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Effie Eitam


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'The top brass of the military and diplomatic leadership of the Palestinian Authority must be made to disappear, either physically or functionally.'

Effie Eitam

Uri Avnery, the veteran Israeli peace activist, looks particularly grave when the discussion in his Tel Aviv apartment turns to the new Israeli Right. ‘Some of these guys make Jorg Haidar look like an angel.’

One of the ‘guys’ Avnery has in mind is former Israeli Defence Force General Effie Eitam, leader of the National Religious Party, who recently joined the Sharon Government. Avnery’s invocation of the Austrian Neo-Nazi is his way of underlining just how dangerous and fascistic is the trend represented by Eitam and others. They flirt with an ideology of what is blandly referred to as ‘transfer’ (read ‘ethnic cleansing’) – driving the Palestinians across the Jordan river and into the desert. This is a policy discussed and advocated quite openly by much of the Israeli Right.

Eitam does not come out precisely in favour of ‘transfer’ except under war conditions. He prefers a very limited self-government for West Bank Palestinian communities although the overall territory would be incorporated into Israel and the Palestinians would be denied the right to vote in Israeli elections. They would be allowed a limited say in matters of local zoning or choosing their own mayors but being a ‘backward’ people Eitam probably reasons they don’t want democracy anyway. He foresees a ‘Palestinian state’ in Jordan and the Sinai which Palestinian Arabs would naturally ‘gravitate’ towards.

Effie Eitam is a deeply religious man and a decorated war hero. He served in Lebanon and took part in the famous 1976 rescue of a commercial airliner hijacked by Palestinian guerillas that ended up all the way down at Entebbe airport in Uganda. Eitam is no shrinking violet – when his bride-to-be asked him at age 18 what he wanted to do when he grew up, ‘I told her I wanted to be the leader of the people of Israel’. He is reputed to have been passed over for promotion to the exalted rank of Major-General (and thus potentially army commander-in-chief) because of his devout views. His wife Illit believes this to be the case: ‘If you think this is what caused the army to reject someone like him, I think the same way...[He has] a kippah [skullcap] on his head of a certain size, one that signifies a connection with the Torah and a deeper spirituality.’

Eitam recently expressed this spirituality in discussing the fate he foresees for the Palestinians. ‘The top brass of the military and diplomatic leadership of the Palestinian Authority must be made to disappear, either physically or functionally... the PA’s territorial contiguity must then be broken up, and we will have to hold separate negotiations with each separate area as to how it will run its own municipal affairs. It must be made clear that there will no longer be one foreign sovereign entity west of the Jordan.’ So much for even George Bush’s vision of a Palestinian state.

Such a scenario can be seen as a step towards the ultimate goal of ‘transferring’ (forcing) the Palestinian population either into Jordan or into the Egyptian Sinai. This is the final goal of the transfer lobby. The prominent and moderate 83-year-old Palestinian leader Dr Haidar Abdel Shafi of Gaza City claims that: ‘The desire to transfer us has its roots in the past, and in the history and ideology of certain Zionist circles which have never given up hope of attaining this goal.’ The rise of Effie Eitam and his embrace by Ariel Sharon is chilling proof that Shafi’s fears are not unfounded. It would cost tens of thousands of lives to achieve this mad vision.

Israeli politics has long been dominated by the military. The list is long – Ariel Sharon, Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and Moshe Dayan. The last of these is given credit within Israel for disobeying orders and capturing the West Bank in 1967 in the first place, even though this laid the groundwork for perpetual conflict. Some 12 per cent of the current Knesset come from the Israeli officer corps. Israeli officers often retire in their late 40s to start political careers. Eitam is just 50. The insecure Israeli electorate has proved receptive. In electing people like Effie Eitam they have opted for a kind of short-term military security that undermines any long-term real security.

But while Eitam (and colleagues like Benny Elon and the YESHA council of settlers) may be seen by many both inside and outside Israel as religious fanatics bent on colonizing all of what they call Judea, Samaria and Gaza ( what the rest of the world thinks of as Palestinian territory) – they are in fact getting their way. Every Israeli government since 1967 has increased the number and size of the settlements. Eitam’s description of what should be done is very close to what Ariel Sharon’s government is actually doing in Operation Defensive Shield. It is little wonder that he and the rest of the National Religious Party feel comfortable in joining Sharon’s ‘national unity’ Government. The 95-year-old former Labor Party cabinet minister and trade-union leader Yitzhak Ben Aharon was so disgusted that the Israeli Labor Party was willing to sit in a government with the likes of Eitam that he has turned in his party card.

sense of humour

The hero of the Entebbe (Uganda) hijack rescue on how to defend isolated and far-flung settlements in the West Bank: 'I told them that the trapped Jews in Entebbe were the most far-off and isolated settlement that could possibly be - a settlement 8,000 kilometres away... but the Israeli Defence Force proved that it was possible to protect settlements even in Entebbe - if there is the desire, if there is the willingness to be daring, and if there is the proper understanding of what is the true destiny of the state of Israel.'

On the existence of the Dome of the Rock mosque on ground where an ancient Jewish temple once stood: 'I see that as a breakdown at the level of the state of the world... And that point needs to be made right.'

From the hip

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New Internationalist issue 346 magazine cover This article is from the June 2002 issue of New Internationalist.
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