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Humanizing an Israeli hero

Tiny, in jeans and plain white shirt, Ya"el Dayan sat guardedly in her chair in an immaculately tidy New York hotel room. I searched her face for resemblances to her famous father, Moshe Dayan -- the military conqueror and occupier of Egypt's Sinai and Gaza Strip, Syria's Golan Heights, Jordan's West Bank, and Arab Jerusalem. . . . Moshe Dayan, the Israeli general whose wars with the Arabs cost them over 100,000 lives. . . . Her unswerving gaze, with its hawklike eyes, showed an iron-willed toughness. S he spoke dryly: ``There are a lot of people who like to keep their heroes as a marble statue and not to give them a human dimension, not to show weaknesses. I believe if you really want to relate to someone you have to show him in flesh and blood.'' This she certainly has done in her memoir, ``My Father, His Daughter'' (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), in which she chronicles her relationship with Moshe Dayan from childhood to his death in 1981 in a highly fascinating and complex account. This relationship is interwoven with a history of Israel, its wars, a biography of Moshe Dayan, and her own life.

Dayan's death, with which the narrative begins and ends, is as important to this book as his life. In the last 10 years of his life, he withdrew from his family, which included Ya"el and her two brothers, and married for a second time: ``He made himself comfortable egotistically by saying `if you need me, I'm there and hopefully you won't need me.' We were happy not to find out how much of this support was really there.''

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The rituals of ``shiva'' and ``kaddish,'' of weeping and lamenting, described in the book also reflect the shock and sadness that were felt when the family realized Dayan had willed his entire multimillion-dollar fortune to his second wife, Rahel. ``It was a momentary weakness,'' Ms. Dayan says; ``he was definitely influenced by people around him. The whole thing was very sad. It was a very undignified way to end.''

Nonetheless, her book adoringly reveals the enigmatic mosaic of the Dayan personality -- the man, the soldier, the general, the father, the husband, the lover, the archaeologist, and the politician. But most interesting of all is her own interaction with him. It is a couple relationship which upstages all other relationships in her life, including, it seems, that with her own husband, who is barely alluded to in the book. It was much more than a father-daughter relationship. And it is this complexity th at enriches the account.

Ms. Dayan's father was omnipresent in her childhood, and as she grew up she accompanied him everywhere: ``We knew we were excited and moved by the same things,'' she writes. She volunteered for Army service in 1956 ``to be a soldier in his winning army,'' and also served under him in the 1967 ``six-day war.'' She became a confidante, a friend, a fellow student, a co-author, and an active political lobbyist for him. Even though she succeeded in asserting her own individuality and establishing herse lf as a writer, her life was obviously intertwined and determined by his. She writes of quarrels, rebellions, of her need to break away and become something other than Moshe Dayan's daughter. But that symbiotic relationship was never severed -- not even by her father's death.

Seen through his daughter's eyes, Dayan's war ``of survival'' -- the fact that he was in the business of killing -- is never reflected upon or questioned.

``In order to reach peace you have to go through a lot of destruction,'' she says, and adds, ``He would never have engineered the war in Lebanon.'' Dayan, the statesman and politician, ``a complex and extraordinary man who reflects the country'' -- Ben-Gurion's spiritual heir -- was ``ahead'' of his country in his vision for a political system, she says. ``If he had been No. 1 today, Israel would have taken a different turn in the past four or five years. There would have been no Lebanon -- and h e expressed the desire to talk to [Yasser] Arafat'' -- provided the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] recognized Israel as a separate Jewish entity -- ``or to whoever the Palestinians see as their representative.''

In her detailed tactical accounts of Dayan's military campaigns and of the development of Israel as a nation, she omits the Palestinian question, dismissing it by saying that she was writing a memoir, not history. She is quick to remind one that both she and Dayan are at home in Arab culture, that Dayan did not ``hate'' Arabs, that he ``could identify with the discomfort of the other side having to send their people to be killed and destroyed.''

The total absence from her book of any recognition or feeling toward the Palestinians reflects the attitude many Israelis have: that a country called Palestine -- with an indigenous Arab population far exceeding the Jewish one -- did not, in fact, exist.

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Ms. Dayan conceded that the Palestinian problem is ``No. 1,'' and that the Palestinian movement is a ``legitimate movement of a people which just woke up to its own identity.''

Characterizing herself as slightly left of center in the Labor Party, she said that the West Bank should be demilitarized and federated with Jordan to form Palestine -- a Jordan incorporating all the West Bank Palestinians. She finds the idea of a homeland for the Palestinians totally acceptable, but not a state ``with an army.''

``What we need is a Sadat amongst the Palestinians, someone who is realistic enough to say there is no military option and that some border agreement [on the West Bank] could be arranged during negotiations to be concluded with the signing of a peace treaty.''

Ms. Dayan asserts that Israel should negotiate with the PLO, provided they accept that they are entering a new era in which they will, first of all, recognize the legitimate existence of Israel. If the PLO does that, then she doesn't mind if ``it's Arafat, or Abu Musa, Ahmed Jibril, or whoever. I would sit personally with them.''

Her book, Ms. Dayan says, parallels the life and career of Moshe Dayan with Israel. The strength of the book lies, however, not in this parallel history but in the humanization and demystification of her father, whom she has the courage to examine, at least on a personal level, with objectivity. ``What I attempted to do was to be really a hundred percent honest -- not to cater to an image that I feel history should have of Dayan.''

At the end of our meeting, neatly autographed in my copy of her book, she wrote in Arabic, ``Salam.'' Peace.

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