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A soldier dead 37 years is Russia’s gift to Netanyahu, in last days of campaign

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Zecharia Baumel was killed in one the most needless and stupid battles of the First Lebanon War, a war full of many such battles.

Baumel, a young reservist, was made a false sacrifice by the Government of Israel on the altar of the hallucinatory concept of controlling Lebanon. The government owes him an apology, and must ask his pardon. It is hard to believe that the belated transfer of the remains of his body to Israel merits the title of apology; let us, then, begin this discussion with the old burial prayer: “I hereby ask of pardon and forgiveness. Everything we did was for your honor, according with the tradition of Yisrael. Go in peace, and rest in peace.”

One does not fight the dead. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never shall they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.

But as for fighting those who misuse them – well, that’s quite a different matter.

Let’s begin with the facts. Baumel, a tank commander, was killed on June 11, 1982 in the Battle of Sultan Yaakub, in which an Israeli division managed to stumble into an ambush by Syrian commando forces. While it was known he was killed, his body – and that of two of his comrades – was never recovered. As is customary in the Middle East, the victors who held the battlefield (in this case, the Syrians and some Palestinian militias) took the bodies in the hope of one day parlaying them into some advantage. Baumel’s destroyed tank was driven through the streets of Damascus in a ghoulish triumph; in 1993, Yasser Arafat presented Yizhak Rabin with one half of Baumel’s dog tags. Obviously someone else was holding the other half, in anticipation of some reward.

(The Syrians and the Palestinians aren’t alone in this. Israel has a whole graveyard, The Graveyard of the Enemy Dead, where bodies are kept until their time on the market comes.)

A week or two ago, Russian troops acting with Syrian troops transferred secretly to Israel the contents of a whole graveyard from the Yarmuq Refugee Camp, which the Syrians have taken from some militia. The Russians claimed it was held by some ISIS affiliate, but one should be careful about such Russian claims. Be that as it may, on Wednesday the Israeli public was surprised to hear that the IDF has conducted “an intelligence operation,” as a result of which the bodily remains of Baumel were identified.

The IDF and Netanyahu’s office bombarded the media with news of an “operation”, colonels with initials instead of names spoke of their part in the glorious operation, and everyone blessed Military Intelligence.

Nobody said anything about Russians. In fact, military censorship forbade any mention of Russian involvement, at first.

Given this partial information, my first horrified thought was “Oh my God, the fuckers did it again.”

Israel has developed an obsession with its war dead – an obsession which became deeper as the country had no actual wars. In godforsaken 2004, the only good of which could be said was that it was better than 2006, I was duty editor – twice – when Gazans blew up a tank and Armored Personnel Carrier. One was in the middle of the Strip; the other was near the Egyptian border, in a thin strip called Philadelphy Route.

There isn’t much left when a tank blows up.

Nevertheless, IDF brass gave the order, and soldiers obeyed, that the area near the explosions is to be combed – literally combed – in search after body remains. Soon I was watching IDF soldiers crawling in the dust, looking for the remains of their comrades.

Under fire.

Which killed at least one soldier.

Now, I have no problem with the Palestinian militiamen who blew up tanks and fired at enemy soldiers. War is war. If you’re carrying a gun in an occupied territory, you’re basically asking for it. I served for two years in Gaza, during the First Intifada. I insisted then that if some Palestinian would shoot me, that would certainly be annoying, but I would not bear a grudge, nor should anyone bear one in my name. It was my choice to serve in an occupied territory and carry a gun.

I did have a huge problem with the military – and the Israeli public. See, normally an army is supposed to take the shots instead of the civilians. But during the horrid years of the Second Intifada, the pyramid was reversed. The number of dead soldiers was relatively low, but the number of dead civilians hit the roof.

And the civilians seem to like it that way. The general sentiment was that it’s pretty bad if a bus blows up, but it’s much worse if a tank blows up. Military lives were deemed to be of more importance than civilian life. And this attitude moved from dead soldiers to pieces of dead soldiers. I was appalled at the fact the order to crawl under fire to get some body parts met with no refusal from the soldiers; and the general public seemed to think this was perfectly normal.

That is, we had a whole new pyramid. At its base were civilian life; they counted for little. Above them, soldiers’ lives. They mattered more. And then, at the apex, soldiers’ bodies. It seemed totally reasonable to risk the lives of soldiers in order to get soldiers’ body parts.  I was not sure who lost his mind, me or the country.

That was bloody 2004. Then came fucking 2006. The Lebanon War began when Hizbullah fired a rocket at military vehicle which was moseying about near the Lebanon border. Two soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, were killed on the spot. Hizbullah hijacked the bodies and were gone with them before the IDF understood what happened. The fool commanding the division, Gal Hirsch (he’s running for the Knesset in the “Shield of Israel” party, his chances non-existent), ordered a tank to guard the destroyed vehicle. Hizbullah destroyed the tank. The number of dead was now eight, and once the Chief of Staff sold his shares portfolio, the war started.

The IDF and the PM (then Ehud Olmert) pretended Goldwasser and Regev were alive, even though IDF forensics knew they were dead a few hours after the rocket attack. When a rocket hits a vehicle, there isn’t much left of the soldiers. There was enough blood on the spot to know Goldwasser and Regev were dead. Olmert and the army took the country to war on false pretenses: they claimed they were alive and promised to get them back.

When it all ended, thousands of dead and unknown number of traumas later, Hizbullah negotiated for the bodies. Natch. Israel gave almost all of its Hizbullah captives. The government, which was in serious trouble at the time – one poll showed Olmert with 2% support, versus Hizbullah’s leader Nasrallah, with 4% – did its best to convince the public there’s a chance Goldwasser and Regev are alive, in order for the deal to pass. The media ate it up.

Of course, they were dead and Olmert knew it for months. When the Hizbullah truck opened and two coffins were brought out, with the Hizbullah representative sadistically crying, “Here they are!”, the country went into shock.

And it still supported the deal. After all, dead soldiers are more important than living soldiers.

So, when the news came of Baumel’s body being brought to burial, I found myself hoping: not again, not again, no more risking of lives over dead bodies.

The next day (Thursday), Netanyahu met with Putin in Moscow. A Russian honor guard presented Netanyahu with a coffin draped in an Israeli flag and supposed to contain Baumel’s combat tank suit and boots.

Somebody fucked up badly, because an IDF colonel spoke the night before of examining Baumel’s combat suit, in Israel, and of the meticulous care he and his unit – never identified – had taken of making certain it was indeed Baumel’s suit. I guess someone forgot to update the Russians; either that, or this was one of Putin’s little jokes.

In short, the whole affair was a propaganda stunt from start to finish. The point was to portray Netanyahu, five days before the elections, as someone who can bring dead soldiers home. Which is precisely how the media played it: “bringing the son home.”

But Baumel is dead, has been dead for 37 years, life ending in a dreadful last hour and a semi-second of a flash. The officers who sent him – and 19 of his comrades – to a pointless death were not punished; the politician who sent the army there, Ariel Sharon, overcame that debacle and became a prime minister. And now the remains of Baumel are being used in a cynical ploy to ensure Netanyahu’s reelection. A trick which might just work: after all, dead soldiers are more important than live soldiers, who in turn are more important than live civilians.

We have badly misused you, Zecharia Baumel. Rest now in peace. We beg your forgiveness, and perhaps not everything we did was for your honor. Beg mercy for us, for we shall need it.






Yossi Gurvitz

Yossi Gurvitz is a journalist and a blogger, and has covered the occupation extensively.

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18 Responses

  1. annie on April 5, 2019, 2:18 pm

    so trump gives netanyahu the golan and putin gives him a soldier’s corpse. this ritual of presenting gifts to politicians before elections to boost their performances in the election, offers a macabre glimpse into israeli society.

    fascinating article.

    • Kay24 on April 5, 2019, 10:07 pm

      Yes Annie, and still the voters get duped into voting for the worst – a corrupt man on the verge of being indicted, a man who world leaders called a liar, and who has failed to bring peace for all.
      Yes, it seems to work all the time, even in the US.

    • captADKer on April 6, 2019, 10:35 am

      and the iranians then have obama’s gift of a land bridge to the mediterranean, among many others, now appear ever less likely.

      • annie on April 6, 2019, 4:43 pm

        o please. have you looked at a map lately? do you think the US is going to permanently occupy parts of syria? or will we be turning it over to israel too? trump won’t be in office forever. the US is unlikely to be interested in the middle east forever either. once the oil runs dry..

      • hai_bar on April 7, 2019, 4:43 am

        annie: “the US is unlikely to be interested in the middle east forever either. once the oil runs dry..”

        This whole colony will become dispensable when resources run dry in the region, wasn’t this the whole point of colonizing the world? The uppers might gradually leave the area to the ‘Messiah’s return’ or the ‘end of the world’ enthusiasts, those will continue the myth.

      • annie on April 7, 2019, 2:26 pm

        The uppers might gradually leave the area to the ‘Messiah’s return’ or the ‘end of the world’ enthusiasts, those will continue the myth.

        or there may be a migration of sorts, leaving the land to the indigenous. it remains to be seen.

      • gamal on April 7, 2019, 4:06 pm

        “it remains to be seen”

        yes and the Arabs of all varieties, all of them, watch Venezuela and think Russia, China come save us too.

    • Mooser on April 7, 2019, 12:57 pm

      “this ritual of presenting gifts to politicians before elections”

      I bet Putin’s gift will be less trouble to Israel than Trump’s gifts.

      • annie on April 7, 2019, 2:29 pm

        i thought putin’s “gift” was a trip. it could also be seen as a sort of farewell although i don’t really see netanyahu losing at this juncture.

        supposedly gantz and netanyahu are neck n neck but if gantz won he’d need to build a coalition and i don’t think there are enough around, similar to what happened to livni.

        importing 1 million right wing russians kinda hijacked the trajectory. but either way it’s been a colonizing project.

  2. Kay24 on April 5, 2019, 11:29 pm

    So, it seems many others notice what Mondoweiss has been saying all along;

    The New York Times Can’t Hide Its Pro-Israel Bias

    “Despite what the New York Times would have us believe, there are no relevant “practical and legal distinctions” between Israel’s settlements on the West Bank and the Golan Heights; they are all illegal. Trump and Netanyahu’s argument that occupying territory is justifiable in a “defensive” war is correctly dismissed as absurd by legal experts and the international community.”

  3. iResistDe4iAm on April 6, 2019, 11:11 am

    Given Israel’s apartheid burial policy for its own fallen soldiers, I wonder where this fallen soldier will be buried:

  4. Misterioso on April 6, 2019, 11:17 am


    Let’s be clear and precise. The 1967 war was not “defensive.” It was offensive, illegal, started by Israel and in fact, another massive Zionist preplanned land grab.

    To be brief:

    Prime Minister Menachem Begin, former Minister without portfolio in PM Levi Eshkol’s cabinet, while addressing Israel’s National Defence College on 8 August 1982: “In June, 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai did not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.” (New York Times, 21 August 1982)

    Meir Amit, chief of Israel’s Mossad: “Egypt was not ready for a war and Nasser did not want a war.”

    Israeli Chief of Staff Rabin: “I do not believe that Nasser wanted war. The two divisions which he sent into Sinai on 14 May would not have been enough to unleash an offensive against Israel. He knew it and we knew it.” (Le Monde, 25 February, 1968)

    Prime Minister Eshkol: “The Egyptian layout in the Sinai and the general military buildup there testified to a military defensive Egyptian set-up south of Israel.” (Yediot Aharonot, l8 October 1967)

    Robert McNamara, U.S. Secretary of Defence: “Three separate intelligence groups had looked carefully into the matter [and] it was our best judgment that a UAR attack was not imminent.” (The Vantage Point, Lyndon Johnson, p. 293)

    An article published in the New York Times (4 June 1967) just hours before Israel attacked notes that Major General Indar Jit Rikhye, Commander of UNEF in the Middle East, “who toured the Egyptian front, confirms that Egyptian troops were not poised for an offensive.”

    On May 26, in reply to Israel’s Foreign Minister Abba Eban’s assertion that according to Israeli intelligence, “an Egyptian and Syrian attack is imminent,” Secretary of State Dean Rusk dismissed the claim and assured Eban that Israel faced no threat of attack from Egypt. On the same day, during a meeting at the Pentagon, Eban was also told by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and his aides that “…Egyptian forces were not in an aggressive posture and that Israel was not opening itself to peril by not attacking immediately. The contrary was true, Eban was told.” (Donald Neff, Warriors for Jerusalem, pp. 140-41)

    As the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) Commander, Major General Idar Jit Rikhye, revealed, Nasser was not enforcing the blockade of the Tiran straits: “[The Egyptian] navy had searched a couple of ships after the establishment of the blockade and thereafter relaxed its implementation.”

    According to Patrick Seale, highly regarded historian and journalist, Israel had been meticulously preparing for another war against the Arabs since its 1956 invasion of Egypt: “In the decade since the Suez campaign Israel had built up forces that could move fast and hit hard: mobile armoured units able to cover long distances, mechanized infantry, heliborne and naval paratroopers for use behind enemy lines, and above all an air force of Mirage and Super-Mystere interceptors and Mystere fighter-bombers of unchallenged superiority. The main lesson Israel had learned from the [1956] Suez war was the importance of air dominance not only to neutralize Arab air forces but also for use as flying artillery against infantry and tanks.” (Patrick Seale, Asad…, p. 117)

    Ezer Weizman, former commander of Israel’s Air Force confirmed in his memoirs that Israel spent years meticulously planning the attack against Egypt: “For five years I had been talking of this operation, explaining it, hatching it, dreaming of it, manufacturing it link by link, training men to carry it out.” Recalling how he felt at 7:30 A.M. on 5 June 1967, Weizman wrote: “Now in a quarter of an hour, we would know if it was only a dream or whether it would come true….” (Donald Neff, Warriors for Jerusalem…, p. 202)

    Regarding Israel’s occupation of Syria’s Golan Heights during the 1967 war:

    United Nations records for the years 1949-67 also make it clear as to who was responsible for the violence on the northern front: “[There is] no Security Council resolution condemning Syria for aggressive actions against Israel during this period, nor is there a veto of such a resolution. There are four Security Council resolutions condemning Israel. UN observers in the field and UN votes in New York are unanimous in holding that principal responsibility for the Syrian-Israeli border hostilities belongs to Israel.” (Dr. Norman Finkelstein, Image and…p. 132)

    Any doubt that Israel had utterly misrepresented the role that Syrian shelling played in its decision to seize the Golan Heights during the 1967 war was put to rest by then Defence Minister Moshe Dayan during private conversations he had with Israeli journalist Rami Tal in 1976. Although Dayan died in 1981 (the year Israel annexed the Golan Heights), his comments were not made public until they were published at the request of his daughter, Yael, in the Israeli daily newspapers, Yediot Ahronot and Ha’aretz in 1997.

    Regarding Syrian shelling, Dayan declared: “I can tell you how at least 80% of the incidents began…we would send a tractor to plough at some spot where it was impossible to do anything in the demilitarized zone, knowing in advance that the Syrians would start shooting. If the Syrians didn’t react, we would instruct the tractorists to keep advancing until the Syrians finally became fidgety enough to open fire, and then we activated our artillery and later the air force. That was the pattern. I did it, and Laskov and Chara (Commander-in-Chief Tzvi Tzur) did it, Yitzhak Rabin did it…. At the time, we thought – and this was the case for a long time – that we could change the armistice lines by military activity that stopped short of war, that is, by snatching a piece of territory and holding on to it until the enemy gave up in despair and let us have it.” (“The Myth of the Golan Heights,” by Amnon Danker, Ha’aretz, 5 May 1997).

    Dayan confirmed that Syria posed no threat and revealed that the real reason Israel conquered the Golan Heights (and expelled 130,000 of the native Arab population and demolished their homes and villages) was to seize its fertile farm lands and gain control of the upper waters of the Jordan River: “‘I made a mistake in allowing the conquest of the Golan Heights. As defense minister I should have stopped it because the Syrians were not threatening us at the time.’ The attack proceeded, he went on, not because Israel was threatened but because of pressure from land-hungry farmers and army commanders in northern Israel. ‘Of course [war with Syria] was not necessary. You can say the Syrians are bastards and attack when you want. But this is not policy. You don’t open aggression against an enemy because he’s a bastard but because he’s a threat’.” (Quoted in the editorial, “Israel and Syria: Correcting the Record,” by Stephen S. Rosenfeld, The Washington Post, 24 December 1999)

    Unaware of the pressure he was under from expansionists, two other well known Israeli generals wondered why Moshe Dayan ordered the invasion of Syria at 11:30 A.M. on June 9 – a full four days after Israel launched the war and four-and- one-half hours after Damascus had agreed to abide by the UN Security Council’s demand for a cease-fire. “[General Yitzhak] Rabin wrote in his memoir that he has ‘never grasped the reasons’ for Dayan’s decision to launch the assault. [General] Ezer Weizman, who likewise could give ‘no explanation’ for Dayan’s action, rhetorically asked years later, ‘if indeed the Syrian enemy threatened to destroy us, why did we wait three days before we attacked it?” (Quoted by Norman Finkelstein, Image and…pp. 133-34)

  5. RoHa on April 6, 2019, 11:54 pm

    “The Russians claimed it was held by some ISIS affiliate, but one should be careful about such Russian claims.”

    Because the Russians are more mendacious than everyone else?

    • Mooser on April 7, 2019, 1:00 pm

      “Because the Russians are more mendacious than everyone else?”

      Or perhaps (blinding flash, loud noise) just as mendacious as everyone else?

      • RoHa on April 7, 2019, 9:17 pm

        One takes the mendacity of governments for granted. The phrasing seems to suggest that the claims are even more unreliable because they are Russian.

  6. Boris on April 8, 2019, 9:26 am

    Netanyahu must be doing something right if both Trump and Putin want him reelected.

    • Mooser on April 8, 2019, 12:06 pm

      You bet, “Boris”! I’m sure Putin and Trump spend all day thinking of ways to do Netanyahoo favors.

  7. Boris on April 8, 2019, 9:39 am

    1982 war forced PLO out of Lebanon.

    So, to say that it was unnecessary is a stretch.

    This, of course, forced PLO into negotiations and then Oslo Accord, which, as we now know, was a failure. That was a failure.

    I would also argue that later leaving South Lebanon and abandoning Israel’s local allies was wrong.

    However, all these lessons were learned resulting in the current political climate where left wing parties are laughed out of office.

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