The General’s Son: Journey of An Israeli in Palestine

By Miko Peled, Just World Books, 2012

Reviewed by Kraig A Schwartz, Ph.D.

In 1997 Miko Peled, the son of a revered Israeli general and the grandson of one of Israel’s founders, was jolted to the core of his being when his 13-year old niece, Smadar, was killed by a suicide bomber in Jerusalem. The General’s Son, is a memoir of his journey of self-discovery, reflection, and transformation in the aftermath of this tragedy.

For more than thirty years politicians, pundits and activists have discussed the “two state solution” for Israel and Palestine. Yet, after all these years the parties to the conflict are no closer to peace than they were when the 1993 Oslo Accords were broadly welcomed as a harbinger of peace. Miko Peled, Israeli citizen and resident of the U.S., a member of a prominent Zionist family, suggests that the reason for the long stalemate in the peace process lies in the failed formula offered by the “two state solution,” a paradigm based on assumptions that have been challenged and are no longer valid.

Miko Peled’s grandfather, Avraham Katsnelson, was a signer of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. His father, the late Matti Peled, a young Palmach officer in 1948 and by 1967 a major general, was one of the architects of the 1967 Six-Day War, and by the 1980s a member of the Israeli Knesset. Yet in 1984 when the senior Peled entered the Knesset, he was no longer a warrior but had become a man of peace. The younger Mr. Peled was not politically active during the 1980s and 1990s. He was a resident of the United States, a sixth degree black belt who operated a Karate academy in San Diego. Although he supported his father, he did not fully understand his father’s journey from warrior to peace advocate. Ultimately he learns the reasons for his father’s transformation, and in the book he shares those revelations with his readers, explaining how he fully became the general’s son, but those revelations and learning did not unfold until Smadar was killed.

Miko Peled began to explore the roots of the conflict. Instead of withdrawing in grief or moving to embrace more state-led violence, he began to see Palestinians as neighbors, a people who were dispossessed and living under military occupation. This process of exploration and activism began at Smadar’s funeral, which was attended by many Israeli dignitaries, including the politicians Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert. Miko openly confronted Barak (now Israel’s defense minister), asking him to tell the truth about the origins of the tragedy and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Barak refused, walked away, began shaking hands with the mourners but refused to shake Miko’s hand...

Back in San Diego, Miko then joined an Israeli/Jewish/Palestinian dialogue group and for the first time in his life came to know and understand Palestinians. He made numerous trips to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. He goes through check points as he crosses the wall, grieves with Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, as a Rotarian delivers hundreds of wheel chairs to both Palestinians and Israelis. He engages in shouting matches with Israeli soldiers, he is arrested, and fully engages with former Palestinian prisoners, Israeli soldiers and political authorities. He teaches Karate to Palestinians; his Karate keeps him focused and clear-headed.

As his journey moves forward he discovers that there is no remaining Palestinian land from which a state can be created. The West Bank is a maze of communities, Palestinian towns and Jewish settlements separated by roads, walls, electric fences, exclusive zones, watch towers with machine guns and soldiers in armored personnel carriers. There is no territory to trade; the land of Palestine is fully laced with Palestinian Muslims and Christians, Jewish Israelis (including Arab Jews) and Israeli Palestinians. The solution, according to Peled, will not be found in borders, security fences, and division, but only in a process whereby Palestinians and Israeli Jews embrace each other as equals and live in one state. Palestine has always been a land of diversity, and peace will only evolve out of this history. As his father recognized after the Six Day War, occupation and exclusivity will only lead to more conflict.

As Mr. Peled makes these discoveries, he makes one which unfolds the mystery of his father’s journey, a discovery made only in recent years. Immediately after the Six-Day War the Israeli Army carried out a systematic massacre at a refugee camp at Rafah, whereby Israeli soldiers selected more than thirty men in a neighborhood, including a thirteen-year-old boy and an eighty-six year old man, and systematically executed them. They then mutilated their bodies to prevent identification. General Peled was made aware of this, investigated the matter and visited the homes of the bereaved, for which the Palestinians referred to him as Abu Salam, man of peace. The general filed a report with his immediate superior, Yitzak Rabin. Rabin did nothing. A year later Matti Peled retired as a military hero, moved his family to Los Angeles, where he completed a Ph.D. in Arabic literature and became a college professor at Tel Aviv University, a peace activist and a member of the Knesset. In this book, Miko Peled not only examines his own intellectual and human growth, but that of his father’s as well. The book is a compelling read. It is personal, autobiographical, and insightful. It is not a balanced account of the current crisis, but a very human look at the history of the last sixty years and a voice seeking peace.

The author, Miko Peled, will speak at the University Temple United Methodist Church, on October 1st at 7:00 p.m. , 4315 NE 43st, Seattle

Miko Peled


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