladder of command, primarily, I think, because of his real
He was considered unreliable and
undisciplined. Once he was stopped trying to cross the Jordanian border
with the aim of freeing a soldier who had been captured there.
was a member of the outstanding General Staff under the command of Rabin
which won the stunning victory of the 1967 "Six-day War", but did not
command any troops. But after the war, as chief of the Central Front
Command, he took part in many manhunts.
These manhunts became a
kind of sport. Arabs from the West Bank, who had fled across the Jordan
River during the war, were trying to return home at night. Many were
caught in army ambushes. The front commander was not supposed to be there,
but Gandhi enjoyed it too much to stay away. He even invited his civilian
friends – actors, song-writers and other bohemians – to join him in his
helicopter. Those captured were killed on the spot.
soldiers reported this to me, I wrote to Rabin, who was still Chief of
Staff. In an exchange of secret letters, he promised me to intervene.
At the time, I was a Member of the Knesset. When a concrete case of
such a murder committed by Ze'evi came to my attention, I submitted a
formal "motion for the agenda" against him. It was transferred to a secret
committee hearing. Soon after, I received a secret communication from the
new Chief of Staff, Haim Bar-lev, who was well respected as a decent
officer. He informed me that an investigation had found that the killer in
this case was not Ze'evi, but another officer who had since been killed in
OWING TO his special talent for self-publicity,
Ze'evi was becoming a celebrity. In this "Time of Folly", as I called the
delirious six years between the glorious 1967 "Six-day War" and the
disastrous 1973 "Yom Kippur War", high-ranking army officers were treated
as demi-gods. Ze'evi's antics were famous. One of them was having a live
lioness grace his headquarters, to the delight of famous visitors.
It was then that his sexual relations with soldier-girls became known,
without stirring much opposition. In last week's disclosures, these played
a mayor role. Ze'evi, several women testified, forced himself on dozens of
them, if not more, mostly girls under his command. Some were brutally
The attitude to rape has radically changed in Israel over
the years. Among men in the 1950s and 60s, it was considered more as a
joke. "When she says No, what does she mean?" asked a famous song. The
general view among men was that girls really "want it", but had to pretend
otherwise for appearance's sake.
It was generally accepted in the
army, that officers had the right to have sex with their female
subordinates. It was one of the privileges of rank. In medieval times,
nobles were supposed to enjoy a "droit du seigneur" or "jus primae noctis",
the right to have sex with local women on their wedding night. (The
accuracy of this story is in doubt.)
Officers believed that they
had some such right. A famous saying, coined by the air force commander,
ran: "The best men for flying, the best women for the flyers".
When I was in the army, I was struck by the large number of female
soldiers who had no real job except making coffee for their officer. Women
in Israel are drafted like men. When I became editor of Haolam Hazeh
magazine, one of my first articles was to demand the abolition of the
female draft. Give them an adequate salary and a nice uniform, I wrote,
and you will have enough female volunteers for the real jobs.
I submitted this article to the military censorship, the Chief of Staff
sent the Army spokesman to me, threatening to cut all relations with my
magazine if I published it. I did publish, of course, and for the next 40
years the army did not buy a single issue of my magazine. (Yet it remained
by far the most popular magazine in the army.)
atmosphere in the army explains why Ze'evi could do all the things, many
of them revolting, which were recounted by the victims in the TV report.
At the time it happened, the women were too afraid or ashamed to tell.
ZE'EVI HAD no chance at all to become Chief of Staff, so he left the
army. He devoted himself to his other great passion: the love of the
Generally, "love of the country" is an empty phrase. In
Zionist usage, it is an abstract term for nationalism. But for Gandhi it
was a very real thing, a devotion to the real country, every single corner
of it, its history and its present.
This is where we met,
metaphorically. I believe that the common love of this country, whether it
be called Palestine or Eretz Israel, can become a strong bond between the
two peoples. For this, both sides must learn from an early age to look at
the history of the country as a whole, through all the ages – at the
Canaanites, Philistines, Israelites, Samaritans, Jews, Greeks, Romans,
Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Mamelukes, Ottomans, Palestinians, Zionists,
British, Israelis and all those in between – as a single, consecutive
I had a partner in this endeavor: Ze'evi. He was appointed director of a
small Tel Aviv institution called "Museum of the Country" which, with his
organizational talent, he soon turned into an important site. He also
changed its name to "Museum of Eretz Israel". It celebrates all the stages
of this country's history.
Ze'evi also wrote a number of excellent
books on different parts of the country. He sent me a copy of each with a
A VERY different part of his complex character was
his affinity with the underworld.
During the 1970s, the police and
the media started to talk about "organized crime" in Israel. It concerned
mainly the smuggling of hard drugs. Some of the leaders were also figures in
Tel Aviv's bohemian circles. Ze'evi befriended them.
One day, two
underworld figures were murdered by rivals. Police had intercepted phone
calls made on that evening by the suspected murderers to Ze'evi, asking him
to come immediately. He had promised to do so.
A furious debate
began about Ze'evi's role in the affair. My magazine was going to write
about it, when I got an urgent call from Ze'evi, asking for an immediate
meeting. I invited him to my home.
"The truth is that on that
evening I was to meet a girl and have sex with her," he confided, "I used my
friends as an alibi. But if you publish this, my wife will divorce me."
I did not believe a word.
IN THE end, Ze'evi
turned to active politics. His slogan was "voluntary transfer", meaning that
one day all the millions of Arabs in the occupied territories, and perhaps
in Israel too, would leave the country in return for proper compensation.
Since nobody in his right mind could really believe in this, it was
understood by everyone that what was meant was mass expulsion by force.
Before him, the outspoken fascist Meir Kahane had proposed something
similar, and was expelled from the Knesset by the Supreme Court. But Kahane
was a new immigrant from the US, a foreigner and universally detested.
Ze'evi was a real 100% Israeli. His fascist ideas were tolerated.
served in the Knesset for 12 years and was appointed Minister for Tourism.
He chose to live in a hotel in the occupied Eastern part of Jerusalem. As a
real he-man, he disdained the bodyguards other ministers had. One day, some
Arab employees of the hotel assassinated him.
TAKEN ALL in all,
Gandhi was an eternal teenager, a very Israeli version of an adolescent.
With his glasses, he looked more like a student than a soldier.
Once I talked about him with Yitzhak Rabin, his former commander. Rabin
referred to him with some disdain, but still accepted him as "one of the
The law has turned him into a national hero, with a special
"Day of Remembrance", when all pupils in the country are obliged to study
Well, it was ridiculous from the beginning, and now
it is absolutely preposterous.
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