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‘NYT’ reporter’s book on Israeli assassinations brims with jokes about killing Arabs

Media Analysis
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Rise and Kill First is a staggering, investigative account of dozens of Israeli killings over many decades by Ronen Bergman, a leading Israeli journalist who is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.

Bergman has cultivated sources throughout the Israeli security establishment, and in creating what is often a page-turner that relates the details of one lethal operation after another, he tells his story entirely from the Israeli perspective.

As a result the book’s tone is set by the black humor of Bergman’s sources: the Israeli government killers. The author revels in their jargon — Red Page is the name for a “kill order” — and in their snuff jokes, the grisly humor that Israeli operatives employ when they describe killing Palestinians and other Arabs in their interviews with Bergman.

Here is a (long) list of those cracks.

–“The same night, that man died of natural causes by swallowing a pillow.” –Yair Ravid of AMAN (military intelligence directorate of the IDF) on killing a Lebanese witness to an Israeli informant in the late 70s.

–“I don’t understand why they say why we, Israel, are losing the war for minds. If I put a bullet between Abu Jihad’s eyes, right in the middle of his mind, doesn’t that mean I’ve won?” IDF chief of staff Moshe Yaalon, justifying the killing of the PLO leader in a 2013 interview. Abu Jihad’s killing in Tunis in 1988 is one many Israelis involved in the operation “now regret,” Bergman says.

–“I am ready to shed countless tears on the grave of a Lebanese who was killed on a mission for us, as long as no Jew’s life is endangered.”  Meir Dagan, Mossad chief, on his preference for using proxies in Lebanon to carry out killings.

–“No dog, no rabies.” Avraham Dar, officer with AMAN (Israeli army military intelligence directorate), on the merits of killing King Farouk of Egypt in 1951. Farouk was ousted by Egyptian officers, including Nasser, in 1952, and died in exile in Italy in 1965.

–“Every Arab can be recruited on the basis of one of the three Ps– praise, payment, or pussy.” Rehavia Vardi, head of a secret IDF intelligence team, on the ease of recruiting hundreds of informants between 1948 and 1956, in an interview with Bergman in 1997 (presumably when the author was getting graduate degrees at Cambridge).

–“I took a pill against nausea and carried on.” Reuven Merhav, Mossad official, on cooperating with the Phalange in Lebanon.

–“If you give them an order to build a pipeline to move blood from Haifa to the Negev, they’ll do it excellently and won’t for a moment ask whose blood it is.” General Amos Gilboa on the Israeli air force’s willingness to carry out orders.

–“We used to have a fixed formula then… There is no information in the security establishment as to the whereabouts of this person… although we knew very well what hole he was buried in.” Yossi Ginossar, senior Shin Bet official, on the agency’s policy when police sought information on behalf of Palestinian families on the whereabouts of missing PLO activists in the 1980s.

–“Hypocrisy! For years we were cleaning out Israel’s sewage, and everyone knew more of less how the sewage was cleaned.” Ginossar expressing anger at politicians’ efforts to establish accountability for killing Palestinian activists.

–“The way we saw things then, whoever came to a weapons cache to take the arms and use them to kill Jews, it’s better if they have a work accident.” A Shin Bet source on not taking prisoners in Palestine.

–Israel should put settlements in the West Bank till the Arabs could only “run around like drugged bugs in a bottle.” –Rafael Eitan, IDF chief of staff

–“You Flotilla 13, are like a priest’s balls. Not used but it’s nice that they’re there. All that is going to change.” Eitan, addressing a secret naval commando unit as he set out on a program of targeted killings in 1978.

–“We have no authority to forgive people like bin Laden. That, only God can do. Our job is to arrange a meeting between them. In my laboratory, I opened a matchmaker’s office, a bureau that arranged such meetings.” Natan Rotberg, bombmaker, bragging of 30 killings he carried out in the 1950s, mostly of Palestinians in Gaza.

–“You press once, you press twice, but the coffee stays in the machine.” Shin Bet director Avi Dichter on the initial failed attempt to kill Palestinian bombmaker Yahya Ayyash with an explosive planted in a Motorola cellphone. Ayyash was killed by such a device at age 29 in Gaza in 1996. From Bergman’s chapter titled, “Bring Us the Head of Ayyash.”

–“On the one hand he was as sly as a snake. On the other hand, as naive as a little child.” Shimon Peres on Yasser Arafat’s character.

–“Bring me some big fish, not these minnows. I want leaders, not merchants.” –Benjamin Netanyahu rejecting dossiers of potential Hamas targets for assassination, 1997.

–“Potion of the Gods.” Mossad nickname for Levofentanyl, a powerful opioid used in the attack on Khaled Meshal in Amman in 1997. The attack was botched, the attackers arrested, and Israeli PM Netanyahu had to surrender an antidote to the Jordanians, and Meshal recovered.

–Either the Kenyans “take them to the desert and feed them to the hyenas for lunch,” or turn them over to the Israelis. — Eliezer Tsafrir, a Mossad official, recalling a 1976 operation that captured three Palestinians and two Germans planning on shooting down an Israeli plane in Kenya.

–“It’s like a zookeeper letting a hungry lion loose in the streets and it eats someone. Who’s responsible? The lion? Clearly it’s the zookeeper.” Amos Gilad, military  intelligence, on Arafat’s responsibility for terror attacks ordered by his deputies in the 70s, though there was no direct connection established.

–“The aim of a negative treatment operation is to kill the object. There’s no such thing as half dead.” Former Mossad operative on a mail bomb that went wrong. “Negative treatment” was the Mossad euphemism for targeted killings of PLO members in the 1980s.

–“Suddenly the scent of a hunt was in the air.” From the official government report on the 1992 killing by missile of Hezbollah general secretary Hussein Abbas al-Mussawi and his wife and six year old son in a Mercedes in Lebanon. The comment refers to a drone sending video to a war room in Tel Aviv showing Mussawi getting into the car.

–“From our point of view, they were all painted in black.” AMAN officer explaining that they made no distinction among Hezbollah members, all were potential targets.

–“He whispered two words into the microphone of the radio in his sleeve– ‘Honey Bun.’” An undercover commander telling Bergman about the code for action against Fathi Shaqaqi, leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, when he was killed in Malta in 1995.

–“Just like there’s a sun and a moon, there was the noise and view of the UAVs.” — Gen. Moshe Yaalon, IDF chief of staff, on the omnipresence of armed drones buzzing around the occupied territories over Palestinians’ heads.

–“Someone who deserves his ticket on the train to elimination.” Mossad director Meir Dagan on who was selected for assassination.

–“I am no vegetarian.” A Mossad officer justifying his opposition to some targeted killings.

–“We could not claim that these operations were executed by the government of Finland.” Brig General Yossi Kuperwasser of AMAN on more than 340 killings of Palestinians in the occupied territories in 2001-2003.

–“If we do not get rid of people like Salah Shehade, more and more Israelis will  get hurt. In situations like this, Palestinian civilians are liable to get hurt. [But] when you have to decide between two children, I prefer that the Jewish Israeli child won’t weep.”  Aharon Zeevi-Farkash of AMAN justifying killing Salah Shehade in a residential area of Gaza in 2002. The result was “catastrophic,” Bergman reports: Shehade’s wife, assistant, daughter and ten other civilians, including seven children were killed; and 150 wounded.

–“If you… want to know what I feel when I release a bomb, then I’ll tell you: I feel a slight shudder in the wing as a result of the release of the bomb, after a second it passes and that’s all.” –Air Force commander Dan Halutz, justifying the Shehade killings in the face of criticism.

–“They all know that the 72 virgins in paradise is an option that cannot be proved, and they, the leaders, are simply not prepared to check it out for themselves.” Amos Gilad of the Israeli Defense Ministry, on the efficacy of killing Palestinian leaders in response to suicide bombings in Israel, 2003, from an interview with Bergman.

–“I’m prepared to cry over the coffin of any such agent or proxy who dies and returns his soul [to his maker]… But I also prefer to see them dead than my [Israeli/Jewish] operatives dead.” Dagan on wanting to use proxies to carry out killings rather than “Blue and White” forces, Israelis.

–“It’s the kind of hit where the target dictates how and when he is to be made dead.” Veteran operative on killing of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in 2010, when the hit squad, using western passports that did not belong to them, did not know where al-Mabhouh was staying but followed him from the airport to the Al-Bustan Rotana, where he was killed in his room.

–“The right way to confront the Israeli-Arab dispute was by ‘separating the Arab from his head.'” The longtime view inside the defense establishment that peace would be achieved by force, a creed it ceased to believe by 2011.

As that last quote indicates, by the end of his book, Bergman questions the usefulness of the killings in advancing any sort of understanding between Israel and its many enemies. The killings only made things worse, he suggests.

If Bergman had interviewed any of the Arab victims or their families, he might have reached that understanding faster. For instance, though Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon says it was a mistake to kill Hamas political leader Jamal Mansour in Nablus in 2001, killing seven other Palestinians in the attack, Bergman does not bother to ask the Mansour family about the murders (let alone suggest accountability for the killings).

That choice reflects his point of view. Bergman is obviously proud of Israel’s ability to carry out the assassinations. Along the way, he lauds these Israeli operations for restoring Jewish prestige in the wake of the Holocaust, when Jews were passive victims. Published by Random House in English, his book surely provides vicarious pleasure to many American Jewish readers who have never picked up a gun.

You don’t need to be George Orwell to understand that when our press and politicians began referring to killing an Arab overseas as “taking him out,” the language conveyed wholesale approval of the murder; the official world had stopped questioning the morality/legality/humanity/efficacy of assassination. And that’s why I find Bergman’s vernacular degrading.


Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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21 Responses

  1. marc b. on September 7, 2018, 1:26 pm

    i’ve listened to a few interviews with bergman, partly because i’m reluctant to enrich him by buying the book. he never referred to, nor was questioned about, the car bomb campaign nor of the allegation of the attempted assassination of ambassador dean in lebanon. he did have a nasty habit of referring to non-jews as ‘goys’, consistent with the (sub?) text of all of the ‘black humor’.

  2. Hastobe on September 7, 2018, 3:12 pm

    I now need to go take a shower… :(

  3. Maghlawatan on September 7, 2018, 4:17 pm

    What defined Israel from the get go, other than violence and whining, was arrogance. Those dumb Arab fucks versus Sabra superstars.

    But the Palestinians live in the real world (they have no choice) and Israelis live in a fantasy world of their own superiority and eternal US support and no need to solve the Palestinian issue. None of the assassinations could undo the insanity of occupying Gaza in 1967. Now the dumb Arab fucks are a majority and Israel is up shit creek without a paddle. There is probably a Yiddish phrase about the arrogant asshole who miscalculated. But they dumped Yiddish too.

    • Mooser on September 7, 2018, 4:25 pm

      “What defined Israel from the get go, other than violence and whining, was arrogance.”

      That’s right! Once freed from our Jewish trauma we can face the world with the proper attitude!

    • Misterioso on September 8, 2018, 10:03 am

      @Maghlawatan, et al

      The following news item further reveals ‘Israel’s’ chronic insecurity resulting from its well documented and ongoing escalating violations of international humanitarian law.

      The so called “Jewish State” is so frightened of a teenage Palestinian girl and her family that its leaders will not permit them to travel abroad and speak the truth.

      AA English, Sept. 7/18
      By Esat Firat

      “Israel bans Al-Tamimi from traveling abroad”

      “Palestinian resistance icon and her family were planning to take part in some events in Europe”

      RAMALLAH, Palestine
      “Israel has banned Palestinian resistance icon Ahed al-Tamimi and her family from traveling abroad, her father said Friday.

      “Basim al-Tamimi told Anadolu Agency that he and his family had planned to travel to Europe via Jordan, participate in some events and discuss the Palestinian resistance movement and the experience of being detained in Israel.

      “But they were informed by Palestinian authorities that Israel had banned them from traveling abroad.

      “They had planned to leave Friday morning, he said, adding the authorities did not provide a reason for the ban.

      “On July 29, the Israeli authorities released Ahed al-Tamimi and her mother, Nariman, after both had served eight months behind bars.

      “The 17-year-old was arrested last December and was later slapped with an eight-month jail term for ‘attacking’ an Israeli soldier.

      “In 2012, Istanbul’s Basaksehir Municipality granted al-Tamimi the prestigious Hanzala Courage Award for defying Israeli soldiers who had just arrested her brother.”

  4. CigarGod on September 7, 2018, 7:32 pm

    “…no daylight between us and Israel.”

    Trump, Obama, Kerry, Hagel, Steve Israel, McCain, etc.
    The list is endless………

  5. DaBakr on September 8, 2018, 1:35 am

    Lol. Arab Muslims don’t make jokes about jews of course. Phil is disgusted with black humour, of course. Such an assimilated boy. Such a scold. I suppose he doesn’t consider vulgar references to the way israeli men sit as particularly funny.

    • Misterioso on September 8, 2018, 8:56 am


      “Arab Muslims don’t make jokes about jews of course.”

      Apples and oranges.

      I remind you that the Arab Palestinians are under the brutal, racist, fascistic boot of expansionist Jewish Zionist illegal occupiers. Making jokes about their oppressors is entirely understandable and acceptable.

    • CigarGod on September 8, 2018, 10:54 am

      Little Dabakie does it again.

      “Well, Johnny did it too, Mom.”

    • Talkback on September 8, 2018, 11:57 am

      DaBakr: “Arab Muslims don’t make jokes about jews of course.”

      If Israeli Nonjews “make jokes” (incl. on Facebook) they get immediately arrested. On the other hand Israeli Jews can call for genocide and nothing happens at all. So much for your beloved Apartheid Junta.

    • JLewisDickerson on September 8, 2018, 5:22 pm

      ITAY TIRAN (recently in Haaretz):“If the nation-state law is a reference point, from which you calculate where Israeli society is, then clearly it’s a racist, non-egalitarian law, another step in the nationalist shift taking place here. On the other hand, I say it’s not only bad. Why? Because it forces out a kind of collective subconscious that has always existed here.”
      SOURCE –

  6. rthomas13 on September 8, 2018, 2:02 pm

    The real question here is whether these killings continue. Of course the Israelis will deny it, but that may be just to make us feel safe from them. Most of all, do they kill inside America or will they as BDS makes progress in isolating Israel?

  7. pabelmont on September 8, 2018, 7:21 pm

    One may attend to the hyper-trendy term “targeted killing” and ask, have Israelis stopped doing “untargeted killing” which — I suppose — is also illicit assassination w/o trial (etc, etc blah blah) but may be done by unselective bombing or shelling which takes many lives instead of only killing the (presumably) singular target.

    After all, they have — by their own claim anyhow — the most moral army in the world. But maybe the assassination group is not part of the army.

  8. JWalters on September 9, 2018, 3:13 am

    From the butler’s notebook –

    Lord R: What’s this delay I’m hearing about in making criticism of Israel illegal?

    Aide: We’re working on that, your Lordship. This fellow Corbyn is rather attached to some idea of “justice” for the Arabs.

    Lord R: What are we doing about that?

    Aide: We’re hitting him rather hard with an anti-Semitism campaign.

    Lord R: Good! Is that working?

    Aide: Well, the press and Parliament are speaking up vigorously. But some of the grass-roots seem to be sticking with Corbyn.

    Lord R: Perhaps it’s time to mow the grass.

    Aide: I’m afraid we can’t do that in England, your Lordship.

    Lord R: Henry VIII did it.

  9. Jackdaw on September 9, 2018, 10:11 am

    To think that a grown man sat there culling these quips out Bergman’s book.

    What a sad life he’s chosen.

    • CigarGod on September 9, 2018, 10:23 am

      The more you speak the younger you appear.

    • lonely rico on September 10, 2018, 7:22 pm

      > Jackduh

      What a sad life he’s chosen

      PW has chosen for justice and peace.

      I’m sure he would have preferred spending his time otherwise than digging thorough the inhuman madness at the heart of your ugly Zionist project.

      What a sad life you have chosen Jackduh,
      smearing and diminishing and lying,
      with zero understanding of the disgust your posturing provokes
      in ordinary people who despise your falsity
      and the cruelty of your Zionist dystopia.

      • Jackdaw on September 17, 2018, 5:58 am

        And…loving it!

      • Talkback on September 17, 2018, 7:59 am

        Jackdaw: “And…loving it!”

        Gollum … Gollum …

  10. Marnie on September 10, 2018, 8:15 am

    What vulgar cruelty on display. It will probably be required reading for the little zionazis in training. No time for beauty, critical thinking, poetry, art, languages, the history of the entire world, nope, only the zionist narrative, bloody, foul and hellish. I imagine nazis told the same types of jokes about their ‘yid’ captives, laughed as they died from medical experiments that were never meant to do anything but inflict the most amount of harm and suffering in the very short time the victims were allowed to live. daBakr and jackdoo are ashamed of course, but can only express their shame in the infantile way that they do. Grow the fuck up. But if you insist on continuing to defend those who cannot be defended, at have the courage to do it instead of whining because of truths being exposed.

  11. Marnie on September 10, 2018, 8:47 am

    I wonder if any of the crimes reported so diligently by the happy with himself sadist in the photo above could be prosecuted?

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