Prologue: Hope Is a Security Asset
Until I turned off my cell phone around midnight, it had been buzzing nonstop with
friends and complete strangers calling to give me a piece of their mind. The prime-time
interview I had given earlier that evening on the Channel Two news program had
scandalized many of the one million viewers. “What the fuck were you thinking?” one
particularly indignant fellow asked.
Who could blame them? It was late October 2000, and Israelis were reeling from
a resurgence of terror attacks. The day before, a mob in Ramallah had murdered two
Israeli reservists with metal bars and knives. Had I been a peacenik who denied our right
to defend ourselves, with lethal force when necessary, people wouldn’t have minded what
I said because they wouldn’t have listened. But for the former director of the Shin Bet, or
“Shabak” — the Israeli mash-up of the FBI, the CIA, and the Secret Service — to express
the slightest empathy for our enemies was like spitting on the country I had served since I
was an eighteen-year-old sea commando.
Instead of calling for Palestinian heads on pikes, I had come out with the
unalloyed truth: PLO leader Yasser Arafat, the man Israelis loved to blame for all the
mayhem, couldn’t have stopped the bloodletting even if he’d wanted to. His people
would have lynched him had he tried. My experiences in and out of the Shabak
interrogation room — along with the friends I’ve buried and enemies I’ve killed —
shattered my lifelong preconceptions about Palestinians. If we wanted to end terrorism,
we couldn’t continue regarding them as eternal enemies, and we needed to stop
dehumanizing them as animals on the prowl. They are people who desire, and deserve,
the same national rights we have. The people who lynched our two soldiers had lost hope
that the Israeli government would ever end the occupation and allow the Palestinians to
be free. “And we’ve given them little reason to trust us,” I concluded.
I’ve always been a strange bird, an outsider to the society I served, and I lost no
sleep over people’s recriminations that night. The following morning at around six, my
wife Biba and I set out on an early walk with our two dogs from our home in Kerem
Maharal, a moshav, or cooperative community, on the southern slopes of Mount Carmel.
After passing through the high white security fence the government erected around our
home during my years at the Shabak to prevent a potential assassin from getting a clear
shot at me, we headed down a dirt path to tend our olive grove. If you look around our
moshav — and for years I was too blinkered to do so — you’ll find traces of the past at
every turn. The newer part of our house was built in the early 1950s to shelter Holocaust
survivors from Czechoslovakia; the much older part, made of quarried stone, once
belonged to an Arab family who built it when Kerem Maharal was still the prosperous
Arab village of Ijzim, the second largest in the Haifa District, home to doctors and
teachers and to the farmers who tended the fields that now belong to us. Whoever owned
our house fled when Israeli forces took the town during the 1948 war.
On the right side of the dirt path is another Arab-built house with trees growing
from cracks in the walls, and at the end of the path, just past the stables, is an old farm
building with a lock still hanging from a broken front door. I can imagine someone
showing the rusty key to his grandchildren in a refugee camp in Gaza or Lebanon while
retelling the story of their loss of Palestine — what they call the Nakba. The Catastrophe.
History is everywhere in a country where you can’t dig a hole without turning up
some trace from eight strata of time. Canaanites, Israelites from the First and Second
Temple periods, Persians, Greeks, Byzantines, Arabs, and Ottomans all established
settlements in our area, and a Roman road leads up from our valley to a hilltop, from
which you can see the Mediterranean several miles away.
But I didn’t have the luxury of contemplating ancient history that morning. In the
fields, just as we began pruning branches, my cell phone buzzed with a call from a man
whose name I recognized, Aryeh Rutenberg. I didn’t need a secret police file on him to
know he was a big shot in Israel’s media and advertising world, a man adept at branding
banks, yogurt, rock stars — and politicians: He was one of the pundits who helped the
Labor Party’s Ehud Barak beat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party
in the elections a couple of years earlier.
Without explaining why, he asked to see me in person, so I invited him to my
cramped office in Tel Aviv where I worked as chairman of a drip irrigation company, the
job I took after retiring from the Shabak.