Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Unfortunately, Israel so far, both as a government and as a civil society, has failed to steward the land as Zionism compels us. Indeed, he gave a mixed prognosis of the level of environmental degradation and efforts at sustainable development in Israel.
While he reported that the Green Zionist Alliance passed four resolutions at the World Zionist Congress which aim to “greenify” various government operations, Israel has mostly developed at the expense of its natural environment. He talked first about the issues surrounding water. He reports that coastal groundwater has been overpumped, and salt water and sometimes even waste water and sewage flood into these groundwater deposits. Israel’s development thus far has also led to the depletion of water in the Jordan River, the Dead Sea, and the Gulf of Eilat. Israel has created a national water carrier from the salty Kinneret to the South, which has caused the salinization of the soil there. While the Zionist strategy was to give farmers in the southern part of the country subsidized water as an incentive to settle there, the process of transfer will eventually render the soil infertile. Israel has attempted to overcome this by charging farmer’s according to a national price index, hoping that this will at least force farmers to avoid wasting any water. Alon called upon the Israeli government to return to Zionism’s environmental axiom and adjust regulations for waste water management; to better recycle sewage; and to initiate desalinization processes.
He then moved on to talking about demographic issues in Israel. The environmental perspective on this topic is very different from that of the peacebuilding perspective, emphasizing the carrying capacity (with regard to Israel’s resources) of the country. He focused specifically on the topic of Aliyah, noting that Israel needs to rethink its historical model of preaching to Diaspora Jews to move to Israel in order to enjoy a “real” Jewish life. He suggested that the policy of promoting Aliyah should be eased, that Israel should not patronize other communities so that Jews feel obliged to move to Israel. While he believes that Israel should still grant the Right of Return to any Jew who desires to live there, he wants the Israeli government to realize that it cannot sustain massive migration to Israel in the near future.
This point struck me as both provocative and somewhat puzzling. He proposes a radical shift in a policy fundamental to Israel’s being. His assertion suggests that Zionism may not definitely value Aliyah as strongly as it is understood currently. He argues that Zionism also values stewardship of the physical land of Israel out of the Jewish people’s sense of place, which suggests that Israel will have to confront a number of competing aspects of its identity as a state in order to move forward with environmental initiatives.
The point was puzzling in that I had been under the impression that Israel has not faced a large wave of immigrants since the collapse of the Soviet Union over ten years ago; people do not seem to be flooding in as they once used to (correct me if I am wrong). Indeed, the American Jewish community perceives my generation’s connection to Israel as dangerously weak, and has used programs such as Birthright to “sell” Israel to us as an integral and positive part of our Jewish identities. As American Jewish connections to Israel seem to wane, I wonder about the urgency of his point. Needless to say, I know little about the current patterns of Aliyah outside of North America. However, it seems to me that the issue of carrying capacity may be tied more to the religious Jewish communities in Israel, who tend to multiply rapidly and who also seem to have little regard for sustainable living.
Overall, I was impressed by his talk. I would have loved to hear him talk about some of the environmental issues as related to the peace process, but I also appreciate that this would have not been appropriate. Yet most importantly, I found him insightful, courageous, and generally optimistic about the future.
It is difficult for Israelis and their supporters to understand the outpouring of world reaction following relatively small events like the Mavi Marmara raid. This is not to discount the tragic loss of those nine lives; yet, surely, the errors made by Americans and their allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, the tragic deaths resulting from Turkey’s ongoing conflict with the Kurds, and certainly Iran’s killing and imprisonment of those in opposition to the regime should all earn equal or greater condemnation. So why do Israel’s forceful actions always seem to get disproportionate attention?
We have heard various explanations, including those of a liberal-left media hostile to Israel, ineffective public relations on behalf of Israel, and even a latent anti-Semitism that inspires the intensity of the reaction. Many of us, however, can still remember when Israel was one of the most admired countries in the world, a place young Europeans flocked to because she seemed to be building an egalitarian society and her kibbutzim were regarded as a hopeful social experiment. All that, however, was before Israel’s conquests in 1967, before a settlement movement that established some 400,000 people beyond her borders, before Israel became one of the most unequal societies in the developed world (just behind the U.S.). And it was certainly before Israel formed her current government, which seems to prefer holding the territory of greater Israel to pursuing any prospect of peace with the Palestinians.
Yet, we can all, I hope, understand Israeli frustrations, when the world seems to disregard Israel’s legitimate security concerns. Do Israel’s critics expect her to sit idly by when Iranian rockets and other armaments may be smuggled into neighboring Gaza? The problem is that it’s difficult to distinguish “legitimate security” from Israeli colonialism. Israel’s four-year blockade of Gaza has been far more than a narrow security operation directed against Hamas military strength; it has also been clearly aimed at the Gaza populace, in a failed attempt to undermine the Islamist regime. In that sense, it is seen as part of Israel’s continuing quest to dominate the Palestinian people.
The world cut Israel more slack when, under the leadership of Rabin and Peres, she seemed to be actively pursuing peace. Even after Sharon’s rather dubious withdrawal from Gaza (dubious because it was not negotiated with the Palestinians and was seen by its critics as a means to secure Israel’s hold on the West Bank), Israel could capitalize on this semblance of flexibility.
Today, it is impossible to credit Netanyahu’s government with any desire for peace, as in the past few days we read of the intent to destroy more homes in Arab East Jerusalem, and we heard from his foreign minister that the centrist Kadima Party cannot enter the government unless it accepts the principle of “transfer” – or as it is more commonly known, ethnic cleansing.
Perhaps the day will yet come when Israel is ready once again to pursue peace and negotiate with the Palestinians without, at the same time, conducting further settlement-building. At that point, some of Israel’s critics may be able to understand security arguments that are not entangled with the defence of colonialism. Israel’s real security does not improve with her constant resort to armed force rather than diplomacy or with maintaining her rule over the Palestinians. Yes, Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood and can’t afford to lay down the sword, but she must always carry the olive branch in her other hand, hoping that the Palestinians will grasp it.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Gilad Shalit is an Israeli soldier captured by the Hamas and held for 4 years concealed somewhere in Gaza with no possibility of contact with family or Red Cross. This morning Iris and I joined a few thousand other Israelis in a march from Gilad Shalit’s home in Hilla all the way to Jerusalem via Nahariya, during the first day of the 12-day march in support of securing Gilad’s release.
Along the way Iris and I were interviewed by some TV network who asked me why I was there and whether I thought the march would do any good. I told them that I’m there in order to help keep the affair of Gilad Shalit alive in the public eye as one more issue screaming to our government that its policies towards Gaza, Hamas and the Palestinians in general are so deeply flawed and not working.
Let me digress a bit (bear with me, and we’ll get back to Shalit)….…….
A few days earlier, with a very small group, I visited Ooma’s home in the Palestinian town of Burin not far from Shchem (Nablus). The town of Burin with its population of almost 3,000 sits on a low hill between two very hostile Jewish settlements. The settlement of Yitzhar sits on a higher hilltop to the south, and the settlement of B’racha sits on a higher hilltop to the north.
Ooma is a mother of a few young children. She and her husband and a set of grandparents live in a house on the periphery of Burin right below the overlooking hilltop of Yitzhar. Ooma’s house has windows with bars….but not only. Each window is also covered with a sturdy meshed net as protection against the stones thrown at them on many occasions, but mainly at night, by both youngsters and adults from the settlement of Yitzhar.
A few years ago Ooma’s family still had a herd of goats and sheep. The goats were set on fire (!!) while grazing on the side of the hill close to home. Later Yitzhar settlers came and led away all of their 40 sheep. While this was happening they had time to call the police who came and saw the sheep being led away. They asked Ooma’s husband for papers of ownership. There are none. Sheep have been in the family for generations. Ooma’s husband asked them to use the true and tried Palestinian method of identification: allow the sheep to freely make their Pavlovian way to their memorized home. This was unacceptable to our Israeli police who never asked for papers of ownership from the Yitzhar sheep-robbers. The sheep kept being led up the hill to their new home in Yitzhar. The goat and sheep pens outside of Ooma’s house remain empty.
Ooma is also a “Video Volunteer” for the NGO B’tzelem. She received a video camera to record whatever she can of violent excesses by the settlers of Yitzhar. Outside of Ooma’s home, facing the hilltop of Yitzhar is the family olive grove. Some time ago Ooma managed to film Yitzhar settlers setting fire with bales of hay to a section of the grove and smashing trees and branches in another section. Her film went via B’tzelem to the proper authorities. No settler was ever taken into custody for questioning.
The settlers of Yitzhar and B’racha have a well known and recognized policy. It’s called a “Price Tag”. If the police or army attempts to pressure them as a result of their actions, an immediate additional “Price Tag” is paid by the local Palestinian towns, especially Burin and Hawarra. Cars are set aflame, rocks are thrown, people are injured, homes are graffitied ….all by settlers bearing legal rifles.
Ooma’s family has been living this life for thirty years, since first Yitzhar graced their hilltop. The settlers of Yitzhar are radical orthodox Jews who see the use of violence as a proper method of letting the Palestinians know who are the lords of the land, and as a way of pressuring the local populace to begin accepting the need to leave. We, the Israeli public and our various governments have allowed Ooma and her family to live like this for thirty years.
This brings me back to our soldier Gilad Shalit……..
What help can be expected by thousands of us marching from Hilla to Jerusalem?? Should we really release 1450 prisoners, many with murdered Israelis in their resumes, in exchange for one soldier?? (something unheard of in the history of prisoner exchanges…..except in Israel.) Without releasing all those prisoners how can we face Gilad’s parents and the parents of other young soldiers who we send out to defend us with a promise of always being there for them?? Yet how can we face the parents or wives or children of murdered Israelis by releasing their murderers??...and, perhaps, the real issue is what is best in the long run for our problematic country as a whole??
No, I can’t comfort myself with clear answers. I tend to hope that we are strong enough and will be wise enough to create policies which will inhibit a return to violence and terrorism by those we release. But my confidence is awfully hesitant.
Of some things, though, I am certain. As long as Ooma and her family in the town of Burin live the way they do with the Yizhar hilltop overlooking their home; as long as there are so many other Oomas and their families throughout the occupied territories; as long as there are so many settlements like Yitzhar with violence so transparent or even subtly hidden under the guise of “fringe elements”; as long as all of that continues, we will have more Gilad Shalits and we will have many more prisoners with which to make (or not make) exchange deals.
Friday, June 25, 2010
The Israel government’s Ministry of Interior has been a semi-independent Orthodox principality under both Labor and Likud cabinets for 60 years. David Ben Gurion’s mistake was to take them into his government to stave off his leftist opposition.
The Ministry, run by the Shas party with 11 percent of the Knesset, does what it pleases. It handles many aspects of the lives of the majority of the population including the population registry. It takes on many functions of other ministries such as housing for Orthodox from the Ministry of Housing and watching the borders together with customs and police.
It has also supplanted the Municipality of Jerusalem in ordering the bulldozing of Arab homes in East Jerusalem. It doesn’t consult other cabinet members before taking action, often leaving the prime minister to pick up the pieces.
In recent months the Ministry made news with the following actions:
1. Welcomed Vice President Joe Biden to Jerusalem with the announcement that it would build a new neighborhood in East Jerusalem called Ramat Shlomo. Biden was angry. Secretary of State Clinton was furious. In the resulting Brouhaha Prime minister Netanyahu was forced to extend the freeze on new construction in settlements to East Jerusalem.
2. The Ministry spat in the face of the Palestine Authority by refusing to allow the famous American iconoclast, Prof. Noam Chomsky, to cross Allenby Bridge en route to the Palestinian Bir Zeit University where he was to deliver two lectures. The Prime Minister’s office was forced to apologize. Prof. Chomsky was not entering Israel and he should not have been stopped at Allenby Bridge said Mark Regev, the government spokesman.
Prof. Chomsky delivered his lectures by video, He then dissipated much of the outrage in academic circles by calling on Israel’s active enemy, the Hezbollah chief in Lebanon.
3. Declared war on the children of illegal foreign workers. Minister of Interior Eli Yishai ordered them separated from their parents and deported to their native lands. This was too much for the Israeli public and Minister Yishai agreed to postpone action until the end of the school year.
I had my own run in with the Ministry some 30 years ago. I rescued a young British girl, who had been living illegally in Rosh Pina for five years, from the clutches of the Ministry.
All of the Rosh Pina officials were her friends. The Rosh Pina rabbi sponsored her for conversion to Judaism. Strangely the ministry refused. They were on a campaign to rid the country of goyim who had overstayed their visas. The Chief of Police told her: “I’ve received an order to pick you up. Please go hide. Get out of my jurisdiction.”
She moved in with mutual friends in a nearby village and that is where I found her.
“For five years I have been living as a Jew in Rosh Pina,” she told me. “I celebrated all the Jewish holidays. Now I want to convert and they won’t let me.”
I figured that I could use my press connections to help her. Telling her story might shame the Ministry to reverse course. I was right.
The novelist Yoram Kaniuk was writing a column for Maariv. I asked him to write a column about her. But first he had to get the Ministry’s side of the story.
As soon as the Ministry heard that the press was interested they decided to admit her to a religious kibbutz to study for conversion. Kaniuk never wrote a column.
Thirty years later I had dinner with her. She is now Jeanette Cohen, married to a British immigrant. She is in charge of security for the kibbutz of Amiad and she is a volunteer border cop that patrols the Northern frontier. A son is in the Army. Altogether a model citizen.
Today there are over a thousand children of illegal foreign workers. They are registered in government schools and so are easier to deal with than their parents. Minister Eli Yishai devised the devious plan to deport the children and he hoped the parents would follow.
The brutality of attacking children and separating families aroused the press and public. Yishai backtracked. He agreed to wait until the end of the school year and he appointed an interministerial committee to recommend future action.
Etta Prince-Gibson, editor of the Jerusalem Report, tells the heart-breaking story of one child whom she calls Kimberly.
Kimberly was born in Tel Aviv 15 years ago to a young black maid from Ghana who got herself pregnant. Kimberly’s native language is Hebrew. She has never been to Ghana. On the basis of her excellent grades she was admitted to a prestigious Tel Aviv high school.
She is active in the scouts. She is a prominent member of a scout unit that will travel to Europe this summer. Kimberly will have to stay home. She has no passport. She told Prince-Gibson:
“A few weeks ago we celebrated Passover in the school. It symbolizes freedom, liberty for everyone. Everyone is happy that we have a Jewish state, a homeland. But why can’t I be a part of it?”
Jeannette Cohen succeeded to become a part of it with my help. Who will help Kimberly?
Contrasting with the Ministry of Interior is the Tel Aviv Municipality which believes that Israel needed the foreign workers for health care, farm work and construction. They may have overstayed their Ministry of Interior visas but they are now part of Tel Aviv’s multicultural society.
Under the heading: “Through Books, Tel Aviv Offers Welcoming Island to Illegal Workers Who Share the City” the Forward of June 4th tells the story of the library opened for foreigners in Levinsky Park in South Tel Aviv where most of the illegal workers have congregated.
The library was the initiative of an artists cooperative named ArtTeam. It was welcomed by the Tel Aviv Municipality which provided the space in the park and $6,500 for operating expenses. Opened in October, it has 4,000 books in many languages on the shelves and 2,000 more still in boxes. Most were flown into Israel free by El Al. Recently books in Hebrew were added because the children were demanding them. The Forward reporter found children from Nepal, the Philippines and Ghana chattering in Hebrew. All of them, like Kimberly, had been born in Tel Aviv.
The volunteer librarians can’t understand the titles of many of the books on the shelves. Recently, the Forward relates, one of the librarians found by chance that she was handling the Nepalese translation of Mein Kampf, which had been included in the shipment from Kathmandu. Hitler’s anti-Semitic tract was quickly expunged.
The struggle continues. The Hebrew speaking children at the library in Levinsky Park are still under the threat of deportation by the Ministry of Interior.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
... Jeremy impressed me as a straightforward liberal Zionist. This is not to say I wasn't troubled by some of his policy prescriptions for the Middle East. He seems to think that Barack Obama can impose a solution on the Israelis and the Palestinians (and impose NATO troops on Israel's eastern border) and that will be that. ... Jeremy seems to believe that American guarantees could overcome Israeli doubts.I've learned of a very detailed and well-informed blog post on this event by a NY Jewish Week writer, Eric Herschthal. It's called "Are You Or Have You Ever Been a Zionist?" It is a very good summary of what transpired; I'm abridging Herschthal's report as follows:
Also, he thinks that nothing good will happen until the Palestinians reconcile with themselves, and he talked about Hamas-Fatah rapprochement, again, as something in the realm of the possible.
... while he [Goldberg] peppered Ben-Ami with tough, conservative-minded questions -- why should American Jews lecture Israelis about their own politics? All Israeli got from pulling out of Lebanon and Gaza were rockets, why should they expect any different from the West Bank? -- he was very capable of agreeing with him on certain points.
Goldberg, for instance, had no problem laying some blame on Israelis for the crisis they're now in. He said Abba Eban's oft-repeated phrase, "Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity," could certainly go the other way: Israel has also missed its share of chances too. He even gave a personal anecdote, saying how he's been spit on by Jewish settlers himself, and knows quite well that providing them with political cover impedes any sensible peace.
But it was really Ben-Ami's show. The event was sponsored by J Street and held at the New York Society for Ethical Culture (or, in Goldberg's pithy phrase, "the Chabad House for atheists"). ...
Why should Israelis give up control of Judaism's holiest sites like the Temple Mount or even Hebron?, Goldberg asked. ....
Ben-Ami answered: .... he didn't think that generations of ongoing bloodshed was worth the price of sole control over any religious site.
Practically, Ben-Ami said that it's wiser to allow a third party like NATO to secure Jerusalem's eastern border with the West Bank, than permit endless feuding over such sensitive areas.
At another point, Goldberg asked why Israelis should trust Palestinians now to make peace when, just a decade ago, in 2000 at Camp David, they so clearly rejected it. [This is the common Jewish understanding of what occurred in 2000, and this basic loss of trust in Palestinian goodwill was a tragic byproduct; my sense, along with that of many other doves, is that these events in the fall of 2000 represented something much more complicated.--Seliger]
Ben-Ami answered: That question implied that Arab opposition to a Jewish state has always been absolute and unchanging, while that isn't at all the case. Too many in the West still refuse to recognize that the PLO's recognition of Israel's right to exist in the early-1990s was a watershed event for the Palestinians, and the same can be said about the Saudi Arabia Peace Initiative of 2002....
Moreover, over the last few years Fatah has made impressive gains in the West Bank, both in terms of economic progress and a responsible security force, he added. We ... know that "85 percent of Palestinians would not want to follow the lifestyle that Hamas" advocates.
[....] When Goldberg asked whether he thought Peter Beinart was correct, and that American Jews and Israel are "getting a divorce," Ben-Ami said yes....
Young American Jews were raised, for the most part, in a liberal environment that encouraged the promotion of equal rights, respect for diversity and a certain degree of empathy for the downtrodden. And now that Israel is perceived as being the oppressor who trods on Palestinians, they're "checking their Zionism at the door," he said, in paraphrase of Beinart, instead of their liberal values.
[....Finally Goldberg] asked why Israel should be held to a higher standard than the Arabs, some of whom enforce a lifestyle that is downright "medieval."
Ben-Ami turned it back on Goldberg: "Why is it okay to say that as long as we're one step above our neighbors then we're doing okay?" Moreover, some of the policies of Israel's current government have flown in the face of Israel's own founding as a liberal democracy. He cited Avigdor Lieberman's proposal to transfer Arabs in a future peace deal, and the stonewalling by the Israeli government of some of its own human rights groups. "I don't think that's okay."
Goldberg .... didn't think everything Netanyahu's government was doing was okay, either. In addition, he said, "We didn't wait 2,000 years in exile to return to our homeland so that we can say that, Hey, at least we're better than the Syrians."
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
There were differences between them, but they've obviously grown to respect and like each other since Goldberg's initially skeptical reception to J Street's rise. Goldberg may remain more skeptical in general toward the prospect of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Still, Goldberg has comedic talents that enlivened the discussion. And Goldberg is not a rejectionist by a long shot; both envision the same two-state solution, and both understand its necessity for Israel to remain a democratic and Jewish-majority state. Click here for follow-up posting.
Fearing the growing 'haredization' of their city, most of the secular left -- unfortunately and admittedly a minority in Jerusalem -- threw its support behind Barkat, who won with 52% of all the votes cast.
Now some are regretting their decision, as Barkat has been using his position to aid and abet efforts to expand Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, including within the city's Palestinian neighborhoods.
Following Barkat's involvement in the Shepherd's Hotel and Ramat Shlomo settlement initiatives (last year and in March, respectively), his most recent move is a plan to demolish 22 homes in the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, which borders on the Old City, in order to make way for, of all things, an Israeli tourism center.
As one would expect, Meretz was the only party in Barkat's wall-to-wall municipal coalition that voted against the plan; as a result of which, Barkat expelled Meretz's three city council members from his coalition and sacked Meretz's deputy mayor, Pepe Alalu.
Alalu has now given a fascinating interview to Haaretz about the affair, as well as about the more general intersection between Jerusalem's local and Israel's national politics. Alalu has set a goal of unseating Barkat in the next elections - not by throwing his weight behind a haredi politician, but by fielding a "worthy secular candidate". Let's hope that he can pull it off.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Miller's frustrations are clear, and he's not wrong in most of what he wrote, but his piece will have a bad impact if it is taken as a decisive argument against diplomacy. I take heed in this as his key point:
"... the 1990s [was] the only decade in the last half of the 20th century in which there was no major Arab-Israeli war. Instead, this was the decade of the Madrid conference, the Oslo accords, the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, regional accords on economic issues, and a historic bid in the final year of the Clinton administration to negotiate peace agreements between Israel, Syria, and the Palestinians. But for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the Arab, Palestinian, Israeli (and American) unwillingness to recognize what price each side would have to pay to achieve those agreements, the decade ended badly, leaving the pursuit of peace bloody, battered, and broken. Perhaps the most serious casualty was the loss of hope that negotiations could actually get the Arabs and Israelis what they wanted. ....
"Bottom line: Negotiations can work, but both Arabs and Israelis (and American leaders) need to be willing and able to pay the price. And they are not."
Monday, June 21, 2010
The Israeli raid of the ship the Mavi Marmara, which ended with the deaths of nine protestors, is a potent symbol of why Israel’s current policy toward the Gaza Strip is unsustainable. Right now Iranian ships are on their way to attempt to break the blockade, forcing what could be an ugly confrontation on the high seas between the two adversaries. Whether it will be governments or activists who try to force the situation, the Israeli government will have to decide over and over whether to stop the ships, which could result in similarly violent situations, or let them through, which would effectively break the naval blockade and undermine Israel’s ability to ensure that no weapons are brought into Gaza by sea.
What is now becoming more clear is that Israel’s Gaza policy also does not achieve its stated purposes. Isolating the people of Gaza has not made them less amenable to Hamas. Nor has it weakened Hamas. Nor will it make Israelis secure in the long term. As many people who care about Israel’s security, including President Obama, have begun to argue, the lesson learned from the Mavi Marmara incident is that Israel must rethink its strategy; it must develop a policy that lifts the closure on Gaza without harming Israeli security or accruing too much to the benefit of Hamas. Israel has begun to ameliorate the situation over the last few months in cooperation with the United States and others and it has sped that up further in the past few weeks. Now is the time for the world to build on this progress and work with Israel to change its policy.
Closing off the Gaza Strip allowed Hamas to entrench its power and authority in many ways while weakening the Strip’s middle class. Hamas now boasts a separate governing mechanism to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, taking charge of everything from the meting out of justice to the provision of health care. While the Palestinian Authority continues to pay and employ its own bureaucrats in Gaza not to work, this entrenchment on all levels of the bureaucracy strengthens Hamas’ control of the Strip.
At the same time, the border closure and naval blockade strangles the legitimate economy of the Strip. Businesses around the tunnels on the Egypt-Gaza border now provide most of the goods to the Gazan economy, though they have been harmed by Egypt’s monitoring of the border and construction of an underground wall. Still, this dynamic is rapidly transferring power from the established middle class, a potential moderate stronghold, to a new breed of wealthy individuals who are invested in the tunnels and beholden to Hamas, which regulates the tunnel economy.
Israel ensures there is no starvation in the Strip by allowing for the import of humanitarian assistance, but in undermining the legitimate economy and closing off the access of the people of Gaza to the outside world, it isolates the people of Gaza along with Hamas. The dissemination of information in the Strip is controlled by Hamas. Gazans’ ability to travel is extremely curtailed. Some are occasionally allowed to leave, including a limited amount of students going on exchange programs and businessmen traveling to the West Bank on specific occasions. But overall, the ability of the people of Gaza to interact with the outside world is severely limited.
This policy is in part intended to demonstrate to the people of Gaza that they can choose life like this under Hamas or a better future like the situation in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority. What appears to be happening instead is that the people of Gaza are angry at Israel, they are angry at the United States, and they are angry at the Palestinian Authority. They are also angry at Hamas, but they do not hold it solely responsible for their situation, as the Israeli policy intends.
To be sure, Israel has legitimate reasons to be concerned about Hamas’ control over the Gaza Strip. Hamas continues to defy the three requirements for political engagement asked of it by the Quartet for Middle East Peace (The United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations). Hamas does not recognize Israel, does not recognize previous agreements, and has not renounced violence. It took over the Strip in a violent coup in 2007. It also continues to smuggle increasingly effective arms into the Gaza Strip, posing a real threat to people in wider swaths of Israel as the precision and power of the arms increases. And it continues to hold on to Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured in 2006. ...
Click here for entire article.
Friday, June 18, 2010
.... Some Israeli democrats and peace activists welcome the BDS trend, if reluctantly. They argue what seems plausible, that the only way to influence the Israeli government (and the Israeli right more generally) to end the occupation is through mounting outside pressure. And, true enough, the Israeli state apparatus persists in according semiofficial status to various institutions—the Jewish Agency and Jewish National Fund, the Orthodox rabbinate—that privilege J-positive blood. The warped legal frame accommodating these institutions, from the administration of national lands to the "status quo" agreement banning interfaith marriages, valorize a settlement mystique, a tribal conception of Jewish identity and a cult of Jerusalem; the groups resisting democratic reform of the state are, unsurprisingly, the same that support Greater Israel. ...
Nevertheless, is Israel really like apartheid South Africa? No. The Israeli economy does not depend on Arab labor.... What, if not residual colonialism, accounts for residual discrimination? Tragically, the very institutions that make Israel discriminatory today ... were meant to cultivate autonomous "Hebrew labor" and economic self-sufficiency separate from the Arab feudal culture. The idea, then, was a revolutionary, secular Hebrew culture (which is why most Diaspora rabbis thought Zionists to be apostates). This separatism led to the globalized Hebrew republic in greater Tel Aviv, a civil society that's become a greenhouse for technology start-ups as independent of labor-intensive industry as Silicon Valley. ... The internal rival to Greater Israel is Global Israel.
And, not coincidentally, Israelis and Palestinians can hardly be thought of as antagonistic classes in a common political economy. Rather, they both cherish linguistic and other cultural distinctions they want to protect—distinctions that morph into inflamed nationalisms and "religious war" when people on either side of the Green Line feel backed against the wall. Finally—despite institutionalized discrimination and the disquieting excesses of its security apparatus—the Israeli state still accords its citizens, including about 1.5 million Arabs, a functioning democracy, the right to vote, a free press and an independent judiciary. Democratic Israel is under threat from growing numbers of rightists for whom settling "Eretz Yisrael" is of a piece with containing, if not disenfranchising, Israeli Arabs and Jewish dissenters skeptical of their version of the Jewish state. But, then, how to strengthen dissent? By isolating dissenters?
People who advocate for boycott and divestment often slide over these matters. They may say they are modestly trying to pressure Israeli elites into ending the occupation. But take the Berkeley initiative to scale and add in the boycott of Israeli universities, recently proposed in England's academic union. How would cutting off the most progressive forces in Israel from global corporations and international scholarly events accomplish this? Even generalized trade sanctions ... would have mainly impaired Israel's estimated $25 billion in high-tech exports.... Polls show that about 40 percent of Israeli Jews have abidingly secular and globalist (if not liberal) attitudes. Who gains from economic decline and the inevitable consequence of most educated Israelis fleeing to, well, the Bay Area? Wouldn't the rightists, also about 40 percent, be most satisfied to see Israel become a little Jewish Pakistan?
.... the idea that precipitating Israeli economic collapse will somehow hasten a democratic outcome is like smacking a TV to fix the picture. Come to think of it, it is like blockading Gaza to sink Hamas.
My impression from various encounters with advocates for B and D is that they are simply unable to imagine that the post-1967 Israel, an Israel of occupation, is not the only possible one. They take for granted that all Israelis are colluding in an immoral, outdated structure—that, QED, a "Jewish state" must mean racist privileges for Jews. They imply, but will not just say, that the two-state solution is an illusion and that Palestine is bound to become a bantustan; that we are on the path to a binational state, one person, one vote, in the whole of historic Palestine—and that punishing Israeli globalization will hasten its arrival. ...
But what seems far more likely than a binational state, given the irredentist instincts of the Israeli right and the precedent of violent "steadfastness" of Palestinians (reinforced by the Islamist trend gripping many Palestinian young people), is a kind of Bosnian war. It could start tomorrow with, say, a riot among increasingly impoverished Jerusalem Arabs and spread like wildfire across the West Bank and Israeli Arab towns of the Triangle region. How will B and D do anything but make all Israelis feel demonized and prone to apocalyptic thinking and ethnic cleansing? Already, polls suggest that the Israeli center, which is skeptical of the settlers, feels "the West" does not appreciate what it is like to live with suicide bombers and missile attacks.
Targeted sanctions against the occupation are another matter, however. Foreign governments might well ban consumer products like fruit, flowers and Dead Sea mineral creams and shampoos produced by Israelis in occupied territory, much as Palestinian retail stores do. ... These would not much hurt the economy directly but would gesture toward the larger truth Israeli managers understand in their bones, namely, that an advanced, networked economy is built as much on expanding relationships with global companies as algorithms, and political isolation will naturally lead to economic isolation.
Israelis, indeed, must be made to choose between Global Israel and Greater Israel.... Click for this entire article online.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
What suddenly became crystal clear from the pro side is that the Palestinian call for BDS, which they fully support, has Israel's demise as its goal. This is articulated as follows:
... non-violent punitive measures [will] be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:The "wall" or separation/security barrier is problematic because of the Palestinian land it traverses and divides, but it also has some genuine legitimacy as a defensive measure. Still, for the most part, any progressive Zionist can accept points 1 and 2 (although #2 is really about the internal makeup of Israel and should be outside the scope of bilateral negotiations for a peace agreement between a sovereign Israel and a newly sovereign Palestine). Number 3, however, a full right of return to what is now Israel by the refugees of 1948 and their descendants, is a complete non-starter, a denial of the right of national self-determination to the Jewish people, and a rejection of the 1947 United Nations decision for separate Jewish and Arab states in Palestine.
1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
As maintained by JJ Goldberg, this is a movement that is not aimed at securing peace with an agreed-upon two state solution, because Israel cannot accept this third demand without ensuring its doom. This would guarantee that the conflict continue for decades, if not generations to come, with much suffering by both sides. Instead, Goldberg offered the example of the Geneva Initiative (also known as the Geneva Accord).
Despite this, the vast majority of this left-wing audience were receptive to the BDS message. Israel's position as a military powerhouse against the weak Palestinian underdog, often coming across as a bully--with the flotilla incident and Operation Cast Lead as the most recent glaring examples--guaranteed this outcome. To argue that the peace process failed because of a variety of complex factors involving the wrongs and shortsightedness of both sides, would not have carried much weight with this crowd.
Ms. Peratis began her argument on the anti side by praising BDS for at least being a non-violent strategy. Yet it was never a consideration for supporters of BDS that the ongoing ravages of what remains of the occupation have anything at all to do with the violence of the intifada, or the role of Hamas in Gaza. (Btw, Peratis indicated that she would support a boycott targeting only the settlements.)
Sadly, Yonaton Shapira, the former Israeli air force officer, had no notion as to why Israel was legitimately created as a refuge for Jews. Nor could he even understand the concept of Jews as a people, apart from adherents of the Jewish religion. But he was sure that the Meretz party, which he explicitly mocked as representative of the Israeli left, has supported "every war." This is a gross distortion of Meretz positions, as this statement on the Gaza war attests.
Gil Kulik, a retired US State Department official who is now an activist for J Street's local New York chapter, made the following observations:
- The pro-BDS people, especially Hannah Mermelstein, were quite unabashed in acknowledging that the logical outcome of implementation of their platform would be the demise of Israel as a Jewish state. For her, it was simply a matter of "justice" for dispossessed Palestinians, because Israel should never have been created in the first place. In her view, a two-state solution in which Palestinian refugees would be permanently settled in the Palestinian state or Jordan was no solution to the "refugee problem," which could only be resolved by mass repatriation of Palestinians to their original homes. The fact that adhering to "right of return" guaranteed that BDS would remain a marginal phenomenon, at least in the United States, was of no consequence to her.
- J Street was cited several times, mostly unfavorably, as an organization that really lacked the courage of its convictions or was just "Israel Lobby light."
- Despite the palpably anti-Israeli proclivities of the audience, the forum was conducted with decorum and civility.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Israelis Agree With Bibi
In the wake of the flotilla controversy, Israelis resoundingly back their government's stance on Gaza. By David Pollock (ForeignPolicy.com)
A reliable new poll of Israeli public opinion shows that attitudes on the Gaza blockade are heavily hawkish -- in diametric opposition not only to most international reactions, but also much of the Israeli media's own commentary. This finding is the first detailed measurement of Israeli views following the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) violent boarding of the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara, which resulted in the deaths of nine people. The poll surveyed Israeli Jewish opinion and was conducted by telephone interviews on June 7 by Pechter Middle East Polls, a young, Princeton, N.J.-based survey research and analysis firm working with pollsters throughout the region.
These findings, however, do not spell doom for hopes of a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Crucially, the Israeli public's stance on Gaza coexists with relatively dovish views on other key Palestinian issues. For nearly a decade now, even during wars or major surges in terrorist attacks, a solid majority of Israeli Jews have consistently supported a two-state solution to the dispute. This fundamental fact was again attested as recently as March, in the latest Hebrew University/Truman Institute poll, which showed 68 percent in favor of that option. Moreover, that poll showed a narrow majority explicitly willing to accept "dismantling most of the settlements" in the West Bank as the price for peace.
Netanyahu's challenge is to translate these opinions into a policy that can bring both long-term security and peace to his people. Given the Israeli public's hawkish views toward Hamas-ruled Gaza, but their willingness to explore concessions in the West Bank under Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the most realistic way forward is surprisingly straightforward: Keep pushing Israel and the Palestinian Authority toward new, practical, political agreements. Find better ways to help the people of Gaza, but not their Hamas rulers -- whom Israelis rightly view as a threat, not only to their own security, but also to any prospect of Palestinian-Israeli peace. In other words, work with Abbas, against Hamas.
READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE
Sunday, June 13, 2010
I suggest you view it online at www.shalomtv.com. The program's video is currently accessible by clicking the top right box. It goes on rather long (over an hour), but one can fast forward the online video with your mouse. It will be accessible in cable on-demand channels beginning today, Sunday, June 13, through Saturday night, June 26.
Beginning today, viewers may go to www.shalomtv.com and click on "Find Us" on the menu line to learn how to find it on their cable system. The program can be located in the category, "News and Israel." It is described online as follows:
A superb Round Table analyzes world reaction to Israel’s stopping the flotilla, and what the events mean both for Israel and for American Jewry. Hear the thoughts of Neal Sher, former executive director of AIPAC; Steven Bayme, who heads AJC’s Koppelman Institute on American Jewish-Israeli Relations Department on American Jewry; Seth Mandel, managing editor of “The Jewish State,” New Jersey’s independent Jewish newspaper; and Ralph Seliger, editor of Israel Horizons of Meretz USA.
This show was more frustrating for me than my one-on-one (occasionally two on one) with Isi Liebler, because too often it was four on one. (My appearance with Liebler will have an encore on-demand run from June 13 through Saturday night, July 10. ) The bottom-line contentions that even the more moderate of the four--moderator Mark Golub and Steven Bayme of the AJ Committee--were adamant about, is that the blockade is Israel's only recourse and a negotiated solution is not possible.
I do not propose an overall settlement of the conflict with Hamas; it does not have the legal authority to negotiate for the Palestinians nor does it appear ready. But Hamas does have to be negotiated with for a new arrangement on the ground. The blockade does not seem tenable politically for Israel. It may already have cost Israel the vestige of its alliance with Turkey, which had remained in full bloom militarily despite the increasingly pro-Arab and pro-Iranian tilt of its Islamist ruling party. Increasingly--especially in the wake of the interdiction that came off to the world as a deadly assault--Israel's blockade is the issue and not Hamas violence and extremism.
Israel needs to offer to end the blockade in exchange for a credible mechanism to control imports into the Strip that ends weapons smuggling. Part of this reasonably might include Israeli observers alongside UN, NATO or other international teams of inspectors.
Israel is understandably skeptical of international peacekeeping, as it seems to have broken down in the case of Lebanon. Yet it should be easier re Gaza, because the Egyptian-Gaza border is smaller, and Egypt's government is more hostile to Hamas than Lebanon dared be to Hezbollah, especially with Syria next door resupplying Hezbollah. But on the Egyptian border, Syria and Iran have no direct access to supplying Hamas.
Israel must be seen as trying sincerely for a peaceful resolution. In light of the now famous NY Review of Books article by Peter Beinart, Israel being seen as sincere is almost as important for Israel's relationship with American Jewry (not to mention internationally) as the actual success or failure of such efforts.
Friday, June 11, 2010
A small piece, delicate, hopeful, from a woman's point of view, written by Haviva Ner-David, living in the Galilee in Israel, weaving peace baskets with her Arab neighbors the day of the Flotilla attack. This was turned down at the Jerusalem Post weekend magazine and prompted the cancellation of her monthly feature there, "Green Acres." Instead, it was published at "Zeek: A Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture":
Last week, I headed out on Monday morning to my basket weaving class in Kufr Manda, Hannaton’s neighboring Arab village. Kufr Manda is the closest town to Hannaton, and it is there that I go for medical care, gasoline, pharmaceuticals, house and gardening supplies, and more. Before the convenience store opened in Hannaton, I went there as well to buy milk or bread. Kufr Manda is still where I go on a Friday afternoon–when Hannaton’s convenience store is closed–to buy anything last-minute before Shabbat.The basket-weaving began a few months ago. I had heard about the opening of a center in Kufr Manda to teach women from the village how to weave baskets; it is run by by an organization called Sindyanna of Galilee, which empowers women to learn a fair trade skill and make some money without having to leave their village.
By opposing direct action, the older generation is arguing that government must take the lead through a peace process that so far has resulted in little more than further Israeli colonization. "I find boycotts kind of distasteful. It's a little bit like collective punishment," says Ralph Seliger, long associated with Meretz USA, a left Zionist organization. "That probably wouldn't be very emotionally satisfying to someone who was upset about the issue. But I think it's part of growing up to understand that the world is not here to give you emotional satisfaction, and in this issue there is both complexity and perplexity, and you need to learn as much as you can, and be receptive to all sides, and be discerning."I directed him to Ron Skolnik's article on BDS in ISRAEL HORIZONS. This is how Ron's view is reported:
In the end many in Israel, and its supporters in the United States, return to the fear that BDS is advancing the likelihood of the dissolution of the Jewish state—the delegitimization issue. "The BDS movement seems dominated by those whose endgame is one state, not two," Meretz USA executive director Ron Skolnik wrote in Israel Horizons, a liberal Zionist publication. The movement "apparently wishes to build on legitimate international opposition to the 1967 occupation in order to undermine Israel's independent existence."The following longer quote is what Weiss previously had indicated would be in their article, but must have been displaced by a last-minute mention of the flotilla incident (his questions are in bold; I add in italics my clarification of some points here):
I [Ralph Seliger] have said that the Uri Avnery Gush Shalom approach is less problematic—I could respect people who on a principled basis boycott products from the West Bank. And I also think they’re aware of the slippery slope issue [that BDS could lead to Israel being demonized], that the orientation of the boycott movement is one-sided.
Myself, I wouldn’t condemn it [boycott of West Bank settler products], and I wouldn’t support it. I find boycotts kind of distasteful. It’s a little bit like collective punishment.
What about Caterpillar? [a company that sells bulldozers to Israel]
I don’t even know that that’s being fair to Caterpillar. They’re doing business, but it’s not like they’re advocating occupation.
And as for wines from Golan?
Some people would not want to buy that wine. I wouldn’t feel that way because I think the Golan Heights issue is different than the West Bank.
What do you tell young people who want to feel they’re making a difference?
It isn’t boycott, it’s more engagement that you need. The United States should be more engaged in finding a solution and we should be more engaged in reaching out to all sides.
That probably wouldn’t be very emotionally satisfying to someone who was upset about the issue. But I think it’s part of growing up to understand that the world is not here to give you emotional satisfaction, and in this issue there is both complexity and perplexity, and you need to learn as much as you can, and be receptive to all sides, and be discerning.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Here he makes a few minor, but surprising errors for a historian: Hamas won its election in 2006, not 2005; Israel has no (written) constitution; and it's not clear what events he's counting when he refers to "three catastrophic invasions of Lebanon" (there were two big ones, one smaller scale incursion in 1978 and the massive bombardment in the spring of 1996 that did not include a ground attack).
He is fair-minded in characterizing the "Israel lobby." Yet his notion that Gaza, like Israel, is also a "democracy," because of that one election in 2006, is ridiculous. Although it was the elected government, Hamas seized total power in a bloody coup (or counter-coup) in June, 2007.
Prof. Judt may be unfair in contending that Israel is unusual as a democracy in discriminating against minorities; he does not distinguish between informal discrimination and discrimination in law (Israel does not do the latter, although the Yisrael Beitenu party of Avigdor Lieberman would like it to). Nor does he look at the difficulty of dealing with a large ethnic minority that is related to, and often sympathetic with, Israel's sworn enemies.
He's on-target in bringing Israel to task for its over-reliance on military force, but also too philosophical about Palestinian violence (although he condemns terrorism). He does not give Israel credit for having tried peaceful initiatives in the 1990s and twice in the 2000s (Sharon's flawed "disengagement" and the post-Annapolis negotiations).
Judt also indicates that Israel should negotiate a political solution with Hamas, likening it to the PLO that became Israel's negotiating partner in the 1990s. Israel and Hamas have negotiated indirectly to establish its short-lived ceasefire agreement in 2008 and I hope that they will negotiate again to come to a new agreement that ends Israel's blockade of Gaza in return for measures to end the smuggling of weapons; but Hamas has never indicated a readiness to negotiate a final peace agreement with Israel.
My hope is that Hamas can either be co-opted into a final peace process with the Palestinian Authority, or circumvented if it insists on rejectionism. Judt's analysis still misses this level of detail and nuance.
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
There once was a very successful campaign in Israel for road safety. Its slogan was, “On the road, don’t be right, be smart." The day after the flotilla raid last week, more than one pundit in the Israeli press brought up the slogan. We’re right, they said, but why can’t we also be smart?
The raid was by no means smart. Israel blindly stepped into a p.r. campaign orchestrated by Turkey and Hamas, doing enormous damage to its own international image and credibility. But the raid was not an isolated incident. Rather, it is only the latest example of how Benjamin Netanyahu’s prime ministership is steadily eroding Israel’s legitimacy.
Why do Israelis believe they’re right on the flotilla specifically and Gaza more generally? Because Israel evacuated Gaza to the last inch, and Hamas, which controls Gaza, kept shooting rockets at Israel’s civilians. Because Hamas is not only calling for the murder of every single Jew—its covenant is by no means ambiguous on that—but also arming as best it can for this holy cause. Under these conditions, and despite Hamas’s refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist, Israel still actively sustains Gaza. Israel’s hospitals accept tens of thousands of Gazans for medical treatment; it lets food and medicine daily through its checkpoints on Gaza’s boarders; and it supplies Gaza with electricity and gas. No other country in the world sustains a government bent on its destruction in such a way. (Egypt, with which Gaza shares a border, takes no such responsibility.) Given all this, as Israel sees it, stopping a Turkish attempt to open an arms importation route to Gaza was right.
But this does not make the raid smart. The “humanitarian mission” carried on the flotilla was not a move in a military game, nor was it a court case in which complicated judicial arguments count. It was a gambit in the game of p.r., played in front of a worldwide, hardly informed TV audience, and mediated, more often than not, by hostile media. It is easy to see how Israel could have handled the situation: It should've just let the flotilla pass. The whole hot-air balloon would have been deflated. The world audience, if it had noticed the affair at all, would have been left with a few snippets of the “peace activists” chanting anti-Semitic slogans to the wind, then hugging Hamas officials. That’s it. (There was a similar attempt to pull off a p.r. stunt under Ehud Olmert's administration. Olmert let the “peace mission” through. No one remembers it now.) ...
Israelis are stunned by the fact that the world has grown to think of Hamas as the righteous victim and of Israel as the evil aggressor. This perception of Israel is false and malicious, but it does not mean that Israel bears no responsibility for it. Yes, there is a lot of anti-Semitism in the world. Yes, there are unfair biases against the Jewish state. But Israel has been feeding them. So long as Israel’s government continues to settle in the West Bank, no one—not even Israel’s American friends—will believe that Netanyahu seeks peace. So long as Israel seems to be bent on making its occupation permanent, on holding a whole population under military rule without basic political rights indefinitely, it will be increasingly ostracized by the international community.
Today, Israel is not the belligerent party in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is Israel that has offered partition, and the Palestinians who have consistently refused it. [To me, this last sentence is debatable.--R. Seliger] Netanyahu inherited a winning hand. He could have put a peace plan on the table, leaving the Palestinians to refuse it. He could have declared that Israel wanted to withdraw from the West Bank and would do so if its security was guaranteed by an agreement with the Palestinians or a third party. He could have offered state housing help for those who would leave the settlements even before an agreement. Instead, he mumbled something half-heartedly about two states, and then moved on to fight for enlarging settlements. ... Link here for entire article online.
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
At its convention on Sunday, June 6, the Meretz party issued the following policy decisions:
1. Meretz calls for the resignation of the Prime Minister and Defense Minister in light of their direct responsibility for the thoughtless action on the Marmara vessel, which caused civilians to be killed and soldiers to be wounded.
2. Meretz calls for the establishment of a State Commission of Inquiry - to examine the chain of events.
3. Meretz calls on the government to lift the siege of Gaza immediately and to stop the collective punishment imposed on its residents.
4. Meretz calls on the government to carry out an exchange of prisoners and bring back Gilad Shalit without delay. Meretz demands that the International Red Cross be allowed to visit with Gilad Shalit immediately.
5. Meretz calls on the government to immediately enter into direct negotiations with the Palestinians to finalize the details of an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state, whose capital will be in East Jerusalem, on the basis of the Clinton parameters, the principles of the Geneva Initiative and the proposal of the Arab League.
Monday, June 07, 2010
There exists in Israel a powerful fear. A pervasive, heavy fear, the traumatic societal residue of blown up buses and falling rockets, pounded in to the rhythm of the ever-growing Iranian threat. The root of this fear is unquestionably legitimate, but this fear has grown and metastasized, manipulated by power-drunk leaders whose pursuit of security has actually made Israel far more existentially insecure than could all of its military enemies combined. Israel’s most powerful threat is not a boat full of angry activists, or a community of hateful and reactionary bloggers. Israel’s most powerful threat is not Syria nor is it Hamas or Hizbullah or even Iran. Israel’s most powerful threat -and here I paraphrase a claim that was made by one of Israel’s most decorated military heroes, defense minister Ehud Barak- comes from the lack of progress towards a two-state solution and towards peace.
I was told recently, in the midst of a heated political argument with an Israeli acquaintance, that I could not understand what was going on due to my “mabat chitzoni,” my “outside perspective.” Perhaps this acquaintance was right: perhaps my mabat chitzoni prevents me from understanding how blocking certain foods and toys from going into Gaza helps increase Israel’s security. Perhaps my mabat chitzoni hinders my ability to comprehend how not allowing exports out of Gaza helps ensure that weapons are not imported into Gaza. Perhaps it is my mabat chitzoni that sees the blockade failing to accomplish any of its possible strategic goals: failing to facilitate the release of Gilad Shalit, failing to encourage the people of Gaza to rise up and overthrow Hamas, failing to stop rockets from coming into Gaza; I am no military expert, but I know -both from news reports and from common sense- that it is delusional to imagine that Hamas does not have ways to get around [read: under] the blockade. So perhaps it is only because of my mabat chitzoni that I was so disturbed by the events on the Mavi Marmara that were carried out in order to defend a strategically backwards and morally bankrupt blockade and by the knee-jerk defensiveness displayed by so many of my people, on both sides of the ocean.
Not by might, not by power, but by my spirit, O Israel. Political beliefs aside, where are the statements of remorse for the lives of the activists lost? Even if there was no choice, we must mourn their deaths, for as Martin Buber writes, “no one who counts himself among the ranks of Israel can desire to use force.” And where are the statements of concern for the children of Gaza? Not for the leaders of Hamas, and perhaps not for those who voted in Hamas, but for the children? Have we so hardened ourselves that we are unable to feel pain for any but our own? I shudder to wonder how much the other side would have to suffer for those who still defend the blockade to question it?
We need change, and we need it now. Perhaps it is my mabat chitzoni that fails to see any way for Israel to remain a Jewish, democratic homeland unless there is a two-state solution and a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians. Perhaps it is my mabat chitzoni that fails to imagine the international community continuing to support Israel’s occupation and blockade and its suppression of Palestinian freedom and national aspirations. Perhaps it is my mabat chitzoni that enables me to see the Palestinians as human beings: human beings who, as a collective, have certainly done a lot of things wrong, but who, as human beings, deserve food, and water, and safety and freedom of movement. And independence. Like ourselves. Like any people downtrodden by history.
Israel is mired in a terrifying spiral of violence, fear, hubris and confusion. There are some who argue that it is not appropriate for those of us approaching the issue from a mabat chitzoni to criticize, to challenge, to meddle. Indeed, if Israel were only hurting itself, this argument might be compelling. But Israel is not only hurting itself, Israel is hurting the Palestinians -who certainly also have and continue to hurt themselves and the Israelis in a myriad of ways- and indeed, the continued conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians hurts the potential for international stability and peace. It is thus not only appropriate for those of us with a mabat chitzoni to criticize certain actions taken by Israel, it is an obligation. The United States’ mabat chitzoni, coupled with the influence that comes with being the most powerful country in the world and the only ally Israel will listen to, is crucial to securing Israel’s future. Peace is desperately needed, now in this time of crisis more than ever, and Obama must live up to his declarations one year ago, in Cairo, and bring peace to the Middle East. It pains me to sharply criticize my brothers, and it pains me to ask the United States’ government to help my people do what we should be able to do on our own, but frankly, I am afraid of what we will become if we are left alone.
Moriel Rothman was born in Jerusalem, Israel and is the new President of the National Student Board of J Street U. He is a rising senior at Middlebury College in Vermont.
For me this has been one of the worst and most depressing weeks in the 58 years since I first came to Israel. The absolutely stupid acts of our government in handling the Peace Flotilla off Gaza, (effectively exploited by some extreme Turkish-Muslim groups) and the subsequent knee-bend response of most (all) of our political and military leaders leave me saddened and disgusted. But the acts of folly specific to this incident and its unfolding aftermath were perhaps just a natural consequence to what has been a continuous (and most sadly, continuing) set of policies which actually began shortly after the Six Day War. Too few Israelis of any influence (although there were some like Lova Eliav, who died last week, and Yeshayahu Leibovitch) realized then the implications of the sea-change of our status, from Victim to increasingly powerful wielder of a decreasingly benign Occupation.
With the rise of Palestinian terrorism (which certainly has not furthered the Palestinian cause either) both sides have been locked in violent, lethal conflict with minor intervals when more rational policies briefly prevailed, e.g. Peace Treaty with Egypt, after the Oslo Agreements, Peace Treaty with Jordan, prior to Rabin’s assassination (by one our home grown fanatics) and the second intifada. Forty three years as an Occupying Power with perhaps justifiable, but certainly often misdirected, preoccupation with the concept of Security has corroded Israeli society from within.
Of course, many other factors are involved: generational change, increasing wealth and materialism, the mass influx of immigrants from the ex-Soviet Union, the growing political power and social influence of the ultra-orthodox parties and the “settlers”, disillusionment and disintegration of the leftist Peace Camp. So, as I wrote to someone the day before the Peace Flotilla fiasco.. “we are not enjoying (to put it mildly) the increasing dominance of a coalition of extreme right-wing, racist, militarist, nationalist, orthodox and ultraorthodox-religious groups who have already perverted so much of what we had hoped to accomplish in this country. In the past months we have witnessed all too many instances of intolerance, bigotry, religious fanaticism, aimed, I might add, not only at Arabs and other minorities, but also at wide sectors of the Jewish population of this country.
So what can a liberal thinking, non-politically active or involved citizen of a (still) democratic Israel do? I am beginning to understand how helpless a liberal thinking German must have felt in the 1930’s. (For those who don’t know, I am a Holocaust survivor thanks to Kindertransport from Czechoslovakia, my parents and almost all my closest relatives did not survive). We do have many wonderful people in this country and we have achieved many amazing, positive things in the 63 year existence of the State of Israel. There are people and organizations like Meretz, Peace Now, IPCRI, Machsom Watch and many others that do try to further a different political discourse. But until we cease to be an Occupying Power, until the Palestinians have their own State we shall remain gridlocked in a no-win situation. And time is not on our side.
The truly tragic part of this is that the broad outlines of a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians are well-known. The so-called Saudi or Arab Peace Proposal, which could provide a reasonable starting point for negotiations, is still on the table. The complexities of the situation are boundless but the objectives are crystal clear; rapid end of the Occupation and founding of a viable Palestinian should be an existential goal for Israel as well as for the Palestinians. Who knows what goes on at the “proximity talks” being held by Mitchell? Is it too much to hope that the Obama administration will use Israel’s recent follies and the international reaction to them as a lever to effectively pressure Israel to change its more indefensible policies? (This also applies to the Palestinian side of course). And somehow Hamas must be brought into the negotiations, more backroom diplomacy, pressure or whatever….they too aspire to the Palestinian State. (It is now up to us to pay the price for Shalit’s release, using the embargo on Gaza as leverage didn’t work and was questionable from the start). And please note, the oft-repeated and widely accepted claim on our side that “There’s no one to talk to, all the Palestinians/Arabs are interested in is the destruction of Israel”, is simply not true.
So what can one do? It is probably too much to hope that some form of agreement “imposed” from outside may save us from ourselves. Our internal political arena doesn’t give one much encouragement. I am left with the question “what can one do to make a difference, effectively?” and have no answer. I must confess that my natural optimism has been sadly eroded over the past few years. But let us hope for better times, maybe the future will surprise us.
His mother insisted that he get a top-notch education and went beyond the family's economic means to send him to public (i.e., private) boarding school and then on to Cambridge. He was not born to the ruling class, but his mother insisted explicitly that he should be part of it.
He himself was an ardent leftist from his youth. He's broken ranks with the hard left over support for Western interventions against murderous international forces (e.g., Serb ultra-nationalists, Afghan Taliban, Saddam Hussein's Iraq) and over his opposition to Islamist extremism---whether in the form of al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran. He's long championed the Palestinian cause, but is capable of nuanced and intelligent analysis in this regard. He spoke of his friendship with the late Edward Said, the famed American-Palestinian intellectual, and his feeling that Said was less than total in his condemnation of Islamist terrorism (both opposing and excusing it).
His maternal grandmother, who outlived both his parents, told him, about 20 years ago, of the family secret that his mother was born Jewish.
He has a Christian-informed anti-religious bias. (I've read his entertaining and powerfully-written indictment of Mother Theresa, but not his anti-religious manifesto, "God Is Not Great.") When asked about Israel's "attack" on the flotilla, he said that this was really a "micro-event" in the larger scheme of things. He also denounced the Turkish Islamists who were part of the flotilla, as well as the current Turkish government for cozying up to Hamas and Iran, and criticized the way Western media sources call the flotilla Islamists, "activists."
But he also curtly said that Israel will never be a normal state and that the Jews will never be a normal people---"nor should they be." Because the Jews prove that "there is no redemption."
The reaction to this harsh-sounding pronouncement was a stunned and puzzled silence in the large, sold-out hall at the NYPL's main branch. In discussing this after, my companion and I agreed that he objectified Jews with this statement, making them symbols in his own play---that of a devout atheist who was brought up as a nominal Christian. If there's any compassion he feels for the Jews, it's illustrated in his denunciation of various personages he dislikes as "antisemites"---such as the poet, T.S. Eliot, and some fringe political figures.
Friday, June 04, 2010
Israel does not need enemies: it has itself. Or more precisely: it has its government. The Netanyahu-Barak government has somehow found a way to lose the moral high ground, the all-important war for symbols and meanings, to Hamas. That is quite an accomplishment. ...
.... I have pondered the videos that both sides have released, and concluded that the Israeli soldiers sliding down that rope had no intention of attacking the people on board and that the people on board had no way of being confident of this. I cannot expect Palestinians and their supporters to believe the best about the Israeli army. ... I do not doubt that some of the activists on the ship welcomed a confrontation with Israel, but the Israelis should not have obliged them. ...
.... Israel was not under attack. A headline in The Washington Post yesterday reported that “Israel says Free Gaza Movement poses threat to Jewish state.” ... It is true that the movement has grown in recent years, and is now troublesome to Israel’s policy in Gaza; and it is also true that the Turkish charity that sponsored the “Freedom Flotilla” has ties to Islamicist groups. But .... The extension of the definition of a security threat to include hostile activities that have little or no bearing upon security is an ominous development.
It is also the inevitable consequence of Benjamin Netanyahu’s cunning pronouncement last year that Israel is now endangered by “the Iran threat, the missile threat, and the threat I call the Goldstone threat.” The equivalence was morally misleading, and therefore dangerous. Ideological warfare is not military warfare. I have studied the entirety of the Goldstone Report, and whereas I do not doubt (and wrote in this magazine in the days before Goldstone) that Operation Cast Lead caused the unjustifiable death of non-combatants, I also do not doubt that the Goldstone Report, which was nastily indifferent to Israel’s security predicament and to the ethical challenges of Israeli self-defense, was an instrument in a broad campaign of delegitimation against Israel—and yet the threat of delegitimation is not like the threat of destruction. ... A commando operation is not an appropriate response to an idea. ... The assault on the Mavi Marmara was a stupid gift to the delegitimators. ... Read the rest at The New Republic website.
Thursday, June 03, 2010
Nixon in China or Nixon in Cambodia: Bibi’s Choice by Jo-Ann Mort
The disastrous situation emerging from the flotilla mishap highlights Israel’s global isolation and the complete lack of regard of the current Israeli government for diplomacy as a means to an end.
I have no illusions about some of the people from the flotilla, nor about some of their sponsors. They were not all peace-loving human rights activists, though some of them—if not many of them—were. But that is not the point. This is a P.R. disaster for Israel that so easily could have been avoided. Were Israel truly negotiating with the West Bank-based Palestinian government, it would find itself in a different situation with Turkey, not to mention with Europe and with the United States. But the sad truth is that the current Israeli government—under the leadership both of Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak—has taken an attitude of shoot first, and talk later.
Just think of the split screen images. Next week, the Palestinian Authority will be sponsoring an economic conference in Bethlehem, with over 2000 participants from around the world (including a U.S. delegation led by State Department top staff from the Mitchell team) to trade ideas and business cards, as part of an ongoing effort to boost an increasingly transparent and growing Palestinian private sector.
Additionally, the PA has just launched a campaign to disengage from Israel’s settlement economy, a smart move if they are to wean themselves off of the dependency that the post-Oslo years created, and also if they are to build their own state. Meanwhile, Israel’s response? Rumors abound about how everyone from the Prime Minister himself to those around him continue to engage in a whispering campaign questioning the honesty of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a former World Bank economist. His perch in Ramallah is fairly regularly threatened by the Fatah old guard (who actually are not honest), precisely because he is promoting an honest regime. And the current Likud ministers have taken the side of the settlers, attacking and intentionally misrepresenting the parameters of the anti-settlers’ goods campaign to make it appear that the PA is condoning a full-blown boycott of Israel, which they are not. Read more at the Dissent magazine website
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
... Israeli army sources have told the press that the commandos faced a "lynch" when they descended by ropes from helicopters onto the Mavi Marmara -- the largest boat in the flotilla intended to break Israel's blockade on Gaza. Inside Israel, the word "lynch" stirs a very loaded memory: the mob murder of two Israeli soldiers who strayed into the West Bank city of Ramallah at the start of the Second Intifada in 2000.
Yet the word emphasizes the stark difference between the two events. The commandos didn't stray onto the ferry's deck. They boarded it in a planned operation. If, as Israel Defense Forces footage seems to show, people on the boat's deck greeted them with knives and clubs, it means that at least some of the activists decided in advance that nonviolence wasn't their strategy.
Nonetheless, they weren't lynching anyone; they were attempting to stop a boarding party in international waters. The Israeli Foreign Ministry argues that interdicting a ship on the high seas to enforce a declared blockade is legal under international law. It should have been no surprise, however, that the boarding would meet resistance....
The decision to send a handful of commandos to seize the ship -- a decision approved by Prime Minister Netanyahu and his inner circle of ministers -- shows hubris, poor intelligence work, and determined inability to learn from experience. Both the politicians and the generals expected that the arrival of Israeli soldiers would convince the crew and passengers to submit. And yet, a day before the boarding, Israel Radio cited an Al-Jazeera report that people aboard the ship said they were ready to die. The Israel Radio reporter described that attitude as "paranoia." He didn't consider the possibility that those aboard were ready for a fight. ...
The naval commandos are an elite unit, trained for daring operations. Controlling an angry crowd of civilians armed with knives and slingshots isn't in their job description. The riot equipment they got for this mission was insufficient. Outnumbered, they resorted to live fire.
But riot control has long been an Israeli weak point. In 1990, outnumbered police fired on Palestinian demonstrators on the Temple Mount, killing a score of people and causing an international crisis. In 2000, police used live fire after Ariel Sharon's visit to the same holy site, killing several Palestinian protesters and igniting the Second Intifada. Yet before the 2005 evacuation of Jewish settlers in Gaza, troops and police got weeks of training in crowd control and self-restraint. Deployed en masse, they were able to subdue violent protesters without fatalities. Somehow, the comparative lessons weren't learned before this week's deadly fiasco.
Perhaps there's no way to use sophisticated crowd-control methods while boarding a ship. But that problem only leads us further back, to the decision to stop the flotilla. True, if Israel had allowed six ships, their passengers, and their cargo of humanitarian aid to reach Gaza, the siege of the Hamas-controlled territory would have been breached beyond repair.
But the Israeli siege itself is another link in the chain of folly. It was imposed in stages after Hamas' election victory in January 2006, the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit later that year, and the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007. Limited supplies are allowed through at land crossings -- and a shifting list of civilian goods are blocked. Instead, they reach Gaza through smuggling tunnels from Egypt, along with arms. The siege hasn't convinced Hamas to return Shalit. It hasn't sparked a popular revolt against Hamas rule. It has encouraged smuggling, caused suffering, and amplified foreign criticism of Israel. The flotilla was a missed chance for a long-needed review of Israel's policies toward Hamas since the pullout from Gaza in 2005.
So we move back one more link, to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decision's to leave Gaza unilaterally, rather than as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority. Sharon knew that reaching an agreement would mean yielding nearly all of the West Bank as well. He saw the Gaza withdrawal as a way to avoid making such a deal. But the unilateral pullout weakened Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, an advocate of a negotiated peace, and legitimized Hamas and its "armed struggle."
Before and after the raid, Israeli officials referred to the flotilla as a "provocation" intended to harm Israel. That's probably true -- and only raises the question of why Israel allowed itself to be provoked. ...
Gorenberg goes on to discuss Lova Eliav, who died the day before this incident at 89. A rising star in the Labor party, he was kicked to the political margins in 1968, by declaring the necessity of negotiating directly with the Palestinians for Israel's withdrawal from the territories.
In 1947, as a young man, Eliav was the commander of a ship ... which tried to bring Holocaust survivors to Palestine in defiance of British immigration limits. The voyage ended off the coast of Haifa when British marines took control of the ship. The would-be immigrants were interred in Cyprus. Eliav's mission was not a failure, though. It was one step in a campaign that stirred the world against British policy and led to the establishment of Israel.
Were Israel's current leaders able to read the past as Eliav did, to see oneself in one's adversary, they would have seen the implications of the voyage of the Mavi Marmara and the folly of interdicting it. ... Eliav embodied a heroic, humanistic Zionism. ...