Benyamin Gilbi: 1919-2008 / Shameful Business, Constant Danger

Binyamin Gibli belonged to Israel's clandestine aristocracy: people whose patriotism, loyalty to the national struggle and also egos were measured by the number of secrets they knew. Gibli got entangled in a spy-ring operation in Egypt known only as "Esek Bish" (shameful business) at a time when the general public was not allowed to know about such things. But "the senior officer," as he was called for many years, lived to be old in an era that is prepared to hear everything, even about historic fiascos.

Even so, Gibli generally refused to talk to historians and reporters, and on the rare occasions he broke his silence, he generally failed to clear himself in a convincing manner. He always claimed he would write a book someday about the affair; maybe one will be found among his papers. It was important to him to emphasize that the book could be published only posthumously. Gibli evidently had a hard time living with the truth, and the truth is that Gibli was apparently not a man of truth.

He belonged to a generation of officers who came of age in the time of fighting for the state's establishment, and thereafter when they were called upon to obey the rule of law, viewed it as an unnecessary encumbrance and preferred to stick to their youthful tricks. In June 1948 Gibli was among the investigators and judges in the kangaroo court trial of Meir Tobiansky, who was executed as a spy despite being innocent. Gibli was never punished for his role in that affair: He was allowed to continue serving in the army, and doubtless learned thereby that the law is something that restricts other people.

Sadly, it cannot be said that the terrorist actions carried out in Egypt, employing local Jews, was the last shameful business. In 1984 the heads of the Shin Bet killed two terrorists in custody who had participated in the attack on Bus 300 to Ashkelon, demonstrating that the culture of lies, whose early heroes included Gibli, had not disappeared. Here, then, is the main lesson Gibli taught Israel: Shameful business is a constant danger.

See story, Page 2.