The most emotional moment in the interview with Professor Aryeh Eldad was when he related how as head of the department of plastic surgery at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, he spent eight months fighting for the life of an 8-year-old Arab boy from Hebron.
His patient had suffered burns on 90 percent of his body after being wounded by gunfire from an Israeli army helicopter during a targeted assassination attempt against a Hamas activist. Eldad said that after a few months of treatment, the hospital administration wanted to transfer the boy to a hospital in Hebron or Ramallah because he had no medical insurance, and the boy's treatment, which included 16 operations, 250 units of blood and multiple skin transplants, had already cost the hospital more than NIS 1 million.
"One day I lost my temper. I moved the boy's bed from the department to the administration office, and told them: 'If you don't stop harassing me, I'll just leave him here. I am going to treat him until he recovers.' Then they stopped pestering me."
As Eldad tells the story, you momentarily forget that he is a MK from National Union, a man with very extreme political views who favors the voluntary transfer of Palestinians to Jordan, and who climbed onto the rooftop in Sa-Nur, the settlement in northern Samaria, in order to prevent the disengagement, and who stood in the path of the bulldozers at the settlement outpost of Amona, in a bid to avert razing of the houses there.
Eldad, 56, is the son of the late Professor Israel Eldad (Scheib), who was considered the chief ideologue of Lehi, the pre-state underground group also known as the Fighters for the Freedom of Israel. The elder Eldad went on to help found the Greater Land of Israel movement. His son is a graduate of Tel Aviv University medical school, and served as the Israel Defense Forces Chief Medical Officer, at the rank of brigadier general, between 1997 and 2000. He lives in Kfar Adumim, is married, and has five children. Aryeh Eldad was elected to Knesset in 2003.
Passed out from pain
How do you explain the seeming contradiction between support for voluntary deportation of Palestinians and empathy for Palestinian patients?
"I believe that all human beings are entitled to proper medical care. I don't drive on the Sabbath, but whenever I was called urgently to the hospital on Sabbaths and holidays, I never asked if the patient was Jewish or Arab. In 1996, I treated Hussein Mikdad, a Hezbollah terrorist who went to the Lawrence Hotel in East Jerusalem with a suitcase bomb. The suitcase exploded and he lost both legs, an arm, and both eyes."
What do you think of Colonel (Res.) Avi Ronsky, the candidate to for IDF chief rabbi, who told a combat medic who was asked to treat a wounded Arab terrorist on a Sabbath that "If it is possible to evade treating him, you have to do so"?
"I am not a teacher of Jewish law, but medically speaking I strongly condemn any such statement. The question of whether the patient is a terrorist is not at all considered from a medical perspective."
Eldad still sports a cast on his right hand, following the violent evacuation of Amona. "They tore tendons and ligaments in my right thumb," he says. "I was standing between the demonstrators and the policemen, together with MK Benny Elon. At one point, we were surrounded by members of the police's Yassam unit, and ten of them pushed us forward toward the tractor, which was standing there to divide between us and the demonstrators. I held onto the tractor and then one of them came up to me, pulled on my finger, and bent it until it came out of its place. I fainted from all the pain, and came to a few minutes later in an army medical receiving station. I could not understand this behavior. The police should have enabled the public figures who were at Amona to act as a moderating factor, preventing violence, as we did in Gush Katif and Sa-Nur. At the time I received a great deal of praise and thanks from the police for my actions, but this time I was denied the option at the very outset of the conflict."
The parliamentary committee of inquiry into the events at Amona commenced activity on Monday. Isn't this a populist move, intended for electoral purposes?
"On the contrary, we proposed establishing a state commission of inquiry to be headed by a Supreme Court justice in order that it be apolitical and independent. Olmert couldn't hold the rope from both ends. Amona is a national trauma, and such an incident must be investigated. He accused me of leading the bottle-throwing public. That is an especially serious criminal act. Either he demand to remove my immunity and put me on criminal trial, or apologize. You cannot just accuse me falsely."
Aren't you afraid that in the evacuation of other unlawful settlement outposts, things more dangerous than stones and wooden boards will be used?
"Regretfully, yes. There are between 100,000 and 200,000 people living in Judea and Samaria who will be outside of the fence. They feel that they have nothing to lose. The public in Judea and Samaria feels that 25 perfectly legal settlements were evacuated, and the houses in Amona were evacuated, which means that being legal or illegal is unimportant. If the government wants to, it can take down all of the settlements in Judea and Samaria tomorrow. If they would commit to place land somewhere else in Judea and Samaria at the disposal of the settlers to be evacuated, we would have a dilemma. But in effect, the settlers are being told: You have no other option."
And that justifies wild behavior and lashing out at policemen and soldiers?
"In the absence of any alternative, when the public in Judea and Samaria understands that the settlement enterprise has been destroyed, in their mind they have nothing to lose; in their eyes a total withdrawal from Judea and Samaria is the beginning of the end of the State of Israel. If we don't grab onto the ground here, we will be pushed out even from settlements within the Green Line. We are fighting for it all. A public that feels it is fighting for all or nothing engages in extremist acts."
Including the use of firearms against policemen and soldiers?
"It could go that far. To my understanding, there is a greater chance of the police or army using firearms than the settlers. Because there have been lunatics among the settlers, including those who killed Arabs, but they did not strike at Israeli soldiers. I don't think the situation will deteriorate into civil war, because just like after the events of October 2000, the security forces stopped using their weapons at Arab demonstrations, if the security forces open fire and a few people are killed during the evacuation of settlements, it would lead to a suspension of the evacuation."
Do you really see a situation arising in which soldiers and policemen would fire on settlers?
"I don't think soldiers or policemen would open fire on settlers to kill them, but there is liable to be a situation in which their lives are endangered, in which stones are thrown at them or burning tires are rolled at them. In such an event, gunfire of this sort would put a stop to the evacuation of the unlawful settlements. Just as Israel has discovered the limits of its power against the Arabs in Gaza and in Wadi Ara, so, too, in the wake of a tragedy resulting from gunfire at settlers, evacuation of the settlements and the unlawful settlement outposts would also be suspended, because the government would realize that even a minority in a democratic state has rights, and a ruthless majority cannot cross the line and do as it pleases."
Is the National Union pleased by Hamas' rise to power?
"We are pleased by the fact that a large segment of the Israeli public can no longer hide behind the statement of 'we are making every effort to reach a settlement.' The big bonus of the Hamas rise to power is that the camouflage has been pulled off the Palestinian national aspirations. As long as these aspirations were packaged in Abu Mazen's suit and tie, the illusion existed that there was someone to talk with. Maybe Abu Mazen has to be strengthened so that he can enforce his will, but there had been this illusion that when all was said and done, we and they want to live here in peace and we only had to find the formula. The advantage of Hamas' rise to power is that it explains to a lot of Israelis that they were entirely wrong, and that the Arabs want the Nakba map (a reference to the Palestinian term for the 1948 war)."
My father's cast
Do you support Avigdor Lieberman's proposal to impose a death penalty on terrorists?
"Absolutely. The National Union submitted in the outgoing Knesset a legislative bill in this spirit, which would make it possible to sentence to death terrorists with blood on their hands. Israel is applying this principle with great success through targeted assassinations. It doesn't even put these terrorists on trial, and doesn't give them a chance. We know that not only ticking bombs are being liquidated, but also commanders of terrorist cells, and the dispatchers and planners, and I'm in favor."
Should a death penalty also apply to Jews who murder Arabs in cold blood?
"The law should apply to anyone who means to carry out acts of mass murder for nationalist and racist reasons. It should definitely apply to a person like Eden Natan Zada (who murdered Arab passengers on a bus in Shfaram - G.A.). It may be that if we pass such a law, and make it possible to execute terrorists, it would not deter all of them. Suicide terrorists will certainly not be deterred, but those who dispatch them, those who do not intend to die, now know that at most they will sit in prison for a few years before being released. On the other hand, they are very frightened of targeted assassinations."
As the son of Israel Eldad, who was considered a sort of prophet of doom of the right, do you see yourself as continuing where he left off?
"When it comes to the ideological aspects, I am certainly walking in his path. I continue to consult with him frequently. I am not privileged to have the same breadth of general and religious education that he had. When he was in his 30s and 40s, he was a Lehi fighter, and tried to escape from the British. He fell from four stories up, and the cast that he had was a lot bigger than mine."
Would you say that your entry into politics was worthwhile?
"Do you remember what Chiang Kai-shek said when he was asked what the French Revolution contributed to world history? He said it was too early to tell. I can't tell yet, either. When I ended a day of operations, I would get into the car and on the way home I would play back the movie in my head, and I knew who I'd helped and who I didn't. In politics, the connection between cause and effect isn't always entirely clear. So there is no immediate satisfaction, and the frustration is constant."
What spurred you to make the jump from a sought-after post in a hospital to being an MK in the opposition backbenches?
"What tipped the balance and induced me to go into politics was the mounting frustration I felt when I arrived at the hospital in 2000 after 25 years of army service. I became a department head, and three or four months later the second intifada broke out. Every week, people with burns from hellish terrorist attacks would be brought into the emergency room. I would come to the emergency room to treat them - wave after wave of casualties - and I came to realize that as in many areas of medicine, the most effective remedy is preventive medicine. The solution to the situation is not in the operating room, but in the political arena. That is the only place where you can prevent these waves of terror. But when I saw how the government was caving in to terror, believing that Arafat was still a partner in peace talks, and that it did not understand that perhaps there was an existential war going on here, I decided to go into politics, and joining Moledet was a very natural step."