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Who is Avinoam “smile-kill-enjoy” Emunah, Ben-Gvir’s pick to lead his national guard?

Jerusalem24 – Far-right extremist and Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir made small waves on Thursday when it was confirmed by the army he had met with his slated pick for chief of his the newly-approved “national guard”.

The “national guard” is to be under Ben-Gvir’s control in his capacity as Minister of National Security, following an agreement between the latter and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to prevent a collapse of his government.

The meeting happened in contravention of an Israeli military “no-contact” policy between army commanders and senior political officials without prior approval, according to Haaretz.

But if Emunah’s name is appearing now in the press due to his censure by the army following the meeting, he is perhaps better known for using the motto “smile-kill-enjoy” to “spur on” his troops (in his own words) in combat.

Who is Avinoam Emunah?

Avinoam Emunah is known in Israel for his ultra-religious views, misogyny, and announcing his retirement from the military when he wasn’t granted a promotion he sought – an oversight which, according to right-wing religious newspaper Arutz Sheva, can be attributed to his excessive use of force in the field rather his religious views.

Emunah was a paratrooper and eventually a commander with the infamous (formerly-named) Unit 101, a unit specifically created to exact revenge on Palestinian communities following attacks on Israel.

According to Middle East Eye, Emunah’s own stint in the brigade “included 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.”

Emunah was given the command of the Hermon brigade in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights in 2021.

It was during the 2014 Gaza war that Emunah was filmed referring to Palestinians as “rats” and enjoining the soldiers under his command to “enjoy” killing Palestinians.

“Much of the time, you’ll be seeing them fleeing. Kill them as they flee. Smile, guys. You should enjoy it. Try to enjoy it.”

The footage has reemerged (for the second time in just over half a year) in light of Ben-Gvir tapping Emunah to lead what the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has said would serve as “a private, armed militia that will be directly subordinate to Ben-Gvir”.

Palestinian citizens of Israel have expressed alarm at Ben-Gvir’s stated intention of using the unit mainly “to quell Arab unrest”.

Under Ben-Gvir’s agreement with Netanyahu, the national guard’s budget has risen from a planned 40 million shekels (as allocated by the former Bennett-Lapid coalition when they initially announced the launch of the militia last year) to a whopping 1 billion shekels.

Who are Unit 101?

A special commando unit, independent from the Israeli military, formed 5 August 1953 under the command of future Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The unit’s role is to provide a “rapid, nimble response” to attacks against Israelis or “border infiltrations”.

On 14 October 1953, Sharon leads a raid on the village of Qibya in the occupied West Bank. The village is chosen, according to Sharon’s autobiography, because the perpetrators of an attack which killed an Israeli woman and two of her children in Tel Aviv days prior “had infiltrated from the direction of Qibya”. The commando unit kills 69 civilians, the large majority of them women and children, and leaves a trail of detonated, collapsed buildings in the village.

After international outrage, Unit 101 is absorbed into the 890th battalion of the Paratroopers Brigade, five months after the unit’s creation. However, testimony from a former commando suggests “Unit 101 had not melded into Battalion 890, but rather Battalion 890 had melded into Unit 101.” Battalion 890 would go on to carry out a series of “retributive” attacks throughout the late 1950s.

The brigade’s currently active 101st Paratrooper Battalion “Cobra” is named after the disbanded Unit 101.

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