PFLP Kills Ze’evi

Rechavam Ze’evi, born Jerusalem 1926; served in the Palmach and the Israel Defense Forces 1944-1974; Prime Minister’s counter-terrorism advisor, 1974-1977; member of parliament (Moledet), 1988-2001; Minister Without Portfolio 1991-1992; Minister of Tourism, March-October, 2001. Married to Yael, five children. Assassinated in Jerusalem, Oct. 17, 2001.

To the end, Rechavam Ze’evi, murdered at the age of 75 by a Palestinian gunman on Wednesday, was a soldier in mufti. Alone among the Israeli generals who went into politics, he continued to sport his army identity disk around his neck. It was a statement: the battle for the Jewish State was not over, and one of its most aggressive commanders was still fighting.

Ze’evi and Ariel Sharon were the last of the Palmach veterans, the unconventional warriors of the 1948 War of Independence, still in public life. Both adhered to an implacable strain of Zionism for which compromise, as Ze’evi once put it, meant that Israel was ready to abandon its ancestral claims to the east bank of the Jordan. But unlike Sharon, Ze’evi never even pretended to have mellowed.

He resigned as Tourism Minister from Sharon’s national-unity coalition two days before his assassination because his old comrade was being too flexible towards the Palestinians, and too accommodating towards the Americans by evacuating Israeli troops from a strategic Hebron hilltop and hinting at recognition of a Palestinian state.

He entered politics in 1988 at the head of the tiny Moledet (Homeland) party, which was never more than a vehicle for his ideas. Its doctrine was the “transfer” of all Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza because there was no room for two nationalities between the Jordan and the sea. “We see the reality,” he said. “Transfer is the most humane and just thing for the two peoples.”

He never, of course, asked the Arabs. As a fifth-generation Israeli, born in Jerusalem in 1926, he knew them well, their towns and villages, names and clans, but as objects not subjects, as obstacles to Zionist nation-building. It was only because Moledet did not explicitly call for the expulsion of Israel’s own Arab citizens that the party was not banned under anti-racism laws.

In parliament, Ze’evi reveled in speaking his mind. He accused President George Bush senior of preparing the ground for a second Holocaust; he branded an American ambassador, Martin Indyk, a “Jewboy”; and Yasser Arafat “Hitler incarnate.” When Israel began handing parts of the West Bank to Palestinian rule, he vowed to shoot the first Palestinian policeman who tried to stop him.

A military career came naturally to Ze’evi. It was, he explained, not just a profession but “a complete identification with a purpose.” As the ruthless chief of central command after the 1967 war, he kept a lion cub in his West Bank headquarters. Legend has it that when a barking dog disturbed a staff meeting, the major general went outside and shot it.

Typically, as a minister, Ze’evi rejected advice to vary his habits, change hotels when he came to Jerusalem for Knesset sessions from his home in Ramat Hasharon, near Tel Aviv. He kept his room at the Hyatt, breakfasted on the dot, and spurned the very idea of a bodyguard. It was a soldier’s death, but a solder in mufti, unarmed and, as it proved, defenseless.