'We are killing ourselves from the inside'

Ex-IDF general likens military control of West Bank to Nazi Germany

Amiram Levin accuses the IDF of being a ‘partner in war crimes’ when it stands by as settler extremists attack Palestinians, says situation in West Bank is ‘absolute apartheid’

Former general Amiram Levin speaks during a protest against the government's judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, on August 12, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Former general Amiram Levin speaks during a protest against the government's judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, on August 12, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

A former IDF general argued that Israel’s control of the West Bank has similarities to discriminatory policies under Nazi Germany, and expressed fear that soldiers will not be motivated to defend the country if the coalition succeeds in shackling the judiciary.

Amiram Levin, who headed the IDF Northern Command, commanded the elite Sayeret Matkal unit and served as deputy director of the Mossad spy agency, told Kan radio on Sunday morning that the military is not only suffering harm to its preparedness because of reservists’ threats and refusals to serve amid the government’s judicial overhaul, but is also “rotten to its core” due to Iarael’s ongoing presence in the West Bank.

“It stands on the side, looks at the rioting settlers, and begins to be a partner in war crimes,” Levin told the public broadcaster. “It’s 10 times worse than the issue of [military] readiness… and I say honestly, I am not angry at the Palestinians, I am angry at us. We are killing ourselves from the inside.”

Recent months have seen a rise in settler violence, with the United Nations earlier this month reporting close to 600 attacks on Palestinians and their property over the past six months. The Israeli defense establishment recorded similar numbers during that period.

According to official data provided to The Times of Israel, there were 680 incidents of stone-throwing or assault of Palestinians by settlers in the first six months of 2023, compared to 950 in all of 2022.

The interviewer asked Levin if he agreed with a May 2016 speech by former Meretz MK Yair Golan, who was IDF deputy chief of staff at the time, in which he said that processes in Israel were similar to some in Europe in the years leading up to the Holocaust.

Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Yair Golan speaks at a ceremony to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, May 5, 2016. (Gefen Reznik/IDF Spokesperson)

“We find it difficult to say it, but that’s the truth,” Levin responded. “Look around Hebron, look at streets, streets that Arabs can’t use, only Jews, that’s exactly what happened in countries like that.”

Pressed on whether he saw specific similarities with Nazi Germany, Levin said: “Of course. It hurts, it’s not nice, but that’s the reality. It’s better to deal with it, even if it is hard, than to ignore it.”

Levin also assailed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appointment of “draft dodger” cabinet members such as National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who was not accepted for mandatory military service by the IDF because of his extremist activities.

The prime minister is being exploited by “a messianic group of criminals, former ‘hilltop youth,’ people who don’t even know what democracy is,” he charged, referring to extremist settler activists.

“They come from areas where there is no democracy, from the West Bank, where for 56 years there hasn’t been democracy there,” said Levin. “There is absolute apartheid.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (third from left) chairs a cabinet meeting at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, July 17, 2023. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

While the challenge to the IDF’s preparedness amid a widespread reservist protest movement is “disturbing,” Levin said that “motivation and unity” is more important.

He argued that the military managed to overcome its lack of readiness for the 1973 Yom Kippur War when Arab armies launched a surprise attack, due to soldiers’ will to fight for the country. “This is not done for a dictator,” he said, adding that soldiers have to believe in the country in order to fight for it.

“And today there is a rupture. People don’t believe that a country under a dictatorship will survive. And even if it does, it’s not a place good people want to live in. Therefore, we need to be concerned a lot more about the coup and this awful group,” he said, referencing the coalition’s judicial overhaul legislation.

Levin also spoke on Saturday night at the central anti-overhaul rally in Tel Aviv, where he burst into tears while appealing to Likud ministers to intervene and stop the overhaul.

In response to Levin’s radio interview, Likud MK Danny Danon, a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, expressed disappointment that people who had contributed to the state in the past would express such sentiments, saying that “their minds get a little confused.”

“Anyone who compares us to Germany or the Nazi regime needs to be examined,” Danon said.

In response to Levin’s comments, Ben Gvir’s office said in a statement that the former general “knows well that Ben Gvir was not drafted into the army because of political pressure from leftists.”

Chief of the Israeli Air Force Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar speaks at the Tel Nof air base on August 6, 2023 (Israel Air Force)

The chief of the Israeli Air Force, Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar, met Friday with dozens of reservist pilots who have declared they would no longer show up for volunteer duty to protest the overhaul, warning them that the state of the force’s readiness was “worsening.”

An unconfirmed report by Channel 12 news added that Bar told pilots: “Instead of preparing for war, I’m dealing only with this.”

As the coalition advanced the first major piece of related legislation last month, more than 10,000 reservists who frequently show up for duty on a voluntary basis said they would no longer do so. The reservists, some of whom have acted on their threats, have warned they will not be able to serve in an undemocratic Israel, which some charge the country will become if the government’s judicial overhaul plans are realized.

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