Israel’s Oldest Silence Breaker, Dov Yirmiya, Dies at 101

After publishing a scathing account of what he saw in the first Lebanon war, Dov Yirmiya was dismissed from the army at the age of 68.

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Dov Yirmiya with children in the Arab village Hussniyya (near Carmiel), Summer 2000.
Dov Yirmiya with children in the Arab village Hussniyya (near Carmiel), Summer 2000.Credit: Bitmuna
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Dov Yirmiya, born in 1914, fought in almost every war in Israel. But at the age of 68 he was forced to take off his uniform after publishing a diary account of the first Lebanon war. A week ago he died at the age of 101.

After being ousted from the Israel Defense Forces, Yirmiya became a prominent leftist activist. Recently, upon seeing the Palestinian fatalities caused by Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip, he said: “There is no future for my offspring in this country. We are heading for destruction and doom.”

Yirmiya was born in 1914 in the small rural community of Beit-Gan near Yavne’el, in the lower Galilee. His parents came from Russia during the Second Aliyah. His father, David Yirmanovich, was a revolutionary. In 1921 his family was among the founders of Nahalal, where he met another native of that moshav, Moshe Dayan. “We lived in the same neighborhood, courted the same girls, competed with each other, swapped them or they us,” he said.

As children in Nahalal he and Dayan used to fight off Arab shepherds who brought their flocks to the moshav’s fields.

In school he displayed musical talent and played the violin, mouth organ and other instruments. At 15 he conducted a students’ choir and composed melodies.

He later wrote and composed songs and would conduct choirs throughout his life. Until recently he played the accordion and sang for various audiences, including Arab kindergartens.

Yirmiya entered history as one of Israel’s most veteran soldiers. In the pre-state underground militia, the Haganah, he fought with Orde Wingate’s Special Night Squads, protected Nahalal in the 1929 Arab riots and participated in 1938 in conquering Hanita and setting up Kibbutz Eilon.

In World War II he served in the British Army’s transportation unit, traveling between battles in the Middle East, Africa, Italy and Germany. After the war, in the ranks of the Haganah’s elite Palmah force, he helped bring Holocaust survivors to Israel.

In 1948 Yirmiya joined the IDF, fought in the Galilee battles and took part in conquering Nazareth. He was reported dead after being seriously wounded in a battle near Eilon. “He kept the announcement of his death in his wallet his whole life,” his daughter said.

Over the years he was promoted to colonel. Between wars he married three times. He had two daughters with his first wife, Grunia. He met his second wife, Hadassah Mor, when she served as a soldier in a base he commanded. They had a son together.

In the mid ‘50s Yirmiya introduced his wife to his old friend Dayan, who was chief of staff by then. “Dov told him about me and he wanted to know who I was,” Mor told Maariv four years ago. “We just stood there and he looked and looked. For several minutes. I too looked at him. I felt he liked me, but I didn’t make a big deal of it,” she said.

At the end of the ‘50s, when Yirmiya found the two were having an affair, he divorced her. The affair was mentioned in gossip columns at the time and Mor wrote books consisting of sexual scenes with Dayan that were daring for the time. Yirmiya sent Dayan a sharply worded letter after he learned of the affair, calling him an “adulterous man.” He wished Dayan “damned forever” and called him “you damned, vile adulterer. You exploited a poor woman’s weakness and pulled her into an abyss threw her out today because of you.”

He also wrote to Dayan’s wife, Ruth, who replied that “none of Moshe’s antics surprises meit’s a shame they still let him infect innocent girls with his disease.”

Yirmiya demanded that then Prime Minister David Ben–Gurion dismiss Dayan from public office.

In 1982, at age 68, Yirmiya put on his uniform for the last time and volunteered to fight in the first Lebanon war. When he returned, shocked by what he saw, he decided to break the silence and published – first in a newspaper and later in a book – a scathing war diary.

“We’ve become a nation of savage thugs,” he wrote, calling the war a mistake. As a result he was dismissed from the army. His commander wrote that Yirmiya’s words could have been written by a “PLO propagandist.”

“What hurts the IDF and Israel is what we did, not what is written about what we did,” he told Gideon Levy in an interview in 1983. After the war he continued to help Palestinian refugees in south Lebanon privately.

In 1986 Yirmiya made headlines again when he met PLO officials in Romania, when it was against the law. Two years later, in the first intifada, he was arrested on suspicion of incitement after urging soldiers to refuse to serve in the territories.

Yirmiya was also a farmer and worked in the Nature and Parks Authority. In 2011 he said in Avi Dabah’s film about his life, “The Last Zionist”: “I’ve lived under three regimes in this country: four years with the Turks, 30 years with the British and now with IsraelI see no future for my offspring in this country. We’re heading for ruin and destruction. I think the state won’t exist in 50 – 100 years.”

He is survived by his third wife, Menuha and three children – Roni, Avigail and Raz – 12 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren.

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