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Friendly Fire

How Israel Became Its Own Worst Enemy and the Hope for Its Future

Friendly Fire Buy Now
Format Ebook Paperback Audiobook
ISBN 978-1-58642-259-2 978-1-58642-297-4 978-1-58642-277-6
Published Sep 7, 2021
Imprint Truth to Power
Biography & Autobiography - Memoirs Biography & Memoir Middle Eastern World History World Politics

FINALIST — The National Jewish Book Award

In this deeply personal journey of discovery, Ami Ayalon seeks input and perspective from Palestinians and Israelis whose experiences differ from his own. Ayalon is a realist, not an idealist, and many who consider themselves Zionists will regard as radical his conclusions about what Israel must do to achieve relative peace and security and to sustain itself as a Jewish homeland and a liberal democracy.

As head of the Shin Bet security agency, he gained empathy for “the enemy” and learned that when Israel carries out anti-terrorist operations in a political context of hopelessness, the Palestinian public will support violence, because they have nothing to lose. Researching and writing Friendly Fire, he came to understand that his patriotic life had blinded him to the self-defeating nature of policies that have undermined Israel’s civil society while heaping humiliation upon its Palestinian neighbors.

“If Israel becomes an Orwellian dystopia,” Ayalon writes, “it won’t be thanks to a handful of theologians dragging us into the dark past. The secular majority will lead us there motivated by fear and propelled by silence.”

Praise idealistic, yet sober and realistic, vision of what is needed to advance the prospects of peace."Sheldon Kirshner, The Times of Israel

Ayalon’s aims and accomplishments are . . . undeniably impressive . . . Hope finds a prominent presence in what so many think is a hopeless, endless conflict.” Kirkus Reviews

[a] compact compelling memoir . . . smoothly written . . . [that] includes a beguiling mini-history of Israel itself.” Charles Kaiser, The Guardian

Reading Ayalon’s revealing book, one can see that he has come a long way. Perhaps his most commendable conclusion is that Israel will never achieve peace until 'we change the narrative about the past and admit to ourselves that the Palestinians have a right to their own country alongside Israel, and on land we claim as ours.'" Raja Shehadeh, The Nation

Ayalon’s book is... a personal, intellectual and philosophical journey into his life’s different realms, interspersed with encounters with people through whom he sets out to decipher the collective DNA of Israel, Zionism and Judaism." Yossi Melman, Haaretz

What Ayalon says in the fascinating and well written Friendly Fire matters, based as it is upon years of military and political experience in the service of the state of Israel. . . . overall, Friendly Fire is an optimistic book, evisaging as it does a state of peace one day flourishing between Israelis and Palestinians."Jewish Chronicle (UK)

Ami Ayalon discusses how he came to see a two-state solution with the Palestinians as the best way to ensure Israel’s security, not just through analyzing numbers and statistics, but through a humanistic approach. He discusses . . . how his humanist paradigm not only allowed him to see how the Palestinians’ grievances and aspirations are intertwined with Israel’s security, but also how he still acknowledges and sympathizes with the narratives of those in Israel whom he may disagree with.” Jonah Naghi, in The Times of Israel

How can a staunch Zionist who was raised on one of Israel's earliest settlements and trained as a kill-or-be-killed elite commando spearhead a campaign for peace with his enemies? The answer, in Ami Ayalon's captivating narrative, is an eye-opener for Palestinians and Israelis alike." Sari Nusseibeh, author of Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life, former president of the Al-Quds University and former Palestinian National Authority representative in Jerusalem

Friendly Fire is not simply a critique, but a strong mandate for a complete overhaul of Israel’s policy toward countering Palestinian terrorism—with clear lessons for counterterrorism policy far beyond the region. . . a powerful critique of the Israeli politicians on both the left and right. . . a story of immense bravery: bravery to speak truth to power; bravery to speak out against injustice—even when it is committed on one’s behalf and in one’s name; bravery to acknowledge one’s own participation in and responsibility for such injustice; and, finally, bravery to demand accountability from oneself and from others." Molly Ellenberg, in Modern War Institute


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.

About the Authors

Ami Ayalon

Admiral (Ret.) Ami Ayalon is a former Flotilla 13 (Israel’s navy SEALs) commando, commander of the navy, director of the Shin Bet security agency, cabinet minister, Knesset member and a recipient of the Medal of Valor, Israel’s highest military decoration. With Sari Nusseibeh, he established the People’s Voice peace initiative in 2002. He is a member of Commanders for Israel’s Security, chairman of the Executive Committee of the Haifa Research Center for Maritime & Strategy and chairman of AKIM Israel (the National Association for children and adults with Intellectual Disabilities). He organized and was featured in the Academy Award-nominated documentary, The Gatekeepers.

Anthony David

Anthony David, historian and biographer, teaches creative writing at the University of New England’s campus in Tangier, Morocco.

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