Uri Avnery: Son of Death

Uri Avnery / August 23, 2014


Palestinians search for belongings amid destroyed homes that perished during an Israeli airstrike in Gaza on Friday. [Reuters/Mohammed Salem]

 Son of Death

THE WAR was over. Families returned to their kibbutzim near Gaza. Kindergartens opened up again. A ceasefire was in force and extended again and again. Obviously, both sides were exhausted. 

And then, suddenly, the war came back.

What happened? Well, Hamas launched rockets against Beersheba in the middle of the ceasefire.

Why? No why. You know how the terrorists are. Bloodthirsty. They can’t help it. Just like scorpions.

But it is not so simple. 

THE CAIRO talks were near success, or so it seemed. But Binyamin Netanyahu was in trouble. He hid the Egyptian draft agreement for a long ceasefire even from his cabinet colleagues. They learned about it only from the media, which disclosed it from Palestinian sources.

Apparently, the draft said that the blockade would be greatly relaxed, if not officially ended. Talks about the building of a port and airport were to start within a month.

What? What did Israel get out of this? After all the shooting and killing, with 64 Israeli soldiers dead, after all the grandiose speeches about our resounding victory, was that all? No wonder Netanyahu tried to hide the document.

The Israeli delegation was called home without signing. The exasperated Egyptian mediators got another 24 hour extension of the ceasefire. It was to expire at midnight on Tuesday, but everybody on both sides expected it to be extended again and again. And then it happened.

At about 16.00 hours, three rockets were fired at Beersheba and fell into open spaces. No warning sirens. Curiously enough, Hamas denied having launched them, and no other Palestinian organization took responsibility. This was strange. After every previous launching from Gaza, some Palestinian organization has always proudly claimed credit.

As usual, Israeli airplanes promptly started to retaliate and bombed buildings in the Gaza Strip. As usual, rockets rained down on Israel. (I heard the interceptions in Tel Aviv).

BUSINESS AS usual? Not quite.

First it became known that an hour before the rockets came in, the Israeli population near Gaza was warned by the army to prepare their shelters and “safe spaces”.

Then it appeared that the first Gaza building hit belonged to the family of a Hamas military commander. Three people were killed, among them a baby and his mother.

And then the news spread: It was the family of Mohammed Deif, the commander of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. (Qassam was a Palestinian hero, the first rebel against British rule in Palestine in the 1930s. He was hunted down and killed by the British.) Among those killed this Tuesday were Deif’s wife and baby son. But it seems that Deif himself was not there.

That in itself is no wonder. Deif has survived at least four attempts to assassinate him. He has lost an eye and several limbs, but always came out alive.

All around him, his successive commanders, political and military peers and subordinates, dozens of them, have been assassinated throughout the years. But he has led a charmed life. 

Now he heads the Israeli hit list, the most wanted and hunted Palestinian activist. He is the No. 1 “Son of Death”, a rather biblical appellation used in Israel for those marked for assassination.

Like most inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, Deif is a child of refugees from Israel. His family comes from the village Kawkaba, now in Israel, not far from Gaza. I passed through it in the 1948 war, before it was razed to the ground. 

For the Israeli Security Service, he is a prize for which it is well worth breaking the ceasefire and reigniting the war.  


FOR MANY security agencies around the world, including the American and the Russian, assassination is a sport and an art.

Israel claims to hold the gold medal.

An assassination is a complicated operation. It requires a lot of time, expertise, patience and luck. The operators have to recruit informers near the victim, install electronic devices, obtain precise information about his every movement, execute their design within minutes once the opportunity presents itself.

Because of this, there is no time for confirmation from above. Perhaps the Security Service (usually called Shin Bet) got permission from Netanyahu, its sole political chief, perhaps not.

They obviously were informed that Deif was visiting his family. That was a golden opportunity. For months, indeed for years, Deif has been living underground, in the literal sense – somewhere in the maze of tunnels his men had dug beneath the Strip.  He was never sighted.

Since the beginning of this war, all the other prominent Hamas leaders have also been living under the ground. From Ismail Haniyeh down, not one of them has been seen. The unlimited command of the air by Israeli planes and drones makes this advisable. Hamas has no anti-air weapons.

It seems to me highly unlikely that Deif would risk his life by visiting his family. But Shin Bet obviously got a lead and believed it. The three strange rockets fired on Beersheba provided the pretext for breaking the ceasefire, and so the war started again.

Real aficionados of the art of assassination are not very interested in the political or military consequences of their actions. “Art for art’s sake”.

A propos, the last Gaza war, two years ago, started the same way. The Israeli army assassinated the de-facto al-Qassam leader, Ahmed Jaabari. The ensuing war with its many hundreds of dead was just collateral damage.

Jaabari was at the time filling in for Deif, who was convalescing in Cairo.


ALL THIS is, of course, much too complicated for American and European diplomats. They like simple stories.

The White House immediately reacted to the resumption of hostilities by condemning the Hamas launching of rockets and reaffirming that “Israel has a right to defend itself”. The Western media parroted this line.

For Netanyahu, whether he knew in advance of the assassination attempt or not, it was a way out of a dilemma. He was in the unfortunate position of many leaders in history who start a war and do not know how to get out of it.

In a war, a leader makes grandiloquent speeches, promises victory and bountiful achievements. These promises seldom come true. (If they do, like in Versailles 1919, that may be even worse.)

Netanyahu is a gifted marketing man, if nothing else. He promised a lot, and the people believed him and gave him a 77% rating. The Egyptian draft proposal for a permanent ceasefire, though markedly pro-Israel, fell far short of a victory for Israel. It only confirmed that the war ended in a draw. Netanyahu’s own cabinet was rebellious, public opinion was souring perceptibly. The resumption of the war got him out of this hole.

But what now?

BOMBING THE Gaza population draws more and more criticism from world public opinion. It also has lost its appeal in Israel. The maxim “Let’s bomb them until they stop hating us” obviously does not work.

The alternative is to enter the Gaza Strip and occupy it completely, so that even Deif and his men have to come up to the surface to be assassinated. But that is a dangerous proposition.

When I was a soldier in the 1948 war, we were taught never to get into a situation which leaves the enemy no way out. In such a case, he will fight to the end, causing many casualties.

There is no way out of the Gaza Strip. If the Israeli army is sent to conquer the entire Strip, the fighting will be ferocious, causing hundreds of Israeli and thousands of Palestinian dead and injured, and untold destruction. The Prime Minister will be one of the political victims.

Netanyahu is fully aware of that. He doesn’t want it. But what else can he do?  One can almost pity the man.

He can of course, order the army to occupy only parts of the Strip, a village here, a town there. But that will also spread death and destruction, to no manifest gain. In the end, public discontent will be the same.

Hamas threatened this week to open “the gates of hell” for us. This hardly affects the inhabitants of Tel Aviv, but for the villages and towns near Gaza this is really hell. Casualties are few, but fear is devastating. Families with children leave en masse. When calm returns, they try to go home, but then the next rockets drive them away again.

Their plight evokes a very strong emotional response throughout the country. No politician can ignore it. Least of all the Prime Minister. He needs to end the war. He also needs a clear image of victory. But how to achieve this?

The Egyptian dictator tries to help. So does Barack Obama, though he is furious with Netanyahu and hates his guts. So does Mahmoud Abbas, who is afraid of a Hamas victory.

But as of now, the man who has the final decision is the Son of Death, Mohammed Deif, if he is alive and kicking. If not, his successor.

If he is alive, the assassination of his wife and baby son may not have made him gentler and more peaceable.

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1 Response

  1. Poo says:

    Son of Mirth. At long last Avnery has turned his typing fingers to fiction, where his considerable talents truly lie. I would have recommended he attempt a detective novel first as science fiction requires the use of too many facts. Readers of science fiction demand believability. Avnery would stumble there as much as he does with history, old or recent. With his latest piece, however, he has driven right up to nutty and turned left.

    Eleven times Hamas has broken a peace or refused one. That’s this time. Only the addled or single minded would blame Israel. No doubt an airport, open borders and a seaport were topics on the table much like the plans for my lottery winnings get regular outings over coffee with non-believers. But there is no chance for success with either. Lots of things are discussed around a table with friends or foes. That does not make them universally true or a basis for agreement. Hamas can wish. So can I. But would any sane person give armed terrorists an airport, an open border and a seaport to further enhance the trafficking of armaments? Would Avnery? Really?

    Avnery would have us believe he has inside information, not only at the tables in Cairo but in the Israeli cabinet as well. He even purports to know what the terrorist Deif was thinking or should I say not thinking? How I do love a good fiction! I cannot match Avnery’s dramatic flair for exaggeration, innuendo and dissimulation nor can I infer, as he constantly does, to being the smartest guy in the room. But I do read. The fact that I read Avnery’s pretzel logic is proof positive that I do not restrict myself to one side or even a reasonable facsimile of one.

    For the record, I should state that I have no dog in this fight. I have no connection to Israel, Gaza or the West Bank.

    Hamas denied having launched the peace breaking rockets but freely admitted to kidnapping and killing the three Israeli teenagers. A senior Hamas leader, Saleh Arouri, told a conference in Turkey that Hamas’s military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, carried out the “heroic operation.” It’s not often you hear kidnapping and murder described that way. The broader goal was the sparking of a new Palestinian uprising. Well that makes sense. Hamas’ propaganda channel, Al-Aqsa TV, and the official PATV channel feed Palestinians a steady diet of vile each and every day. This is intended to incite Palestinians to hate and kill Israeli Jews, to delegitimize the Jewish state and to indoctrinate children to become “martyrs” for the Palestinian cause. Such a station would be illegal in these parts. Whatever happened to Easy Listening over there?

    Of course the Israeli army warned their citizenry. That is their duty. Avnery lives there. He knows. The negotiations were sideways in Cairo. They knew the rockets were coming. Avnery knows this too. The Israelis, you see, restrain from firing first. They also foolishly warn their targets. That is a first in warfare. Tunnel terrorists and suicide bombers never do that. Nor do the Rocketeers. Israel shouldn’t either. Hamas doesn’t and nobody criticizes them.

    The U.S. has spent the last decade taking out terrorist leaders. Think Bin Laden if you must but the real list is too long to enumerate here. But you can Google it, really, you can. Often the family and friends go too. Sometimes innocent people are wounded or die. They are called “collateral damage.” There is a name for it. It doesn’t sound too bad, does it? I like “friendly fire” too. In war, your ally is as likely to kill you as your enemy. Note the ‘who-knows-where-they-are going’ rockets from Gaza. They are as much “friendly” as threat. I think participating in terrorism is a limited career move. It also risks your family. For the most part, these brave terrorists live underground while their friends and families die up above. What kind of people do that? Avnery may miss Deif and his ilk but I don’t.

    It is true that assassination is a “complicated” business but it is neither a “sport” nor a “game.” It is a deadly business when it succeeds and when it fails. Israel makes no claims to hold the gold medal in assassinations. Avnery knows this. Israel is quiet about such things, but if they are gold medallists, well bully for them. They are no match for Hamas in any case. Why go to all the time and trouble of an assassination when you can simply slaughter? Hamas recently assassinated 18 people, including 2 women. Apparently, they had been accused, but not tried, for treason. What? They may have spoken to an Israeli? Who? When? But not to worry. We know it was on the up and up as the assassinators wore masks. Who could ever doubt the veracity of such men? “Men” is a bit of a stretch. Only cowards wear masks. Funny how Avnery never mentioned that. Could it be that his own personal bias and ego would never allow it?

    By the way, some of the 18 were executed/assassinated/slaughtered in the streets of Gaza City in the middle of the day. In one case, it took about 20 militants dressed in black and with their faces covered to accomplish the task. They brought six of the condemned men, their heads covered with cloth bags, to an alley near the Great Omari Mosque in Gaza City after midday prayers. What? Outside a Mosque? Midday prayers? I thought these were religious people. The men were first shot in the head, one at a time with a pistol. They were then sprayed with automatic rifle fire. Seems reasonable doesn’t it? Maybe it was just a pre-election campaign. ‘Vote for us or we’ll kill you.’ Works for me.

    The executions followed a familiar pattern. Palestinian militants have always executed suspected collaborators without trial in past conflicts with Israel. Nine suspected collaborators were killed during the war in the winter of 2008 to 2009 and seven were killed in the 2012 Gaza conflict. The number of executions over the last three days, however, was unprecedented. This comes from Bahjat Hilu, the Gaza-based Independent Commission for Human Rights. They are a Palestinian rights group. Avnery should be familiar with them.
    “We are shocked,” Mr. Hilu, a spokesman for the Commission said. The group is investigating the number of deaths and what judicial procedures were followed, if any. Think zero for “judicial procedures.” It is what passes for governance in a terrorist state.

    Interestingly, local and international rights groups condemned the executions. I know, who cares but treason does carry the death penalty under Palestinian law so why no trial. Executions require the approval of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. My my, did he sign off? Was he even asked? Who knows? The guys in the masks never said.

    Who in their right mind would sign any agreement with these people? The only possible solution, one that would lead to ‘Singapore on the Mediterranean’, is the complete disarming of Hamas. That opens borders, gets an airport and a seaport started and guarantees peace for all. It also keeps Israel out of Gaza which should please everyone. They could be trading partners. They are now, even as I type. Most people just don’t know it.

    Take power. Gaza’s power station was attacked by Israel and power lines have been hit by errant Hamas rockets. Good luck getting anyone out to fix them. Gaza only has one power station. It is currently operating at 50% of capacity and its total capacity falls somewhat short of what is needed. It actually only supplies about 30% of Gaza’s electricity under normal circumstance. 10 lines from Israel supply about 62%. 2 lines from Egypt supply about 8%percent.

    Israel allows the transfer of some 2.5 million liters of industrial fuel to over 200 distribution points in Gaza each week via PEGASE (European Union’s Direct Financial Support Programs). They “allow” in a failed attempt to control where it goes and for what purpose. It is monitored on the ground by financial firm Price Waterhouse Coopers. Not enough fuel is getting through. 70% of Gaza’s electricity is, however, still flowing even when the power plant shuts down. Electricity from the 10 Israeli lines could be redistributed to areas normally supplied by the Gaza power station but again, it is tough to get workers out on the poles and streets in a war, especially one where your side fires off ‘who-knows-where-they-are-going’ rockets.

    The damage is reparable but could take a long time. With more rockets flying out of Gaza, no IEC employees would be willing to risk life and limb. Also, PENRA (Palestinian Energy and National Resources Authorities) engineers must contact the Israeli Electrical Corporation to reconnect, which takes time. The Israeli company must receive a permit for the repair and on the Gaza side, there are no materials for maintenance in stock. Transformers are also likely to fail during a surge. Disarmament and an open border would easily solve bureaucratic issues like this. Peace would bring trade and employment among other benefits.

    Another problem peace might solve would be payment for power. Neither Gaza nor the Ramallah half of the Palestinian Authority pays Israel for the power they consume. Gaza alone owes the Israel Electric Corporation NIS (new Israeli Shekel) 220 million out of the NIS 1.5 billion of unpaid Palestinian debts. Maybe open borders and free trade could reduce this some.

    Just for Avnery’s edification, while Hamas lobs rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians all over the country, Israel continues to supply Gaza not only with electricity but also water, foodstuffs, medications, and more. This continues during fighting but Israel is so hopeless at PR, who knows. Well, Avnery does. He just won’t say. He knows the IEC (Israel Electric Company) has petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice. They want to disobey government directives that force them to continue supplying electricity to Gaza for free. Short of that, they want a government order to deduct the sums owed to them from tax money collected by Israel for the PA. What happens to Gaza then? The alternative is the IEC must continue to pass on the costs to ordinary Israelis. As it stands, Israeli households are paying for the electricity Hamas uses to manufacture the rockets to fire at them. This includes Avnery. Funny he failed to mention it. The power is also used to dig and maintain tunnels which are meant for smuggling deadly weapons into Gaza and for deadly incursions against Israelis. Maybe Israel should just declare blackouts in Gaza every time a rocket is fired. It’s an idea. They can’t get paid. Let the Gazans figure it out for themselves in the dark. Those who wish to keep Gaza supplied should with electricity should encourage Hamas to cease firing, if not disarm entirely.

    To further improve his story after power, Avnery should write about water. He might even claim that the Israelis steal it from the Palestinians. That would fit his fictional narrative. Fact is that Israel exports volumes of water to the West Bank, greatly in excess of what is mandated by those oft mentioned Oslo Accords. This is supposed to compensate for the Palestinian Water Authority’s repeated failure to implement approved water projects. “Approved” by unknowing, tax paying saps around the world whose country gives the PWA money. I know, I am one of those “saps.” It is worth noting that prior to 1967, under Jordanian rule, only one in 10 West Bank households was connected to running water. Today, the figure stands at 96%. This figure is still rising thanks to those “thieves” in Israel and their water policy.

    While busying himself with his fiction, Avnery fails to point out the fallacies surrounding the Israeli siege and blockade of Gaza. Israel does not restrict the transfer of electricity, water, foodstuffs, medications and food to Gaza as popularly believed by the yammering class. They do restrict the transfer of weaponry and so-called dual-use materials that could be turned into weapons or tunnels. Clearly, they do not restrict enough of these as the tunnels and weaponry abound while much needed infrastructure does not (see water and power). In one of the many great ironies to be found in the Mid-East, the largest contributor of humanitarian aid to Gaza is Israel. Another irony is contained in a report from the World Health Organization which states that Palestinians have the eighth-highest obesity rate in the world. Among women, they have the third highest. How could this be? Aren’t they being strangled by a siege? I have a theory. Perhaps those diligent tunnel diggers bring home bags of cement which their wives use as flour. It’s a theory.

    Those who wish to keep Gaza supplied with the likes of electricity, water, medicine, food, even cement, should encourage Hamas to cease firing. There’s another idea. I’m getting good at this.

    Those interested in a real siege should Google the Prussian Siege of Paris (September 19, 1870 – January 28, 1871). That was a siege.

    Avnery tells a good story. Unlike him, I am burdened by some salient facts. I believe he would call them “inconvenient truths.” I concede they are dull and make for poor reading. Avnery is entitled to his opinions, just not his own facts.

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