Dear God, This Is Effi

Reserve brigadier general Effi Eitam believes he was born to lead Israel, just like King David. The time has come, he says, for the Jews to claim their proper place in the world.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

Even on his day off, his "Golan day," the speaker-phone in Effi Eitam's Isuzu Trooper never stops ringing. The presenters of the morning current-events programs want his reaction, the anchors of the evening current-events programs want his presence, rabbis want to offer their support. Politicians from the National Religious Party put out feelers; liaison people in the Likud court him. And there's an important donor calling from Los Angeles. A hawkish strategist from Washington. Benjamin Netanyahu's office is on the line, too. So is the Prime Minister's Bureau.

Brigadier General (res.) Effi Eitam, 50, is still not ready to be specific, but his political strategy will probably go like this: First, realize the potential of seven to 10 Knesset seats of the religious Zionist movement, and then, after the elections, hook up to the Likud in one way or another. Move toward the center of power itself.

Eitam's aim is to turn the national religious camp into a kind of bridgehead, a national avant-garde movement. According to Eitam, the Zionism of normality has run its course. So the mission of religious Zionism now is to lead the entire country toward a new horizon, a new purpose: to establish the Temple.

He was born in Tiberias in 1952 and grew up in Kibbutz Ein Gev, on Lake Kinneret. Here, in the kibbutz bomb-shelter, he experienced the massive Syrian shelling. He went through the 1967 Six-Day War at the edge of the kibbutz with a team of anti-aircraft gunners. Six years later, in the Yom Kippur War, he hid with a bazooka in the water ditch outside Nafa Camp on the Golan Heights. He fought against infiltrators on Har Dov along the border with Lebanon, and against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. He fought for 30 years. He fought all his life, and he always felt the frontier situation into which he was born is a heroic one.

In the wake of the crisis of the Yom Kippur War, Eitam became religious. His feeling was that after the great collapse, after the great challenge, some sort of meaning had to be found. Shortly afterward, he moved to the Golan. He and his wife, Illit, established a home in Moshav Nov. They have eight children, four of whom are currently in active military service, two of them in the Egoz reconnaissance unit.

Does the entire country have to go through the same process he did? Is it incumbent on Israel to be a state of returning to religion? Eitam says that the whole of Zionism is a return to religion. First the body and the blood circulation and the muscles were restored to it, and now the time has come for the soul to return, too. If he becomes prime minister, will he form a return-to-religion government? Of course. He doesn't want religious coercion and he doesn't believe in religious legislation, but the national leadership has to ensure that the State of Israel thinks about its self and its selfhood. And that will happen, of that there is no doubt. All the signs say so.

I. Arabs out!

Effi Eitam, are we at war?

"We are in a war that was forced on us. There can be no more just war than this. The State of Israel gritted its teeth for a year and a half and tried to find every crack: Camp David, Sharm al-Sheikh, Mitchell, Tenet. But there are moments when a nation has to stand up for its life. It has to. Because if it doesn't do that, it plunges down a slippery slope.

What is the danger we face?

The danger is the man who shouts: A million shaheeds to Jerusalem! A person who shouts such words is certainly not a partner. Worse: Anyone who shouts that is by his very presence endangering the entire Middle East. If he is not contained, he will hook up with Iran and Iraq and lead a jihad on Jerusalem. He is liable to create a kind of extreme Muslim alignment that, on the one hand, will be armed with weapons of mass destruction and, on the other hand, will perpetrate intensive internal terrorism inside the country.

"If we go ahead and do the nonsensical thing of folding up behind some virtual fence, the [Arabs'] intoxication of victory will bring about a general assault on all of Israel's borders and terrorism that will not rest for a minute. In the end, it will bring about Israel's collapse.

"That is why I think the danger lies in the deterioration of the region into a fanatic religious war that will not be able to be stopped other than by the use of terrible means. I want to make it clear that I do not think we should use weapons of mass destruction. But I do think that in order to avoid a situation like that, we have to vanquish [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat along with Iraq and Iran as one package. It is impossible to talk with them, impossible to effect a conciliation with them, they have to be vanquished. There is no other way."

Are you saying that a certain war is necessary in order to prevent a more terrible war later?

"Absolutely. The State of Israel cannot afford to have regimes like [those in] Iran and Iraq cross a line of nuclear capability. The model of a balance of nuclear terror will not work against regimes like that."

What you are saying is that a preemptive strike has to be launched against them before they develop a nuclear capability?

"Certainly. If there will be no one else to do it, we will face the same dilemma that [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin faced when he bombed the reactor in Iraq [in 1981]. In retrospect, it is clear that he was amazingly brave and that he was absolutely right. So in my opinion, we will have no choice, unless the Americans do it first."

If so, we find ourselves at a critical point of time such as we have never known, not only in the Palestinian context, but in the regional strategic context, do we not?

"Certainly. But I think that within this context, the opportunity will be created to deal more deeply with the Palestinian issue."

What has to be done with regard to the Palestinians?

"The immediate solution consists of three elements. First, get rid of this leadership. Second, to enter Area A [under full Palestinian control] and uproot the military terrorist capability. Third, to make it clear that there will be no foreign sovereignty west of the Jordan River. I am not sure that this is the time to organize what will happen east of the Jordan. But as for the area west of the Jordan, we have to state that no sovereignty will be established there other than that of the State of Israel."

What do you mean by getting rid of the Palestinian leadership? To kill Arafat? To expel the 1,000 people around him?

"To put them on trial. To arrest all those people and put them on trial. Simply that. To conduct Jerusalem trials and place those murderers on trial according to the criteria of international law."

Do you think that is a practical idea? Will the international community accept that?

"I see it as a moral issue. People say that the occupation corrupts. I say that not making war on murderers corrupts. When a mass murderer sits in Ramallah and enjoys a kind of protection, that is corruption. After all, that man is a murderer. A murderer murderer murderer. So he has to be placed on trial. In what way is he different from Eichmann? In what? I would not be scared if he were sentenced to be hung."

So that is the first element. What about the second element? If you were minister of defense, would you order the reconquest of all of Area A?

"I would order the Israel Defense Forces to enter into the whole of Area A. To restore full security control in all parts of Judea and Samaria."

To go into Nablus?

"To go into Nablus, yes. To settle in Nablus, no. But to create a situation in which there are no command posts, no chain of command, no military industry. No military capability."

Isn't that liable to exact a terrible price in blood? Isn't it liable to entangle us in a general war?

"Just the opposite, I think. If we don't do that, and if we go on bleeding like this and our neighbors smell blood, then things are liable to reach a state of all-out war. I do not say that there are no risks in an operation like this. But in my estimation, the risks are reasonable. There will be no Lebanon and Beirut scenarios here. But in any event, we have to understand that what now hangs in the balance is Israel's very ability to function. What we are facing is an existential danger.

"Arik [Ariel Sharon] says that we will win, but [only] in the end. It will be hard, it will take a long time, but we will win. Whereas I say that it has to be fast, with a quick decision. With the use of IDF strength on a large scale. Arik is afraid that if we topple the Palestinian Authority, we will be dragged into a general war with the Egyptians and the Jordanians and others.

"I say just the opposite. It is precisely this continuing situation, in which Israel is weak and stuttering and bewildered and crying, that invites intensified ecstatic processes on the Egyptian and Jordanian street. Therefore, if we do not act quickly and decisively, the regimes there will have no choice but to follow the lead of the street."

But still, doesn't a war mean an endless number of killed?

"We have an endless number of killed now, too. We are being killed day after day. Infants and women and children."

And the third element you are proposing is to assert unequivocally that Israeli sovereignty will extend to the Jordan River?

"Yes, with no beating around the bush. No beating around the bush. In the long run, the political division between us and the Palestinians will be two states on the two sides of the Jordan River. That will be the basic configuration. What we will say to the Palestinians is that the main lesson from the crisis of the Oslo paradigm is that there will not be another sovereign state west of the Jordan. There will be no partition. The only state in the world of the Jewish civilization needs a minimum of territory. It has to be a reasonable state. Not gigantic, not insane, not the Tigris and the Euphrates. A reasonable state."

What is the reasonable minimum as you see it?

"The western Land of Israel. All of it."

And what will become of the Palestinians?

"For that a regional solution will be needed. It is inconceivable that of all the resources in the Middle East, the country that is poorest in land should have to bear the problem of the Palestinian Arabs with its depleted resources. The Egyptians and Jordanians have to be told that they need to contribute their share."

What share will the Egyptians have to contribute?

"Sinai. Egypt has to offer the territorial reserves of Sinai for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The desirable situation is that the residents of Gaza will get territory in Sinai, and will be able to receive citizenship in a sovereign Palestinian state that will be a two-lobed state. Its central lobe will be Jordan, but it will have another lobe in Sinai."

Will this Palestinian state in Sinai come in place of Gaza or in addition to Gaza?

"I don't think it will be in place of Gaza. Not everything has to be solved now. But what has to be solved is a problem that Israel clearly cannot solve by itself. And the problem of Gaza is a human and demographic and social time-bomb that Israel clearly cannot solve by itself. Even if the Palestinians are given the Katif Bloc [the section of the Gaza Strip where most of the Jewish settlements are], that will not solve the problem. Even if they are given Ashkelon. The only area that can give the people of Gaza living space is the empty territory of Sinai."

Do you also foresee a population being drawn from Gaza to Sinai?

"Yes, definitely, without a doubt."

And what about Jordan? What will its contribution be?

"Jordan will ultimately have to be the political and territorial venue for the national aspirations of the Palestinian Arabs. I don't think [King] Abdullah should be undermined. Israel does not have to be involved in that. But I believe that evolutionary processes of democratization in Jordan will give greater representation to the Palestinian people there."

And what will become of the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and Gaza?

"They will be residents without the right to vote. We have to obtain an interim settlement regarding their status. Not on the status of the territory - on their status. They have to be given a choice between enlightened residency with us or dark citizenship in the Arab states. The Arabs in Judea and Samaria will be able to make a free choice between a situation in which they will be Palestinian citizens who are residents of Israel, or citizens of their country who reside in the Palestinian state in Jordan and Sinai."

And what will induce them to cross to the other side of the Jordan? To emigrate?

"I don't want to be hypocritical. But I will put it like this: We do not need a declared emigration policy that encourages the emigration of Arabs. I think that we have to sincerely offer them an alternative of residency. Of course, whoever does not accept will have to be told: Your place is not with us. In a case like that, not even a wink is needed."

Are you for or against transfer?

"I am against easy solutions. I could tell you, let's do transfer. Let's take all these Arabs from Judea and Samaria and the Galilee and the Negev, and expel them. I think that is a solution that could be politically enticing. A lot of people are ready to listen to a statement like that today. But I do not make that statement because it is a prevarication. First of all, morally. I think that anyone who wants to live with us under the conditions of the State of Israel and under rules saying that Israel is a Jewish state, can live here. Transfer is something that it's not right to talk about. I would not deal with it, either as a political option or as something that can now be swallowed from a moral point of view."

That is in the normal course of things, but what if a war breaks out?

"War is a game with different rules. I don't think that professors who support peace feel uncomfortable in the Green House that is in the middle of the campus of Tel Aviv University and was once the mosque of the village of Sheikh Munis."

So, in a war, the uprooting of a Palestinian population would be a possibility?

"The State of Israel will not force individuals to change their location. People who live in Judea and Samaria will live there and neither they nor their land nor their homes will be touched. But if a total war is forced on us, a zero-sum war, the result could be that there will be a similar Sheikh Munis somewhere else, too. I want to emphasize: I would not want that to happen. I see that as a bad and bitter result. I am not winking and not hinting. On the contrary, I am proposing a regional solution to prevent that. But if they do not meet us halfway, and if there is no regional solution and the Palestinian offensive continues, the dynamic will shift toward a total war that is liable to inflict a tragedy on the Palestinian people."

Are you talking about 1948 redux? A repeat of what happened in 1948 in the areas of Judea and Samaria?

"Yes, of course. If the alternative is the suicide of the State of Israel and if a war is forced on us, then in war, behave as in war. I can definitely see that as a consequence of a war, not many Arabs will remain here."

And what about the Israeli Arabs?

"Israel is making a big mistake with the Israeli Arabs. It is according legitimization to a process that cannot be seen other than as the Arab minority's betrayal of Israel. Sheer betrayal. Therefore, if we do not place a warning sign in front of the Israeli Arabs, they are liable to cross lines that we will then have to demarcate anew, and we will be forced to engage in a very difficult struggle with people who are citizens of the country.

"I am not in favor of depriving them of the right to vote. On the contrary. But I say that the current leadership of the Israeli Arabs will bring us and them into a frontal clash in which we will have to reconsider the ability of Israeli democracy to permit that public to go on taking part in it."

What are you actually saying?

"I am saying that the Israeli Arabs are in large measure the ticking bomb beneath the whole democratic Israeli order inside the [1967] Green Line. Even today, in the Galilee and the Negev, a de facto autonomy of theirs is being created, which could in practice turn Israel into the bubble of Metropolitan Tel Aviv. Into a kind of pipe-state: a country of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv-Haifa road. Therefore, I say that the State of Israel today faces an existential threat that is characterized by being an elusive threat, and elusive threats by their nature resemble cancer. Cancer is a type of illness in which most of the people who die from it die because they were diagnosed too late. By the time you grasp the size of the threat, it is already too late to deal with it."

So, according to your viewpoint, the Israeli Arabs, too, are liable to find themselves not here?

"The Israeli Arabs will remain citizens of the state if they do not cross the red lines. It's possible that when a Palestinian state is established in Jordan and Sinai, they will prefer to move their right to vote to the place where the fate of their people is decided, but that is still a long way off. It is still too soon to deal with it."

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