Bubble of Sanity: Udi Adiv, 30 Years Later

Tom Segev
Tom Segev

As a young doctor at Hadassah Ein Karem Medical Center in Jerusalem was drawing a blood sample from my right arm, I asked him where he was from. From Ramallah, he said. I almost fell off the chair. Dr. Mohammed Kassem, an intern of 27, did not really understand my reaction. As far as Al-Ram, he travels in a public Ford Transit, and in Jerusalem he catches the number 19 bus. It takes about two hours. Sometimes there are problems; usually there aren't.

At Hadassah you hear a lot of Russian among the doctors, nurses, patients and visitors; its status is almost equivalent to that of Hebrew. You also hear a lot of Arabic. Doctors and nurses speak to Arab patients in their language, and also speak Arabic among themselves. Nearly all of them are Israeli Arabs. Israeli society limits the career opportunities of gifted young Arabs mainly to the fields of medicine and the law. Like the universities (and the prisons), the hospitals are a meeting place for Jews and Arabs on an equal basis. In the hospitals, one also finds Arabs higher up in the hierarchy than Jews: Arab doctors and nurses with Jewish patients. The impression is that here, quite a reasonable model of a shared life is forming. Dr. Kassem, a non-Israeli Palestinian, is a stranger to all this, and in his ironic way, he behaves as though he were surrounded by a surrealistic bubble of sanity: The terror and the craziness rage only outside, and he is inside, protected.

He is not really from Ramallah, but from a small village, Al-Jedira, that is still under Israeli control; he has an orange identity card. The son of a building contractor, the third of nine children, he grew up into the "peace process" that began in Madrid. Among his childhood memories is something especially courageous: When he was 9 years old, together with other children he took part in a peace march and, trembling with fear, went up to an Israeli Defense Forces Jeep to give an olive branch to soldiers.

After completing high school, he decided to study medicine and began to look for possible schools. In the end, the list boiled down to Morocco, India, or Sartov on the Volga River. The tuition in Morocco and India was too expensive. Kassem managed to get to Russia; to this end he learned Russian. When he arrived there, everything looked very optimistic; they said that by the time he was a doctor and went home - there would be peace.

He is not a very political person. The war invades his life, as it does the lives of almost everyone, but like many people he doesn't really know what to say about the situation. He tries to get over politics with a smile, relies on the Hippocratic Oath and sees only human beings, he says, not Jews or Arabs. This is not easy. It sometimes happens that patients prefer a Jewish doctor, but Russian-speaking patients are glad that he can help them in their own language; sometimes they have no idea where he is from. He learned Hebrew at Ulpan Akiva. The Peres Center for Peace helped him arrange his internship. The Palestinian Health Ministry didn't say no, but on his side there are those who ask him what, in fact, he is doing there, in Israel. He tells them the truth: He is interning in one of the best departments of urology, and when he completes his internship, he will join the medical staff of a new hospital that is supposed to open in Ramallah.

The daily uncertainty as to whether he will manage to get to Jerusalem or not is nerve-racking, as is the endless hassle at the barricades twice a day. It happens that sometimes there is shooting all of a sudden. No one knows where it is coming from, and then everyone is frightened to death of everyone else and run around in a panic, trying to find shelter. Dr. Kassem looks no older than the soldiers who man the barricades; they often refuse to believe that he is a doctor. At most, they are prepared to believe that he is a teacher. He has to be back by 7 P.M. Sometimes he doesn't make it because a prolonged operation or a terror attack keeps him in the city. Not long ago - these things happen - he forgot his Israeli entry permit. The soldier posted at the barricade demanded that he go home. What's with you? replied Kassem; don't you know me? I come every day. The soldier was an immigrant from Russia; Kassem spoke to him in Russian. The soldier let him pass without showing his permit. On second thought, Kassem admits, there's a story here.

Eitan Bronstein, a 41-year-old native of Argentina and a former resident of Kibbutz Bahan, defines himself as a "political educator." He is engaged in "critical education" at the School for Peace at Neveh Shalom and is working on a doctorate at Bar-Ilan University. When he leaves Neveh Shalom, a Jewish-Arab settlement on the road to Jerusalem, Bronstein passes an interactive museum that presents the history of ancient agriculture in the Land of Israel. A fine wooden sign notes that during the Crusader period, the Yalo Fortress stood there. There is no mention of the fact that until the Six-Day War the Arab village of Yalo stood there. The IDF destroyed it, together with the villages of Ammus and Beit Nuba.

The schoolchildren who come to this educational site to learn about the terraces and fruit trees there find no mention of the fact that the terraces were built and the trees planted by Palestinian villagers who were expelled from there. The fact that these three villages were destroyed and the inhabitants expelled in the Six-Day War and not in the 1948 War of Independence makes Bronstein especially angry: These villages posed no danger to the state. They were destroyed so that their lands could be taken; eventually, on some of these lands, Canada Park, a popular recreation site, was landscaped.

Bronstein knows that he cannot turn back history, but he believes that Israel's part in creating the Palestinian tragedy should not be forgotten. Therefore, he has initiated a project to put memorial plaques at each of the 500 villages that were destroyed in the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe of 1948), like the numerous memorial plaques that perpetuate the Israeli version of history.

At present, he is advancing his proposal in the form of an article published in the weekly Hakibbutz. Several dozen kibbutzim are located on the ruins of Palestinian villages and are cultivating Palestinian lands. Hakibbutz published the article with the heading "Every Village has a Name." The proposal stirred up a storm; it is described as a first step toward bringing back the refugees, that is, toward the negation of the Jewish and Zionist nature of the State of Israel.

The names of the villages and the history of their destruction is not mentioned on memorial plaques. But a publication by Carta and the Ministry of Defense, "Kol Makom Ve'atar," notes some of the names of the villages that were there before the establishment of the settlements that went up on their ruins; usually the book notes that the village was "abandoned." In Jerusalem, the municipality finally conceded to reality and put up large signs directing drivers to Talbieh, the Arab name of the Jerusalem neighborhood. Nobody uses its Israeli name - Komemiut.

Bronstein attributes the naming of the Nakba villages to the process of historical reconciliation between the two peoples. "Reviving the memory of the ruined Palestinian villages," he writes, "is a political act that joins the struggle for a better future for both peoples in this country." The public memorializing of the villages will advance the effort to bring about civic and national equality in the State of Israel. He dreams of a non-Zionist, binational state, or "a state of all its citizens," but rejects the argument that mentioning the Palestinian villages that have been destroyed will lead to ejecting the Jews from the country. "This is a paranoid argument," he writes. According to him, there is no such Palestinian demand. In the future, Israel will continue to be a state in which most citizens are Jews, and in accordance with this, its nature will be determined. On the practical side, he is thinking of establishing a non-profit association to set up the plaques and organize study programs and tours to the ruined villages.

Reactions to the article in Hakibbutz: Former Knesset member Esther Salmanowitz, a resident of Ben Ami (formerly Um Al-Farj): "It must be written [on the memorial plaque] that the inhabitants collaborated with the gangs that wanted to expel the Jews who had been uprooted from their homes in Europe and had returned to their ancestral birthplace. And it should also say that the uprooting was because of a war for existence and that most of the inhabitants left the village of their own free will."

Benny Shiloh, formerly advisor on Arab affairs to prime minister Shimon Peres: "This is an act of raising the dead."

Prof. Oren Yiftachel, head of the geography department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev: "In certain cases, there is room to consider the return of displaced persons to villages where no one is living. In other places, where there is no place to go back to, since Jews are living there, there has to be an arrangement for monetary compensation or some other agreed-upon solution. In this overall context, it is possible to mark the villages and see to the condition of the mosques."

In December, 1972, about 20 Arabs and four Jews were arrested and charged with belonging to an espionage and sabotage network that trained in Syria. Palestinian terror was then at its height, with airplane hijackings and the slaughter of the Israeli athletes in Munich. One of those arrested was Udi Adiv from Kibbutz Gan Shmuel. In those days, the kibbutzim, and in particular those of the Hashomer Hatzair movement, still tended to attribute to themselves elite roles in Israeli society - partly because of their share in the fighting units of the IDF.

During the 1950s, Kibbutz Gan Shmuel became famous thanks to a soldier called Uri Ilan, who was sent on intelligence work to Syria. He was caught and tortured, and committed suicide. He succeeded in concealing between his toes a note saying "I was not a traitor."

These words were identified with the myth of the entire kibbutz. Adiv, a childhood friend of Ilan's, was among the soldiers who conquered East Jerusalem in the Six-Day War. His arrest on charges of espionage and sabotage inevitably caused great shock, not only in his kibbutz and his movement but in the entire public. He was sentenced to 17 and a half years in prison and was released after less than 13 years.

Nearly 30 years after his arrest it is important to him - to Dr. Udi Adiv, a lecturer in political science at the Open University - to say that he too was not a traitor; he says he erred and was misled. He said this, for the first time, in a film produced by a friend of his from university days, Yitzhak Rubin. The film will be shown in the near future on Channel Two.

Adiv was inspired by an Israeli Arab revolutionary called Daoud Turki. Today, an old man in a wheelchair, Turki speaks just as he did then; he is still the same revolutionary he once was. Adiv is now wiser: It is important for him to emphasize that he had not known that he was being run by Syrian intelligence. He thought he was going to Damascus as part of his dream of making an Israeli-Palestinian revolution in the spirit of Mao Tse-tung. In joint footage, perhaps the first since the two were arrested, Adiv accuses Turki of misleading him when he sent him to Damascus. In Damascus he related certain details of his military service and was trained to use a Kalachnikov. In the film, all these are presented as foolish acts by a romantic-revolutionary youth, not as treason.

Adiv is one of three: The other two are Mordecai Vanunu and Yigal Amir. Adiv will not like this conjunction, nor will the other two. But all three of them acted, more or less on their own, in an attempt to change history. Each of them had an ideological justification; none of them saw himself as a traitor, but rather as a genuine patriot. Vanunu managed to surround himself with a circle of supporters; Amir's supporters are still pretty much afraid to speak up in public. Adiv has now been given a very supportive film.

Yitzhak Rubin focuses on Adiv; Turki remains a secondary figure. The impression is that Adiv is telling his truth; his two elderly parents are enlisted to say that their son did not betray his country. The mother gives him her full support, the father is a bit restrained. This is a story about the hysteria that sometimes grips the Israeli public, egged on by the media. All in all, what happened? A few buddies played at revolution and were caught before they did any damage. But Adiv's parents were shunned like lepers; Yosef Lapid, now an MK from the Shinui party, compared them to Adolf Eichmann's parents. Not all their friends at the kibbutz stood beside them; when Udi was released, the kibbutz members voted to bar him from entering the dining hall. His wife lost her friends.

With the vengefulness that also characterizes the prison conditions of Vanunu and Amir, the authorities prevented Adiv and his wife from having a baby; therefore they have adopted a child. Above all, this is a story of what ideological fanaticism can do to people, and the price they are required to pay for the presumption of trying to change history. The conclusion is that it is not worthwhile to try.