A little hope: a Golanchik marvels at his former commander’s transformation re Gaza

on 9 Comments

As I have to remind myself and readers, I've spent all of 10 days in Israel, and sometimes dehumanize the Israeli experience. Here's a note from someone who's spent more time on-the-ground, my friend Peter Drubetskoy, a veteran of the Golani brigade now living in the U.S., who has observed a former commander's transformation:

Bradley Burston in Haaretz has a colum quoting reserve brigadier general Shmuel Zakai, the former commander of Israel's southern region, opposing the widely-bruited idea of invading Gaza. 

In Zakai's view, Israel's central error during the tahadiyeh,
the six-month period of relative truce that formally ended on Friday,
was failing to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than
markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip…

"The carrot is improvement of the economic situation
in the Gaza Strip. You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians
in Gaza in the economic distress they're in, and to expect that Hamas
will just sit around and do nothing. That's something that's simply

In the end, Israel must realize that "we can't impose regimes on
the Palestinians. We can't cause the Palestinians [to decide] who will
rule over them. Hamas took over the Gaza Strip. This is a fact. I do
not believe that the state of Israel should cause another ruler to come
to power in Gaza borne on the bayonets of the IDF. "

"It's just like after the disengagement. We left Gaza and we
thought that with that troubles were over. Did we really think that a
million and a half people living in that kind of poverty were going to
mount the rooftops and begin singing the Beitar hymn? That is

I served under Zakai – he was the commander of the regional brigade in South
Lebanon where I was the deputy communications officer. We were never very close, and separated by two levels of command; so I was surprised when several years later I
met him by chance during my reserve duty and he started
hugging me and calling me "akhi" ("my brother", a
call widely used in the army – and beyond – with a connotation similar to
"bro".) Then several years later I heard that he was
removed from the post of commander of Gaza and that his tenure there
included charges of "scorched earth" policy.

And then back in May, before the
start of recently-ended truce with Hamas, I learned that he was one of
the signers on the letter calling for open talks
with Hamas. I was surprised, and left a comment on YMeded's blog, My Right Word:

it's high time. I am glad some people still have enough good sense in
them to try to find a pragmatic solution to the situation. I was
surprised to see Zakai's name on the list: I know him not badly, having
served under him in the army. You know what, he never struck me as an
"Arab lover". I am not sure what was the story with his early
discharge. On the one hand under his command in Gaza punitive actions
against Palestinian civilian population increased, on the other it
looks like he was against some of these.

Now he again talks
about recognizing Hamas as the power in Gaza and working with them,
to some extent, etc. I reflect, Maybe I never got to know him. In the land where almost no politician dares to say the obvious, it takes a tough, crazy golanchik to say this stuff. 

9 Responses

  1. Todd
    December 23, 2008, 1:26 pm

    I don't understand why Phil's friend is living in the United States. Is he here permanently? I spent around a year in Israel doing what amounted to migrant labor and touring, and I was never condidered anything more than a migrant laborer/traveller. Living in Israel never interested me even if it would have been possible.

    Having spent a fair amount of time in Israel, I admit that I don't care one bit about what happens to Israel as long as the U.S. doesn't get the refugees. I wouldn't even care about Israel if I hadn't seen with my own eyes what Israel is, realized how the American Jews that I met in Israel (even the ones going back to America) tend to view other Jews, no matter where they come from, as their kinsmen over non-Jewish Americans, and started to see the influence that Israel and Jewish groups have in the U.S. Whatever Phil is or is not, he isn't an assimilationist.

  2. Jack Geaney
    December 23, 2008, 2:04 pm

    There are obviously shades of assimilation and coming from a Jewish perspective Phil is a real assimilationist.
    I think wanting the kind of assimilation you might see from a person with a white British Protestant backround is not reasonable here.
    Whatever one's unhappiness about 'Israel firstness' Jews do have real reason to look after themselves and their kinsmen.

  3. shanafactor
    December 23, 2008, 3:36 pm

    And Gentiles best stay aware of this for their own good, no? Goose, gander?

  4. jew hater?
    December 23, 2008, 4:11 pm

    Dear Shanafactor and Todd,

    Lets do a little experiment. Lets kill off 50% of your socially identified group (whatever that may be, wait, better yet, whatever we decide it will be) and then lets dehumanize your "kind" for another 50 years and periodically remind you that you could suffer a similar murder spree if you don't stay in line and not piss us off.
    Then lets see if you're any less paranoid than all these stinking jews you keep complaining about, as if they are somehow different from other groups put through the ringer.

  5. Todd
    December 23, 2008, 4:22 pm

    35% has already been displaced, government programs are in place to discriminate against the rest, and we've lived through 50 years of media-driven guilt and hostility already. Does any of this count?

  6. shanafactor
    December 23, 2008, 6:38 pm

    Yeah, the poor things, they're so weak they had nothing to do with
    getting us into the Iraq War2; nor the drum beat to bomb Iran, nor
    the overwhelming tax payer funds holding up Israel & its OT every year. Hardly matter as MSM pundits & owners, or as taking over
    influential think tanks, not to mention, why so few on Wall Street, especially in hedge funds? Who's engaged in a murder spree?

  7. Colin Murray
    December 23, 2008, 8:22 pm

    Colin's response to Jack Geaney's post:

    I think that Jack's insight that it is unreasonable to expect the same degree of assimilation from Jews than expected from white British Protestants is very illuminating. I'll be making a lot of generalizations in the following narrative, many of them can be well-argued against, but given my limited time, I'm doing the best I can. Comments and criticisms are always welcome, even hostile ones because they still give me more data. :)

    Assimilation is a question of degree. The depth and speed of assimilation by white British Protestants (into an already predominantly wBP culture, albeit of potentially different denomination) was facilitated by the lack of need for the kind of strong inward-looking relationships that I think Jews have felt are vital for mutual protection. Put yourself in their shoes and ask some simple questions. If someone wants to do me wrong, who can I count on to help me? If the 'larger community' you feel you can depend on for a given level of support, e.g. who will help me if someone comes to murder me, is not large, the natural, indeed the only sane, reaction is to forge bonds as closely as possible with those who would help you. I suggest that in general the 'comfort level' for having more diverse relationships increases with reduction of the chance for unjust adverse consequences.

    Consider business relationships, which EVERYONE has in one form or another, because we all work. The chance for significant adverse consequences for cursory relationships, like studying with classmates, is very small. No problem. But how would you go about cultivating the serious relationships that are part and parcel of running any business when your livelihood depends upon them? If you KNEW that some people could seize your property, for example by refusing to honor a contract or pay a debt, and completely get away with it because you had no reliable recourse to the law, what choices would you make? I know damn well I would be very careful about choosing the people with whom I would be willing to make agreements that exposed me to liablity. I would rely on those I felt I could trust, even if it meant that others saw me as 'clubby'. Frak what they think, you have a family to feed. Do you want to see your kids go hungry? Perhaps this dynamic is relevant to understanding what I have read about Jewish feelings of betrayal by Mr. Madoff. If you feel you can only rely on a small group of people, and one of them betrays you, then they have seriously undermined the foundation of your sense of security. I think there is something more to this notion that can be teased out.

    Willingness to inter-marry seems to me to be an important criterion for some gentiles in assessing whether Jews are assimilated 'enough'. Their adherance to this view says as much about what they fear than about what they think Jews fear. I suggest that it is not so much deviation from traditional ritual that bothers some Jews, but a fear of of losing reliable generational continuity. Fear of its breakdown may be directly related to that ultimate of fears "Who will stand with me when someone comes to kill me?". The maintenance of identity is seen as vital to ensuring the perpetuity of protective relationships. If you feel that only your kinsmen will stand with you, it is natural that you would assess as a threat any processes that you perceived as damaging the power of your kinsmen to come to your aid, including of course their numerical diminution via inter-marriage.

    My own view on all of this are consistent with my general view of tolerating the behavior of others: if it doesn't hurt me, and my taxes don't have to pay for it (at least without my consent) then have fun. My problem with the American Jewish establisment is that they have crossed that line, and have gone VERY VERY far over it. As former President Clinton might have said if he were an honest and and compassionate man: "it's the wars stupid, it's the wars stupid." I suspect (and hope) many American Jews realize that we are way over that line, and want to cross back, but don't know quite how to do so without damaging the integrity of the community that they feel is vital for their survival. Given that there are at least three million corpses whose deaths can be directly attributable to the warmongering of the neocons, who they see as part of their community, even if as 'black sheep' no one really wants to have over for dinner, this is completely understandable.

    I know that this is highly simplistic, but my solution is 'just stop'. I'm completely ok with all this just blowing over. I think revenge is stupid on general principle, nor do I insist on justice. Let the guilty walk away, as long as they stop. I think that many of the majority of Jews who are not neocons, including those in the civil service, the media, and the political establishment, have provided 'cover' for these criminals out of a sense of potential threat to themselves if they don't 'circle the wagons'. I bet many desperately wish that neo-conservatism wasn't fundamentally a product of Jewish political culture. But (directed to Jews) it is guys, and even if there aren't any easy solutions, nor any good ones, the optimal one, no matter how bad it may be, should be chosen as soon as possible. I don't see how a solution can avoid 'pushing the neo-cons out of the wagon circle', but the longer this goes on, the less likely it will be that this can just 'blow away'. Gentiles in American are increasingly aware of the fundamental link between pointless wars abroad, terrorist blowback at home, and unquestioned American support for ethnic cleansing, orchestrated by, or at least facilitated by, the Israeli government and enabled by the American Jewish political establishment. I know this is a poor, and perhaps unfair, analogy: the tractor trailer's headlights are still far away, for frak's sake get off the road! If American Jews and Israelis can't off the road, then it's our moral duty to grab them by the belt and yank them out of the way, even if it hurts. Don't mistake insistence on grabbing that belt and yanking as hatred, it is not.

  8. Phil Weiss
    December 24, 2008, 10:34 am

    Todd I guess you mean that I still regard Jews as kinsmen. This is accurate. And I know that I privilege Jews on this site. I sometimes feel embarrassed about this, and want to stop. But it's a process. I hope to get there. I do come from a very clanlike background and I am trying to grow out of that. Part of that has been trying to find Jews who are as critical of Israel as I am…
    Re Jewish fears, Not long after I got married, one of my dearest friends from college, a big editor in New York, said, "Would they hide you?" I was confused. He had to explain: would my inlaws hide me in the event of antisemitic violence. This has always been the bottom line for him and I know for many others. My wife's family would hide me.
    Hiding is also what media Jews, liberal progressive conservative etc, are doing for neocon Jews over Iraq. They've/we've done this from the start, and no the alternative is not the gestapo; it's a democratic process of examining tragic mistakes, including at the heart of this one, ignoring Arab suffering.

  9. Anonymous
    December 24, 2008, 11:21 am

    "it's a democratic process of examining tragic mistakes"

    "Tragic mistake" is not the right name for intentional murder of the worst kind. Jews wanted war, jews got their war, jews will pay for it. That's the law of the world.

    With the count's permission:
    The important number is the percentage who supported getting us INTO the war.

    American Jewish Committee survey from December 16, 2002 – January 5, 2003:

    4. Do you approve or disapprove of the United States taking military action against Iraq to try and
    remove Saddam Hussein from power?
    Approve 59
    Disapprove 36
    Not sure 5

    5. If the United States takes military action against Iraq, do you think the threat of terrorism
    against the United States will increase, decrease, or stay about the same?
    Increase 62
    Decrease 6
    Stay about the same 32
    Not sure 1

    6. In your opinion, do you think that a war between the United States and Iraq is likely to lead to
    a larger war between other countries in the Middle East?
    Yes, likely 56
    No, not likely 41
    Not sure 3
    link to ajc.org

    CBS News poll on January 4-6, 2003:

    What should U.S. do now about Iraq?
    Take military action: 29%
    Find diplomatic solution: 63%
    link to cbsnews.com

    Opinion inside Israel from February 2003:
    "Over three-quarters (77.5 percent) of Jewish respondents favor a U.S. campaign against Iraq."
    link to haaretz.com

    What's particularly chilling about the AJC survey is that the respondents seemed to have a pretty
    accurate idea about the full consequences of the war, yet were still backing it.

    Posted by: David | February 12, 2007 at 04:26 PM


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