Wednesday, April 30, 1997

The Dayan Memoirs

In 1976 Israel’s famous general and political figure, Moshe Dayan, was in the political wilderness. His status had been severely tarnished by the blunders in the preparation for the October, 1973 - Yom Kippur War. Dayan did hope for some sort of a political comeback and therefore expressly forbade the journalist and personal friend, Rami Tal from printing the results of a long series of interviews that Tal held with Dayan. Tal recently received permission from Dayan’s daughter, MK Yael Dayan to publish the material.
Fatal Mistakes The interviews cover many central events in Dayan’s career, all of which are of some interest to observers of the Israeli scene. However, Dayan’s confessions regarding two central cornerstones of Israeli policy, are utterly astounding. The information and the analysis contained therein are sufficient to completely demolish the foundations of declared Israeli policy regarding these vital current issues, i.e. the Golan Heights and the Jewish settlement in Hebron. We would certainly like to translate the entire document which was published in Yediot Ahronot on April 27, 1997, but are simply unable to do so. Here are the two most significant sections:
Greed, Simple Greed!
(The first interview took place on November 22, 1976.)
Dayan: “…But what I wanted to say was that in two cases I did not fulfill my duties as the Minister of Defence, in that I did not prevent things that I was certain had to be stopped. The first case was on the fourth day of the Six-Day War, when a delegation from the kibbutzim met with Eshkol in order to convince him to begin a war against Syria. Dado (General David Elazar) had sent them, he was the commander of the northern district and feared that he was going to be left out of the war, so he sent the kibbutzim members. The kibbutz members came and put on a big show for Eshkol: what is this, you are abandoningus, and how are the Syrians going to get away clean and all this kind of rubbish.” -2-Q: And you say this was superfluous?
Dayan: “It was more than superfluous. You see, you can talk in terms of ‘the Syrians are scoundrels, they should be screwed, and its the right time’ and other such talk, but this is not policy. You don’t screw the enemy because he’s a scoundrel, but because he threatens you. And the Syrians, on the fourth day of the war were not a threat to us.” Q: But they were sitting on the Golan Heights and…
Dayan: “Leave off. I know how at least 80% of the incidents began there. In my opinion, more than 80%, but lets talk about 80%. It would happen like this: We would send a tractor to plow someplace of no value, in the demilitarized zone, knowing ahead of time that the Syrians would begin to shoot. If they did not start shooting, we would tell the tractor to keep going forward, until the Syrians in the end would get nervous and start shooting. And then we would start firing artillery, and later also the airforce and this was the way it was. I did this and Laskov and Tzur (two previous commander-in-chiefs) did it, Yitzhak Rabin did it when he was there (as commander of the northern district at the beginning of the sixties), but it seems to me that it was Dado, more than anyone else, enjoyed these games.”Q: I’m pretty astounded at what you say. What was it all for?
Dayan prefaces his answer with an analysis of the armistice agreements and adds.“What do I want to say by this? We thought then, and this continued for quite a long time, that we could change the lines of the armistice agreements by military actions that were less than war. That is, to grab some territory and to hang on to it until the enemy despairs and gives it to us. It can be said absolutely that this was sort of naive on our part, but you should remember that we did not have the experience of a state…”Q: So all that the kibbutzim wanted was the land?
Dayan: “I am not saying this. Certainly they wanted the Syrians to disappear. They suffered a lot because of the Syrians. Look, as I said before, they lived in the kibbutzim, they farmed, raised children , lived and wanted to live there. The Syrians opposite them were soldiers who shot at them and they certainly did not like this. But I can tell you in absolute certainly: the delegation that came to convince Eshkol to attack the Heights did not think about these things. It thought about the land on the Heights. Listen, I am also a farmer, I’m from Nahalal, not from Tel-Aviv and I recognize this. I saw them and I talked to them. They did not even try to hide their greed for that soil. That’s what guided them.”
Dayan discontinues this part of the interview by pointing out to Tal that he doesn’t want to publish any of this since he may somehow return to the political arena. And indeed Dayan joined the newly formed Begin government in the summer of 1977.
The Beginning of the Hebron Disaster
In an interview that took place on January 1, 1977 -Q: Moshe the last time that we talked you said that there were two things regarding which you did not fulfill your duty as Defence Minister. The first was that you did not prevent the conquest of the Golan Heights in the Six-Day War. What was the second?
Dayan: “ The second and in my opinion even more severe, and with even more dangerous implications for the future, is the affair of the illegal settlement in Hebron. I am talking about Park Hotel, Levinger, Passover, do you remember? (Moshe Levinger and a group of cohorts came to Hebron ostensibly to celebrate the Passover holiday and then wheedled governmental approval to settle in the area. Levinger is, of course, the representative, par excellence of the drive for Jewish settlement in the Hebron region. RK. ) I think that I should have threatened resignation , and in my opinion if I would have done so the government would have approved my opinion. But I did not do this and for this I am really sorry.”
There ensues a discussion in which Dayan explains the problems involved in the resignation technique and explains the despicable role played in the affair by Yigal Alon.Dayan explains his reasons for his low regard for Alon.Q: Let’s go back to Yigal Alon and the Hebron affair.
Dayan: “Yes, what I started to say was that you have to see the whole affair in Yigal Alon’s perspective, because he is responsible that Levinger is still there, and this is very bad, this is really a catastrophe. In my opinion, Yigal knows this today and if he would have taken the trouble to think about it in the past he would have understood it back then, because it is not hard to understand that Levinger is a catastrophe, but Alon did not care about Levinger but about Moshe Dayan, and that I was against this wild settlement was enough for him to do everything so that his people would stay there.”
Dayan launches into an explanation of relations with the Arab countries as distinct from the Palestinians. -4-
“…But our problem with the Palestinians is totally different. Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians cannot be solved by our dividing the country. That is, in the end we will have to somehow divide the country, but that is only part of the solution. Rabin once said , if I’m not mistaken, that he is willing to travel to Gush Etzion with a visa. But this is a very simplistic way to approach such a complex problem. Because the question is not the visa.” Q: Then what is the question?
Dayan: “The question is of living together with the Palestinians and this is very complicated. (Dayan goes on to talk about the size of the Palestinian population and Palestinian perceptions of Israel.)
“…Here I return to Levinger. Levinger understands this and his solution is very simple ‘to repeat what we did in the War of Independence, but on an even greater scale, according to plan…’. Dayan goes on to explain why Levinger disguises his real position, by claiming that he supports coexistence. “…But I tell you that the coexistence that he talks about in Hebron is impossible. Because it is like establishing an Arab neighborhood right here in the area around this house. Look, there are lots of empty lots all of which belonged at one time to Arabs. An Arab can come and show a deed for the area. In fact, he can buy the land and announce that he going to establish an Arab neighborhood. What’s wrong? Coexistence! Will they let him do this? Forget it! Look, in Upper Nazareth Arabs bought apartments and there is an awful lot of dissatisfaction and this causes trouble and I think its not healthy. And in Hebron?!”Q: But Levinger says that it is impossible that there be a place in Eretz Yisrael where Jews will not be able to live.
Dayan: “Yes, but that’s a slogan. In the legal sense it of course unacceptable to issue a law to prevent Jews from settling in any place, and this is true also regarding Arabs. But leave this to the lawyers. In practice it doesn’t work. Maybe after a hundred, a hundred and fifty of years of tense peace it will be possible, but not today. By the way, Levinger understands this perfectly. I repeat and stress that he did not want coexistence, he wanted expulsion. He wanted to make provocations that will bring the State of Israel with the force of the IDF to support him in his objectives…But I want to return to Levinger. What I began to say, at the very beginning of the interview, was that I did not fulfill my duty as Minister of Defence in that I did not prevent his pirate settlement in Hebron. I understood its significance, that it was a catastrophe and that I should have threatened resignation…”

Saturday, April 19, 1997

The Bar-on Affair

If you were a perfectly innocent observer, you might believe that the media and the law enforcement agencies (the police and the public prosecutor) are out to find and indict politicians whose lack of scruples allowed them to trespass beyond the limits of legitimate political bargaining and compromise. In short, by appointing the wrong person for the wrong reasons they had violated the law, mainly that prohibition which deals with the violation of public trust.
The strangest thing about the whole scandal is that even if you believe the worst allegations being thrown around, it is hard to discern any serious criminal action. After all is said and done, we are talking about a political appointment. If the maneuvering surrounding the Bar-on appointment can be defined as criminal, then much of the workings of Israeli government up till now can be faulted as such. The point is that though many of these actions are reprehensible or worthy of censure, there is something arbitrary in a mechanism that can decide to select any single set of actions in order to place them under the glare of a microscope and then proceed to reclassify them, thus transforming the usual disgusting and immoral coalition chicanery into criminal actions indictable in a court of law.
There is also something undemocratic and dangerously so, in allowing the investigative arms of the regime to become the sole arbiters of political propriety. In some senses, much of this is unavoidable. However, the common-knowledge, folk wisdom that all politicians are crooks and that bringing in the cops will help keep them in line, may end up alienating the public from democratic coalition government. It will create a tendency to introduce rules of the game that are appropriate for military -administrative bureaucracies or vaunted dictatorships where the police rule us directly, without benefit of any political mediation….
Deri, the Arch-Criminal
Aryeh Deri, as the officially recognized disciple of the Rav Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Shas, has had a meteoric career in which he succeeded in maximizing the advantages for his party that could be realized by using its perennial swing vote status. Shas, under his leadership, became a new power center in Israeli politics which considers political power basically an instrument for building those institutions associated with its religious and educational mission. In this, they merely continue in the best tradition of Israeli politics. It may be that Deri was caught with his fingers in the cookie jar, but all the signs indicate that he merely exaggerated in using governmental clout to help his movement to repair past discrimination. Nothing to brag about, but certainly nothing to shame him or cause him discomfort in his own movement. If Deri is found guilty of graft at the end of his current (six-year long) court case it will be a result of somebody having moved the goal posts (a shift in the acceptability of certain norms) , and not because this is one of those classic cases of corruption for personal benefit.
The former Attorney-General, Michael Ben Yair who is supposed to act with restraint regarding still-active files previously under his direct responsibility insulted Deri personally a week or so after the Bar-On case hit the media. He complained bitterly that Deri had the nerve to harass the public and public opinion for years. This strange comment was totally unwarranted and smacked precisely of the kind of discrimination that Deri claims has motivated much of the legal action against him. Deri, the “clever Misrakhi upstart has annoyed many in the Israeli elite by putting up a strong legal battle and by leading his party to new electoral successes, while sitting there in the dock. Deri, moreover, is considered a legitimate butt of media humor and constantly portrayed as the prototype of the sleazy, corrupt politician who can get away with anything while we poor mortals have to obey all the laws. Indeed, if Israel had a jury system, one could argue with great justification that Aryeh Deri could not get a fair trial in this country. And if you believe that judges are human - you may be concerned that the incessant media portrayal of Deri as a wily, cocksure, crook may indeed harm his chances for a fair trial.
The media have to be defended because they are under attack by Bibi and Co. and they are indeed one of the main obstacles to dictatorial tendencies. But the media, as a whole, have a poor track record on the major stories of the era. They have led in the demonization of the Arab “enemy,” presented a totally one-sided analysis of the issues involved in the conflict and the peace process; they have been especially weak in matters connected to labor struggles and defense of social and welfare rights. These weaknesses contradict the right-wing hysteria to the effect that the media are in the hands of the “left-wing Mafia,” and the efforts by the media to live down these spurious charges simply confirm the value and the success of campaigns based on a “big-lie.”
There is every reason to believe in the sincerity of the journalists who broke the Bar-on story, but one cannot fail to be uncomfortable about the fact that it is commonly believed that neither of the two chief charges in the original report has been substantiated after weeks of intensive investigations. Moreover, it should be stated that the search for deadline sensations exposes journalists to all kinds of manipulation and weakens the prestige of the media - all in the name of commercial competition.
I admit to not being overly concerned about being fair to Bibi and his colleagues who are, at any rate, are all employing first-rate legal talent to protect their interests. I am concerned about diverting energy and public vigilance from the political realm - in this critical period - to the realm of juridical complexities. I am concerned over the possibilities of a reaction against the media and the legal system, when it becomes clear that the subject matter of the investigation is in the gray area between immorality and illegality - and the real dangers stemming from current government policies are ignored or underestimated. I simply do not believe that the media and or the legal system will do our work for us and replace this government with a better one simply because most of the people involved in the Bar-on appointment have never, in their political life, experienced anything like a moral impulse - of the weakest intensity.