An Israeli Paratrooper's Path to Extremism and Terror Told in 'Like Dreamers' by the Forward

An Israeli Paratrooper's Path to Extremism and Terror Told in 'Like Dreamers'

Yossi Klein Halevi’s new book, “Like Dreamers,” is about seven of the paratroopers who reunited Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967. Their lives spiraled out from that triumphant moment in dramatically different directions, emblematic of a country that has been stretched between the extremes of right and left over the past 40 years. This week’s excerpt, the second to be published by the Forward, focuses on Udi Adiv, one of those paratroopers, who veered sharply to the left in the early 1970s. This is the story of how Adiv, a kibbutznik and son of kibbutz founders, found himself part of an anti-Zionist terrorist group, trained with militants in Damascus, and was even praised for his militancy by Yasser Arafat from the rostrum at the United Nations. Adiv would eventually repudiate his actions, but not before serving 12 years in an Israeli prison.

Udi walked the cobbled streets of Wadi Nisnass, Haifa’s Arab neighborhood near the docks. Burlap sacks with dried chili peppers and fava beans lined the sidewalks. Workmen’s restaurants served hummus for breakfast. Udi was charmed. He belonged here, he felt, more than among the Jews.

Udi was leading a schizophrenic existence. He was enjoying student life at the University of Haifa, Israel’s most integrated Arab-Jewish campus, and he felt as comfortable there as he could in any Israeli institution. He joined the university basketball team and was rarely without at least one girlfriend. But his political life was drawing him farther toward the fringe. When Naif Hawatmeh, leader of a Marxist faction of the PLO, called for incorporating “Israeli progressives” into the Palestinian war against Israel, Udi was elated.

One of Udi’s regular stops in Wadi Nisnass was a Marxist bookshop run by Daoud Turki, an Arab Israeli who had been expelled from Israel’s Communist Party for supporting terrorism. The corner bookshop was so small, there was scarcely room for a table and chairs. In his early forties, Daoud was a self-taught political theorist. He told Udi about the humiliation of growing up under Israeli military rule, which all Arab

Israelis had been subjected to until the government abolished it in 1966. To travel from Haifa to Nazareth had required a military pass. He spoke about how his father had almost been killed by a Jewish terrorist bomb in 1948. Terrorism, said Daoud, was simply a political tactic, the way wars were fought in the Middle East.

Udi confided to .Daoud his frustrations with Matzpen. “The intellectuals lecture the petit bourgeois youth about trade unions,” he said, mockingly. Worse, Matzpen had endorsed a two-state solution, rather than the single binational state advocated by the PLO. “Israel is a colonialist state,” Udi said. “Jews and Arabs are one nation.”

“You and I agree about everything,” Daoud said.

In fact there was a big disagreement between them, which Daoud kept to himself. Udi opposed all forms of nationalism and supported the Palestinian national movement only for tactical reasons, as catalyst for revolution in the Middle East. Daoud, though, was a nationalist, a pan-Arabist.

He was willing to make room in Arab Palestine for a Jewish minority — as a religion, not a people. Just as there were Arab Muslims and Arab Christians, so too Arab Jews.

Daoud had one more secret. He had begun recruiting fellow Arab Israelis to bomb government and military installations. Udi’s enthusiasm for Hawatmeh’s vision of a joint Arab-Jewish “armed struggle” against Zionism intrigued Daoud. Why not broaden the underground to include radical Jews? For now, though, Daoud said nothing to Udi, and waited for an opening.

The forty members of Matzpen divided into two rival Trotskyite factions and a third pro-Mao faction called the Struggle. Udi joined the Maoists. One of the group’ members advocated a Chinese-style cultural revolution, whose first act would be the destruction of pianos.

One evening in Daoud’s bookstore, Udi provided the opening Daoud had been waiting for. “All around the world, the revolution is winning,” Udi said. “The Vietnamese are about to defeat America. Communism is spreading in Latin America. It’s just a matter of time before the Palestinians defeat Zionism. And what are we doing? Talking.”

“I have a group I think you will be interested in,” Daoud said.

“I want to meet someone from the Palestinian national movement,” Udi said.

“It can be arranged,” replied Daoud.

Daoud established separate cells for Arabs and Jews and placed Udi in charge of the Jewish cell. Daoud reassured him: We won’t target civilians, only symbols of the Zionist power structure, like government offices and army bases. And an occasional assassination of political leaders like the archcriminal defense minister, Moshe Dayan.

That made sense to Udi. True, civilians would be at risk with a bomb in a government office, but collateral damage was unavoidable in any war. As for killing soldiers, that was what war was about. Udi didn’t think of the actual soldiers that he knew, like his friends in Gan Shmuel or the men with whom he’d fought in Jerusalem.

Udi’s first recruit was Dan Vered, the Maoist who wanted to destroy pianos. Vered was a math teacher who had been radicalized by the New Left when he’d studied in Florida.

Daoud discussed scouting out the Haifa port and electric company facilities. And he assigned Udi the job of hiding stolen weapons. But no weapons appeared.

At 4:30 in the morning of September 5, 1972, Palestinian terrorists wearing ski masks invaded the Olympic village in Munich, shot to death two members of the Israeli national team, and kidnapped nine others.

The terrorists — claiming to represent a previously unknown group, Black September, but in fact part of the PLO — demanded to be flown to Cairo with their hostages. When they boarded a helicopter provided by the German government, police sharpshooters opened fire. One of the terrorists detonated a grenade, killing the sportsmen.

For Israelis, the image of their athletes lying bound and helpless — in Germany — was unbearable. The Munich massacre seemed to prove that even when Jews became Olympic sportsmen, they were still somehow different from everyone else.

Yet Udi could no longer even grieve together with his fellow Israelis. The Palestinian resistance, he argued, had the right to take hostages.

At Daoud’s behest, Udi was planning a trip to Athens, to meet a PLO operative. Udi’s new girlfiend, Leah Leshem, a kibbutznik without a radical background whom he had met at university, was suspicious. “Are you going to meet with Black September?” she asked, anxious.

“I’ll send you a postcard,” Udi replied.

In athens, Udi was met by a short, heavy man in his late forties who called himself Abu Kammal. Daoud had been vague about Abu Kammal’s organizational affiliation. Udi assumed he was an operative for one of the PLO’s factions, hopefully Hawatmeh’s.

Abu Kammal kept his real identity hidden: he was an Arab Israeli from the Galilee named Habib Kawaji, who had been exiled for leading a pro-Nasserist movement. These days, Kawaji was working for Syrian intelligence, and Daoud’s underground was being run by Syria’s Ba’athist regime, but Kawaji didn’t tell Udi that either. If Udi needed to believe that Kawaji was an independent PLO operative, what was the harm?

Kawaji spoke decent English. He didn’t let on that he also spoke fluent Hebrew. In struggling English, Udi explained that his reason for supporting the PLO was to encourage a socialist revolution in the Middle East.

Yes, agreed Kawaji, revolution against corrupt Arab regimes was his goal too.

Kawaji revealed their final destination: We’re going to Damascus.

Finally, thought Udi. No more games — Udi posed for passport photos, and Kawaji took those to the Syrian Embassy. Udi’s Syrian passport was issued under the name of George Houri, a Syrian-born expatriate, Kawaji explained, who spoke no Arabic because his family had moved to Argentina when he was a child. Udi was uneasy. “What’s with you and Syria?” he asked. Was Kawaji working for the Syrian government rather than the PLO? The moral distinction, which would have been lost on most of his fellow Israelis, was crucial to Udi. The PLO was a revolutionary movement, the Syrian Ba’athist government reactionary and nationalist.

Kawaji reassured him. “We have friends in the Syrian regime,” he said.

On the brief flight from Athens to Beirut, Udi felt afraid for the first time. There was no turning back. Beirut was the capital of Palestinian terrorism.

Just recently an Israeli commando team had landed in Beirut and assassinated Palestinian terrorist leaders; one of the commandos killed in the operation was the son of a leader of Hashomer Hatzair whom Udi knew.

Udi approached passport control. “What do I say?” he anxiously asked Kawaji. “Why don’t I speak Arabic?”

“Don’t say a word,” Kawaji replied. “Leave it to me.”

No one asked Udi any questions.

Beirut, with its tall buildings and stylish boardwalk, astonished Udi. An Arab city, and it’s nicer than Tel Aviv — He caught himself: even he had internalized Israeli contempt for the Arabs.

Kawaji took Udi to a relative’s home, where he’d parked his car. Before getting in, he checked under the chassis. “We have many enemies,” he explained.

They crossed the border into Syria. Streams, grapevines, lush valleys. But Damascus disappointed: faded shops, uniform dress of gray suits and housecoats, life-size posters of Hafez al-Assad.

Nationalists, thought Udi with distaste.

They drove to a house on the edge of the city. Aside from a refrigerator and cots, the villa was empty.

Kawaji took Udi to see the sights, the ancient covered market and the grave of Saladin, who defeated the Crusaders.

They visited the Jewish quarter. Only a few thousand terrorized Jews remained of a once-thriving ancient community. Forbidden to emigrate, they were under constant surveillance, subjected to periodic arrests.

In the quarter’s police station, Kawaji introduced Udi to the commander as an American journalist. Udi nodded and smiled, trying to say as little as possible in his Israeli-accented English.

The commander explained to Udi that the job of the police was to protect the Jews from provocateurs. We aren’t against the Jews, he said, only the Zionists.

“He’s one of us,” Kawaji said to Udi.

At the synagogue, they met the community’s young rabbi. Udi approvingly noted his trimmed beard. A modern man, not like Shlomo Goren and the other fanatical rabbis in Israel with their wild beards — Speaking in the presence of policemen, the rabbi assured the American journalist of the Syrian government’s benevolence. The government, he said, protects us.

What a cultured man, thought Udi, what a model Jewish community.

Here was an alternative to the Judaism of power and conquest, proof that the Jews didn’t need a state to be safe.

In the villa on the edge of Damascus, Kawaji presented Udi with an empty notebook and instructed: Write about your life, especially your military service. “What’s interesting about my military service?” asked Udi. “I was a corporal, I don’t know any secrets.”

Kawaji insisted. Udi relented. What could he reveal that wasn’t available in any Israeli newspaper?

He wrote about basic training in the Nahal base near Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, about parachute drops in Tel Nof, about the antiquated Belgian FN rifle on which he’d learned to shoot.

Write the location of air force bases, Kawaji instructed.

Udi complied. Who doesn’t know that Tel Nof is near Givat Brenner?

Kawaji requested an assessment of Motta Gur. A warmonger, wrote Udi.

As Udi filled the notebook, he might have thought about Uri Ilan, the other member of Gan Shmuel to reach Damascus, who committed suicide rather than betray military secrets under torture. Yet as Udi wrote in the notebook, he didn’t think of Uri Ilan. Not as reproach, not even as irony.

He simply forgot about him.

Udi was driven to an army camp in the mountains. He was given a Kalashnikov and taken to a firing range. What was this childish game? Wondered Udi. As if he didn’t know how to shoot. Still, there was something charming about training in the hills. Just like Che Guevara.

The only time he balked was when Kawaji asked him to photograph Israeli military installations. To attack installations was a legitimate act; to photograph them was an act of espionage. “I’m a revolutionary,” said Udi, “not a spy.”

An Israeli Paratrooper's Path to Extremism and Terror Told in 'Like Dreamers'

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