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The death of an Israeli war hero and Palestinian 'incitement'

Meir Har-Zion was a murderer, yet he was idolized this week by the Israeli media and the country’s highest officials.

The Hebrew media in Israel bid farewell this week to one of the IDF’s mythological heroes, Meir Har-Zion. Har-Zion was practically legendary when I grew up, the most celebrated warrior of the IDF’s Unit 101, which carried deadly “retribution” operations across Israel’s borders.

“Israel’s hero,” read the front page headline this morning on Israel Hayom, the widely read free daily. Similarly adoring coverage could be found on the pages of the Post, Times of Israel, and even the U.S.-based Tablet. “One of our greatest heroes—a bold warrior full of love for the land and its people,” said Prime Minister Netanyahu. “A legend,” President Peres called him.

The “retribution” raids by Unit 101 were in fact indiscriminate attacks on Arab police, military and civilians, carried out as acts of revenge for Israeli casualties in 1953. In the infamous Qibia raid alone, around 60 people, most of them women and children, were murdered. (Following international outrage, Ben-Gurion denied the IDF’s responsibility for the raid.) In fact, the methods of Unit 101 were controversial even for 1950s Israel, and the killers’ unit merged with the paratroops five months after it was formed.

In 1954, Har-Zion’s sister was murdered by members of a Bedouin-Palestinian tribe while hiking in the Judean Desert (also across the Israeli border at the time). Along with three other friends, Ben Zion went into Jordanian territory and murdered four members of the tribe. Har-Zion’s political patrons – and particularly Ben-Gurion – made the prosecution drop the charges against him, and he went back to commanding troops.

There was a lot of proper, military-style heroism by Har-Zion between all those corpses he left behind, and he ended up receiving the IDF’s highest decorations. But that didn’t change the fact that he was a murderer, pure and simple. Amos Elon, the celebrated Israeli author, wrote on Har-Zion: “Without much talk, he killed Arab soldiers, farmers and city-dwellers, with a rage deprived of hate, always cool and completely efficient, just doing a job and doing it well, three or four times a week, for months.”

Har-Zion is not Baruch Goldstein, the killer from Hebron, who is adored in the Israeli far-right. He is idolized by country’s elites – its media and the highest elected officials. Soon, there will be streets and squares bearing his name. Let’s remember that the next time Israelis condemn the PA for idolizing their killers.

There is little point in fighting the iconization of murderers. Everyone has blood on their hands – and Israelis have much more than Palestinians, though I find little interest in such morbid competition. Everyone adores their own assassins; that’s the way of the world. Contrary to what Israeli propaganda says, this doesn’t betray anything about Palestinian “incitement,” or a “culture of death” – no more than it does about ours, at least.

Meir Har-Zion, 1954 (copyrights expired)

Meir Har-Zion, 1954 (copyrights expired)

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    COMMENTS

    1. Danny

      One nation’s hero is another nation’s terrorist.

      I left Israel for good when it started naming bridges and street names after Rechavam Ze’evi – a racial supremacist half a level removed from Meir Kahana.

      Undoubtedly, Har-Zion will get his street names, and so will other Jewish killers. And when the Palestinians name their streets after their martyrs, our hypocritical government will of course shout gevald till it’s blue in the face, because that’s really all they’re good at.

      Reply to Comment
    2. shachalnur

      Me’ir Har-Zion.

      Mt. Zion Illuminated.

      Nomen est omen.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Bar

      A couple of notes:
      ” In the infamous Qibia raid alone,”

      You well know that this raid is the only raid of such size. I’m not defending their methods, but let’s at least be factual. Also, perhaps you want to give context to why there were Israeli “revenge” attacks in the first place? Or perhaps you might want to mention that Israelis who were there, such as Sharon, expressed surprise and that as many civilians were killed as there were because they thought the civilians had fled?

      “the Judean Desert (also across the Israeli border at the time)”

      This was an armistice line, as per the demands of the Jordanians who had grand designs on Israeli territory. There was no border. There is no such thing as a ’67 border or a ’48 border. There are armistice lines because while the Israelis pushed hard for borders, the Arab states adamantly refused.

      “Ben Zion went into Jordanian territory and murdered four members of the tribe”

      I’m wondering, should he have waited for Jordanian justice to play out? Should he have retreated to his home in grief and let the murderers alone? What does one do when one’s sister is hiking – even if over an armistice line – and then brutally murdered for no reason by violent perpetrators who live in a country that is at war with you? I have no idea what I would do, but to suggest this makes him a cold-blooded murderer is dubious, at best.

      But I loved the way you gave us moral equivocation at the end. You know, their murderers and our murderers are all the same and we are all guilty of turning them into heroes and icons. Well, it wasn’t quite moral equivocation because you noted Israelis kill more than Palestinians, but still, I loved how you seek to show we’re all the same. I’ll try to remember that next time I think about the Sbarro Pizzeria bombing or the Hebrew U Cafeteria bombing.

      Reply to Comment
      • winston smith

        And don’t forget the 1929 thing, Bar. That’s still important.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bar

          I have no idea what you mean.

          Reply to Comment
          • Tzutzik

            I think he is talking about the 1929 massacre of the Jews of Hebron by a frenzied mob who were incited by the Mufti of Jerusalem. I also pick up on his sarcasm in which he seems to say we have too long a memory but it seems that it does not work the other way around. It seems that Arabs and their supporters in places like this are allowed to remember anything wrong that Israel may have done, no matter how long ago and in what context.

            Reply to Comment
          • laduqesa

            Yes, that famous massacre of Zionist Asheknazi interlopers who were part of the advance guard of ethnic cleansers, who refused to speak to the local population, who thought they were superior to the real inhabitants, Jews, Christians and Muslims. And of course, you forget to mention that the Palestinian Jews were nearly all saved by their Muslim neighbours and friends.

            Reply to Comment
          • Tzutzik

            No need to take my word for what happened. Here is a Wiki account of it:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1929_Hebron_massacre

            As for your claim that most Jews were saved by neighbors, sure, that is true. But 67 were literally torn apart by the frenzied mob. End of story.

            It is curious though that your lot seem to keep account of every Palestinian/Arab who lose their lives in Israeli attacks. So seeing that you are so diligent in keeping the score, please don’t forget what Arabs did to Jews way before there was any “occupation” or even Jewish attacks against Arabs. In other words, the history involves, violent acts by Arabs against Jews, followed by retaliatory violence by Jews. Context is everything!

            Reply to Comment
          • Tzutzik

            But the sentence below is worth a second mention:

            “Yes, that famous massacre of Zionist Asheknazi interlopers who were part of the advance guard of ethnic cleansers”

            I don’t know whether I ought to laugh or to cry about the above. What does it tell us? It tells us that it was ok to massacre …

            1. The Ashkenazi Jews

            2. Because many years later some other Ashkenazi Jews would allegedly ethnically cleanse Arabs …

            What can one say? This is the kind of prejudice that Israel is up against amongst some who consider themselves moral and us Zionists immoral.

            No use debating such people. We will just do what we have to do to keep ourselves safe whether people like that approve or disapprove. We have nothing to lose, to such people we are always in the wrong so we will just ignore them.

            Reply to Comment
          • Tzutzik

            Oh and last but not least. Not just Ashkenazi Jews were massacred. About 15 or 16 Sephardi Jews were murdered too. The ones who were fully integrated with Arab society in Hebron …

            So much for the excuse making. Read the link which I posted in my earlier post. It lays everything out in great detail.

            Reply to Comment
      • “I’m wondering, should he have waited for Jordanian justice to play out? Should he have retreated to his home in grief and let the murderers alone? What does one do when one’s sister is hiking – even if over an armistice line – and then brutally murdered for no reason by violent perpetrators who live in a country that is at war with you? I have no idea what I would do, but to suggest this makes him a cold-blooded murderer is dubious, at best.”

        This is especially true in times of military action, but is also the case in normal civil life where, mostly, the State nonetheless reserves the right of retribution an justice. And it is not always true that the State vigorously prosecutes. A Jim Crow black death did not garner the same enthusiasm, overall, as a white death in the US, North or South. This did not, however, give licence for personal retribution.

        Israel has for long been in a no man’s land on these issues. It’s not the first to be so, nor the last. But I believe Israel can decide now which land it wants to live in.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bar

          Considering that this event happened over 50 years ago, I’m not sure your comment applies to today. Sheizaf wanted to make a point about moral equivocation, but perhaps selecting this man’s response to his sister’s murder wasn’t the best example to choose.

          Reply to Comment
          • On the issue of prosecution, it is pretty clear that the State does not prevent retribution for real or not crimes in the West Bank. That death isn’t usually involved doesn’t remove the harm done to individual lives. The Yesh Din reports on 972 provide examples.

            The State could take control of justice, but has not. You are right that the potential to escape the past is clearly there.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Vadim

      Noam, this post made me think. I like that.

      It is indeed problematic to idolize soldiers. Soldiers kill, that’s what they do, all around the world. Their idolization is universal and goes way beyond Israel and our neighbours.

      Please don’t forget that the events you describe happened 60 years ago in a totally different world, judged by other standards. In some sense, it’s wrong to judge them by our standards.

      Lastly, I don’t really agree with the comparison you made, or with your statement that we’re all really the same. Meir Harzion is held in high regard due to being a good soldier, and the role he played in the shaping of the IDF. Not because of Qibya, or the revenge of his sister, but in spite them. He would have had the same reputation had these (and other similar) events had not taken place at all.

      There’s no way to compare the idolization with the idolization of someone who’s only achievement was to kill enough Jews, to explode in a crowded enough place or to launch a rocket at a kindergarten.

      I don’t like the “we’re good and they are evil” approach, it’s wrong in general. But in some regards, like the moral level of the Palestinian “resistance” – I don’t have that issue. I find the equality you propose morally wrong.

      I don’t have an issue with statues or monuments erected for Egyptian or Jordanian soldiers that have fought against us (in fact, I know of one in Israel), it’s the same as commemorating Harzion. It’s COMPLETELY different than commemorating Fedayin or modern day terrorists.

      I only dwell on this because it seems to me to be the reason you wrote this piece.

      Reply to Comment
      • “It is indeed problematic to idolize soldiers. Soldiers kill, that’s what they do, all around the world. Their idolization is universal and goes way beyond Israel and our neighbours.

        Please don’t forget that the events you describe happened 60 years ago in a totally different world, judged by other standards. In some sense, it’s wrong to judge them by our standards.”

        I think the same latitude must be given to the other side, including recognition that actions are not always ordered by “Command.” Israel is far superior in its ability to reign in rouge actions or extensions of action. But it was not always so; that’s part of State building.

        “There’s no way to compare the idolization with the idolization of someone who’s only achievement was to kill enough Jews, to explode in a crowded enough place or to launch a rocket at a kindergarten.”

        I detest this as well. The bombers have equated a structure with “Jewish People.” None of us should do that. In full war, alas, that is what is done, or has been done. As no people is a structure, nor are all people responsible for the actions of some of the people. There is State responsibility to curtail the latter; but ignoring such still does not merit punishment on all.

        Reply to Comment
        • Vadim

          “Israel is far superior in its ability to reign in rouge actions or extensions of action. But it was not always so; that’s part of State building.”

          We are not superior, we just put some effort into it. Just like we did into building a state.

          Believe me, they get all the latitude they need. I’m discussing the Hebron 29 massacre. But the actions most of their idols have performed are hideous. Baruch Goldstein is a wonderful example. I’m well aware that some fringes find him a role model, and I would have been OK with fringes of Palestinian society worshipping some brave Zubi-Brigade commander that bravely blew up children for his cause. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Far from it.

          Reply to Comment
          • It is not always the case that the IDF follows Court order. One egregious case, because there was no threat of violence evident, is that of the 1950 or so Court order to allow return of Arabs to their village, only to have the young IDF demolish the village before the order could be actualized. And I know of no IDF soldier or command who paid for that breach of law. Yes, you’ve worked at State building, but I do not think you are through.

            I understand the PA cooperates with the IDF (and other agencies) on security matters. The suppression of worship you mention is calculated, perhaps wrongly, but calculated, I suspect as how far to go without enraging the nationalist, life maimed, populace which largely lead lives of no promise (and yes, I am aware that some in the PA grow fat in international aid). The way out is to build with Israel; as improvement comes (if it does) it will be easier to deal without cost (support for violent cells direct) of the worship you mention.

            Recall that three Palestinians were killed in the WB last week, and we all know there will be no real co-inquiry. Someone like Abbas has to deal internally with these events. Letting the worship you identify go on–is it really different than not prosecuting IDF soldiers, let alone truly investigating them, upon Palestinian deaths or crippling? Recall the Boarder Guard lauded as “Hero of the Day” in the free newspaper after killing a 17 (18?) year old man/boy at a check point? Isn’t that too a form of worship? Where was the regret? The background leading the man/boy to that point? Was he really dangerous? I truly doubt any of this was addressed in that newspaper.

            I am not condoning what you see. But this attitude is instilled now in both sides, in different ways. Bombers kill all at once, so are noticed; the IDF trickle kills. Both create stories to hate the enemy.

            Reply to Comment
    5. ‘Har-Zion is not Baruch Goldstein, the killer from Hebron, who is adored in the Israeli far-right. He is idolized by country’s elites – its media and the highest elected officials. Soon, there will be streets and squares bearing his name. Let’s remember that the next time Israelis condemn the PA for idolizing their killers.

      There is little point in fighting the iconization of murderers. Everyone has blood on their hands – and Israelis have much more than Palestinians, though I find little interest in such morbid competition. Everyone adores their own assassins; that’s the way of the world. Contrary to what Israeli propaganda says, this doesn’t betray anything about Palestinian “incitement,” or a “culture of death” – no more than it does about ours, at least.’

      A brave, cogent piece. Sometimes I think you’re getting a little too brave.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Hidden Author

      Yes killing is bad but what happens when the killing ends? If Israel stopped killing Arabs, Arabs would kill more Jews. If Arabs stopped killing Jews, there would be peace!

      Reply to Comment
    7. Joel

      “The “retribution” raids by Unit 101 were in fact indiscriminate attacks…carried out as acts of revenge for Israeli casualties in 1953.”

      And Arabs carried out a revenge attack at Maale Akrabim in the Negev,and murdered nine Jewish bus passengers.

      Maybe, in the old days, the Arabs understood what revenge meant too.

      Also, Qibya was a botched attack. The attack was planned against a police station, but Jordanian Army
      troops were unexpectedly encountered by the attacking 101 Battalion.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Richard Lightbown

      “Also, Qibya was a botched attack. The attack was planned against a police station, but Jordanian Army
      troops were unexpectedly encountered by the attacking 101 Battalion.”

      So it’s OK then that they killed around 60 civilians, mostly women and children.

      Perhaps the point of the article is lost on you Joel.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Richard Lightbown

      Appeal to the management here. Please can you take down this rabid post by Tomer. It is malicious, untrue and completely off the subject.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Mikesailor

      While I find the original article edifying, I must admit a total abhorrence of most of the comments. While I agree that most countries edify their soldiers, it is usually for the act of soldiering, not cold-blooded murder, a claaing to which ths particular gentleman appears to have excelled. Revenge attacks against innocent, unarmed civilians is not a heroic act. Perhaps the Zionists who inhabit this comments page would at least recognize that fact, although they recognize few. By the way, in the 1928 Hebron massacre, the survivors were acknowledged to be saved by Palestinians who were not Jewish. I do not recall an incident whereim many Palestinians were saved in similar manner by Israeli, or other Jews. Why is that, I wonder? Are the “Arabs” more civilized and less bloodthirsty than their Jewish counterparts? Do they dehumanize less?

      Reply to Comment
      • Tzutzik

        A few thousand Jews were also saved by some in Nazi Germany. Does that lessen the crime of murdering millions of innocents?

        According to the Mikesailos of this world, the answer is YES. That is why we choose to ignore the bastards.

        Reply to Comment
        • Tzutzik

          Here is a proposition for you Mike:

          Someone murders one third of your family. The brother of the murderer saves the other two thirds of your family.

          Is the murderer guilty or not guilty?

          Reply to Comment
          • Tzutzik

            Here is the point Mike:

            There should have been no need to save anyone because a massacre should NOT have occurred in the first place, against innocents. Can wrap your head around that simple little fact?

            You might also want to absorb the fact that in 1929, you and your kind had no excuse for the massacre. There was no “occupation” and Jews have not yet started their own violence against Arabs. That came later because after the Holocaust we decided that we will no longer allow our blood to be spilt for no reason or for just trumped up reasons or because someone just had a bad hair day.

            Are you upset about that Mike? Well then FU we don’t care.

            Reply to Comment
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