Both Arab and Jew lived in the original Palestine. Why, Ruth Dayan asks, can't they do so again?

The Long View: Our Middle East Correspondent interviews a feminist, patriot and widow who is nostalgic for a time of much greater harmony in the region

Share
Related Topics

“I was born here and I have a right to live here – the same thing goes for the Arab population”

On the wall of the flat is a photograph of a beautiful young woman with long, dark hair. She is sitting on a lawn with a handsome young man in British uniform. 

I am sitting opposite a lady aged 95, the sea glittering behind her Tel Aviv balcony, her memories of the old Palestine and the new Israel as sharp as a teenager’s. She is the woman in the photograph.

The man is Moshe Dayan, the former Israeli chief of staff who conquered East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and Golan in 1967, Israel’s golden boy, whose values – so his widow Ruth Dayan believes – have been distorted by the country’s present leadership.

After Zionism

Many times she has spoken out to tell the world – and Israelis – that the country’s right-wing governments are ruining Israel, that Zionism has “run its course”.

Now she sits in her tartan skirt, surveying her journalist visitor.

“I could look you up on the internet in two minutes,” she says. “I read that you are pro-Arab. You shouldn’t be. You should be pro-world. There shouldn’t be any discrimination between races. Discrimination has a lot to do with what’s happening. The Bible is a beautiful philosophical book. But it’s full of cruel wars…”

I tell Ruth that she shouldn’t believe all she reads on the internet, that a website recently denounced me as a Mossad agent because I had “revealed” in The Independent that my mother’s maiden name was Rose. She bursts into laughter. “When Israelis tell me there is “no one to talk to” [among the Palestinians], it gets on my nerves,” she says. “Most people who deal in politics, don’t see Arabs. I go to the terri- tories – but I have to have a [Israeli] permit to get into Ramallah.”

Her accent in English is poised, slightly upper crust and she obviously admires the country which ruled mandate Palestine until 1948. “I am an Anglophile,” she says proudly, a woman born in Ottoman Palestine in 1917, moving to London with her parents. She was “the only child in the whole of England who was a Jewish Palestinian”.

She has an acute memory, some corners of which I choose not to disturb. Moshe Dayan was a war hero, black patch over his eye and socialist ideals, but he was a notorious womaniser and he and Ruth divorced in 1971 after 36 years of marriage. So I ask about the early Dayan, the man in the photograph in British uniform. They were deeply in love, she says – she was 18 and he was 20 – and she had an eight-year-old daughter when he was arrested by the British, one of 34 Jewish militants, in 1939. But he was later released to serve in the 1941 invasion of Lebanon, where a French sniper took his eye out. Legend has it that he lost his eye in Damour. Ruth thinks it was further south, near Sidon.

Nostalgic

Ruth is nostalgic for the values that existed in the original Palestine, where Arab and Jew lived together. “My older son was born in an Arab house in 1942.”

Today, she doesn’t like the word “Zionism”. “The country was built by settling the land and working in malarial swamps up to our knees. Even the Mufti was with the Jews at the beginning.” When she returned to Palestine at the age of 12 in 1929, “I didn’t know I was Jewish – I didn’t know what Palestine was. My mother taught an Arabic kindergarten, just inside the old city of Jerusalem. We went to a playground on Mount Zion, provided by a Jew on condition it was for Arabs as well as Jews.

“I was taught Arabic at home… I was born here and I have a right to live here – the same thing goes for the Arab population. I’ve never been brought up in a religious home. My grandfather didn’t speak Yiddish, he came in 1903… Now when I see what’s happening around us, this frightens me more.”

Ruth Dayan is aristocratic. Her sister Reuma married Ezer Weizman, Israeli Defence Minister and later President; her three children have been a Knesset member, a writer and a famed actor. Feminist, patriot, pining for the “old” Israel,  she is a paragon of old age. And if I can be like Ruth Dayan, I intend to reach my nineties.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - Infrastructure / VMWare - Hertfordshire

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established industry leading business is l...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Hertfordshire -Large Established Business

£22000 - £28000 per annum + study support, gym: Ashdown Group: A large busines...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The TV non-debate: Miliband does better than expected, but not better than Cameron

John Rentoul
Nigel Farage is pictured leaving the pub after the invasion by protesters  

How does terrifying my family count as ‘good-natured protest’?

Nigel Farage
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss