The Art of Occupation, According to Israeli General Gadi Shamni

After 35 years of military service, Maj. Gen. (res) Gadi Shamni, the self-described 'general of the occupation,' lauds the army's morality and slams the politicians for the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. There is, he says, a solution and a partner, but first Israel must release itself from the grip of extremists.

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A Palestinian boy holds a sign that reads 'we demand our dignity' in front of Israeli soldiers during a protest calling for the reopening of a closed street in the West Bank city of Hebron August 24, 2016.
A Palestinian boy holds a sign that reads 'we demand our dignity' in front of Israeli soldiers during a protest calling for the reopening of a closed street in the West Bank city of Hebron August 24, Credit: Mussa Qawasma, Reuters
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

The media furor over the comments of Israel Defense Forces Maj. Gen. (res.) Gadi Shamni in August – “We have elevated the occupation to the level of art. We are the world champions of occupation” – lasted barely two days. Referring to himself, Shamni added, “I was the general of Central Command [which includes the West Bank]. General of the occupation” (in Hebrew, the word aluf means both “champion” and “major general”). People were angry, dissociated themselves from his remarks, criticized him – although some embraced him. But the dust settled fast. The public, apparently, has grown accustomed to the phenomenon.

“Something about the positions of head of Mossad and head of Shin Bet security service turns them into left-wingers,” the coalition whip, MK David Bitan (Likud), said recently. Shamni smiled quietly at that, but Bitan is less likely to smile when he hears what Shamni has to say now.

“The overwhelming majority of the senior ranks of the defense establishment think we are moving in very problematic directions in regard to the Palestinians,” he told me recently, as we sat in a small room in the offices of Israel Aerospace Industries, where Shamni serves as executive vice president of the Land Systems division. “For every 50 people who think as I do, you’ll find [only] one or two who espouse a different view.”

How do you account for that?

“We are familiar with the problematic situation, the limitations of the use of force, the damage it does to the IDF and the state. And we know that the story that there’s no solution to the security issue is not true.”

Do you think the IDF can maintain Israel’s security in a two-state situation?

“Of course. The security solution exists. A sea of papers and studies have been written on that. And there’s no chance that Israel will succeed in forging proper relations with the countries of the region, including commercial ties and cooperation, before we resolve the Palestinian issue.”

“Like all the gatekeepers [referring to Dror Moreh’s 2012 documentary of that title, in which six former Shin Bet chiefs spoke about the need for an agreement with the Palestinians], he is speaking only after the fact – when he is no longer risking his career or his pension, when he is not being disobedient,” Haaretz columnist Rogel Alpher wrote about Shamni. Right-wingers questioned the reliability of Shamni’s comments for exactly the same reason.

“What makes those people think they’re so smart?” Shamni retorts. “Do they expect that the people who actually care will leave the arena to those who don’t care? Most senior IDF officers understand the sensitivity on the ground and work to limit the damage. Soldiers and commanders who find themselves in places where there’s friction with the Palestinians are exposed to their human dimensions – and that affects them. Suddenly, they grasp that the situation is not what they thought it was.”

Does this encounter with reality lead to political moderation?

“I don’t know whether it influences their voting, and I don’t think that’s really important. I think that people in the army who deal with checkpoints, arrests, patrols and guarding the settlements are exposed to human situations and they look at things differently.”

Is the army a moderating force?

'When the Americans conquered Iraq in 2003, they came to us to learn how to administer territory.'

“Definitely. I, too, as head of Central Command, acted to minimize damage and reduce the friction between the populations. To suppress extreme phenomena on both the Jewish side and the Palestinian side. Instead of criticizing, people should say, ‘It’s great that there are many commanding officers in the IDF who are upset morally by this.’ If they weren’t there, the IDF’s activity would be completely different. It’s the correct behavior by the IDF and the Civil Administration that makes a reasonable life possible there. There are harsh things – we recognize that – but most of the soldiers are very conscientious. When a soldier is manning a workers’ transit point and someone arrives, I don’t know how old, who traveled all night to get to work, the vast majority of IDF soldiers will behave humanely and respectfully toward him. It’s not ideal, but it could have been a lot worse.”

Is that what you meant by elevating the occupation into the level of art?

“We excel in this – we have created sophisticated mechanisms that allow for reasonable life under these circumstances. When the Americans conquered Iraq in 2003, they came to us to learn how to ‘hold’ [lehachzik, which can also be rendered “administer” in this context] territory. Is there another word for that reality? In English, the word ‘to occupy’ is used. What is ‘occupation’? It’s holding. We are holding territories. Say kibbush [occupation] and everyone jumps. But that is the reality. On the one hand, [the way the military deals with the Palestinian population is a source of] pride for the IDF and Israel – but is this what we want to excel in? On the other hand, we really do excel at it. The IDF is the only ray of light in this whole arena. It’s the most significant moderating force.”

Who does the army moderate – the political establishment?

“Reality. A large percentage of the IDF’s critics don’t understand the true sensitivities; 99 percent of the critics have never been to a refugee camp. In recent years, only the defense establishment has been successful in maintaining cooperation with the Palestinians. Policy was conducted based on an understanding of the complexity, and with the aim of preventing outbursts. If all the recommendations made by the IDF and defense establishment in the past few years were accepted, things would look a lot better.”

Why, then, do people call [the anti-occupation NGO] Breaking the Silence, which is very familiar with the situation on the ground, liars when they express criticism?

“I don’t accept their way. I think it’s wrong that they go outside with their criticism. Criticism has to be kept inside the country.”

The distinction between “inside” and “outside” in the era of a free media and the internet is an illusion.

“Things leak out, but not intensively. It’s not the same as being on a campus in the United States or Europe, and talking about the atrocities being perpetrated by IDF soldiers. There are serious cases that are the exceptions, and they are dealt with. I did not see any red flags.”

You yourself broke the silence.

“No. I never stayed silent.”

‘Afraid to speak out’

Shamni, 57, was born in Jerusalem and lives in Reut, a community adjacent to Modi’in. He and his wife, Hadas, have four children (ranging in age from 16 to 32) and recently became grandparents. Shamni was drafted in 1977 and spent the next 35 years in the IDF, mostly in the Paratroopers, including a stint as the brigade’s commander. He also served as commander of the Hebron Brigade (a short while after the 1994 massacre of Muslim worshippers in that city by Baruch Goldstein), and headed the Gaza division during the second intifada. Afterward, he was head of the General Staff’s operations directorate, was promoted to the rank of major general and appointed the prime minister’s military secretary (under Ariel Sharon, then Ehud Olmert), a post he held during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. In 2007, he was appointed head of Central Command.

In 2008, he told Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel about what was then a new phenomenon among extremist settlers: “They have adopted a ‘price tag’ method: If they are not strong enough to deal with the security forces in one particular situation [such as when outposts are evacuated], they will hit us somewhere else. This is a very grave development.”

He warned, “These people are conspiring against the Palestinians and against the security forces. These are fringe elements that are gaining support because of the ‘tailwind’ they enjoy and the backing afforded by certain parts of the leadership, both rabbinical and public, whether in explicit statements or tacitly.”

Shamni was not silent about the phenomenon and also issued orders forbidding some right-wing activists from entering the West Bank. He himself came under attack as a result, receiving threats against himself and his family.

In 2009, Shamni was appointed Israel’s defense attaché to the United States. He was a candidate to succeed Gabi Ashkenazi as chief of staff, but lost out to Benny Gantz. He retired from the IDF in 2012. He is one of the authors of a paper titled “A Security System for the Two-State Solution.” The report was published last May by the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank whose head, Michèle Flournoy, “is slated to become secretary of defense if [Hillary] Clinton wins the election,” says Shamni. The report is being disseminated in Israel and internationally. According to Shamni, those who have received it have expressed considerable interest. But it’s still early, he adds, and doesn’t want to discuss it further.

'I think Netanyahu understands that Israel is in serious trouble. I think he would like to extricate Israel, but doesn’t know how.'

His remarks about the occupation were made at an event held in August by the Herzliya-based Interdisciplinary Center’s Institute for Policy and Strategy and by Commanders for Israel’s Security, which, according to its website, is “a nonpartisan movement of former senior security officials” who believe that “the current diplomatic stalemate is detrimental to Israel’s security.”

Shamni was responding to a comment by Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, former head of Israel’s National Security Council, to the effect that the Palestinians shouldn’t have a problem with the occupation.

So is there a partner? Is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a partner?

Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Abir Sultan, AP
Mahmoud Abbas.Credit: Michael Sohn, AP

“Of course he’s a partner. Most of the people who oppose the two-state idea are out to inherit the land of our forefathers and have no interest in security arrangements.”

What about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?

“I think he understands that Israel is in serious trouble. I think he would like to extricate Israel, but doesn’t know how."

“He’s not capable of doing that because Israel is ruled by other people.”

By whom?

“By small groups that are imbued with faith.”

The settlers?

“Not all of them [are settlers]. I think there are a few dominant groups in Israeli politics; they are not necessarily the majority, but they dictate the agenda. If one were to examine the real views of most of Israel’s elected officials – even leaving the Arab MKs aside – it would emerge that the majority think we need to reach a settlement with the Palestinians as quickly as possible. But they’re not capable of expressing that view publicly, because the moment they do so, they will lose their supporters.”

'Look what happened to Moshe Ya’alon, someone whose integrity and contribution to the state are indisputable. He wasn’t able to survive there. Why? Because he stuck to his truth.'

But who are those supporters?

“I don’t want to generalize. It’s not all the settlers. But there are small, ideological, extremist, active groups that are organized and funded.”

Funded by who?

“By Jews, particularly from abroad, who are heavy donors to politicians. I don’t want to name names, not even of the donors. These are extremist ideological groups that are dictating the agenda to the state and are able to act as a deterrent in the political arena. People in this country are afraid to speak out. Good people.”

Israeli politics is a hostage?

Moshe Ya'alon.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

“Look what happened to [Moshe] Ya’alon. It’s a case study. Someone whose integrity and contribution to the state are indisputable. He wasn’t able to survive there [as defense minister]. Why? Because he stuck to his truth. And, by the way, it took him time to grasp the problem: If he’d dealt from the outset with the processes of radicalization the way he did toward the end of his tenure, especially in the West Bank, I think things would look different now. But he came with some sort of attempt to appease people, not to step on toes. But you have to step on toes. And the moment he started to deal with the tough issues, he found himself booted out.”

Are you referring to Ya’alon’s comments about Elor Azaria, the IDF soldier on trial for manslaughter after shooting a wounded Palestinian in Hebron last March?

“Azaria was the last straw, the last excuse. The process started long before, when Ya’alon as defense minister decided that he would insist on proper law and order being maintained in the West Bank. There were incidents in which he decided to demolish a structure of one kind or another, and everyone got on his case. He only did what needed doing legally, morally and ethically. That’s where the deterioration started. That’s where he became a marked man.”

You mean he was “terminated” politically?

“Of course.”

Are you also afraid to speak out?

“No. On the contrary. I do speak out. And I call on everyone who understands this problem [in the political and defense arenas] to stand up and speak out. For various reasons, people are not doing that. They’re afraid to lose their job, their comfort. Or they lead a quiet life so what do they need that headache for?”

Does your friend MK Ofer Shelah [Yesh Atid] also think the two-state solution is not a security problem?

“Yes, but you saw what happened when Yesh Atid was in the coalition [between 2013 and 2014]. They forgot about the Palestinian issue.”

Extreme society, moderate army

In a Channel 2 TV interview, you referred to “legal and operational manipulations” that were done for settlement purposes. What did you mean?

“The sovereign power in Judea and Samaria is the IDF, and the general of Central Command is the sovereign – he makes the decisions. If there’s a desire to expropriate territory, he can decide that there’s a military need for a particular area. And if there’s a security reason, he cannot be denied. No one will tell him no. And if it ever reaches the High Court of Justice, it will confirm that it’s a space for military purposes. There were situations in the past when areas were seized for military purposes, but it wasn’t always completely clean. Many times, land was seized for settlement purposes by cutting corners. If we want to build settlements, then let’s decide we’re building settlements. Why use security arguments?

“When I took over at Central Command, we were on the verge of a crisis of confidence with the High Court – because the court had the feeling that security reasons were being put forward in places where they didn’t exactly mesh with the facts. I put an end to that. There are no more situations in which a security argument is made in places where there is no genuine security case. No more cutting of corners. There were periods when huge pressure was brought to bear and situations in which corners were cut. I think there has been a substantive change in recent years. One of Ya’alon’s problems was that he ... is simply an honest man, and he wasn’t ready to cut corners and put forward security arguments where none exist.”

Pressures from within the army or outside it?

“From outside.”

Who on the outside?

“There are many lobbyists and people who put pressure on politicians in the government and the Knesset. Well, don’t you understand what bringing pressure to bear means?”



No – that is, I don’t understand what kind of pressure. What could happen?

“Pressure is brought to bear at all the political levels, and it also trickles down sometimes. The military has to be very steadfast in its opinion and self-confident and uncompromising. I think that’s also what’s been happening in the past few years. There’s no more cutting of corners in this area, and that’s one of the reasons for the increased friction between the army and the settlers. I was the one who spearheaded that line. I don’t think the GOC or chief of staff today will cut corners on that. I think that period is behind us.”

And when the deputy chief of staff, Yair Golan, talks about creeping fascism, and Ehud Barak refers to budding fascism?

“That is something else. You have to ask them what they were getting at, but I think they are talking about phenomena that are related to the friction with the extremist settlers, the story with the ‘price tag’ groups, all the events in the recent period – the event at Duma [the arson attack on a Palestinian home in July 2015 that killed three members of the Dawabsheh family] and many small things that happen on a daily basis.”

Don’t you think that the increase in those events contradicts your feeling that the IDF is maintaining its morality?

“But it’s not the IDF that is doing those things. Yair Golan wasn’t referring to the IDF when he talked about creeping fascism. He was referring to Israeli society.”

But you can’t make a distinction between the IDF and Israeli society.

“You can. Because the IDF operates according to orders. And there is discipline. Where such phenomena are discovered, they are immediately suppressed. Don’t compare ‘hilltop youth’ [extremist young settlers] to the IDF. Yair was talking about hilltop youth, about all the rampaging extremists.”

Aren’t you concerned about the spread of phenomena such as the Azaria incident in the military?

“No. Those phenomena are not centered on the army; they are occurring in Israeli society. It’s true that ultimately the IDF is a mirror of society, but the army is not the center.”

By the standards of the “occupation as a level of art,” is Azaria a hitch?

“What do you mean, ‘a hitch’?”

He’s not an example of excellence in the occupation, I suppose.

“I think Azaria is a victim of the reality I’m talking about. I don’t want to go into details while a trial is in progress. I don’t know exactly what happened there, I didn’t see the investigations.”

But you saw the video footage?

“I did, but we have learned that video clips don’t always reflect what happened. It’s possible he made a terrible mistake, and that will be clarified in the trial. But you have to understand that this reality invites these events. Sometimes, soldiers can’t cope with the pressure. A soldier comes to the arena, sees his buddies wounded, has heard lots of incitement all around. He’s living amid a mixture of soldiers and officers and settlers and others, some of them very extreme, which sometimes can create confusion in soldiers who aren’t strong enough. In whose eyes are they supposed to look good? In the eyes of their commanding officers? Of the people around who are firing them up and inciting them? It’s a very complicated situation for soldiers to be in. He [Azaria] is a young soldier. I don’t know how much experience he had in similar cases. But this is the exception. It’s not the norm of IDF behavior.”

The “lone-wolf intifada” drew something that could be tagged “individual responses” from both Israeli society and the IDF.

“That’s possible. A certain atmosphere was created around this thing, all kinds of statements made and all kinds of politicians said that every encounter with a terrorist has to end with the terrorist being killed. That may have caused people to get carried away and become confused. It’s not a problem on a scale that needs to disturb us. But we do have to be disturbed by the gradual erosion. Israel takes action only following serious traumas.”

Could the lone-wolf intifada escalate into that kind of trauma?

“We are in a situation of constant deterioration. Where it will lead, we don’t know. Not only are we not taking the initiative, we are managing things backward. Hamas is being given almost everything it wants. It is consolidating its power and its rule; it controls the crossing points, collects taxes, pays salaries and is even holding the bodies of two IDF soldiers without getting flustered. At the same time, in the West Bank there are organizations that have declared openly that they want to live peacefully with Israel – and we are weakening them.”

Fewer settlements, fewer soldiers

Shamni expresses concern about the disconnect between Israelis and Palestinians. “I grew up in Jerusalem,” he says. “I knew them there, the Arabs were our neighbors. I didn’t have Arab friends, but I saw them. I went to Arab neighborhoods, I visited the Old City, I didn’t just see them on TV or in the newspaper. Today, there is no interaction. There is simply no prospect that we will succeed in living in coexistence in the same country. The Palestinians will never accept the continuation of this situation forever. So we have to start taking necessary measures.”

Such as?

“If you say that your final strategic goal is to arrive at separation, then there are things you do and things you don’t do. It’s more or less clear what our borders will look like. The State of Israel has recognized that; the prime minister, too. Two states is the solution. On the basis, more or less, of the 1967 borders with a territorial swap. How much area can Israel give without harming the Israeli home front? Two percent, 2.5 percent – that’s the maximum. That’s more or less the settlement blocs and all the settlements adjacent to the [separation] barrier. If you know today that this is your aim and your strategic direction, you already start to do things right. You build in the settlement blocs and don’t build outside them. You don’t create a situation in which the demographic reality will make it extremely difficult to execute that move in the future.”

Security considerations constitute one of the arguments made to justify the settlements, but now the army is being left there to protect the settlements. What precedes what?

“The army is being left there because Israel has no intentions of leaving that territory. In the meantime, more and more settlement projects are being undertaken. I’ll put it this way: if there were fewer Jewish settlers in the [West Bank], there would be less reason for the IDF to be deployed in population centers. Take northern Samaria, for example. There are no settlements there, and where the settlements were evacuated there is less army. Because when you have fewer Israelis, fewer settlements, it’s perfectly clear that you need fewer forces. But that’s not the point. The question is whether it’s possible to maintain a situation in which the IDF is not there on the ground when there are no settlements, and whether it’s possible to defend Israel from the new lines. I say yes.

'I ask whether there isn't a growing number of people among us who are ready to sacrifice their children on the altar of their belief and are therefore liable to turn us into a society that sanctifies death.'

“The question of whether the settlement project is justified security-wise is no longer relevant. In general, the settlements were built around main roads. The IDF no longer has need of that. The army can defend the country and its borders without having recourse to settlements. On the contrary: Where there is risk today, we will evacuate settlements to the rear. There is talk of evacuating the communities around the Gaza Strip in the event of another confrontation with Hamas, etc. We evacuated communities in the north during the Second Lebanon War. And there were plans for evacuations from the Golan Heights and from all kinds of places. You don’t want civilians on the front line. In a situation of war against military forces, civilians are a burden.”

So you think we need to aspire to move to borders that will be demarcated by Israel?

“No. I don’t believe in unilateral moves.”

Do you regret the Gaza disengagement?

“There is a vast difference between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. I was the commander of the Gaza division at the height of the fighting with Hamas. It’s not something I miss. Our situation would be far worse if we’d stayed in the Gaza Strip because, since the Oslo Accords, there was no IDF presence in the population centers anyway. We had settlements in Gush Katif, at Netzarim, in the northern Gaza Strip. The IDF was deployed there to protect the residents – who, by the way, were amazing people. There’s a world of difference between the character of the settlements in Gush Katif and what’s happening in some places in Judea and Samaria. I mean in conduct, character, extremism. But, as I say, we were not deployed in the population centers.

“We arrested terrorists, demolished infrastructures, we went in and out. We did not truly control Gaza, Khan Yunis, Rafah; we were not in all the refugee camps. Hamas improved its capabilities there, and the more time that passed, the harder it became to defend the settlements. There were some very serious events before the disengagement, and let’s say there was no point in continuing to be there. It wouldn’t have prevented Hamas from gaining strength, either.

“People say that our withdrawal from Gaza allowed Hamas to become strong, but that’s only half-right. Because even when we were there, Hamas strengthened itself. If we’d been there, the process would have been a bit slower. Tunnels existed even when we were there, and weapons were smuggled and there was a local arms industry. It was very difficult for us to reach every place. By the time of the disengagement, there were a large number of rockets and Qassams. It’s true that they didn’t have a range of 70 kilometers [43 miles], as they do now, but they were fired at Sderot and southern Ashkelon.”

Maybe because the IDF didn’t control all of the Gaza Strip.

“Well, let’s see what controlling all of Gaza means. Like after Operation Defensive Shield [in 2002], when we controlled Judea and Samaria and entered every place. It would mean deploying large forces, which would seriously affect the Israeli economy. Ultimately, there’s a limit to the military order of battle. Everyone who’s saying we should retake the Gaza Strip doesn’t understand the significance of that.”

Israel doesn’t have the ability to destroy Hamas in the Strip?

“What does ‘destroy Hamas’ mean? Israel can conquer Gaza. It wouldn’t be easy, it could take a few days or weeks, but in the end the Strip would be under IDF control. Every street and every alley. What’s the next stage? The next stage is that you have 2 million people whose needs you have to provide for and whose day-to-day life you have to manage.

“Israel’s security rests primarily on deterrence. And for deterrence, you need a reference point. Today we are on the outside, deterring Hamas, ensuring that it does the work inside [controlling other militia groups] and exerting pressure on the organization. It’s the same in Lebanon. And it will also have to be like that in the West Bank. It’s impossible to destroy Hamas. It’s not just people and leaders, or Ismail Haniyeh [one of the organization’s senior leaders]. Hamas is consciousness. You can’t eradicate consciousness. You can change consciousness. How? You persuade people. Fatah, too, used to be in a different place, but the day came when they reached the conclusion that they had to talk to us, that the solution will not come through force.”

When will that happen with Hamas?

“For Hamas to want to change, it will have to feel an existential danger. That’s why the organization needs to be pressured. At present, we have an exceptional window of opportunity because the Egyptians hate Hamas. Look what happened in Operation Cast Lead [2008-2009]. Fortunately the Egyptians were tough – because we rushed into all kinds of concessions. When they [the Egyptians] decided that they were going to eliminate the tunnels, they did just that. I hope [Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah] al-Sissi will be in power for many years to come.

“In addition, we are not there [in Gaza], so no one can claim we are occupiers. There’s only the matter of a closure, which I think can be explained because it’s justified in terms of military considerations. And the fact is it’s accepted internationally, despite the criticism. Of course, it’s necessary to ensure that the population does not reach the condition of starvation and epidemics. That’s one side of the formula; the other side is easing things in the West Bank and strengthening Fatah and the Palestinian Authority.”

How do we strengthen Fatah in the West Bank?

“With a far more expansive policy of easing movement and economic freedom. The [carrot-and-stick] plan of [Defense Minister Avigdor] Lieberman is terrific: to lift restrictions, allow the establishment of industrial zones and factories in Area C [which is under full Israeli security control], facilitate exports. Give the Palestinian economy a boost. That will influence support for Fatah and the moderate forces. The PA’s mechanisms, both military and civilian, need to be strengthened. They have to be given a better opportunity for governance, to help their people in order to gain political support. Where this is dependent on the IDF, it’s being done. But the army’s mandate is limited. Ultimately, when you want to give the Palestinians more territory to develop their economy in Area C, you encounter a political issue. The defense minister says he’s going to do it? Let’s wait and see when it will happen.”

You’ve built a life, career, economic security and a future for your children thanks to the army and the occupation. Maybe it pays you not to see red flags?

“I spent most of my years in Lebanon and other areas. But yes, I was also in Judea and Samaria, and Gaza. And I’d have been in the army even without the occupation. I am speaking from a feeling of concern not only for the country but for the IDF as well, because I’m afraid of moral erosion and the fact that the IDF is not focusing on its primary tasks. Instead of fighting, it’s managing a population. I do not attack the IDF or call for refusal to serve, because the IDF is the ray of light in this story. I lost many friends along the way. Before they fell, when they were aware of the very dangerous situation they were in, they seemed to me to be smiling: Nitzan Barak, Capt. Uri Maoz, Capt. Tzion Mizrahi, Staff Sgt. Elad Rotholtz, and many more. All those amazing people were sensitive and humane. Their families are like kin to me and my family. If you ask me, what remains from army service is the commitment to do everything so that we pay a price like this only if we really have no choice.

“We always say that the difference between us and our enemies is that we sanctify life and they sanctify death. I ask whether there is not a growing number of people among us who are ready to sacrifice their children on the altar of their belief and are therefore liable to turn us into a society that sanctifies death.”

If people were unwilling to serve, there wouldn’t be anyone to take part in this project.

“I think the state wouldn’t be able to exist, in that case. We live in a democratic country under a lawful government. In my service, I didn’t see actions that could justify refusal to serve. I think that, at the end of the day, we are acting morally.”

Do you think it’s moral to occupy another people?

“Only when there is security justification. The question is where the security justification ends, and whether things can be done differently. You know what my opinion is. I think we have to arrive at a situation of separation because there is no security justification. If there were, who would even be talking about it? Democracy has tools that must be utilized. It’s clear to me that there’s a majority who think change is needed but who are apathetic. Regrettably. One of my goals is to rouse them. Not only me – many of my friends are trying to rouse the apathetic majority.”

Are you thinking of entering politics?


You’re not afraid of being tagged with the “shooting and crying” syndrome?

“Absolutely not. I’ve thought about that a great deal over the years. I feel no pangs of conscience for all the things I did – and there were difficult things, with difficult consequences for the other side. Everything I did, I did in the cleanest possible way, if it’s possible to call it that. This means I didn’t do what wasn’t necessary. I’m not just talking about myself. All told, we didn’t cause damage for its own sake – and that’s exactly the difference, do you see? When you cause harm for the sake of causing harm.”

Maybe if the Israelis didn’t excel in occupation, it wouldn’t have lasted 50 years.

“But there’s a division of labor. It’s not the army’s role to decide whether the occupation will continue. Strategy has to be led on the political level. The moment the missions you carry out are legal, then it’s good and fortunate that we have our army, which does things the way it does.”

But God doesn’t write the law, right?

“Right. But neither do IDF officers.”

‘For Israel’s future’

In response to this article, MK Ofer Shelah said: “Gadi Shamni has been a friend for almost 40 years, and he’s someone I am fond of and respect. I speak to him quite a lot, both on personal matters and policy matters, and I have high regard for his efforts to formulate a document for security arrangements that will be fitting for a settlement with the Palestinians, together with serious American partners whom I met and spoke with. The security issues in that kind of settlement are far from simple, but can be resolved given a courageous, determined leadership.

“Yesh Atid believes that Israel should separate from the Palestinians, for the sake of Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state. This needs to happen within the framework of a regional process in which Israel’s place in the Middle East will be shaped, and will serve as a proper framework for the resumption of negotiations, which have reached an impasse. My friends and I say this at every opportunity and are working to implement it in every political framework.”

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ג'אמיל דקוור

Why the Head of ACLU’s Human Rights Program Has Regrets About Emigrating From Israel


Netanyahu’s Election Win Dealt a Grievous Blow to Judaism