Landmarks from the Controversial Life of Moshe Dayan

March 5th 2015

Moshe DayanYou may know Moshe Dayan only as the iconic Israeli defense minister in the 1960s who wore a black patch over his left eye. A visit to these sites will help you learn much more about the life of one of Israel’s most prominent and divisive historical figures.

Dayan was born in 1915 on Kibbutz Degania Alef, the very first kibbutz, originally founded some six years prior. Dayan was named for Moshe Barsky, a member of the kibbutz murdered by local Arabs. Still in existence today, Kibbutz Degania Alef hugs the southern shore of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and is home to approximately 600 people. While visiting, stop in the Gordon House Museum and the Founders Museum to learn about the earliest days of Israel’s first experiment in communal living.

Dayan’s family relocated to the Jezreel Valley community of Nahalal a few years later, and at the tender age of 14, Dayan joined the Haganah, the Zionist defense organization that operated in pre-state Palestine between 1920 and 1948. The Haganah museum in Tel Aviv is housed in what was the headquarters of the organization. Visitors here can learn a great deal about the lives of young Haganah fighters like Dayan, and the work they did smuggling Jews, including Holocaust survivors, into Israel before the declaration of the state. Look for the buttons near each display to hear the material in English.

As a Haganah operative, Dayan participated in covert operations into Vichy-controlled Lebanon, where he lost his eye to sniper fire during a 1941 incident. During the War of Independence, he led Zionist forces on many fronts, including the Jordan Valley, Lod and Jerusalem. During the State of Israel’s early years, he rose the ranks of the IDF, becoming the Chief of Staff in 1953 and overseeing Israel’s role in the Suez Crisis three years later. Dayan retired from military life in 1956, quickly becoming a Member of Knesset for the Mapai party. He was named Israel’s defense minister in 1967.

During the Six Day War a few months later, Israeli forces reunited Jerusalem and liberated the Western Wall (Kotel) and the Temple Mount, where both Holy Temples had once stood. At the time, Moshe Dayan served as Israel’s Minister of Defense.

Without question, the most controversial decision of Dayan’s career was to leave the Temple Mount in the care of the Muslim Waqf. The first thing Dayan did upon ascending the Temple Mount was to remove the flag of Israel. He also dismissed the Israeli soldiers that were stationed there. Regarding these actions, Dayan famously said, “We have returned to the holiest of our places, never to be parted from them again…. We did not come to conquer the sacred sites of others or to restrict their religious rights, but rather to ensure the integrity of the city and to live in it with others in fraternity.”

Dayan remained defense minister through the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and transitioned to diplomacy in the late 1970s. He was named foreign minister in 1977 and helped to negotiate the Camp David Accords with Egypt the following year.

Dayan is buried in the cemetery of Moshav Nahalal in Northern Israel where his family moved shortly after his birth. The famous Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon is buried in the same cemetery.