Israeli General Effie Eitam minces no words about Palestinians.
“These are creatures who came out of the depths of darkness,” he told The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg in 2004.
“We will have to kill them all,” Eitam said, before adding this merciful note: “I don’t mean all the Palestinians, but the ones with evil in their heads. Not only blood on their hands but evil in their heads.”
Eitam has been nominated to head Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem to which practically every foreign leader visiting Israel is brought to have their photo taken.
It’s not a done deal. Israel’s higher education minister Ze’ev Elkin reportedly nominated Eitam, and an Israeli official told the Associated Press that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backs the appointment.
Israel’s cabinet will make the final decision.
Voices that ought to carry some weight are speaking out against Eitam.
“He is not a man who regards everyone as equal, which is a basic assumption for anyone running an institution like Yad Vashem,” Shraga Milstein, the 87-year-old chair of the Israeli Association of Bergen-Belsen Survivors, told the newspaper Haaretz.
That is quite an understatement.
“As we know, the Holocaust didn’t start with gas chambers,” Milstein added. “It started with differentiating between people and seeing some people as unequal to others.”
Eitam’s genocidal views of Palestinians expressed to Goldberg in 2004 are no aberration.
In 2009, The Electronic Intifada published a compendium of some of Eitam’s most violent and hateful acts and declarations – as he toured the United States as a “special emissary” for Netanyahu.
Amid a horrifying record, some things stand out.
During the first intifada, Eitam was implicated in the killing of a young Palestinian in the occupied Gaza Strip.
Several senior officers were convicted of telling their soldiers to break the arms and legs of Palestinian youths. Part of their defense was that they were just following orders from Israel’s defense minister Yitzhak Rabin and from their commander Effie Eitam.
In 1988, Eitam – known at the time as Effie Fein – was a commander in Israel’s notorious Givati brigade in Gaza.
As The Jerusalem Post reported on 9 May 1994, about the 1988 incident, Eitam “was heard over the military radio ordering his troops to use clubs to break the bones” of two Palestinian protesters. One of them, Ayyad Aqel, aged 21, died.
Aqel, from al-Bureij refugee camp, was “handcuffed and blindfolded” during the fatal attack in an olive grove, The Guardian reported on 2 November 1990.
According to the same Guardian report, Eitam “was said to have used dogs and batons” against Palestinians, and on one occasion ordered that a Palestinian who defied a curfew “be bound in a public place.”
“I want to see blood here as a warning to others,” Eitam reportedly said.
While Eitam received a slap on the wrist in the form of a reprimand, he was later promoted to brigadier-general.
In 2002, as he launched into politics, Eitam called for Israel to embark on wars of aggression across the region as far afield as Iraq and Iran.
Under their cover, he hoped, “the opportunity will be created to deal more deeply with the Palestinian issue.”
Ultimately, Palestinians could have their state, but only in Egypt’s Sinai and in Jordan.
Palestinians would eventually leave their homeland, but in the meantime, Eitam was generous enough to allow them to remain “residents without the right to vote.”
“Shoot him in the head”
Eitam attacked Ariel Sharon, Israel’s notoriously violent prime minister at the time, for being too soft on the Palestinians.
He called for the murder of Yasir Arafat, then leader of the Palestinian Authority.
“If I [could] give the order now, he would be dead in 15 minutes, together with his whole gang,” Eitam said, according to the The Jerusalem Post on 5 July 2002.
He also called for the extrajudicial execution of Marwan Barghouti, a senior Fatah military leader who was at that time being interrogated by Israeli forces.
“Take him out to an orchard and shoot him in the head,” Eitam suggested, adding that senior PA politicians Ahmed Qurei, then the legislative council leader, and Mahmoud Abbas, currently PA leader, should all meet the same fate.
They were in Eitam’s words all “impure animals.”
Eitam’s brand of extremism proved popular enough to win his National Religious Party a place in the Knesset and in Sharon’s government.
Eitam served as minister of housing and infrastructure (i.e settlement building) until he resigned over Sharon’s plan to withdraw Israeli settlers from the interior of Gaza.
Palestinian leaders are not the only targets of Eitam’s violent hatred. He has habitually incited violence against Palestinian civilians individually and collectively.
Under the practice, Israeli occupation forces send Palestinian civilians – including children – into dangerous situations so that the civilian rather than the soldiers would take any fire – a blatant war crime.
The 2002 death of a Palestinian teenager in one such incident prompted the high court case.
Eitam objected to the ruling, saying it would “expose IDF soldiers to more danger.”
In 2006, Eitam incited the wholesale ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
“We will have to do three things: Expel most of the Judea and Samaria Arabs from here,” Eitam said, using Zionist terminology for the occupied West Bank. “Some of them may be able to stay under certain conditions, but most of them will have to go.”
Eitam then called Palestinian citizens of Israel “a fifth column, a group of traitors of the first degree,” and argued that Israel would have to “remove” them “from the political system.”
Underlying his proposals is his view, expressed to Haaretz in 2002, that Palestinian citizens of Israel are a “cancer” eating away at the body of the state.
In response to that, veteran Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar commented, “The fact that the Nazis were especially fond of this metaphor is probably not lost on” Eitam.
Crime of genocide
Israel’s propagandists recognize that putting Eitam at the head of Yad Vashem would be a major public relations headache – and that may yet sink the appointment.
“There are enough people, whether it’s BDS or whether it’s people that deny the Holocaust and so on, who will say ‘Look, the guy, how can he speak on behalf of Holocaust survivors when this is what he says about the Arabs?’” Collete Avital, a former Israeli diplomat, told AP.
Avital was referring to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights – which has absolutely no relationship whatsoever to Holocaust denial.
But her concern is clear: Israel’s instrumentalization of the Holocaust to justify crimes against Palestinians would become much more difficult with a head of Yad Vashem who is so honest about his ethnic hared of Palestinians.
The UN Genocide Convention defines genocide as any of a number of inhuman acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.”
Under the convention, the crime of genocide includes “direct and public incitement to commit genocide.”
If anything fits this description it is Eitam’s record of dehumanizing Palestinians as “evil” and as “animals” and calling for their mass killing and expulsion from their homeland.
Thus, we will soon find out if Israel will be putting a genocidaire in charge of its Holocaust memorial.