'I fought to defend my home'

Teddy Katz talks about his journey from the Israeli army to peace activism.

    Teddy Katz was a reservist when the war began
    Teddy Katz fought in the 1967 war as a reservist in the Israeli army.

    As part of Al Jazeera's series of eyewitness accounts of the war and the 40 years of occupation since, he tells Rob Winder about his time during the war and how he became one of Israel's best known historians and peace activists.

    I was a soldier in 1967 to defend my home.

    My home was, and still is, a place called Magal, which is on the 1949 Green Line that separates Israel and the West Bank.

    Magal is directly opposite the Palestinian village of Zeitar and, in fact, stands on a part of Zeitar that was taken in the 1948 war.

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    At the time I was a 24-year-old shepherd at the kibbutz in Magal, in charge of around 500 sheep. But I was also a reservist in the Israeli army.

    I was in charge of two huge 90mm guns, that were put there to shoot at Jordanian tanks if they entered the kibbutz.

    On the first day of the war people in Magal and Zeitar, which are only 200m apart, just shot at each other with rifles but nothing special happened.

    I did not shoot at anyone because my job was to man those guns.

    Day two

    The second day was, however, more important.

    The commander of the whole area wanted to find out whether the Jordanians in the area had any big artillery guns, so he ordered us to fire some of our big guns (but not mine) close by to see if they returned fire.

    So we did it, and after about 30 minutes there was no response so everyone in the kibbutz was told they could leave the shelters they had been hiding in.

    Timeline: 1967 war

    June 5:
     At 10:10 GMT Israel launches first wave of attacks, leaving nearly 400 Egyptian aircraft destroyed and huge craters in runway

    June 6: Israel captures Gaza Strip, defeating part of Egyptian army

    June 7: Israeli paratroopers seize control of Jerusalem's old city; 40,000 troops and 200 tanks deployed against Jordanian army; West Bank and East Jerusalem taken

    June 8: Sinai captured and Egyptian forces defeated

    June 9: Ground fighting between Israeli and Syrian forces continues in Golan region

    June 10: Israel defeats Syrian army in Golan Heights. Syria accepts UN ceasefire resolution and Israel heeds UN warning not to advance into Syria

    Everyone came out but - after about another 30 or 40 minutes - 12 artillery shells fired from all sides landed in the kibbutz.

    The shells landed right across the kibbutz. Two people were killed and 12 wounded.

    Day three

    On the third day, the army came while I was milking the sheep and took my guns.
    They fired them directly at the shelter in Zeitar, which was completely destroyed. The whole building jumped in the air when it was hit.

    In a way I was proud because it meant that I had looked after the guns well.

    There were only around 50 members of the kibbutz at the time and so we took a high percentage of casualties.

    We suffered a big sadness after this. There were supposed to be three weddings in the kibbutz that summer - but the only one that happened was mine.

    Another person from the kibbutz was killed fighting in Jerusalem and we spent a lot of time in hospitals with the wounded.

    It was very hard.

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    The whole area around Magal was conquered by the army within one or two days and the war was over.

    After the war it felt like a special time. I travelled round the West Bank and I found it very interesting to speak to the Arabs there.

    Many people in Israel were very happy that the whole of what we call Eretz Israel (biblical Israel) was in our hands.

    But I felt uneasy about it.

    From when I first came to Magal I could see that Palestinians were suffering because they couldn't see their families in Israel.
    Soldiers were also coming back to the kibbutz with things they had looted - mainly small things that they had taken because they were from an Arab house.


    However, it was much later before I realised that everything I had been told by my teachers, my parents and the people around me about the creation of Israel in 1948 was only half the truth.

    Katz, centre, is still campaigning for peace
    And half of the truth is a lie.

    I had been working for the Jewish Agency abroad, encouraging people to come to Israel.

    But when I came back in 1982 I decided to go to university in Haifa, where I was born, and study the real history of what happened in 1948 and afterwards.

    My studies led me to slowly to realise what was happening and that what Israel was doing to the Palestinians was wrong.

    And by 1992 I had decided that it wasn't enough just to be a member of a political party and that I had to do more.

    So I joined Gush Shalom [the group of Israeli peace activists who protest against Israeli action in the occupied Palestinian territories].

    I am still a member to this day.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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