(רחבעם "גנדי" זאבי, born 20 June 1926, died 17 October 2001) was an Israeli general, politician and historian who founded the right-wing nationalist Moledet party. He was assassinated by Hamdi Quran of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), becoming the only Israeli politician to be assassinated during the Second intifada.
Early life and military career
Rehavam Ze'evi was born in 1926 in Jerusalem
. He joined the Palmach
in 1942, and served in the Israeli Defence Forces
after the creation of Israel. In May 15, 1948 A.D. he was a platoon leader in the lost battle of Malkiyah. His task was to block, with 30 men, the local Arabs who came to help the Lebanese army attack. One of the soldiers from that battle described the view when the sun rose and all the mountain in front of them was black with Arabs. Ze'evi succeeded in his task, but the battle was lost. Instead of destroying the first battalion of the Palmach, that retreated with many wounded, the Lebanese army went after Ze'evi's unit. Ze'evi left a wounded light machine gunner to cover a retreat, took all the weapons and the other wounded people, but left the bodies of the dead behind. From 1964 to 1968 he carried out the duties of the Chief of the Department of Staff in the Israeli General staff. The next 5 years he served as the Commander of the Central Military District (Hebrew: אלוף פיקוד המרכז). He retired in September 1973, only to rejoin the army at the beginning of the Yom Kippur War
(October 6, 1973). A close friend of IDF Chief of Staff David Elazar, he was appointed "Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff" and was rarely away from Elazar's side during the Yom Kippur War. Ze'evi was a highly efficient staff officer, in contrast to the Deputy Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Israel Tal, and encroached somewhat into the latter's duties during the war. Ze'evi then served for several more months as the Chief of the Department of Staff. He finally retired, with the rank of major-general (אלוף) in 1974.
In 1974 he became Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin
's consultant on combatting terrorism. The following year he was appointed as the prime minister's adviser on matters of intelligence. Ze'evi resigned from this position in 1977, when Likud's Menachem Begin
became prime minister. In 1981, Ze'evi was appointed the director of the Eretz Israel Museum
. In 1987, he co-edited a series of books describing various aspects of the Land of Israel
, based on artifacts from the museum. Ze'evi is famous for having one the largest collection of books about Israel and its history.
In 1988, Ze'evi established Moledet (Homeland). His movement's platform consisted mainly in the population transfer of Palestinian Arabs from Israel (including the West Bank and Gaza Strip) to the neighboring Arab countries. Ze'evi was greatly disappointed by the Madrid Conference of 1991, and consequently withdrew from the Likud government of Yitzhak Shamir. He stayed in opposition for the following ten years. He disagreed strongly with the Labour governments of 1992-1996 (led by Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres) and 1999-2001 (Ehud Barak), however, he looked favourably on the Netanyahu government of 1996-1999 and supported it from the outside.
In 1999, his Moledet movement united with Herut – The National Movement and Tkuma into a single fraction — the National Union. Following the election of Ariel Sharon to Prime Minister in February 2001, Ze'evi joined the governing coalition and was made the tourism minister on March 7, 2001. On October 14 Ze'evi declared that his party would quit the government following the withdrawal of the Israeli Defence Forces from the Abu-Sneina neighborhood in Hebron. His resignation was to become active on October 17, 2001, at 11 a.m.
Ze'evi was shot in the Jerusalem Hyatt
hotel on Mount Scopus
on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 by four gunmen. He was rushed to the Hadassah Medical Center
hospital where he died before 10 a.m. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine took credit for the killing and stated that it was in revenge for the assassination by Israel of Abu Ali Mustafa
, killed by Israel in August that year. Israel alleges that Ahmed Saadat
ordered Ze'evi's assassination. Tens of thousands took part in his funeral
Ze'evi publicly advocated the population transfer
by agreement of 3.3 million Palestinians from the West Bank
to Arab nations. According to Ze'evi, this could be accomplished by making the lives of Palestinians so miserable they would relocate, by use of military force during wartime, or through an agreement with Arab nations. Ze'evi first called for the expulsion speaking to the Moshe Dayan Political and Social Forum in Tel Aviv in July 1987, stating then it would be a voluntary transfer and that it was the only way to make peace with the Arabs. After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Ze'evi advocated the expulsion of Palestinians to the east side of the Jordan River, where they could serve as a human shield should the Iraqi Army seek to attack Israel.
In a radio interview in July, 2001, Ze'evi claimed that 180,000 Palestinians worked and lived illegally in Israel, then referred to them as "a cancer" and said that "We should get rid of the ones who are not Israeli citizens the same way you get rid of lice
Ze'evi believed that Israel's more than 1 million citizens of Arab ethnicities should not be allowed to vote because they do not serve in the army. He also wanted Israel to lay claim to the country Jordan because it historically belonged to the Tribes of Israel - Gad, Reuven, and Menashe, and believed visitors to Israel must speak Hebrew.
Binyamin Elon, who has been leading the Moledet party ever since Ze'evi's murder, has argued that Ze'evi did not hate Arabs.
Ze'evi himself often explained, since 1987 when he first announced the transfer plan and onwards, that he only intended to promote voluntary transfer of the Arab population in the West Bank, not forced actions. Ze'evi believed that this was the only way to promote peace with the Arab nations and to spare further bloodshed. He proposed to provide money incentives for the Palestinians to leave.
Ze'evi was also the cause of diplomatic rows. Serving as Minister without Portfolio, he called US President George H. W. Bush
an "anti-Semite" during a Cabinet meeting in September 1991. In 1997 he called US Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk
, who is Jewish, a "Jewboy", and challenged him to a fistfight.
Organized crime allegation
Ze'evi's most significant political rival was Ehud Olmert
, elected Prime Minister of Israel
in 2006, though their mutual distaste had no connection with their views on state policy. In 1975, the young Olmert called a press conference declaring that he had a list of organized crime figures in the capital that he would recommend for investigation. One was businessman Betzalel Mizrahi, who had been under Ze'evi's command during his military service. Allegations soon included a literal accusation of Ze'evi's protection of Mizrahi and other criminals. Ze'evi sued Olmert for libel.
During his youth, Ze'evi went to school in Givat HaShlosha
. One night he shaved his head, wrapped a towel round his waist and entered the food hall. The similarity to Mohandas Gandhi
earned him Gandhi
as his nickname, which stuck with him for the rest of his life. The nickname is also attributed to a long Arab dress he wore during his underground days in Palmach.
As a soldier, Ze'evi's name was connected to the era in the 1960s-70's known as HaMerdafim (The Incursions/Pursuances). As Commander of the Central Military District, Ze'evi was tasked with defending the new Jordan Valley settlements from PLO guerrilla activities and pacifying the newly occupied Arab-Palestinian population. In the late 1960s Ze'evi formed the elite Sayeret Kharuv, an anti-terror company sized battalion, at the time when IDF Chief of Staff Haim Bar-Lev
had begun to focus IDF manpower and budget on armoured tank units, resulting in huge cutbacks in infantry forces.
Moledet never realized the vision Ze'evi had for the party. Instead of drawing masses away from the centre-right Likud, Ze'evi's party was seen as just another military personality party, just as Shlomtzion (Ariel Sharon), Telem (Moshe Dayan), and Yachad (Ezer Weizman) before it, and Tzomet (Rafael Eitan) and others after it. The factionalization of Israel's extreme right as a result of small ideological differences was not helped by Ze'evi's defection from Tehiya.
Ze'evi was also known for his concern for Israel's captured or missing soldiers which is the reason he always wore a military identity disc with their names on his neck.
In July 2005 the Knesset passed a law to commemorate Ze'evi's memory and educate future generations with his legacy . The highway Route 90 is named Gandhi's Road in honour of his service to the region, an honour resented by Palestinian and Bedouin residents of the Valley. A statue of him is erected in Eilat's promenade, named after Ze'evi. The communal settlement of Merhav Am was also named after him, as was the West Bank settlement Ma'ale Rehav'am.
Ze'evi has 5 children and has given them all special Jewish-History related names. He named his first son 'Palmach', his second son Sayar 'Binyamin', and his 3 daughters Mesada, Ze'ela and Arava. Palmach is also a member of Moledet and competed with Binyamin Elon for the party's leadership.