Mattityahu "Matti" Peled
aka Abu Salaam, Arabic for "Father of Peace"
by Michael R. Burch, an editor and
publisher of Holocaust and Nakba poetry
Mattityahu "Matti" Peled (1923-1995) was an
Israeli war hero who became a friend, ally and staunch advocate of Palestinian
Arabs who called him Abu Salaam,
or "Father of Peace."
Peled rose to the rank of Aluf (Major General) in the IDF (Israeli Defense
Forces) and was a member of Israel's General Staff during the Six-Day War of
1967. Here are quotes from a speech he gave in San Francisco in May, 1992 (there
is a YouTube clip of the speech at the bottom of this page) ...
Anyone who says "occupation corrupts" was absolutely right and we [Israeli Jews]
have been occupying the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the last 25 years; this is
American aid [to Israel] ... is one of the most damaging "gifts" that we get
from the United States.
We don't need all that money; it is far beyond our needs ... I always felt that
this "aid" to Israel is a plague ... it
hurts Israeli society beyond anything
[else] I can find.
I can't think of anything that corrupts a society more [than taking money that
has not been earned] ... now we are a corrupt society.
Half the [American aid] money goes to American banks ... the other half goes to
establish more settlements in the Occupied Territories ... this is a
of the Geneva Conventions.
The occupying power [Israel] did everything it could to suppress the resentment
of the Palestinians [about the land stolen from them and the injustices they suffered].
So now we see hatred on both sides; what did you expect?
We are living in very dangerous circumstances due to the fact that there is a
nation, the Palestinians, who very naturally and very obviously resent being
oppressed [by Jews].
This [oppression of Palestinians] is a question of policy: the Israeli
government wants a policy which hurts Arabs, ostensibly in order to
But of course this [oppression of Palestinians] doesn't help the Jews. Jews
cannot expect to live comfortable and pleasant lives [in the midst of so much
This [oppression of Palestinian Arabs] is part and parcel of [Israel's] policy.
It is true that those Arabs who are deprived of their property grow to hate us
... this is the natural result.
Many people point out that the hatred of Arabs for Jews is increasing; they are
absolutely right and we know the reason: this is something which we [Israeli
Matti Peled was a remarkable man:
a war hero turned peacemaker
a military hawk who became a dove and a radical peace
a leading proponent of Israeli dialogue with the PLO and of complete withdrawal
from the Occupied Territories
a distinguished scholar who founded and headed the Arabic Language and
Literature Department of Tel Aviv University
a newspaper columnist highly critical of the racist policies of the nation he
helped found and protect
a Knesset (Parliament) member who often expressed controversial views, yet was
treated with considerable respect by more conservative politicians
the father of two peace activists, Miko Peled and Nurit Peled-Elhanan
the first Israeli professor of Arabic literature to introduce studies of
Palestinian literature into the academic curriculum
the winner of the Translators' Association Prize for his Hebrew rendition of
The Sages of Darkness by Syrian-Kurdish writer Salim Barakat
Israeli President Ezer Weizmann described Peled as "one of the most outstanding
and interesting figures of the 1948 generation. He was intelligent, wise and a
good friend. Matti knew how to pound on the table when it was time to go to war,
like on the eve of the Six-Day War, and he strongly voiced the need to make peace
when he thought it was possible."
Peled joined the Palmach, a Jewish paramilitary defense organization, at age 18.
At that time Palestine was threatened by Rommel's rapid advance across North
Africa. After Rommel's defeat in 1943, Peled served in the Palmach's Jerusalem
Platoon with Yitzhak Rabin, a future prime minister of Israel with whom Peled
was to maintain lifelong contact.
Peled served as the military governor of Gaza during the half-year Israeli
occupation of the Gaza Strip, which followed the Suez Crisis of 1956. This was a
turning point in his life, because he found himself the "lord and master"
hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. This experience led to his decision to
study Arabic language and literature. He was also struck by the intensity of
Arab nationalist feelings and became convinced that Jews must not dominate
Palestinians, but rather learn to live with them in peace.
In 1967, General Peled believed that he was leading his troops into a limited
war with Egypt, not a war to conquer territory. At the first weekly meeting of
the General Staff after the war, Peled proposed that the Palestinians be given
their own state. He said that occupying the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan
Heights would endanger, rather than protect, an Israeli democracy, and that it
would turn Israel into a brutal occupying power. Other generals claimed that
the Palestinians would never settle for the West Bank and Gaza. When Peled
produced evidence that most Palestinians would accept
such a compromise of land for peace, Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin told Peled to let it go.
Peled resigned soon thereafter, and dedicated the rest of his life to the
pursuit of peace between Israeli
Jews and Palestinian Arabs.
Peled began writing a column for the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv in 1967. He
immediately rejected the popular propaganda which held that Israel had been
viciously attacked in 1967. Rather, he said, Israel had seen an opportunity to
damage the Egyptian military and had seized it. Peled proposed allowing the
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to hold elections, and denounced the
common pretense that Israel could not negotiate with the Palestinians because
they had no representatives. After all, he pointed out, Israel was forbidding
them from electing representatives.
When Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir made the racist claim that "there is no
Palestinian people" because they are an "invented people," Peled wrote: "How do
people in the world refer to the population that resides in the West Bank? What
were the refugees of 1948 called prior to exile? Has she really not heard of the
Palestinian people prior to 1967? In discussions she must have had over the
years in her capacity as ambassador and then as foreign minister, how did she
refer to these people? Yet she says she has not heard of the Palestinian people
prior to 1967? Truly amazing!"
In 1975 Peled was one of the founders of the Israeli Council for
Israeli-Palestinian Peace (ICIPP), together with Uri Avnery, Yaakov Arnon, Yossi
Amitai, Amos Keinan, Aryeh Eliav and others. The ICIPP Charter called for
Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967 and the creation of an
independent Palestinian state in those territories, with Jerusalem being shared. At the time this was considered a radical plan,
an d the ICIPP
was the first Zionist organization to support it. (Peled and several other ICIPP
members won a libel suit against a columnist who had called them and their
The ICIPP sought to promote private and unofficial
dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and also
to bring about official negotiations between the Government of Israel and
the leadership of the PLO.
As the chief coordinator of the ICIPP, Peled took a leading role in the
initially clandestine meetings with PLO leaders. The first meeting in Paris in
1976 brought Peled and several other Israelis together with PLO senior official
Issam Sartawi, who acted with the full authorization of Yasser Arafat—although
Arafat would not become personally involved in such discussions until the siege
of Beirut during the First Lebanon War in 1982.
Sartawi was assassinated in 1983 by an extremist Palestinian group, as was Sa'id
Hamami, another Palestinian participant in the dialogue. Also assassinated was
Henri Curiel, an Egyptian Jewish communist living in exile in Paris, who had
played a key role in facilitating the opening of Israeli-Palestinian contacts.
The Israeli participants were spared such tragedies, though there were many
death threats, and some newspaper columnists explicitly accused them of
"treason." The PLO were then considered to be arch-terrorists and murderers, and
few Israelis could comprehend the idea of talking to them.
Peled approached his old comrade-in-arms Yitzhak Rabin, then serving his first
term as Prime Minister of Israel (1974–77). He offered to brief Rabin on his
talks with the Palestinians, and Rabin consented. On several occasions, Sartawi
and other Palestinian interlocutors used this channel to pass on specific
messages intended for Rabin's ears. The PM patiently heard him out, but never
consented to send a message in return. "That would be negotiating with the PLO,
and I will never, never do that" he told Peled—ironic words, in retrospect, as
Rabin was later to conduct intensive talks with the PLO and sign the Oslo
Agreement with Arafat. Peled always believed that Oslo was at least in part a
late flowering of the seeds he and his friends had sown in the 1970s.
In 1993, Peled was active in forming Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc. In
1994 he contracted liver cancer, but continued to work for peace until the end
of his life in 1995.
His son Miko Peled is a peace activist and the author of "The General's Son."
His daughter, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, is also a peace activist, and a professor of
language and education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.