Sometime in 2018, I watched CNN’s Christiane Amanpour interview Ronen Bergman on his book, Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations. In the interview, Bergman talked about how the Mossad, the Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security organ) and AMAN (Israel’s military intelligence) went about aiding perceived enemies of Israel cash in their chips early. Bergman explained that Isreal’s strong hand on its perceived enemies was borne out of centuries of Jewish persecution, the Holocaust and the Talmudic mandate:
“The Talmud says: ‘If someone comes to kill you, rise and kill him first.’ This instinct to take every measure, even the most aggressive, to defend the Jewish people is hardwired into Israel’s DNA.”
Bergman talked about a particular incidence. On the instruction of Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Air Force had scrambled two F-15s to blow up a chartered plane thought to be transporting the hated Yasser Arafat. The F-15s circled the plane waiting for final confirmation orders to shoot it down.
Turns out it was not Yasser Arafat on board but his brother, Fathi Arafat, a doctor. He was escorting thirty wounded Palestinian children to Cairo for treatment. The intel was wrong. The strike was called off.
It was a gripping expose.
I was filled with righteous indignation. But it turns out that on no less than five different occasions had F-15s and F-16s been scrambled on the instruction of Ariel Sharon to shoot down commercial airliners thought to be ferrying Yasser Arafat. Only internal sabotage by military officials — galled by the order and fearing war crime charges against Israel — ensured the missions failed.
By the way, when you pray for luck, pray for the the Yasser Arafat-type of luck. Given how badly Ariel Sharon had it in for the man, that he died of natural causes is nothing short of a miracle. As we Yorubas are wont to say, his mother wasn’t dozing in heaven.
I have always loved spooks stories. So after watching the interview, I went out and bought the book.
Two words: don’t be an existential threat to Israel.
OK, that’s seven words. What I meant to say was: mind blown.
How the Israeli government allowed the book to be published beggars belief. The book gave details of many of Israel’s covert operations and the names of principal actors and agents, many of whom are still alive!
Assassination through poisoned toothpaste. Assassination of enemy nuclear scientists. Car bombs. Letter bombs. Sidling into hostile and friendly countries to eliminate, abduct or blow up targets. All in a day’s work.
The book was a scintillating read. However, I doubt that families of the many dearly departed on account of Israeli bullets, knives or bombs would find it so. Not if you learned your beloved was dumped into the Mediterranean from 30,000 feet.
But the book sowed a seed in my heart. To understand a man you only need to understand his past and his fears. So, I thought to myself: what if I visited some of the historic sites of Jewish persecution in Europe? Understand what haunts Israel so badly?
It was a very entertaining thought. I already had a US vacation planned and was going to fly through Europe. Why not stop over for some gulag history and haunting memories on the way to divine cuisine in New Orleans? And since I had recently been smitten by a photography bug, I could take some interesting pictures.
Oh, I liked the sound of it. I liked it very much. So, I planned the trip and off I went.
Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Budapest and Krakow. Six European cities in 9 days. Then I skipped over the Atlantic for some R and R. New York, Atlanta, Houston and New Orleans.
You can’t be broke if you don’t check your bank account.
Since many human beings suffer from the grand delusion that people are dying to read whatever drivel they write, I am sharing memories of the trip in separate posts. The links are below. Maybe it might inspire you to have some sense and not travel, the consequence of which is some seriously expanded mind.
Hopefully, not from visiting coffee shops in Amsterdam.
Please click on the cities below for account of each trip.