Gen. Rafael Eitan Is Born
Eitan receiving his Chief-of-Staff rank from Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Defense Minister, Ezer Weizman. Photo: Knesset

January 11, 1929

Rafael Eitan, the 11th chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, is born in Tel Adashim to a mother whose family immigrated to Palestine during the First Aliyah and a father who was a founder of the Jewish defense organization Hashomer.

At age 16, Eitan joins the Palmach, the elite unit of the Haganah, with which he serves during the War of Independence. He becomes a paratrooper and a pilot and is wounded four times during Israel’s various wars. Known as a blunt speaker and a strict disciplinarian, he is appointed the IDF chief of staff in 1978 and holds the position until 1983. He always meets troops returning from raids on the PLO in Lebanon, and he emphasizes bringing underprivileged youths into army programs to better integrate them into Israeli society.

Eitan is the chief of staff during Israel’s invasion of southern Lebanon in 1982. His 37-year military career comes to an end amid the controversy over the massacre by Israeli-allied Christian militias of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps near Beirut.

As a civilian, Eitan is a carpenter and an olive farmer, and he founds and leads a right-wing political party, Tzomet, which opposes interim peace deals with the Palestinians. He serves in the Knesset from 1984 to 1999, when he retires to his olive farm. He drowns Nov. 23, 2004, at age 75 after being swept out in stormy seas from the port in Ashdod, where he is doing some consulting work.