Children of Death
Uri Avnery on militarism in Israel
A week after the ship of peace was solemnly launched on its
perilous voyage from Aqaba harbor, it was hit by a torpedo. It is not yet
clear whether it is wrecked or can continue on its way in spite of the
The story of its voyage so far: An Israeli helicopter gunship tried to
kill Abd-al-Aziz al-Rantisi, one of the leaders of the political wing of
Hamas. He miraculously survived. Immediately afterwards the gunships
killed other Hamas leaders. Clearly, this was the beginning of a
campaign to kill the leaders of all the wings of Hamas - military,
political, social, educational and religious.
Such a campaign is, of course, the outcome of long preparations,
which take weeks and months. It was evidently planned even before
the Aqaba summit conference convened, but postponed by Sharon in
order to afford President Bush his moments of photographic glory on
the shore of the Red Sea. Immediately after the President and his
entourage went home, radiant with success, the machinery of death
went into action.
In establishing intent, all courts around the world act upon a simple
principle: a person who carries out an action with predictable results is
held to have intended that result. That is true for this campaign, too.
The killing of the Hamas leaders (together with their wives, children
and casual bystanders) is intended to attain the following results: (a)
acts of revenge by Hamas, i.e. suicide bombings, (b) the failure of the
Palestinian Authority's efforts to secure the agreement of Hamas to a
cease-fire, (c) the destruction of Abu Mazen's political standing right
from the start, (d) the demolition of the Road Map, (e) compensation for
the settlers after the removal of some sham "outposts".
All five objectives have been achieved. Blood and fire cover the
country, the media on both sides are busy with funerals and mutual
incitement, the efforts to establish a hudnah (truce) have stopped,
Sharon called Abu Mazen a chicken without feathers, the Road Map is
toterring , Bush has mildly reproached Sharon while directing his wrath
The "dismantling" of the phony settlement-outposts, a joke to start
with, has been stopped. Construction activity in the settlements is in
full swing, and so is the building of the "fence" that is establishing a
new border deep inside the West Bank. (Both Bush and Blair have
demanded that it be stopped, a boost to the campaign we started
months ago). The closures and blockades have been tightened. The
situation in the occupied Palestinian territories is back to what it was
before, as if the entire performance in Aqaba had never taken place.
The decision to kill Rantisi was, therefore, a decisive point in the
history of Israel. And the first question must be: who was it that took
It is easy to say who did not take it.
Not the government, which has become a choir of flatterers and yes-
men. Sharon treats them with contempt. He would not dream of
Not the Knesset, which has reached an unprecedented low. It now
openly includes representatives of the underworld, a murderer who has
asked for (and received) a pardon, and some small politicians who look
as if they had been picked at random from the street. The Speaker is
known as an entertaining character.
And not the public at large, of course. All public opinion polls show
that the public wanted the road Map to succeed. All believed that
Sharon was serious about seeking peace. On the left, too, there were
many simpletons who lauded Sharon for changing his spots. Nobody
asked the public if it wants to start a new round of violence. Indeed, the
latest poll indicates that 67% of the public did not support the attempt
on Rantisi's life after it happened. But Sharon knew that the public
would accept his decisions and follow him like the sheep on his ranch.
If so, who took the decision?
That is no secret. The decision was taken by five generals:
This military quintet is now making decisions about the fate of
Israel, perhaps for generations, perhaps for ever. In Latin America they
would be called a Junta (military committee).
- The Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, a retired two-star general.
- The Minister of Defense, Sha'ul Mofaz, a retired three-star general.
- The Chief-of-Staff, Moshe Ya'alon, a serving three-star general.
- The Mossad chief, Me'ir Dagan, a former one-star general.
- The Security Service chief, Avi Dichter, with a rank equivalent to a
We have spoken more than once about the special status of
generals - in and out of uniform - in our state. It has no equivalent in the
Western world. In no democratic country does a general now serve as
prime minister. In no democratic country does a professional soldier
serve as minister of defense, certainly not one who was wearing a
general's uniform right on the eve of his ministerial appointment. In no
democratic country does the Chief-of-Staff attend all cabinet meetings,
where he serves as the highest authority in all "security" matters -
which, in Israel, include practically all matters of national policy.
The rule of the generals is based on an extensive infrastructure. An
Israeli general leaves the army, as a rule, in his early 40s. If he does
not join the top leadership of a political party (Likud, Labor and the
National Religious Party are at present led by generals, and Meretz is
practically led by a colonel), or manage to get elected as a mayor, his
comrades help him to settle down as the director of a large government
corporation, university or public utility.
The hundreds of ex-generals who man most of the key posts in
government and society are not only a group of veterans sharing
common memories. The partnership goes much deeper. Dozens of
years of service in the regular army form a certain outlook on life, a
political world-view, ways of thinking and even language. In all the
years of Israel, there have been no more than three or four exceptions
to this rule.
On the face of it, there are right-wing and left-wing generals, but
that is an optical illusion. This week it was particularly obvious: after
the assassination attempt on Rantisi and the Hamas revenge-attack,
dozens of generals appeared in the media. (An Israeli general, however
stupid he may be, automatically becomes a sought-after commentator
in the media.) For the sake of "balance", generals-of-the-right and
generals-of-the-left were brought on screen, and lo and behold, they all
said the same thing, more or less, even using the same terminology.
More than in the "commentaries" themselves, this found
expression in two Hebrew words: Ben Mavet ("Son of death", meaning
a person who must be killed).
As if by order, this week these two detestable words entered the
public discourse. There was hardly a general, politician or
correspondent who did not roll them on his tongue with obvious relish.
They had never been heard before in the media. Now, suddenly,
everybody has started to use them. Rantisi was a "son of death".
Sheikh Yassin was a "son of death". The other Hamas leaders were
"children of death". Perhaps even Yasser Arafat himself.
The expression appears in the Bible, II Samuel, XII. King David has
committed a heinous crime, deliberately arranging for his most loyal
officer, Uriah the Hittite, to be killed in battle, so he can have his wife,
Bath-sheba, for himself. The prophet Nathan denounces him for this
deed, telling him the story of the rich man who slaughtered the only
sheep of a poor man. David gets very angry and tells the prophet: "As
the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing is a son of death!" To
which Nathan replies: "Thou art the man!"
Ironically, the Bible applied the term to the greatest leader of the
people of Israel, who has committed an abominable crime. Now it is
used by the leaders of the state of Israel against Palestinians.
But this is not the most important point. It is more significant that
the Prime Minister and his small group of generals introduce these two
words, and all the people repeat them like a giant flock of parrots,
without thinking, without protesting. This is rather frightening in itself,
but when these words reflect a disastrous national decision and the
public accepts it without question, that is even more frightening.
It is not yet clear whether Sharon has succeeded in scuttling the
boat of the peace initiative. Perhaps President Bush will after all show
some resolution and save the initiative, in which he has invested his
personal prestige. But in the meantime the dance of death continues,
and the blood flows - quite literally - in the streets of Israel and