Veterans of the Palmach convened in Tel Aviv on Sunday to plan what will probably be their last battle, given that the youngest of the surviving members of the elite strike force of the pre-state underground militia is 86. The force was founded 75 years ago, in 1941.
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At the meeting, held at the Palmach Museum in Ramat Aviv, there were no maps or aerial photographs or talk of weapons. These old soldiers were strategizing for a war over public opinion. The objective: to block the government from building a memorial to the late cabinet minister and IDF general Rehavam Ze’evi at the national memorial site at Sha’ar Hagai, outside of Jerusalem.
Ze’evi was gunned down by Palestinian terrorists in Jerusalem 15 years ago next month.
“Each of you must be prepared to be called by the radio and television,” said one of the speakers. Another participant said what was needed was “public relations that will keep the issue on the front burner.”
He suggested engaging a PR firm or hiring an agency to organize a demonstration for them.
“We have to sharpen and adopt our messages to impact public opinion,” said another member.
Haaretz has learned that the group decided not to conduct any personal attacks on Ze’evi, who was popularly known as “Ghandi,” even though Ze’evi was implicated in alleged systematic sexual assaults and ties with criminals in a TV documentary earlier this year.
“We will avoid attacking Ghandi and will be careful not to offend his family. We will not seek to commemorate anyone else there instead, but to instill the legacy of the Harel Brigade,” said one of the participants.
Those at the meeting included at least three retired generals — former Southern Command chief and Mossad head Zvi Zamir; former Southern Command head Shaike Gavish, and Amos Horev, a winner of the Israel Defense Prize. Also present were the Harel Brigade’s operations officer Eliyahu Sela, former Mossad official and Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan and Motke Ben Porat, a brigade commander during the Yom Kippur War.
The only woman at the meeting was Rivka Kremer, a member of the Palmach band the Chizbatron and now executive secretary of the Palmach Generation Association.
The participants were in agreement on their objective: to make sure that the national heritage site at Sha’ar Hagai, which is due to open in two years, is not named after Ze’evi. The reason, as far as they’re concerned, is simple: While Ghandi fought in the Palmach, he was not involved in the bitter and bloody battles conducted in that area by the Palmach’s Harel Brigade during the War of Independence.
“We want the site to tell the story of those who were there, and not those who weren’t there,” said Zamir. “Whoever made the decision to name the site after Ghandi lacks understanding.”
He was particularly incensed by the fact that the government consulted with the Association for Preserving Ghandi’s Legacy and not the Palmach Association.
“We fought here. We lost our comrades here. We are living the Palmach to this day, and are preserving its assets and educational values. We are offended that we’ve been skipped over. Why can’t we be involved?”
Zamir also expressed concern that naming the site for Ze’evi would come at the expense of commemorating the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, for whom the park in which the memorial site is located is named.
“Rabin was the commander who was involved in what we did here. This place was designated to memorialize him. Who are you comparing him to?” he asked.
Gavish, for his part, said he didn’t believe the site should be named after anyone, but dedicated to commemorating the historical events that took place in that area.
“We are not commemorating people, but the brigade, which sacrificed itself for Jerusalem during the War of Independence,” he said.
At the end of the meeting Gavish issued a call to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the matter. “The decision you made was mistaken. Change it. There is absolutely no reason to create another rift in the nation and cause arguments among fighters. There have been more important issues on which the government has backtracked,” he said.
Gavish, who fought in five of Israel’s wars, added, “There are other public options if this move doesn’t work, but at this point we aren’t planning to exert any physical effort, but an ideological and public diplomacy effort.”