Friend­ly Fire: How Israel Became Its Own Worst Ene­my and the Hope for Its Future

January 13, 2020

In this deeply per­son­al jour­ney of dis­cov­ery, Ami Ayalon seeks input and per­spec­tive from Pales­tini­ans and Israelis whose expe­ri­ences dif­fer from his own. As head of the Shin Bet secu­ri­ty agency, he gained empa­thy for the ene­my” and learned that when Israel car­ries out anti-ter­ror­ist oper­a­tions in a polit­i­cal con­text of hope­less­ness, the Pales­tin­ian pub­lic will sup­port vio­lence, because they have noth­ing to lose. Research­ing and writ­ing Friend­ly Fire, he came to under­stand that his patri­ot­ic life had blind­ed him to the self-defeat­ing nature of poli­cies that have under­mined Israel’s civ­il soci­ety while heap­ing humil­i­a­tion upon its Pales­tin­ian neigh­bors. If Israel becomes an Orwellian dystopia,” Ayalon writes, it won’t be thanks to a hand­ful of the­olo­gians drag­ging us into the dark past. The sec­u­lar major­i­ty will lead us there moti­vat­ed by fear and pro­pelled by silence.” Ayalon is a real­ist, not an ide­al­ist, and many who con­sid­er them­selves Zion­ists will regard as rad­i­cal his con­clu­sions about what Israel must do to achieve rel­a­tive peace and secu­ri­ty and to sus­tain itself as a Jew­ish home­land and a lib­er­al democracy.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Steer­forth Press

  1. In the Pro­logue, Ami Ayalon writes: If Israel becomes an Orwellian dystopia, it won’t be thanks to a hand­ful of the­olo­gians drag­ging us into the dark past. The sec­u­lar major­i­ty will lead us there moti­vat­ed by fear and pro­pelled by silence.” Based on your read­ing of Ami’s book and your under­stand­ing of Israeli pol­i­tics, do you agree with this assess­ment and why?

  2. In Ami nar­rates the his­to­ry of Israel’s ear­ly years through the 1960s through his and his family’s expe­ri­ences on the Kib­butz Ma’­gan. How does his view dif­fer from your pic­ture of Israel in those years?

  3. What do you think Ami means when he writes about this Fan­ta Man” moment on page 82?

  4. In the sto­ry, how do you think Ami’s expe­ri­ences in the Flotil­la 13 com­man­dos con­tribute to his effec­tive­ness at the Shin Bet? In what ways does he adopt a dif­fer­ent strat­e­gy for fight­ing terrorism.

  5. The mis­sion that Ami has through­out the sto­ry is keep­ing Israeli civil­ians safe dur­ing times of ter­ror­ism. What does he hold up under pres­sure? How does the mount­ing death toll in the mid-1990s affect his behav­ior? In a con­ver­sa­tion with his suc­ces­sor, Avi Dichter, Ami crit­i­cizes the Shin Bet’s killing of Raed Kar­mi and says: Your job isn’t to kill ter­ror­ists. It’s to pre­vent ter­ror, which isn’t the same thing.” What is your reac­tion to this state­ment? What are some of the dif­fer­ences between defense” and secu­ri­ty”?

  6. How does Ami’s rela­tion­ship to his wife Biba and his chil­dren change over the course of the story?

  7. In Chap­ter 5 Ami writes that kib­butzniks and set­tlers both believe Jews have a right to the Land of Israel.” How can you explain the changes Ami made in his approach to set­tlers and set­tle­ments from his child­hood on the kib­butz to today.

  8. Why does Ami say on page 267 that the moth­er of Pales­tin­ian leader Sari Nus­seibeh was smart not to trust” Israelis and their dec­la­ra­tions for want­i­ng a two-state solution?

  9. Why do you think Ami ends his book on page 272 with a poem by the Israeli poet Yehu­da Amichai? How does the poem sum up the les­son of the book?

  10. What does Ami mean when he writes about the need to design anoth­er past sto­ry” for Zion­ism in order to ensure Israel’s iden­ti­ty as Jew­ish and democratic?


How did Ami Ayalon, a life­long Zion­ist who was for­mer head of Shin Bet and com­man­der of Israel’s navy, trans­form from hawk to dove? Empa­thy. Ayalon real­ized that ter­ror is inevitable when there is noth­ing to lose, that peace is pos­si­ble only after trust is estab­lished, and that refram­ing the Pales­tin­ian debate requires com­pas­sion for a peo­ple who, like the Jews, have long been viewed dis­mis­sive­ly as the oth­er.” For the past two decades, Ayalon has devot­ed him­self to a two-state out­come. In 2002, with the Pales­tin­ian activist Sari Nus­seibeh, he estab­lished the People’s Voice peace ini­tia­tive in an effort to forge a new way for­ward to end the occu­pa­tion. This impor­tant book exam­ines the dom­i­nant nar­ra­tives at work in Pales­tin­ian and Israeli views of the ori­gins and course of their con­flict. By reimag­in­ing” the past, Ayalon posits a peace­ful future.