Gideon Levy
Haaretz (Interview)
February 28, 2010 - 1:00am

She turned 93 last Friday, according to the Hebrew calendar. On Thursday, Herzliya awarded her honorary citizenship. Ruth Dayan doesn't rest for a moment. In the Bedouin town of Segev Shalom and in the Palestinian village of Kharbata, she founded an arts and crafts workshop for women. Once every week or two she drives to these places by herself. She's also busy with countless humanitarian issues in the territories. A few months ago she flew to Malta to meet the daughter of Yasser Arafat, the granddaughter of her soulmate, Raymonda Tawil.

During the interview her son, the filmmaker Assi Dayan, emerges from his room in Ruth's apartment in north Tel Aviv. She sends him off to rest some more. The day before the interview, Maariv published a heartrending poem written by her. She greatly admires the book "The End of Conflict" by Avinadav Begin, the grandson of the former prime minister, and she is busy helping her biographer, Anthony David, get on with the job. (David also wrote a biography of Salman Schocken, who bought Haaretz back in the 1930s.)

She shows me the first picture ever taken of her; she's a baby in her mother's arms. On the back of the fading photo is scribbled: "Ruth. Three months. 1917."

Ruth Dayan, are you proud to be an Israeli? Are you ashamed?

It depends. I'm proud to be an Israeli on a limited basis. Every person has his own inner Israeli.

What is your Israel?

My Israel is the country, the landscape I see when I travel from north to south. The mountains, the ocean - just like it was back then. For a moment I even enjoy myself. I remember when we would pick anemones of various colors in the hills that surround Nahalal. I'm from Jerusalem, and there they had red anemones. I miss the old Israel, when there were still ideals, when we settled the land.

And we expelled?

We didn't expel. During my childhood, we didn't expel. We bought those tracts of land. Since then, however, many things have happened and today Israel is not the same. It's cliche to talk about how we're in a state of occupation and we're trying to occupy more and more. I'm at that age where I don't even talk about peace anymore. We don't know how to make peace. We go from war to war and this will never end.

Whose fault is it?

Ours, mainly. Are we, with all our power, incapable of taking a step?

Moshe Dayan was there when this occupation started.

No. The occupation was the only remaining option. Nothing else could have been done. Moshe was the one who actually led the policy of building bridges.

Perhaps this perpetuated the occupation?

That could be. I don't think it did. Even Arafat, the man who would kiss me when we met, told me he admired Moshe. Even the Jordanian chief of staff told me in 1948: "What a pleasure it is having your husband as an enemy." His behavior toward the Arabs was positive even after the Six-Day War. He would travel alone to Nablus; he liked being with them. He had a dialogue with them. Today, who talks with them? For the current government, peace is just a word.

Have you lost hope for peace?

I think Zionism has finished its work. I've endured many wars and I can't ignore the fact that they didn't want us. When I go to the territories, I don't even bother instilling hope in them. Out of courtesy, I tell them that I hope something will change, but the deterioration is just awful. Particularly the fence. This is something I can't tolerate.

People say it stopped terrorism.

Oh, please. "It stopped terrorism." Nothing will be able to stop terrorism except dialogue.

Shimon Peres admired Dayan. What was Dayan's attitude toward Peres?

Moshe didn't admire anybody. Maybe Ben-Gurion. He was a lone wolf.

What is Peres' contribution to peace?

I think he can still contribute a lot. Though a president doesn't have to intervene, he must intervene. He must make an impact, even on the people. The people are dispersed across a number of different viewpoints and groups and even religions within our religion. My grandfather graduated from the Sorbonne, my mother was a secular woman, and it's not like I hear anybody speaking to me from behind the clouds.

Are you Jewish?

I'm just an Israeli. It was a great honor to be Israeli, even when I was still a Jewish Palestinian during my childhood in London. I'm the first daughter of graduates of the Herzliya Gymnasium after Yehudi Menuhin was the first son. In London, I went to pray with the gentile girls.

What did you think would be here?

We lived the moment. In Nahalal, 17 children were killed during the War of Independence. We only thought about today and nothing else.

Two states or one?

There was a time when I thought one state for two peoples. Now I see that we have to have two states because we really are different and it would be best if everyone takes care of his own business. We're a mob that can't even get along internally. So we're going to get along with them?

Is there a politician you admire today who sparks hope in you?

Avishay [Braverman, a Labor MK and minority affairs minister]. No one is like him. I was impressed by his work at Ben-Gurion University. He can very well be prime minister, and he wants to be.

What would you do if you were prime minister?

Just like how we started. Like when we met with [Jordanian King] Abdullah and when [Yitzhak] Rabin tried. Rabin could have delivered peace.

So far only Likud has made peace.

Let's have Likud. Let's have whoever. Currently I'm in a trance from Avinadav Begin. He says that there are no Jews, there are no Muslims. This is the foundation. This I really like. The more I read this book, the more floored I am. He is very Beginesque, just like his father and grandfather. He believes in something. He doesn't go to Bil'in just to be seen there. He goes there because he believes in it.

I want to read you a passage from his book: "Do we need words to observe the developing buds, to observe our children, to observe the droplets of dew that sparkle in the morning sun? How are we to love if the word love is nothing but a tool used to tighten our grip on our most dear?"

Moshe Dayan always used to say I was a romantic. In letters he wrote to me from prison, he always wrote that one day we would reach a state of tranquillity and that I would sit nearby and knit for him. And I would wear my Scottish kilt. People always used to say I was an extreme leftist, but I love this country.


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