Journey of an Israeli General’s Son

The Israeli-Palestinian crisis is one of the world’s most troublesome conflicts, especially since it has been exploited by extremists on both sides to justify a range of violent actions far and wide. A book by the son of an Israeli war hero puts the dispute in a human context, writes David Swanson at warisacrime.org.

By David Swanson

Miko Peled has written a perfect book for people, including Israelis, who have always heard that the Israeli government can do no wrong.

The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine is partly an account of the author’s father’s life. His father, Matti Peled, was an Israeli general, war hero, military governor of the Gaza strip, member of Parliament, professor, and columnist who turned against the occupation of Palestine. 

Largely, however, the book is an account of Miko Peled’s own life, and the evolution of his thinking about Israel. This autobiographical narrative, by a very likable and moral author, takes us step by step from unquestioning Zionism to condemnation of Israeli war crimes. For those who would condemn the morality of this intellectual journey, there are two obvious responses:

First, read it. Second, the false accusations of hating Israel that often result from any sensible proposal to protect Israel from its government cannot easily apply here, by the accusers’ own logic, because the author dutifully performed his Israeli military service, and his father killed a huge number of people in the name of Israel.

Such shallow prejudices have no place in this book, which respectfully and non-confrontationally persuades the reader gradually, through the course of a self-questioning life’s story, that much of what is commonly assumed about Israel is in fact the reverse of reality.

The Peled family’s military history is of less interest as superficial immunity from false accusations, than as a starting place for an argument that runs its course from the necessity of brutalizing Palestinians all the way through to the necessity of Israelis and Palestinians living together as friends and family.

Miko Peled grew up in Jerusalem believing that Israel had always been a little David struggling honorably against an Arab Goliath. His grandfather, Avraham Katznelson, had been an important figure in the founding of Israel. His father, Matti Peled, had in 1948 fought in either the War of Independence or the Catastrophe, depending on which label one prefers. Matti Peled was also a leader of the Six-Day War of 1967, when Miko — born in 1961 — was a child.

But Matti Peled, in 1967, had believed he was leading troops into a limited war with Egypt, not a war to conquer territory. At the first weekly meeting of the General Staff after the war, Matti Peled proposed that the Palestinians be given their own state. He said that occupying the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights would endanger, rather than protect, an Israeli democracy, that it would in fact turn Israel into a brutal occupying power.

The other generals claimed that the Palestinians would never settle for the West Bank and Gaza. So, Peled produced evidence that the vast majority of Palestinians would indeed accept that deal. Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin told Peled to let it go.

Matti Peled began writing a column in the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv in 1967. He immediately rejected the popular propaganda which held that Israel had been viciously attacked. On the contrary, he wrote, Israel had seen an opportunity to damage the Egyptian military and had seized it.

Peled proposed allowing the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to hold elections, and denounced the common pretense that Israel could not negotiate with the Palestinians because they had no representatives. After all, Peled pointed out, Israel was forbidding them from electing representatives.

Earlier this year, 2012, former U.S. House Speaker and current buffoon Newt Gingrich claimed that Palestinians are “an invented people.” When Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir made this claim in 1973, Matti Peled wrote:

“How do people in the world refer to the population that resides in the West Bank? What were the refugees of 1948 called prior to exile? Has she really not heard of the Palestinian people prior to 1967? In discussions she must have had over the years in her capacity as ambassador and then as foreign minister, how did she refer to these people? Yet she says she has not heard of the Palestinian people prior to 1967? Truly amazing!”

Miko Peled and his brothers and sisters grew up with an understanding that was perhaps halfway against war, an understanding that they shared with their father. There had been a time for war, and there was now a time for peace. (To every thing, turn turn turn, there is a season . . . .) They would perhaps have advanced further, sooner, had their father told them more about what he knew and what he was trying to do about it.

In 1973, Matti Peled, Uri Avnery and Yaakov Arnon, among others, founded the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. On the tenth anniversary of the 1967 war, in a 1977 televised discussion with the entire general staff from 1967, Peled reminded everyone that the government had never authorized the military’s seizure of the West Bank.

Peled began meeting with Palestinian leaders and discussing possible agreements. He and Yasser Arafat’s confidant Issam Sartawi discussed a two-state solution, while the Palestinian political party Fatah’s position was to support only a single secular democratic state for Arabs and Jews together.

In 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon, Matti Peled spoke at an antiwar rally in Tel Aviv. It was the first time Israelis had protested a war while it was underway. Ariel Sharon’s involvement in brutal massacres at Sabra and Shatila forced his resignation and kept him out of politics for 18 years.

In 1984, Matti Peled helped found a joint Jewish-Arab political party called the Progressive List for Peace (PLP). He urged the United States over and over again to support Israel by ceasing to give it money and sell it weapons, a corrupting influence that Peled argued Israel had done just fine without. (Try telling that to the U.S. Congress even all these years later!)

By 1997, the younger Peled, Miko, had left Israel to spend time in England, Japan and the United States, settling in the area of San Diego, California. Miko Peled still had family in Israel whom he visited often, including a 13-year-old niece named Smadar. She was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber in 1997, and Peled flew to Jerusalem for the funeral. The mayor, and future prime minister, Ehud Barak was among those attending. Barak was, at the time, campaigning for prime minister.

Peled recalls: “Here he was sitting among us, trying to convince people that in order to really make peace he had to run without making it look like he wanted peace so he wouldn’t lose votes for being a peacemaker. I sat quietly wondering if anyone really believed such nonsense. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and said, ‘Why not tell the truth?’

“The room became silent. ‘Why not tell people that this and other similar tragedies are taking place because we are occupying another nation and that in order to save lives the right thing to do is to end the occupation and negotiate a just peace with our Palestinian partners?’ . . .  I received a withering look from Barak, and when he prepared to leave and made the round of handshakes, all I got was a cold shoulder.”

In 2000, Miko Peled, back in San Diego, joined a group of Jews and Palestinians who were meeting to talk and broaden each other’s horizons. Peled’s wife was concerned at first that he might be killed, and Miko himself was far from sure he wouldn’t. Such was the novelty for this Israeli in meeting with Palestinians, and such was the fear and misunderstanding. But Peled thrived in these dialogue groups, made friends, and encountered surprising perspectives.

A Palestinian friend mentioned during one meeting that back in 1948 the Palestinians had gone to battle with 10,000 fighters, while the Jews had had triple that number, or more. Peled was outraged, as he had always believed the Jews to have been the smaller force, the underdogs, the Davids up against Goliaths.  But he held his tongue because he respected his friend’s opinion. He researched, and learned. He discovered that the Jewish militias had in fact used superior strength to destroy Palestine and forcibly exile its people.

The distrust and misunderstanding went both ways. A Palestinian man named Nader Elbanna, on first meeting Peled, assumed he must be working for Mossad, the Israeli spy agency. But Nader and Peled became friends and began speaking together at Rotary clubs, as well as raising funds to provide both Palestinians and Israelis with wheel chairs.

The more Peled learned, the more he wanted to know. He began traveling to Palestine. He found the people, of whom he was initially frightened, wonderfully open and generous. He found that they knew his father and called his father Abu Salam, meaning Father of Peace.

Peled himself had not been aware that his father had been given that name by Palestinians. Peled met with nonviolent activists in Bil’in and elsewhere in Palestine. He learned that, contrary to media depictions, the bulk of Palestinian resistance was and had always been nonviolent.

The Israeli occupation, on the other hand, was and had always been more brutal than Peled had known. He learned from an Israeli naval special forces officer of tactics used in patrolling the coast of Gaza:

“They would come upon Gazan fishing boats and from time to time they would single out a particular boat, order the fishermen to jump in the water and blow up the boat. Then under gunpoint, they told the fishermen to count from one to a hundred and then when they were done to start over again. They would make them count over and over again until one by one the fishermen could no longer tread water, and they drowned.”

A Palestinian friend named Bassam Aramin, two years after Peled met him, on Jan. 16, 2007, lost his daughter. His two daughters, aged 10 and 12, were walking home from school, holding hands, when an Israeli soldier took aim and shot the younger one in the head.

Peled increasingly dedicated himself to the Palestinian peace movement, in which he worked with those who had been imprisoned and tortured by Israel. In doing so, he learned the history of Israel and Palestine, and the history of his own family.

He learned of an Israeli massacre of civilians in Gaza in 1967, and that his father had investigated it and that his father’s views had likely been changed by it. The elder Peled had not only been prophesying brutal occupation for the future in 1967 but also acknowledging its existence already in place.

The younger Peled also came to abandon the idea of a two-state solution, as his father had favored. Miko Peled has seen Israelis and Palestinians live together as the closest of friends. His belief is that only a single state, a secular state, a democratic state, in which all are welcome and respected, will put the violence and suffering to rest.

The people of Israel and Palestine are highly educated. They are perfectly capable of living in peace. To do so, they will have to learn what Peled’s book helps teach so well: Never, under any circumstance, no matter the context, no matter the poetic justice, no matter past histories of victimization, no matter the intention or desire, never ever ever is war an acceptable instrument of public policy.

In fact, we are lucky if the best of wars don’t doom us to a century or more of ongoing bloodshed and resentment.

David Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online activist organization http://rootsaction.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook.

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19 comments on “Journey of an Israeli General’s Son

  1. incontinent reader on said:

    Great article and a great book.

  2. “Israel is not an occupation. It’s the ethnic-cleansings of the native Palestinians,” Miko Peled, son of Israeli Gen. Matti Peled and brother of Professor Nurit Peled-Elhanan. Miko Peled is a former Israeli soldier. Last year Miko gave an interview to the Alternate Focus describing his experiences as a young soldier in the Jewish army. He also describes a confrontation with the same army on a recent visit to Israel and the West Bank.

    Both Miko, an Israeli-American citizen, and his sister, Nurit, are among the few courageous Israeli Jews who though born and raised in committed Zionist Jewish families – have the moral courage to challenge Israel’s official Hasbara (propaganda) lies about Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims. Their grandfather, Dr. Avraham Katsnelson, sang Israeli anthem on Israel’s unilateral declaration of a state in May 1948 and their father Gen. Matti Peled was a commanding officer during 1967 war. Later both of them became committed to building a single democratic state in occupied Palestine for the foreign Jews and the native Palestinian Muslims and Christians.

    Professor Nurit Peled-Elhanan (Hebrew University), in 2005 told the European Parliament: “The so-called free world is affraid of the Muslim womb”.

    http://rehmat1.com/2009/09/05/israeli-mother-who-refuses-to-shut-up/

  3. Hillary on said:

    “They would come upon Gazan fishing boats and from time to time they would single out a particular boat, order the fishermen to jump in the water and blow up the boat. Then under gunpoint, they told the fishermen to count from one to a hundred and then when they were done to start over again. They would make them count over and over again until one by one the fishermen could no longer tread water, and they drowned.”
    David Swanson

    Just another ethnic cleansing tale that the world media never heard of and one of the reasons that the USA is full of philosemitic Zionist Christians.

    The neocon orchestrated war on Islam continues with the justification being that they hate us for our freedom and democracy .

    We live in a world held hostage by a country with a literal belief in it’s Hebrew biblical mythology backed up by a nuclear arsenal and military power unheard of in Middle East that refuses to listen to reason.

    SILENCE IS A WAR CRIME.

    Remember … “One Shot Two kills” when IDF snipers to shoot pregnant
    Palestinian women in the stomach ?

    http://news.sky.com/home/world-news/article/15245946

    One must speak out and stand up for civility and decency.

  4. Marilyn A.F. on said:

    I read this piece with alternating emotions–sometimes great sadness; at moments with skepticism. In war, truth is indeed the first casualty.

    As a supporter of Israel’s right to exist, I believe a lasting peace with a union of combative forces coming together under one flag, one purpose would be the best of all possible worlds. No doubt this multi-layered dilemma has many hidden facets, most of which will never come to light in the public arena.

    The Holy Land’s strategic location in an ancient Middle-East quagmire creates a volatile compression of religion, culture, and politics not easily unscrambled. Therein lies the rub. No one should be faulted for trying.

    I just question the methods, if not the message, at times. To my thinking, Islam at its core lacks a central coordinating impulse. There are not enough peace makers to make peace. That is true on both sides of the equation. If Israelis are guilty, they err on the side of caution, surrounded by those who have vowed to remove them from land they conquered. But war is the human condition, the way of the world.

    Why such focus on Palestinians when a billion other people across the globe are being slaughtered with more abandon than Gazans ever experienced? Please refer to sub-Saharan Africa. Please look into China’s egregious violations of human rights.

    Just wondering….

    • Don’t wonder – just study Jewish history from some objective source instead of the “Handbook of Israeli Hasbara Lies”.

      More than 80% of world Jewry had a homeland (Europe) for nearly 20 centuries. Why did not those Jews took Gandhi’s advise and fought anti-Semitism by non-violence means inside their European homelands instead of stealing a foreign land from Semite Arabs?

      Islam has shown more tolerance toward Israelite tribes than Christians under its domain. Late Israeli professor Israel Shahak claimed that Jews were despised by western Christians for Jewish arrogance, greed and racism toward non-Jews (one just have to study Jewish Holy Book Talmud to find out the truth).

      http://rehmat1.com/2011/08/03/yes-islam-doesn%E2%80%99t-need-reformation/?like=1

      • Marilyn A.F. on said:

        I think you just described the bulk of humanity: arrogance, greed, racism, intolerance of other cultures. The same aguments can be cited for dismissing the Koran.

        I just read an article regard a 16-year-old Moroccan girl, raped and forced to marry her assailant. She was further physically abused and committed suicide. Under Islamic law, honor can only be restored if the victim marries the rapist. This is widely accepted religious doctrine across the spectrum of Muslim thought. A dishonored girl’s family consents to marriage and will not come to the aid of a young woman. Honor killing is not unusual for women who have the misfortune of being victimized sexually.

        Women are little more than chattle property and treated less than some would treat cattle or other prized animals. I can readily see why Israel refuses to make peace with such regressed mindsets.
        Frightening. Multiculturalism is running amok and letting pure evil pass for religious expression.

        Unacceptible in civil societies. Islam must come to terms with its crimes if it is to be taken seriously. They can’t hide behind Jews forever.

        • When it comes to the treatment of Jews and women – the West can learn from a lot. It was the West, which expelled Jewish communities from every country in the past. Many of these Jews took refuge in Muslim Spain, Cicily, Palestine and Ottoman empire.

          As far women rights – they’re allowed to vote in most of Europe and North america in the 20th century – while Muslim women enjoyed that right 1400 years ago.

          Sever Plocker wrote in Israeli daily YNet that some of the greatest mass murderers of the modern time were Jewish. The Jewish elites (Lenin, Stalin, etc.) were responsible for the murder of over 60 million Russian and Ukrainian Christians and Kazak Muslims.

          Incidently, it was Stalin who established the first Jewish state in Russia in 1934.

          http://rehmat1.com/2010/06/13/birobidjan-the-first-jewish-state/

          • Marilyn A.F. on said:

            Stalin was Georgian, a province of Russia. He was raised as an Eastern Orthodox Christian and entered the seminary for the priesthood, was expelled for his Marxist theories. He was not Jewish. Jews were prominant in revolutionary Russia because they were quick to seize opportunities to change the despotism of feudal czars, hoping to liberate all people.

            If you want to crown the king of genocidal mania, it might be Mao of China. Figures put his numbers around 80 million–give or take a few million.

            What is your point? Human misery has been visited upon the planet by one faction or another for millennia. It is up to the individual to be honest in an attempt to effect change, not by proffering bogus arguments, but by letting the truth rise above the dark of ignorance.

            “Can’t we all just get along?” to quote Rodney King, who passed away this weekend. We all know what injustice and hate can engender.

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  6. borat on said:

    Mr. Ariekat’s Partial Remembrance

    To read Maen Rashid Areikat’s “The Time for a Palestinian State Is Now” (op-ed, June 8) is to be transported into a world of make-believe. Mr. Areikat notes that “Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip fell under Israel’s occupation.” That’s true, but it’s far from the whole truth.

    There was no Palestinian state before 1967. The West Bank was in Jordanian hands and Gaza was under Egyptian military rule, and for two decades neither country made any move to establish an independent Palestinian state. The war itself began with a blockade of Israeli shipping in the Red Sea and bloodcurdling threats by Egyptian and Syrian leaders to annihilate Israel. When Israel emerged victorious and proposed the swap of newly acquired territory for peace, the Arab League and Mr. Areikat’s PLO categorically refused.

    In his version of more recent history, Palestinians single-mindedly promote literacy, build institutions and pursue peace, while Israel does everything possible to prevent peace. Really? No mention of Palestinian terrorism, nor of incitement, nor of Hamas and its rule of Gaza, nor that no universities existed in the West Bank until Israel opened them after the 1967 war. And, of course, no mention of the determined efforts of successive Israeli prime ministers to achieve a two-state agreement, only to be rebuffed, first by Yasser Arafat, then Mahmoud Abbas.

    Israel has recognized the legitimacy of Palestinian statehood as a result of negotiations. Have the Palestinians similarly accepted the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty in Israel as an outcome of a deal? When the answer to that long-standing question finally becomes “yes,” peace won’t just be possible, but inevitable.

    David Harris
    Executive Director
    American Jewish Committee
    New York

  7. Hillary on said:

    Israel has recognized the legitimacy of Palestinian statehood as a result of negotiations. Have the Palestinians similarly accepted the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty in Israel as an outcome of a deal?

    David Harris -Executive Director -American Jewish Committee-New York.

    Nobody who has studied history can believe Mr- Harris’s hasbara propaganda above ?

    The 1967 sneak Israeli attack on Egypt was basically a massive illegal land grab via war by Israel to prevent a peace settlement.

    Arabs have for years accepted Israel’s right to exist within its 1967 borders but Israel has the chutzpah to want to talk peace while it continues to steal Arab land it has no right to..

    http://www.gilad.co.uk/writings/the-dirty-truth-about-israel-video.html

    • borat on said:

      your usual antisemetic rants are so predictable. Sneak attack? Egyptian and their Arab allies were massed on Israel’s borders extolling her destruction for weeks prior. The Arabs have never accepted a Jewish state with the exception of Nasser’s successor Sadat who was assinated by fundamentalists, and the King of Jordan whose defeat in ’67 prompted a peace settlement.

      There was no Palestinian state and the Arab countries could have easily absorbed them after trying to destroy Israel in ’48. When those countries expelled their Jews who lived in Arab countries for thousands of years, Israel took them in.

      Your propaganda is laughable, and Hitler et al, would welcome you w/open arms.

      • Hillary on said:

        There was no war until Israel attacked Egypt in 1967.

        Zionism still creating fictional history to justify Jewish colonization of Palestine and subsequent ethnic cleansing it of its Arab indigenous population both Christian and Muslim.

        Israel and Zionists continue a deranged self-victimhood syndrome and everyone who doesn’t agree with Israel is automatically accused of being an anti- semite?

        Israel has a powerful P.R war machine in an attempt to continue their myths and Borat seems a typical example of an IDF unit that cruises the net looking to influence blogs and chat rooms.
        e.g. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3281619,00.html

        A team of students and demobilized soldiers who will work around the clock writing pro-Israeli responses on Internet websites all over the world, and on services like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube with the missions—Pro Israel Propaganda.

        • Marilyn A.F. on said:

          Of course Israel will access the Internet to bolster its own interests. So does any other entity with the requisite technology. Hamas devotees influenced the 2008 US presidential campaign from Gazan computer complexes.

          But the test of any information is: Is it true?

          There is the spin of facts and plotlines but somewhere truth does exist. We, as consummers of information in an age of information overload, must do due diligence, sift facts from fiction and propaganda.

          Not easy and very labor intensive, but an English poet once observed, “Truth is beauty and beauty is truth.”

          Are we all up to the challenge?

        • borat on said:

          paranoia and unbridled hatred of Israel on steroids!

      • incontinent reader on said:

        Actually, this is a false narrative that many of Israel’s own leaders and its finest historians have discredited.

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