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The Rabin File

By Dr. Uri Milstein
Translated from Hebrew
Gefen Books, Hewlett NY

Review by Israel Shahak, Z Magazine

It is regrettable that most of the information about Israel and the Zionist movement, whose efforts resulted in the creation of the Jewish state and whose ideology still dominates it, that reaches countries like the U.S. and particularly the left, concentrates on what is considered in Israel itself the left part of its political spectrum, that is the Labor and Meretz parties, the Arab parties usually allied with them, and to some extent the very small groups to the left of this bloc. This bloc can be defined as "the Oslo coalition," since after the 1992 elections it was its support that brought Rabin's government to power and allowed it to persist in its policies until the 1996 elections, which were, first and foremost, the defeat of this bloc.

If information about "the other side" of the Israel political spectrum is published outside of Israel, it is usually done by its enemies and it is usually a slanderous kind of information. The result of this continuous disinformation is that when a "left" Israeli government carries out policies that are actually worse than those carried out by the right wing one, its crimes are overlooked while the acts of a Netanyahu are exaggerated.

Milstein justly observed this while participating in Rabin's government: "Meretz party ministers justified the expulsion of 415 Hamas activists to Lebanon in December 1992 in spite of their party's fiercely opposing such acts during the Likud government and in spite of their election platform in 1992. These very same ministers supported Operation Accountability in the last week of July 1993 and Operation `Grapes of Wrath' in April 1996, when the IDF (Israeli Defense Army) bombed and shelled many villages in South Lebanon, destroyed many houses, and caused half a million citizens to flee their homes."

Since Milstein's book was published in Hebrew in 1995, let me add that during the Netanyahu government of 1996-99, Meretz protested against its policies in Lebanon, which were much milder than those it approved under Rabin, while the situation in the West Bank was not very different. However, the hypocritical protests of Meretz and Labor are being slavishly echoed by the U.S. media and believed by many in the left. Milstein's book is of great importance in redressing the picture and in allowing Americans who usually know the Zionist right only from the slanders of the left to have a valuable glimpse of its views not only on Rabin, the subject of he book under review, but on the history of the "Yishuv" -- the modern Jewish community in Palestine -- from about 1920, through the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, up to 1995.

Milstein is a military historian who has published many books with very detailed and highly critical descriptions of the performance of the military forces of the Yishuv and the IDF. His competence and factual honesty are fully established, although since he has successfully demolished one of the most sacred items of Israeli mythology (accepted by the U.S. media), that the IDF and before this the Palmach [the elite strike force of the pre-State Haganah] are and were of good or even extraordinary quality in military terms, he is intensely disliked by the Israeli establishment experts (who are usually of leftist views) and given the silent treatment. I consider that his general conclusions are valid: the IDF has usually been a bad army and most of its faults can be ascribed to its generals and officer corps in general.

Thus we can read in The Rabin File well-substantiated views that will never be expressed in the U.S. mainstream media. Israel and before that the Yishuv suffered from "security schizophrenia." The retaliations, which according to Milstein were sometimes "not linked to prior Arab attacks," have in any case "dragged the Jewish Yishuv into an all-out struggle with the Arab inhabitants of Palestine." The IDF attempted in 1948 "to poison the water in Gaza," but the attempt failed. The attempt of left Zionists to create "a New Jew" was based on "an overabundant Aryan aggressiveness." Milstein has no doubt that the IDF "suffered defeat" in the Intifida. When describing the IDF conquest of Lydda in 1948 he says that it "slaughtered" the Arabs and adds that in many Palestinian villages, for example Bidu and Bet Surik, Palmach troops commanded by Rabin "blew up occupied Arab houses." But contrary to most Palestinian historians and certain modern Jewish ones he also describes Palestinian atrocities without exaggerating them. The picture emerging from his book is a war between communities won by the Jewish community because, with all the faults of its military leaders, it was much more efficient and trained its soldiers much better than the Palestinians did. Let me add that a crucial reason for the Jewish victory was the support of Stalin, who early in 1948 ordered Czechoslovakia to supply weapons to the Jewish forces. Since a few years later the U.S.SR began to support some important Arab states and afterwards the PLO, this fact has been suppressed in most histories written by Arabs.

The faults of the IDF are greatly increased by organized glorification of its generals, of which the glorification of Rabin, particularly by U.S. Jews, when after the Six Day War (with which he had little to do), he became the Israeli Ambassador in Washington, is a notorious example. The conclusion from Milstein's thesis, hinted but not explicitly made in his works, is that Israeli victories are the result of Palestinian forces and then the Arab armies being even worse than the Israeli army, and also having faults which the Israeli soldiers do not usually have, such as being prone to panic.

The Rabin File is mainly a military biography of Rabin, demolishing the prevalent myth of his "great" performance as Palmach commander in the war of 1947-49 (called in Israel "the Independence War"). Although it begins with a valuable description of Rabin's youth and his parents, and contains interesting observations of how the leaders of the Yishuv and then of Israel had come to their decisions and what their aims were, its bulk consists of a detailed military analysis of battles, often small clashes, in which Rabin or his colleagues were involved. I will mostly ignore this part of the book and concentrate on two issues highly relevant for contemporary readers: the true aims of the Jewish leadership before and during the first part of the war of 1947-49 when the conflict in Palestine was between Jewish and Palestinian communities, and the current world outlook of the Israeli right wing as glimpsed through Milstein's views.

There can be no doubt that Milstein's views about the true aims of the Jewish leadership in Palestine in the 1940s, comprised of left Zionists, based on a detailed analysis of what that leadership said in its secret debates and ignoring its public declarations, are correct. The difference between the right minority organization Irgun, headed by Menachem Begin, and Haganah headed by Ben-Gurion, but then very strongly influenced by Labor hawks organized in the Le'ahdut Ha'avoda Party, turns out to be very small if one examines their secret plans in contrast to their public talk. For example, although the Jewish leadership headed by Ben-Gurion accepted the UN General Assembly decision of November 19, 1947, dividing Palestine into two states, Arab and Jewish (and an international area around Jerusalem), while Irgun (and a smaller and more extreme organization Lehi) rejected it, it turns out that what the Jewish leadership really wanted was "Greater Israel in Stages," or to put it accurately,"to establish a State with borders as broad as possible, and with as few Arabs as possible. To that end, the leaders believed that it was highly desirable to prevent the establishment of an Arab state within the borders of Western Palestine, despite the UN resolution calling for such co-existence."

A secondary goal was to disguise this aim and present the war as a "no-choice defensive effort" so as "to gain the support of world public opinion." The long-standing attempts of the Jewish leadership to make an alliance with the Hashemite dynasty ruling, under British protection, in Transjordan (now Jordan), are correctly seen by Milstein as a result of a decision to attempt to conquer the entire Palestine. He even tries to ask whether this policy, called the "Jordanian option," did not provoke the leaders of the majority of the Palestinians, the Husseini family, and contribute "to 46 years of terrorist and anti-terrorist activities."

Indeed, an important point emerging from The Rabin File is that Ben-Gurion, who wanted to conquer the entire Palestine, was more moderate than the Palmach commanders, Rabin's teachers, followers of Yitzhak Tabenkin, the leader of "Le'ahdut Ha'avoda," who, exactly like Jabotinsky and Begin, wanted also to conquer the "East Bank of the Jordan." Let me illustrate the point by quoting Tabenkin's famous speech, made in March 1944 during Palmach's formative years, in which he declared: "Our aim is the entire Land of Israel on both banks of the Jordan, whose borders are: from Lebanon to Sinai, from the desert to the sea. All this should become a Jewish state, dedicated to Jewish revival." Tabenkin also expressed a hope "that some day the Arabs will be content to change their place of residence and will depart from here to another place." In 1948 and for some years afterwards, when I lived in Tel Aviv and was a dedicated follower of Ben-Gurion because of his moderation (as I saw it), I was involved in many debates with friends who quoted this speech to me as illustrating the policies Israel should pursue. There can be no doubt about its influence among left Zionists of that time and its relevance to the course of the 1947-49 war.

Milstein denies the myth that "the Jews had no interest in war," because "the war enabled the Jews to expand their borders" and "reduce the number of hostile Arabs within those borders." He conclusively shows that during the crucial initial months after the outbreak of hostilities on November 30, 1947, the actual policy of Jewish military forces was to aggravate the conflict. (This was also the policy of the Palestinian leadership headed by Haj Amin Husseini, who spent the last years of World War II as Hitler's guest). Two cases in which this policy was carried out will be quoted.

"Two weeks after the UN resolution, on December 12, 1947, soldiers of the Palmach 3rd Battalion attacked an Arab bus near Nab Yosha, killing six passengers, wounding three and burning the bus. `Order restored on the roads', were the words used in the report on this action by the Battalion commander, Mula Cohen. On December 18, 1947, three Arabs from the village Kela on the Lebanese border clashed in the Hula valley with two Jewish men and a boy... One of the Jews was killed, apparently when his gun backfired. The incident took place not far from the Arab village of Chasas. Without bothering to check from where the attackers had come, soldiers of the Palmach 3rd Battalion carried out a reprisal raid against the village of Chasas, blew up two houses and killed three men, a woman and four children."

"This retaliation," comments Milstein, "intensified the enmity between the Jews and Arabs in the Galilee." I have no doubt that it was the calculated policy of the two leaderships, Jewish and Palestinian, that caused the outbreak of the 1947-49 war in Palestine. Milstein's book shows the Jewish side of that grim decision, with whose consequences both peoples and the entire world still have to live.

Together with remarkable clarity of thought and absence of hypocrisy, The Rabin File, like most books by Israeli right wingers, is characterized by a mythological approach and chauvinism (in this case a Jewish one); qualities common to most right wing movements. However, because of the PC influence in the Western world, Jewish chauvinism is quite unknown, especially among the left. Therefore even Milstein's chauvinistic mythology, more or less common to all right wing Jews in all countries (it can be found in the largest Jewish paper in the U.S., The Jewish Press), is useful for knowledge of that section of Israeli Jews. Milstein, who in spite of not being Orthodox considers all figures of the Old Testament as being historical, regards Abraham as a great strategist. According to Milstein, "Human culture evolved from Abraham's victory -- the triumph of pure reason over the Devil's Trinity." I will not attempt to explain what "the Devil's Trinity" means, but the anti-Christian tendencies so strong in the Israeli right wing (in spite of great support of many Christian fundamentalists for Greater Israel) are illustrated by the statement that "the Devil's Trinity," after being created "together with the world... Later in the Holy Land gave birth to the Holy Trinity of Christianity." The book is full of similar statements and of belief in Jewish superiority.

Another tendency common to most right wing movements, and very prominent among Israeli right wingers, is Milstein's repudiation of justice (except in relations among the Jews), even as an ideal to be pursued, and its replacement by the "Principle of Survival," which can justify anything. It should be emphasized that Milstein, contrary to vulgar right wingers, justifies "cruel acts of slaughter and destruction" whether ordered by a Jewish or Palestinian leadership. His scorn is reserved for "the twisted intellectuals of our time whose physical survival is secure" and who aspire to "unbiased justice" or "seek justice for others." He ascribes this to "megalomaniac sources," and claims that such "twisted intellectuals" had, by their manipulation of public opinion, corrupted human life "during human history." This is an obvious echo of Nietzsche's views, very popular among the Israeli extremists now and in some Palmach circles in the 1940s, which admired the "Aryan virility of which Nietzsche had spoken, the Superman, full of vigor and energy." Without understanding the prevalence of such views in a large part of the Israeli Jewish society and among influential parts of U.S. Jewry, one simply cannot understand the history of the State of Israel.

I consider The Rabin File, in spite of its tedious stories of battles and clashes, to be a valuable book for anyone who wants to understand those aspects of Israeli and Zionist history, which the U.S. media, and in particular liberal U.S. media, almost always omit. This judgment applies both to the correct parts of the book and to those which I oppose and consider to be pernicious nonsense, but nonsense which continues to be highly influential in important Jewish circles, not only in Israel but in other countries as well.

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