Press "Enter" to skip to content

Who is Avinoam Emunah, tipped to lead Israel’s National Guard?

Israel has established the ‘National Guard’ under the direct command of far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, a force described by human rights groups as “a private, armed militia” raised solely to target Palestinians.

In fact, Ben-Gvir named only Palestinian communities in Israel for the National Guard’s planned deployments, as well as along the boundaries with the occupied West Bank.

But who will Ben-Gvir pick to head the force, comprising 2,000 personnel? It appears his leading candidate is 43-year-old retired colonel Avinoam Emunah, known for his extreme views against Palestinians.

During his military career, Emunah served in the elite paratroopers and rose to command the infamous Unit 101 of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), tasked with carrying out violent raids and attacks against Palestinians between 1953 and 1954.

As part of the unit, Emunah engaged in “heavy fighting and widespread repression campaigns against Palestinians during the Second Intifada, the invasion of Lebanon in 2006 and the war on Gaza in 2014,” writes Israeli columnist Shir Hever.

Hever, a board member of the pacifist group Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East, said Emunan’s “military career set him on a path of rapid advancement”. 

Emunan was the commander of the Israeli military’s tactical command school and then headed the Hermon division in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. 

But he is best known for his command during Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2014, dubbed “Operation Protective Edge”, which killed between 2,125 to 2,310 Palestinians and awarded Emunah the commanding general’s medal.

Known for his strict religious stance, Emunah’s last name ironically means “faith” in Hebrew. He even credits his success in the offensive to miracles, author Rogel Alpher wrote in an opinion piece for an Israeli media outlet. 

He even made headlines for refusing a female spokesperson for the brigade due to his religious beliefs.

His provocative and hateful rhetoric against Palestinians was infamously shown in social media videos of his address to troops in Gaza during the 2014 offensive.

“It’s going to be much less pleasant tonight to be an Arab,” Emunah is heard saying to the sound of laughter and applause.

He said the troops would see Palestinians fleeing and ordered them to “kill them as they run away.” His troops clapped and responded, “Yes, sir”.

Further egging them on, Emunah encouraged his forces to “smile” and to try to “enjoy” the slaughter of “Arabs”. 

Ben-Gvir gets ‘national guard’ for consenting to delaying judicial reforms

Passion for use of force

Alpter said Emunah’s “order to commit murder” demonstrates that for him, war is “a duck hunt” without any regard for international law.

“War is conducted according to international law, which requires a certain degree of decency, humanity and respect. Without that, the killing ceases to be legitimate and becomes plain murder,” Alpter wrote.

Alpter explains that these laws state that the moment a soldier surrenders, he cannot be killed, and any violation of this is deemed a war crime, which is what Emunah is promoting.

In fact, it was Emunah’s passion for the use of force that may have led to him being denied a promotion and therefore quitting the IDF last year after 24 years of service, right-wing newspaper Arutz Sheva reports citing senior IDF officials.

“In my understanding, the story is really about fear of the excess of fervour and guts that oozes from him, it is something that is a little scary, he is a scary figure in this context,” an anonymous military source is quoted as saying.

The sources said Emunah called Palestinians “rats” and would even punish soldiers who did not use enough force against them in besieged Gaza. 

Although he was “very tough”, the sources said, “when he finished his job, officers shed tears out of concern about who would step into his shoes”.

Emunah’s retirement triggered a wave of protests, and politicians took to his defence, such as opposition MP Matan Kahana, who also served in the military and praised the colonel in an open letter.

“Colonel Avinoam, as mentioned, we do not know each other. But from everything I read and hear about you, we have a lot to be thankful for,” he wrote, adding that he is “simply moved” thinking about all that Emunah has done.

“You were chosen to be the figure that our future generation of company commanders will look up to.”

‘Smile-enjoy-kill’ is just one example

Emunah’s “smile-enjoy-kill” motto is just one example of the Israeli military’s overarching inhumane view and treatment of Palestinians, as testimonies by retired Israeli soldiers have further highlighted.

Yahuda Shaul served in the occupied West Bank for two years and, after his experience, decided to co-found Breaking the Silence, an organisation that collects testimonies by Israeli soldiers to expose the harsh reality of the occupation.

“I went through my service believing that I’m a good guy and that we are on the good side. Then suddenly I discovered what we’ve done and what I took part in,” he said in an interview with France 24.

Shaul spoke about how troops are taught to constantly terrorise Palestinians and that “no Israeli soldier who served in the occupied territories” has “clean hands”.

He said during his experience serving 14 months in Hebron, there were two military patrols whose job it was “to make our presence felt” and “create the feeling of being persecuted”.

One of the ways they did this was by randomly selecting Palestinian houses to raid and scare the families inside, Yahuda said.

“The military logic says this: if Palestinians get the feeling that the IDF is all the time everywhere, they’ll be afraid to attack,” Yahuda said.

And in this way, at the heart of what they are doing, Yahuda said, “there is no way of seeing Palestinians as equal human beings”.

More from Middle EastMore posts in Middle East »

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *