Journal of Palestine Studies Review of The General’s Son

The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, by Miko Peled. Charlottesville: Just World Books, 2012. 223 pages. $20.00 paper.
Reviewed by Anna Bernard

In the last decade, memoir has become an increasingly important means of representing the Israeli-Palestinian crisis to international audiences. Amos Oz’s 2002 memoir, A Tale of Love and Dark- ness, has been translated into twenty lan- guages at the time of writing, while the Palestinian memoir in English, a form of testimony, as well as art has become
a genre unto itself. Raja Shehadeh’s works are perhaps its best known exam- ples, but personal accounts by Mourid Barghouti, Ghada Karmi, Jean Said Mak- disi, Suad Amiry, Ramzy Baroud, Sari Nusseibeh, and Izzeldin Abuelaish have also been widely released and reviewed. To this body of work, we might add the memoir of conversion from Zionist believer to anti-Zionist activist by Israeli and Jewish authors. Miko Peled’s thoughtful and engaging personal narra- tive is an important instance of this emerging category, which also includes the British activist Antony Lerman’s The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist (Pluto 2012), and it is a welcome addi- tion to the autobiographical literature.
Like the other memoirs mentioned, The General’s Son combines pedagogical intent with a human-interest narrative. It assumes relatively little prior knowledge on the part of the reader—terms like ‘‘kibbutz’’ and ‘‘fedayeen’’ come with footnotes—and it interweaves Peled’s own story with some of the major events of twentieth-century Israeli and Palesti- nian history. If Peled seems more preoc- cupied than most with the relation of the personal to the national, it is perhaps because the book’s private and public histories are especially difficult to sepa- rate. The general of the title is Miko
Anna Bernard teaches English and compara- tive literature at King’s College London. She works on literary and cultural representations of Israel/Palestine in international contexts.

Peled’s father, General Mattiyahu (Matti) Peled (1923–95), who fought with the Palmach and rose up the ranks of the Israeli military to become a member of the IDF’s general staff during the June 1967 war. However, this is not the story of a son turning against his father, as the title might seem to suggest, but rather the continuation and expansion of the father’s legacy. Matti Peled retired from the military in 1968 and embarked on a second career as a founding member of the Department of Arabic Literature at Tel Aviv University. He became a vocal opponent of the occupation and devel- oped personal relationships with many Palestinians, earning him the name, his son reports, of Abu Salaam.
Miko Peled, born in 1961 and based in the United States since 1987, presents his father’s story as one worthy of recounting to an English-language audience in its own right. Yet the general’s story also serves as a preface to Peled’s own narra- tive, which relates his training with the Israeli Special Forces, his emigration from Israel, his participation in U.S.- based dialogue groups, his increasing involvement with humanitarian activism and nonviolent protest in the West Bank, and his eventual renunciation of Zionism in favor of the struggle for a single demo- cratic state. The book contains a foreword by Alice Walker and an endorsement from Walid Khalidi (a friend of Matti Peled’s), which mark its explicit links with interna- tional solidarity efforts, as well as the Palestinian national movement.
The General’s Son begins with the death of Miko Peled’s thirteen-year-old niece, Smadar, in a 1997 suicide attack on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem (also commemorated in Simone Bitton’s 2000 film The Bombing). Peled identifies this tragedy as his moment of political awak- ening: the conflict becomes ‘‘deeply per- sonal,’’ and he is ‘‘no longer content to sit still’’ (p. 107). The rest of the book is narrated chronologically: the first third covers his father’s story and the rest describes Peled’s own journey. This structure allows for a nuanced represen- tation of the passage from an identitarian sense of belonging to a principled politi- cal stance. Peled’s conversion is paral- leled with his father’s. At the end of the memoir we learn, with Peled, that his father left the military after the Israeli leadership ignored his report of an IDF massacre of civilians in Rafah in 1967: it was at this point that Matti Peled became an early advocate of a two-state solution. Forty years later, this revelation helps to persuade his son Miko of the more chal- lenging position that ‘‘there was no point, indeed no future, in dividing the people and the land’’ (p. 212).
It is fitting, then, that in the final pages of the book Peled’s story gives way to those of the Palestinians he meets— Nader Elbanna, Jamal Mansur, Bassam Aramin, Abu Ali Shahin—who are pre- sented as everyday heroes and agents of their own lives. The liberal notion of cul- tural ‘‘dialogue’’ that dominates the ear- lier sections of the book shifts to an emphasis on political justice, which includes the Palestinian right of return (p. 218). This shift reflects Peled’s own progression toward a more radical form of commitment and offers it as a worthy model for his readers.

Mufid Abdulkader on “The General’s Son, Journey of an Israeli in Palestine”

Mufid Abdulkader is a Palestinian-American, a Muslim who is one of the 5 defendants of the Holy Land Foundation case, the HLF-5. I have been in touch with Mufid for about two years now, and I previously brought a few parts of his account of the treatment these five men, who I am convinced were wrongfully accused of material support for terror organizations.
I recently received an email from Mufid where he told me that he finally had chance to read my book, and he went on to share his thoughts about my book. I was very moved by his comments and I asked Mufid for permission to publish it here. Mufid’s brother is Hamas leader, Khaled Mash’al.
Dear Miko,
I finally got some time and read your book and I don’t know where to start with my comments.
First of all, I applaud you and tip my hat off to you for your courage and effort to know the other side.  I still can’t fathom how someone like you who grew up in the home of one of the most decorated brilliant Zionist Generals in the Israeli Army (who was more than instrumental in winning the 1967 war) and yet his son just like him have seen the light and realized that Israel cannot continue to occupy the Palestinians for ever and get any sort of sustainable peace.  Yet, your book does eloquently explain that transformation with reasoning and logic.
Simply put, you met what was supposed to be the arch enemy of all Israelis and it was not the Palestinians.  Your long journey of transformation and discoveries started with meeting ordinary Palestinians without conditions other than just to talk and understand.  I am sure that helped you realize that we are all humans who share the same aspiration of living in peace and harmony with our families and raising our children in peace.  I feel like your wonderful effort of meeting people from the other side made you realize that there was another side of the story different that the one you have been told all your life.  I have nothing but the upmost respect for your courage to stand up and call the spade a spade despite the constant name calling of your fellow Israeli citizens who do not agree with the stand you took and some may despise your opinion.
I was amazed at the number of places and people you met and talked about your passion.  So many of these people I knew of, read their stories or knew someone who knew them personally.  For example when you mention Dr. Issam Sartawi and his meeting with your father and it came to my mind that I knew of two great friends whom are from the same town of Sarta and that is where Sartawi is from and how he got his Sartawi nick name.  My two friends and I grew up together in Kuwait from 2nd grade all the way to High School.  They both immigrated to t he USA back in the early 1980.  We all recall when Dr. Sartawi was gunned down and even back then the majority of Palestinian knew who was behind the killing.
Among the many things you mentioned in the book and that really evoked my emotions was “Wheelchairs For the Holy land”.  It was a similar project sponsored by the Holy Land Foundation that provided over 1,500 wheele chairs for Palestinian children who were the victims of Israeli aggression.  The wheel chairs were provided along with two ambulances to help carry the new victims to the hospitals in the occupied territories.
It was very ironic that it was not far from Jabri’s restaurant which you ate and it is located in Wasfi Attal Street where the Mosad tried to assassinate my brother Khaled.  You can stand outside the restaurant and see the exact location where the two Mosad agents tried to poison my brother.  They failed and my brother survived.
You also mentioned Salahdin Castle and that is a place I visited along with my entire family back in the 1990’s.  I was amazed how unique the structure was and marveled at the architecture of the Castle.
Your book is very interesting and in many respects was an eye opening even for someone like me who thought he knew so much about the Palestinian /Israeli conflict and yet I find myself getting very emotional at times when I read about the emotional toll the conflict is taking on both sides and needless suffering of everyone.
Thank you for sharing the inside details of your journey and the many milestones you reached along the path of reconciliation and understanding.  I think this is something many of us need to do to bridge that gap of mistrust and then a lasting peace could be possible.


Praise for Teachers Union of Ireland vote for academic boycott on Israel:

Reading from Samer Issawi’s statement by Bobby Sands grave: