On July 31, I published a piece about a group of high school age Israelis who helped the Israeli police level the Bedouin Arab village of al-Arakib. Since publishing the story, “The Summer Camp of Destruction,” I have received unconfirmed accounts from witnesses that the youth volunteers sang “Am Yisrael Chai,” while police bulldozers destroyed homes. Nothing is unbelievable at this point.
Based on the impressions of a friend who counsels members of the IDF and Border Police on coping with human rights violations they committed, I identified the youth volunteers as members of the Israeli police civil guard. However, their vests read “Reshet Biatachon. According to the Tarabut blog, which is published in Hebrew, the teens were working for a security outsourcing firm for minimum wage. This fact makes the story no less disturbing.
The background of the youth is perhaps more significant than the identity of the entity they were working for. Most appeared to be Mizrahi (Jews of Arab descent), while the rest appeared Ethiopian, and Russian. These are, of course, the three most marginalized, victimized groups within Jewish Israeli society, and are therefore the most inclined to prove their loyalty as front line soldiers in Border Police units battling the only caste lower than them: the Arabs.
A Mizrahi friend who has worked in Kiryat Gat, a city in Southern Israel inhabited by mostly North African and Russian Jews, was not surprised when he looked at my photos of the youth volunteers in action. He remarked that their parents probably did not have the resources to send them to a proper summer camp, so they turned to Reshet Bitachon for a means to prevent their children from languishing during the hottest months of the year in a violent, impoverished environment like Kiryat Gat. Thus the teens were thrust into the “Summer Camp of Destruction,” where the demolition of Arab villages took the place of canoe trips and horseback rides.
As in any socially stratified society, summer camp in Israel is generally reserved for the middle and upper classes. But this does not insulate the children of the most liberal Ashkenazi elite families from the ravages of ultra-nationalism and military indoctrination, as a program called “Camp Palmach” in Kfar Tavor reveals.
Kfar Tavor is a Ashkenazi community in the North famous for producing the cream of the Zionist movement for over three generations, from Air Force pilots to legendary paratroop commanders like Yigal Allon. Some Israelis joke that the children of Kfar Tavor are routinely born with blond hair and blue eyes because when they were conceived their mothers were looking at the sky and their fathers were looking at the hay. The gilded offspring of Kfar Tavor receive a first-rate education and often participate in Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed, a left-wing Zionist youth movement of the Labor and Meretz parties.
Last week, 70 third and fourth grade students from Hanoar Haoved Vahalomed went to “Camp Palmach,” where they impersonated fighters from the Palmach. The Palmach was an elite Israeli military strike force that carried out raids against the British during the days of Mandate Palestine, helped expel Palestinians from entire regions of the Galilee, and spearheaded the ethnic cleansing of Lydda and Ramla. Here is Palmach founder Yigal Allon describing his use of psychological warfare to drive out the Palestinians of the Galilee:
“The confidence of thousands of Arabs of the Hula [Valley] was shaken…We had only five days left…until 15 May . We regarded it as imperative to cleanse the interior of the Galilee and create Jewish territorial continuity in the whole of the Upper Galilee…I gathered the Jewish mukhtars [Kibbutz chiefs], who had ties with the different Arab villages, and I asked them to whisper in the ears of several Arabs that a giant Jewish reinforcement had reached the Galilee and were about to clean out the villages of Hula, [and] to advise them as friends, to flee while they could. And rumour spread throughout Hula that the time had come to flee. The flight encompassed tens of thousands. The stratagem fully achieved its objective.”
At Camp Palmach, nine-year-old kids are taught that following in Allon’ footsteps is “cool.” According to Hadar Saks, a coordinator for Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed, the campers are learning “the Palmach values” in order to build “a good and model society.” From Ha’aretz:
“The campers complete a variety of tasks, including acting as brigade commanders, forming factions and serving as go-betweens,” said Hadar Saks, a youth group coordinator and counselor. “During the week we inculcate the Palmach values – which are geared toward developing a good and model society, and not just creating a soldier who is an effective fighter.”
“The children of Kfar Tavor grow up on the legend of Yigal Allon, who was a native son of the village and a Palmach commander, but they don’t know much about that period of time or the values of the Palmach,” Saks said.
In the three days leading up to the camp, the children studied the history of the Palmach. They were given quizzes and held campfires that hearkened back to the days of the Palmach, during which they sang songs and told stories that glorified the kibbutz movement.
Some children were initially unsure of whether they wanted to attend the camp. “I had to decide between going to camp or staying in front of the television, going to the pool and playing with friends,” Moatti said.
This past weekend, though, there was Moatti: on the ground, near the thicket on Nahal Hashiva, which is named after the seven Palmach members killed in the battle for Beit Keshet. The eucalyptus trees stand adjacent to the Kadoorie Agricultural High School, many of whose graduates enlisted in the Palmach – including Yigal Allon, Eli Ben-Zvi (the son of former president Yitzhak Ben-Zvi ), Yitzhak Rabin, Haim Gouri and others.
“We’re proud to be from the town where Yigal Allon was born,” said one camper, Noah Pivnik. “It’s really cool.”
As shocking as the al-Arakib incident was, it was not an isolated affair. The military is hijacking the minds of Israeli youth to such a comprehensive degree that the phenomenon is hardly questioned — just look at how the liberal Haaretz reported on Camp Palmach. Nor are youth instructed to question their military. If anything, they are taught to place the Israeli military on a plane above all other social institutions, to view it as “pure” and unfailingly moral.
In his 1953 essay, “After Qibya,” Yeshayahu Leibowitz called the retaliatory massacre of dozens of Palestinian women and children in the village of Qibya by Ariel Sharon’s Force 101, “a consequence of applying the religious category of holiness to social, national and political values and interests — a usage prevalent in the education of young people as well as in the dissemination of public information.”
Referring to Israelis’ near-religious reverence of their military, Leibowitz continued: “If the nation and its welfare and the country and its security are holy, and if the sword is the ‘Rock of Israel’ — then Qibya is possible and permissible.”
Leibowitz prefaced his warning about the deification of state institutions with a question that is at least as relevant today as when he posed it: “What produced this generation of youth, which felt no inhibition or inner compunction in performing the atrocity when given the inner urge and external occasion for retaliation? After all, these young people were not a wild mob but youth raised on and nurtured on the values of a Zionist education…”
What produced the generation of youth who during Operation Cast Lead massacred the al-Samouni family and shot women waving white flags? What produced the generation who will commit atrocities during the next war, which is likely to break out any moment on Israel’s northern border? Who will carry out Ehud Barak’s promise to “hit any target that belongs to the Lebanese state, not just to Hezbollah?”
The answer is in Kiryat Gat, where underprivileged teenagers are dispatched to raze Arab towns for a meager hourly wage. And the answer is in Kfar Tavor, where well-off children too young to muster critical thoughts are urged to embody the legendary warriors who literally wiped scores of Palestinian villages off the map. Like the killers of Qibya, they too were raised on and nurtured on the values of a Zionist education.