The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine. Miko Peled. Just World Books, Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.A. 2012.
There are many powerful books written on the topic of Palestine/Israel but few if any are as masterfully written as Miko Peled’s The General’s Son. Combining a wealth of knowledge and experience, with a strong sense of human compassion and common sense, and with a compelling and forceful narrative, Peled has written a story that needs to be read by anyone interested in Palestine/Israel and the broader Middle East in general.
The author’s writing style craftily weaves together his father’s story, followed by his own story, with comments, anecdotal incidents, and information that draw the reader further into the work. The story dispels the myths created by Israeli society that are used to sustain its posturing domestically and with its foreign policy.
Peled’s father, Matti Peled, was a popular and well-known Israeli general, having fought in the 1948 Independence war and the 1967 war against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Seeing the results of those wars, Matti Peled became a peace activist, essentially arguing that Israel could not prosper as an oppressor country. Miko Peled followed his father’s actions as a child, and after his own stint in as a Red Beret, became increasingly absorbed into his own beliefs concerning the unjust and non-humanitarian Israeli treatment of its Palestinian population.
The work is divided into four sections. The first covers the life of Matti Peled and his strong criticisms of Israeli actions, in particular after the 1967 war. Immediately after the war, Matti Peled said, “Now we have a chance to offer the Palestinians a state of their own.” He believed that holding on to the territories was “contrary to Israel’s long term strategy of building a secure Jewish democracy.” As events continued, as settlements continued, he arrived at the position in which he indicated that the best thing the U.S. could do for Israel would be to stop weapons sales and stop the free money given to Israel.
The second section of the story, Red Beret, follows the author’s own journey of awareness. It starts with his experiences with the Red Berets and the different experiences that forced him to think about his father’s perceptions of Israeli actions. After leaving the military, the influence of karate on his life becomes a dominant theme. The final chapter, Black September, narrates the accounts around the death of his niece Smadar from a suicide bombing.
As with the rest of the book, each chapter serves as a well-defined unit, presenting a particular theme, always related to his own personal growth and awareness and context of the situation he was living in.
These narrative themes carry through The Road to Palestine, the third part of the book concerning his personal involvement and development within the Palestinian peace movement. A Journey Begins describes his first encounters with a Jewish-Palestinian dialogue group in Coronado, California. His first active involvement is recounted in Two Flags, where with his association with the Rotarians, he organizes the delivery of a thousand wheel chairs for Israel and the West Bank.
Countries that have something to hide survive in part by creating fear of an outsider, the enemy, the other. In The Fear Virus, Miko Peled is shocked that in spite of his understanding intellectually of the situation from both his father’s and his own experiences, how deeply embedded his fear was. Beyond his own fears, he recognized the fear was maintained by the state of Israel through its wall building, signage, and checkpoints. His encounters with the Palestinian citizens and their acceptance of him turned the fear to trust, leading him to the point where “Letting go of my fear and placing my trust in these committed young activists was not a choice, it was a mission.” This trust came from activists, husbands and fathers who “deliberately and consistently refused to engage in violence, just as they refused to accept the injustice imposed on them by the Israeli occupation.”
From an encounter at a checkpoint Miko relates the story of The Commanding General’s Orders, an encounter that ends with his assessment that “My own people had arrested me for doing something good. My disillusionment with Israel had sunk to a new low.”
In Who Will Speak for Gaza, he relates his actions of trying to get into Gaza, and recognizes with hindsight that his attempts to cross at Rafah came just three weeks before the Cast Lead attacks against Gaza. He states, “Gaza has essentially been turned into an enormous concentration camp,” with the Egyptian military “assisting Israel’s siege.”
The story of Abu Ansar highlights the importance of education to the Palestinian resistance and how it is organized and presented within the Israeli prisons. It also highlights how former freedom fighters carry “an abundance of calm and patience…their caring and empathy…far stronger than any anger they might be carrying.”
Encounters with the Israeli military in Defiance continue the narratives of earlier incidents. The fear factor and the power and control of the Israeli military are shown against the popular non-violent resistance and the rocks versus guns and armored jeeps aspect of the Hebron ghetto of Kiryat Arba.
The final section, Hope for Peace, leads to the author’s position that the only way out of the current mess is a one state secular democracy. The force of his logic and the gritty details of his own experiences provide a compelling argument for his perspective.
Working with the children of Palestine through his karate, Miko presents hope for The Next Generation. Military humiliation, arrests, and killings are all rites of passage for Palestinians growing up in the West Bank and Gaza.
He next meets with Abu Ali Shahin, a Fatah commander and leader for two decades of Palestinian prisoners. From Shahin’s lecture, Miko reprises his father’s testimony concerning the Israeli occupation, “…my father said that the Israeli army would become an occupation army and would resort to brutal means to enforce the Israeli occupation on the Palestinian people.” Referring to IDF records, he cites his father, “If we keep these lands, popular resistance to the occupation is sure to arise, and Israel’s army would be used to quell that resistance, with disastrous and demoralizing results.”
While in prison, after resisting efforts to make him ‘talk’ by torturing him, Shahin organized the prisoners into a self-directing democratic body promoting education of the prisoners. Miko says, “I was being exposed to a side of the Palestinians that was truly heroic. And I could see no reason why we can’t share this land in peace and indeed perhaps share a state with a nation that can produce such principled heroism under the harshest conditions.”
Whether it is One State, Two States, Three States, Miko argues that the Zionists are lying about the two state solution. He argues, “We have to change the paradigm from a Zionist one that says Jews must have their own state to a paradigm that sees both Jews and Palestinians as equals living together in a state that is neither Jewish or Arab, and governed by an elected government that represents everyone.”
He argues further, “As long as Israel remains unchanged and the debate evolves around the creation of a Palestinian state in some undefined region, nothing will change. For years the Israelis have been saying that it is willing to give the Palestinians a few pieces of land on which they may establish some sort of mini state….the actors know full well that this is an act. The Israeli settlements in the West Bank expand and the horrors of the ethnic cleansing campaign continue to terrorize the Palestinian people day in and day out.
“The notion that the two parties need to reach a solution as equal partners is inconceivable to the Zionist state.”
When I first heard Miko Peled on You Tube presenting a talk on Palestine/Israel he said, “Zionism…has to go. The Zionist state has to be replaced with a democracy.” As for the IDF in Palestine, “Their entire purpose is terrorism.” While his father was a strong Zionist, Miko believes that he too now would call for a single democracy with equal rights.
What I have outlined and cited above, while highlighting the points of view presented in The General’s Son, do not convey the powerful nature of Miko Peled’s writing. It is strong, direct, eloquent, forceful, and emotionally moving all wrapped in a personal history that has intersected with one of the major humanitarian-political-military crisis of our time.
Arguments will continue about one state or two states, or a binational state, but the human story presented here underlies whatever solution—or calamity—will occupy the future. This work is a must read for anyone arguing about the past history, the current situation, the humanitarian and military impacts of the occupation and settlements.
There are millions of Palestinian partners for peace. It is time the world stood with them for a sovereign independent democratic state.