Palmach Veterans Balk at Memorial for Ex-general Rehavam Ze’evi

Assassinated minister took no part in battles for Jerusalem and has an unsavory reputation, say veterans. 'Gandhi, with all due respect, doesn’t belong there.'

Gen. (res.) Horev in his Ramat Hasharon home.
Tomer Appelbaum

“Have a little sensitivity. Our generation may be nearing the end of the road, but we have children, grandchildren and families,” said Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Horev, 92, on Wednesday.

Horev, a Palmach veteran, has joined the Palmach veterans’ protest against a cabinet decision to build a permanent memorial to former minister Rehavam Ze’evi at the national memorial site at Sha’ar Hagai, near Jerusalem – one of the symbols of the Palmach generation and its Harel Brigade.

“The Israeli government did a terrible thing; this isn’t wise or fair,” said Horev, who took part in Palmach battles near Jerusalem in the War of Independence.

“We, in the Harel Brigade, fought to open the way to Jerusalem; we removed the siege on the city at great sacrifice,” Horev told Haaretz on the phone from his Ramat Hasharon home.

Rehavam Zeevi during his time as head of the Israeli army's Central Command.
Daniel Rosenblum  

“Gandhi (Ze’evi’s nickname,) with all due respect, doesn’t belong there. To insert him and his legacy into that place is inane. Knowing him, I assume he wouldn’t want to be partner to this either,” he said.

Ze’evi, an IDF major general and tourism minister, championed “transferring” Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to other Arab countries. He was gunned down by Palestinian assassins 15 years ago.

Although he served in the Palmach himself, Ze’evi fought in other battles in the 1948 War of Independence and wasn’t involved in the fighting in the Jerusalem area. Ze’evi was implicated in alleged systematic sexual assaults and ties with criminals in a TV documentary earlier this year.

The cabinet made the decision to commemorate Ze’evi in 2011, a decade after his murder. “The site will offer educational, tourist and cultural activities focusing on Israeli history and commemorating Minister Rehavam Ze’evi,” the decision said.

Rivka Zviel at her home.
Gil Eliyahu

Haaretz has learned that the public council to commemorate Ze’evi, which is part of the Prime Minister’s Office, is planning to open the site, located in a park named after Yitzhak Rabin, to the public in about two years. Despite the considerable funds invested in its development, the park has been abandoned and closed to the public for years.

A source familiar with the issue told Haaretz that the intention was not to turn the site into a “transfer legacy” center or to establish a “personality cult,” but to stress other parts of Ze’evi’s legacy, mainly his love of Israel. The cabinet has earmarked 2.5 million shekels for the project.

Zvi Kesse, 86, of Ramat Hasharon, fought in the first Palmach Brigade and was Ze’evi’s subordinate on several occasions. He was shocked to hear of the intention to commemorate Ze’evi at Sha’ar Hagai and joined the campaign against it.

“On the Harel Brigade legacy they want to install Gandhi’s – with the transfer, expelling Arabs and fleeing the battle in its midst?” he asked.

“Gandhi did some deplorable things. He hated Arabs in words and deeds and joined a gang of criminals. Imagine having my grandson and great grandson, who know that their grandfather was in the Palmach, visit there and hear of Gandhi’s legacy, while at home they will read about his exploits on Google. ‘Could our grandfather really have been associated with this man?’ they’ll ask themselves.”

“A normal person cannot understand this decision,” added Kesse, son of MK Yona Kesse, a former secretary of Mapai. “They’ve commemorated Gandhi in so many places throughout Israel. Should he be the face of the War of Independence’s most symbolic place? He wasn’t there even once during the war. The cabinet has taken leave of its senses.”

The Palmach vets’ campaign was launched in 2011, after the cabinet decision, but failed to gain much traction. The story returned to the headlines in April this year, following the broadcast of the TV investigation. The broadcast sparked a public debate about the government’s continued commemoration of Ze’evi’s legacy, but led to no decisions.

In the 15 years since Ze’evi’s murder, he has been commemorated in the names of numerous sites, including seaside promenades, a road, a bridge, streets, a park, a bird observatory, a square and a military base. The commemoration is carried out under a law enacted “to commemorate him and pass his memory and life’s work on to future generations.” Only two public figures who weren’t prime ministers or presidents have been the subjects of similar laws – Herzl and Jabotinsky.

This week Rivka Zvieli and Yitzhak Sarig, whose parents were senior Palmach combatants from the War of Independence, decided to renew the campaign.

“We demand that the ‘Ze’evi legacy’ be removed from this site,” said Zvieli, daughter of Moshe Dror, who was badly wounded in the attack at Sha’ar Hagai. “It’s a red rag for me, it’s horrific,” she said.

“I go around the country visiting my father’s colleagues in the Harel Brigade to ask them what they think of the plan to bind the commemoration of the convoys to Jerusalem with Gandhi’s heritage,” she says.

“One of the sad responses I heard from Amnon Hinsky, was, ‘there’s no one to fight anymore.’ Two days later he died. I’m trying to fight his war, which is also the war of my father and his few friends who are still alive, and of those who died on the way to Jerusalem.”

The protest has been joined by senior Palmach vets poet Haim Guri, historian Professor Yehuda Nini, General (res.) Elad Peled and geographer Yehuda Ziv. One of the moves they’re considering is a protest demonstration at Sha’ar Hagai.

The Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry said in response that the project is part of a cabinet decision. If the cabinet changes its decision or instructs otherwise, the ministry will act accordingly.