'Zionism Has Run Its Course'

Article excerpt

Byline: Rula Jebreal

These startling words were uttered last week in Tel Aviv by 95-year-old ruth dayan, widow of one of Israel's founding fathers

Elegantly dressed and perfectly made up, Ruth Dayan, 95, receives me with a wide smile in her Tel Aviv home overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The charismatic, alert, and extremely intelligent Dayan is the widow of Moshe Dayan, legendary chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces and a key leader in the war of independence in 1948. Indeed, Moshe Dayan was transformed into a symbol of national strength during the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel took control of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The Israelis felt invincible with this imposing figure at the helm. Having lost his eye in battle, he chose to wear a black eye patch, which became his trademark. In the years since his death, Ruth has continued to act as one of Israel's most outspoken elder statesmen.

Sixty-three years after the founders began to build a democratic, secure, prosperous state, Israel is still struggling: there is no peace deal in place with the Palestinians, tensions between Arabs and Israelis grow by the day, and the violence drags on. Under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party, Israel has been racked with political divisions. The government has moved to the right politically in order to keep a majority in Parliament. Yet over the summer, liberal Israelis set up tent cities protesting the massive income inequality and high cost of living that are plaguing the nation. Moshe Dayan is very much seen as one of the "founding fathers" of Israel. And there is a nostalgic turn today, mainly among the middle-class Ashkenazi who see him and his brethren as symbols of collective sacrifice and communal bonds.

Dayan is rich with memories of the Israel of then and gets furious when I ask her to compare it with the Israel of now: "We built this country inch by inch, and we lost so many lives. We built public and social institutions, schools, factories. What's going on today is awful. They're ruining this country. I am a proud Israeli. I've lived through every war, endured every moment of suffering, but I never stopped believing in peace. I lost friends and family members. I'm a peacemaker, but the current Israeli government does not know how to make peace. We move from war to war, and this will never stop. I think Zionism has run its course."

She sighs, and adjusts herself before continuing. "I long for the old Israel, where I traveled alone to Gaza the day after we won the 1956 war. Moshe was already a war hero, known to Israelis and Arabs alike. When I met the Palestinian mayor, I introduced myself as Ruth Dayan. The mayor almost had a heart attack." She giggles. "His aides fled the scene. He cautiously asked me what my business was, and I replied that I wanted to see their rugs. He was astonished. 'Rugs?' he asked me. I was the head of Maskit at the time, a chain of arts-and-crafts stores. We were employing Bulgarian immigrants, and I wanted to include Arabs. I hired Arabs all over the country to make rugs and other merchandise. It was about living together, working together, creating a bridge. Today we use foreign labor to work in Israel because Palestinians are not allowed. And this continuous expansion of the settlements everywhere--I cannot accept it. I cannot tolerate this deterioration in the territories and the roadblocks everywhere. And that horrible wall! It's not right."

The tensions between the Jews and the Arabs in Israel have been particularly fraught since the second intifada started in 2000. The wall built to protect the nation from the terrorist attacks sealed off Gaza and the West Bank, but it also cut off contact between the two populations. Ruth Dayan is considered a free thinker in Israeli society. And her devotion and constant efforts to bring Israelis and Palestinians together are legendary. …