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.

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