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Rehavam Zeevi: Outspoken Politician Advocated Expulsion of Palestinians - 2001-10-17

Israel is mourning the loss of one of its leading politicians, Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, who was assassinated Wednesday by members of a radical Palestinian group. Mr. Zeevi, a hawkish right wing politician, was both a career soldier and a long-time member of parliament known for his outspoken views against Palestinians.

Mr. Zeevi was known popularly in Israel as "Gandhi" because of his youthful thinness, which reminded many of the pacifist Indian independence leader.

But there was more than a hint of irony in the nickname.

Mr. Zeevi, who fought in three wars for Israel and rose to the rank of major general, always considered himself a military man. He wore his soldier's "dog-tag" on a chain around his neck until the day of his death.

Observers say there was hardly anything Gandhi-like about his political views.

In fact, he was known as the father of the so-called policy of "transfer," which called for expelling Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Israel itself.

He offered to send Palestinians to another land "with compensation."

The 75-year-old politician also likened Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to Adolf Hitler and was a great supporter of the right of Jews to settle in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, areas that Israel has occupied since the 1967 Middle East War.

But he still had admirers in the left-wing of Israeli politics because of his principled devotion to the Jewish state.

Born in Jerusalem, he became a member of parliament in 1988. He vehemently opposed the signing of the 1993 peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians.

Despite this, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, a major architect of those agreements, paid tribute to Mr. Zeevi, saying he had "the soul of an historian."

But in the end, observers say his own commitment to his ideology may have been his downfall.

He always refused to be accompanied by bodyguards, although he was the target of many personal threats. Mr. Zeevi argued that Jews should be free to walk anywhere in their homeland and therefore he should not need any special protection.