Meir Har-Zion was a murderer, yet he was idolized this week by the Israeli media and the country’s highest officials.
The Hebrew media in Israel bid farewell this week to one of the IDF’s mythological heroes, Meir Har-Zion. Har-Zion was practically legendary when I grew up, the most celebrated warrior of the IDF’s Unit 101, which carried deadly “retribution” operations across Israel’s borders.
“Israel’s hero,” read the front page headline this morning on Israel Hayom, the widely read free daily. Similarly adoring coverage could be found on the pages of the Post, Times of Israel, and even the U.S.-based Tablet. “One of our greatest heroes—a bold warrior full of love for the land and its people,” said Prime Minister Netanyahu. “A legend,” President Peres called him.
The “retribution” raids by Unit 101 were in fact indiscriminate attacks on Arab police, military and civilians, carried out as acts of revenge for Israeli casualties in 1953. In the infamous Qibia raid alone, around 60 people, most of them women and children, were murdered. (Following international outrage, Ben-Gurion denied the IDF’s responsibility for the raid.) In fact, the methods of Unit 101 were controversial even for 1950s Israel, and the killers’ unit merged with the paratroops five months after it was formed.
In 1954, Har-Zion’s sister was murdered by members of a Bedouin-Palestinian tribe while hiking in the Judean Desert (also across the Israeli border at the time). Along with three other friends, Ben Zion went into Jordanian territory and murdered four members of the tribe. Har-Zion’s political patrons – and particularly Ben-Gurion – made the prosecution drop the charges against him, and he went back to commanding troops.
There was a lot of proper, military-style heroism by Har-Zion between all those corpses he left behind, and he ended up receiving the IDF’s highest decorations. But that didn’t change the fact that he was a murderer, pure and simple. Amos Elon, the celebrated Israeli author, wrote on Har-Zion: “Without much talk, he killed Arab soldiers, farmers and city-dwellers, with a rage deprived of hate, always cool and completely efficient, just doing a job and doing it well, three or four times a week, for months.”
Har-Zion is not Baruch Goldstein, the killer from Hebron, who is adored in the Israeli far-right. He is idolized by country’s elites – its media and the highest elected officials. Soon, there will be streets and squares bearing his name. Let’s remember that the next time Israelis condemn the PA for idolizing their killers.
There is little point in fighting the iconization of murderers. Everyone has blood on their hands – and Israelis have much more than Palestinians, though I find little interest in such morbid competition. Everyone adores their own assassins; that’s the way of the world. Contrary to what Israeli propaganda says, this doesn’t betray anything about Palestinian “incitement,” or a “culture of death” – no more than it does about ours, at least.