Observe this credo: "It is not enough to know the enemy, we must understand him. Today, the goal is not to point weapons at Palestinians. It is to create hope in them. Hope means security. We need to redefine the term 'victory'. Without it, we will never achieve peaceful coexistence. We have to rethink our own narrative. We have erased our past in an attempt to justify our territorial aggression. We have ignored that Palestinians have the same historical right as Israelis to the land we are excluding them from. That fighting Islamist terrorists does not mean fighting Palestinians. That hatred prolongs war. That we have the right to defend ourselves, but only as long as we give the other party the same right. That as long as we refuse to realize all this, we will continue to be our own worst enemy; without hope of turning Israel into a democracy based on universal humanitarian values.”
That it should take a lifetime to come to such realizations may seem strange. However, not so strange for the one in question here. The considerations above are an extract from one man's self-criticism, as it appears in his book Friendly Fire. How Israel Became Its Own Worst Enemy and the Hope for Its Future. (Truth to Power). The author, Ami Ayalon, has been at the forefront of Israel's combat operations, as a naval commander and as head of the Shin Bet,the country's internal security service, also known under the motto "the invisible shield". The guiding star throughout was the key concept of 'national security'. Ayalon's career is closely intertwined with Israel's history, and thus his story can be read as a therapy lesson.
He led negotiations with Arafat, held talks with his own leaders. The Oslo agreement led to temporary openings, but...
After ordering attacks and eliminating enemies for many years, Ayalon had a shocking experience in conversation with a Palestinian psychiatrist named Sarraj. It was a friendly meeting, until Sarraj thought Ayalon should congratulate him on his victory. The astonished reply was: “We have killed hundreds of your people in just the last few weeks. You are about to lose the last shreds of freedom. You have fought for decades to win freedom, and for what? Martyrdom and funerals? Is this what you call victory?” Sarraj confirmed: "We have lived in fear since 1967. That both our peoples now share the fear is a victory for us." Ami was left speechless. Then, slowly, he began to reevaluate all the convictions he had lived by until then.
Defend by all means?
As a young naval officer, Ayalon participated in a foolhardy attack on an Egyptian base, a fortress island named Green Island. They were a small commando unit, and the operation consisted of night diving before climbing to the top of the fortress. In the fight that followed, Ami was hit by bullets and grenades, which did not prevent him from completing the operation, providing cover for his comrades and finally escaping to a boat, where he gave himself an injection of morphine before passing out. The other soldiers were either wounded or dead. For this action, Ami received the medal Medal of Valor, Israel's highest award. It is reserved for those who show "ultimate heroism in the face of enemy fire".
"Seeing Palestinians as people changed me." Ami Ayalon
The man's military career brought him many glorious years, but also with a creeping sense that the country he so passionately defended was maneuvering into a strategic dead end. Ami grew up in a kibbutz. He was convinced that Israel's right to exist had to be defended by all means. He planned elimination operations and killed terrorists without blinking an eye. Until he realized that Palestinians who had been chased out of hiscountry, had the same right. That equating Palestinians with the enemy was a fatal mistake. Ayalon acknowledged: “Seeing Palestinians as people changed me […]. Our lack of empathy destroyed our ability to assess dangers and opportunities. Anxiety made us overreact.” He led negotiations with Arafat, held talks with his own leaders. The Oslo agreement led to temporary openings, but after a terrorist spiral that neither party was able to curtail, the fronts hardened again.
With his back against the wall, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin called in Ami Ayalon. Asked him to take the job as head of the Shin Bet. Ami thought, "Sending a bullet through a uniformed enemy is quite a different thing from dragging a blindfolded store manager, or a kid, into a cell to squeeze information out of him, either by finesse or by force . The job would also involve spying on Jews.” He rejected the offer. A year later word reached him that Rabin was dead, shot by an Israeli Jew. The internal tensions in Israel had reached maximum levels. Thus Ami was summoned again, this time by Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Who repeated the offer. This time Ami Ayalon, who had always given safety the highest priority, accepted. He led Shin Bet for four years, until retirement in 2000.
For a period, Ayalon tried his hand as a politician, but banged his head against the wall, in the form of conservative intransigence and one-dimensional arrogance of power, personified through Benjamin Netanyahu. In 2003, together with the Palestinian professor Sari Nusseibeh, he established a peace initiative called The People's Voice.
We are still waiting for the political solution to the Middle East conflict.
Through his book, Ami Ayalon has wanted to inspire a vision, to see the country that became a state in 1948 in a larger historical perspective. To create consensus that the Jewish people have the right to self-determination within their (debatable) borders, without that giving them any exclusive, absolute right.
Through this biography, he shows that it is possible to span a long arc from life as a one-dimensional military spearhead to becoming a champion of understanding and peaceful coexistence across explosive conflicts of interest.
There are few places on earth where hope has such rough conditions as in the powder keg around the Jordan Valley – where it is considered a strategic goal to create fear.