Islamist Gate, By Azza Radwan SedkyThe General’s Son, Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, by Mike Peled
Mike Peled is the son of Israeli General Matti Peled, a loyal Zionist, who fought fiercely for Israel. Mike, too, grew up proud of the democratic state of Israel. The book is the story of how both men became active advocates for Palestine.
A memoire, The General’s Son is dedicated primarily to Mike Peled’s father, but it also honors many others: Mike’s Israeli ancestors—the grandfather, who signed the Israeli Declaration of Independence; the grandmother, the first female Jewish MD. It credits Mike’s mother for concluding that “Zionism failed.” It also credits her for having refused to move into a Palestinian home after its rightful owners fled the war in ’47. It depicts how his sister, Nurit, and her husband, Rami, overcame the heart wrenching death of their 13-year-old daughter, Smadar, who was murdered when two Palestinians blew themselves up in Jerusalem.
Much of The General’s Son is reserved for Mike’s father, Matti Peled. Mike describes his father with regard and respect. When Matti Peled headed to law school in London, Palestine was his passport’s country of origin; his citizenship, Palestinian. While in Palestine for a short trip, the ’47 war erupted, and Matti did not go back to law school. After a long and notable army career, Matti Peled became a professor of Arabic Language and Literature, a member of the Israeli parliament, and a peace activist.
As a general, Matti Peled distinguished himself. But after the ’67 War, when Israel began its occupation of the seized lands: the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights, Matti Peled called for a Palestinian State, warning that holding on to these occupied territories would result in resistance. So he understood why the Palestinians resorted to terror. He considered terror a terrible thing, but “when a small nation is ruled by a larger power, terror is the only means at their disposal.”
It was then that Matti Peled began to lecture on the rights of Palestinians, which gained him animosity from Israelis, but much respect from Palestinians. Later in years, in Mike’s visits to Palestinian territories, he was introduced as Matti Peled’s son, and immediately faces lit up: “Abu Salaam,” the Father of Peace, making him appreciate his father further.
After the ’73 war, Matti Peled aligned himself even further with the left, and he founded the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian peace. In the late 80’s, during the Palestinian Uprising, Matti Peled was on a sabbatical at Harvard. During his talks there, he would bring out a rubber bullet, which he kept in his pocket, scratch the rubber off to demonstrate how it was made of steel and thinly covered with rubber, illustrating how the Israelis were determined to crush this uprising.
In the second part of The General’s Son, Peled delves into his personal experiences. He draws on uncountable anecdotes he lived or learned about from Palestinians he knew closely later in life.
After the tragedy of his 13-year-old niece, Smadar, Peled saw the Israeli/Palestinian political situation more personally. The brutality of the occupation began to seriously weigh on him. He also realized that his life in Jerusalem had been absolutely segregated. He had never had a Palestinian/Arab friend. After he moved to the US, the sentiments against Arabs and Muslims persisted.
Presidents and laypersons alike looked upon the Palestinians as the ones who incited terror. When the 2000 Barak/Arafat negotiations failed, Clinton said: “Prime Minister Barak was ready to give more than Chairman Arafat.” Clinton clearly put the blame on Arafat. What the Israelis demanded was a complete Palestinian surrender. Arafat was to sign an agreement to end the conflict forever. In return, he would establish a Palestinian state on an “unidentifiable area of land broken into pockets with no geographic continuity.”
Mike pursued his quest to understand the Palestinian plight, attending gatherings, in the US, where Jews and Palestinians met as equals, and in the West Bank and Gaza, where he made close friendships with those whom the Israelis considered terrorists.
The first of many Palestinians he befriended was Nader El Banna. Raised in Jordan and schooled in the US, Nader remained a proud Palestinian. Nader’s family fled the ’47 War, hoping to return once the fighting subsided. The State of Israel was founded, and it did not allow Palestinians to return. The Bannas remained refugees forever. Nader could not return to his homeland until he became an American citizen.
Mike and Nader teamed up and spoke at Rotary Clubs in the US. They became known as the Israeli and Palestinian Rotarians. Spending much time together, they became friends—overcoming fears. Invited to visit Mike’s family, though, Nader didn’t know what to expect. He had lost his country to Israelis, and it took a huge leap of faith to befriend one. The visit turned into a bonding experience with lunch extending into dinner and Nader’s boys spending the night at an Israeli home.
As Mike began venturing beyond Israeli country into Palestinian one, he overcame the normal fears that had been ingrained into him as an Israeli. He drove along the efficient highways Israel built for its settlers, the same ones Palestinians were not allowed to drive along. Once he came close to the Palestinian cities, he saw the red signs at every point of entry warning Israelis against venturing into such areas. It read: Entries for Israelis into Area A is Forbidden, Dangerous, and Constitutes a Felony!!”
Peled visited Bil’in, a Palestinian village west of Ramallah. Israeli television described Bil’in as small and impoverished; it didn’t mention that Bil’in was neither small nor impoverished until Israel confiscated 60 percent of its land to build a Jewish settlement and the Separation Wall—actually separating Palestinians from one another and from their own lands.
Peled visited Gaza, against all odds. In defending his trip, he said, “Innocent people are being killed, children are hungry, and there is mass unemployment and poverty.” Israel’s restrictions on travel and movement and the import and export of good, plus the occupier’s complete control over land and sea, created a siege that is choking one and a half million people, including 800,000 children. “None of this was caused by a natural disaster. It was caused because Israel deliberately created these conditions,” Peled says.
Mike Peled was with his Palestinian friends at borders and checkpoints when their names were flagged and had to stay put for hours. He saw lands confiscated by Israelis to build settlements; he saw wall and tunnels being built, so that Israeli settlers could travel without having to see or interact with Palestinians. He was caught in “Area A,” arrested and harassed by his own people for what construed in his mind as doing something good. His disillusion with Israel reached a new low.
The book is filled with stories of pain and suffering. It revisits harrowing events that left their mark on Palestinians forever. It tells the story of Abu Ansar, who turned to resistance when soldiers forbid his mother from bringing water into the house for his younger sister. Or of Jamal, another friend, who was sentenced to life in prison, his father’s house blown up. Released in a prison exchange, he was immediately placed under administrative arrest—“imprisonment without charge or trial.” He was put back on the bus and sent to jail for two consecutive times adding another year to his jail time. It retells the painful moment for another friend, Basem, when in 2007 an Israeli soldier took aim and shot Abir, his 10-year-old daughter.
An effort to help Palestinians had Peled teaching Palestinian children Karate. When Peled’s son asked one child if he enjoyed the beach, his response was to take Eitan Peled to the window and point to the separation wall being built just outside the gym. “We can’t go the beach,” he said. “We are not allowed.”
Abu Ali tells his own story. How a week after the war an Israeli army officer and a group of soldiers showed at the Rafah refuge camp in Gaza with a bulldozer. The officer told everyone to come out of their homes but sent the women and children under 13 back in. He then lined everyone up against a wall and shot them, and then went one by one and shot each person in the head. Thirty in total died that day, among them a 13-year-old boy and an 86-year-old man.
Afterwards, the bodies were laid in a row on the ground and the bulldozer began driving over them, going back and forth and back and forth until the bodies were unrecognizable.
And because of all this, Mike Peled believes that no Zionist government will ever allow a Palestinian state to be established on the land of Israel. But he believes in a shift in paradigm from a Zionist state to one that is neither Jewish nor Arab. A secular pluralistic democracy that includes all of Palestine/Israel is Peled’s hope for Israelis and Palestinians.
The book though depicting harrowing stories is neither graphic nor condemning; it draws on facts but presents the facts in anecdotal form. It carefully documents how life in the Gaza Strip and the Occupied Territories is. Though the book doesn’t promise change or provide hope, its sincere depiction of the Palestinian plight is worth the read.