Wednesday, July 30, 2008
As a left-Zionist, I share most of Prof. Wallerstein's concerns. I am a longtime advocate for an end to Israeli settlements, for full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and a viable independent state for Palestinians who are not Israelis. But there were some important lacunae in his recounting of history.
Wallerstein is correct that the course of events changed radically in 1967, but Israel did not attack Egypt merely because Nasser "seemed to be assembling Arab troops for an invasion." Nasser, in fact, laid siege to Israel. He established an alliance of Arab states – including Jordan, which then lost the West Bank because its army, newly under Egyptian command, shelled West Jerusalem and the outskirts of Tel Aviv. And Nasser assembled 100,000 troops along Israel's Sinai border, expelled the UN peacekeeping force and announced a blockade of shipping to Israel's port of Eilat. At the same time, Nasser whipped Arab masses to a frenzy with bloodcurdling rhetoric about a final battle.
There was a small window of time, immediately after Israel's victory in 1967, when an Arab offer to negotiate a reasonable peace would have likely been received positively. This passed with the infamous resolution of the Arab League at Khartoum of the three "no's": No to recognition of Israel, no to negotiations and no to peace. What followed were the years of blindness, self-righteousness and territorial ambitions manifested under Golda Meir, and then more egregiously under a succession of Likud governments allied with the militant settler movement.
Wallerstein barely mentions the Oslo years, which might have borne fruit if not for the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in late 1995 and a wave of terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv early in '96, which all-but guaranteed Likud's return to power. The professor is correct that negotiations might still have succeeded at Taba in January 2001, but the eruption of the second Intifada had already insured Sharon's election. We need not discuss the complications of Sharon's efforts at withdrawing from parts of the occupied territories unilaterally, without negotiations, which have been met by the ascendency of Hamas and ongoing attacks on Israel in the face of its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip (attacks which Israel has responded to in a lop-sided way).
Olmert's efforts at diplomacy have been more energetic than Sharon's, but it remains to be seen how serious they will be. As for the role of the US, it is certainly possible that Israel will be in crisis as a result of a distancing in this "special relationship." It is also possible that
an Obama administration will pursue diplomacy skillfully from day one, as Obama himself proclaims.
Or it may develop that Israel will pull a rabbit out of its own hat, as it did when it won independence without material US support, when it secretly launched Oslo in 1991-92, and as it has recently done in reaching out to Syria via Turkey, and even to Hamas and Hezbollah for limited agreements. Israel's ongoing success as an economic and military power, even as it remains a very small and vulnerable country, continually defies expectations and confounds predictions.
Monday, July 28, 2008
Have the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza, committed crimes that are punishable under international law?
And does the lack of indictments against American and Israeli officials for their war crimes by the International Criminal Court detract from its right to indict Sudanese officials for committing war crimes in Darfur?
... Let us, at least temporarily, put the Americans and Israelis aside. The question is: Has the Sudanese regime committed war crimes in Darfur or not? And why do we deny the International Criminal Court lawsuit, the reports of human rights organizations, and what we see with our own eyes, but believe what the Sudanese rulers say?
Personally, I think that the International Criminal Court is more honest than the rulers and judicial system of Sudan, and I think that they must pay for their crimes in Darfur. I also think that bringing them to justice, or raising a political and legal uproar over the issue, will deter other rulers in the Arab world from committing additional crimes against their people.
This is precisely the point that explains why centers of Arab political power are now worried, and why they have shown solidarity with the rulers in Khartoum. After all, the Arab peoples are ruled by armies and intelligence services, and human rights violations in the Arab world are considered fairly routine and do not create any anxiety in ruling circles unless they feel frightened of scandal or possible punishment. Therefore, the solidarity of Arab leaders with those in Khartoum has the aura of self-defense. All the rhetoric about "conspiracies against the nation," "dignity," and "sovereignty" is a crude attempt to hide behind nationalist sentiments.
But what is much more important, and what deserves contemplation and reflection, are questions like "Do human right violations and crimes punishable by law command the attention of public opinion in the Arab world?"
Yes, and no.
It is "yes" when crimes are committed by Israelis and Americans, because this validates harming them and violating their rights and dignity.
It is "no" when they are committed by the ruling regimes, or by criminal fundamentalist and rejectionist groups. And this indicates the existence of double-standards, an imbalance in values, and the continuation of an attitude of victimization.
Let us take what happened in Guantanamo and Darfur as illustrative examples.
News about Guantanamo occupies center stage in the Arab media, and Arab satellite channels pay thousands of dollars to obtain, at a great distance, the footage of metal bars and men moving behind them. Arab commentators employ every rhetorical technique to remonstrate against the violations that are committed there. And that is fine, because it is true and important.
But where is the news from Darfur? ...
The difference between Guantanamo and Darfur is that the first reaffirms a sense of victimization, while the latter incites Arabs to look at the man in the mirror, something that they don't like to do. And this, among other things, demonstrates a prevailing political culture in the Arab world of selectivity, impurity and imbalance of values. ... Click to the ATFP Web site for the full article.
Friday, July 25, 2008
“Obama in Israel: One Tough Audience”
.... Israel is one of the few countries in the world where George W. Bush would still win over 50 percent in the public opinion polls. So there is no yearning for change in the American leadership, as there is among many Americans, and with most of the people around the world.
Israeli leaders have their own tzures (problems, in Yiddish). Prime Minister Olmert is competing with Bush in America when it comes to plummeting in the polls, and the latest news about investigations into his behavior, together with the latest tractor-terror attack in Jerusalem, pushed Obama onto the side columns of the day of his visit.
A few hours before his arrival on Tuesday evening, the song they were singing in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv (where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated fourteen years ago) was not Yes We Can, but Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree. The occasion was the ending of the three-year regular army service of Gilad Shalit's military pals. The buddies of the young corporal with the intellectual, very non-macho appearance who was captured in an across the border raid by Hamas militants two years ago, convened together with his father, Noam, (who sounds like he's a supporter of the left-wing Meretz party) in the square which has hosted hundreds of thousands of Peace Now demonstrators, to lobby for government action to ensure Gilad's release in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.
This is a clear reflection of the fact that Senator John McCain's story-narrative as a combat officer who was a prisoner of war resonates much more easily with Israelis than Obama's extraordinary story-narrative, which includes such exotic and unfamiliar stations as Hawaii, Africa, Indonesia, Harvard and the streets of Chicago.
And yet, there has been a tremendous amount of curiosity in Israel about Obama.... Click to read Hillel’s entire piece online.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Friends, I've been thinking a lot about the Benny Morris Op Ed piece in the NY Times, and the subsequent reaction, the letters in the NYT, people discussing it. Some friends called him paranoid. I think that Benny Morris represents a significant part of the Israeli population. For those who are involved in being "Israel Watchers," for those of you who have opinions about what Israel should do, I suggest you read Yossi Klein Halevi's piece, "Dear Barack Obama," in The New Republic. And remember that this letter preceded the most recent attack in Jerusalem. Add to the mix, I am picking up in conversations with Israelis that they are taking the Iranian nuclear threat seriously. And that they will not tolerate a nuclear Iran. It would seem that applying pressure on Iran is a priority.– Lilly Rivlin
"Dear Barack Obama"
A letter from an anxious Israeli to the presidential candidate on the eve of his visit to Jerusalem. By Yossi Klein Halevi, The New Republic, published July 19, 2008.
Dear Senator Obama,
Welcome to Israel. ...
On the surface, the Israel you will encounter is thriving. The beaches and cafes are crowded, the shekel is one of the world's strongest currencies, our high-tech companies are dominating NASDAQ, our wineries are winning international medals, and we even export goat cheese to France. But beneath the exuberance lies is a desperate nation. The curse of Jewish history– the inability to take mere existence for granted– has returned to a country whose founding was intended to resolve that uncertainty. Even the most optimistic Israelis sense a dread we have felt only rarely– like in the weeks before the Six Day War, when Egyptian President Gammal Abdul Nasser shut down the Straits of Tiran, moved his army toward our border, and promised the imminent destruction of Israel. At the time, Lyndon Johnson, one of the best friends Israel ever had in the White House, was too preoccupied with an unpopular war to offer real assistance.
We feel our security unraveling. Terror enclaves have emerged on two of our borders, undoing a decades-long Israeli policy to deny terrorist bases easy reach to our population centers. The cease-fire with Hamas is widely seen here as a defeat– an admission that Israel couldn't defend its communities on the Gaza border from eight years of shelling, and an opportunity for Hamas to consolidate its rule and smuggle in upgraded missiles for the inevitable next round of fighting.
The unthinkable has already happened: missiles on Haifa and Ashkelon, exploding buses in Jerusalem, hundreds of thousands of Israelis transformed into temporary refugees. During the first Gulf War in 1991, when Tel Aviv was hit with Scud missiles, residents fled to the Galilee. During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, when the Galilee was hit with Katyushas, residents fled to Tel Aviv. In the next war, there will be nowhere to flee: The entire country is now within missile range of Iran and its terrorist proxies.
Above all else, we dread a nuclear Iran. With few exceptions, the consensus within the political and security establishment is that Israel cannot live with an Iranian bomb. In the U.S., a debate has begun over whether the Iranian regime is rational or apocalyptic. In truth no one knows whether the regime, or elements within it, would be mad enough to risk nuclear war. But precisely because no one knows, Israel will not place itself in a position to find out.
As we contemplate the possibility of an Israeli military strike, we worry about the extent of support from you at what could be the most critical moment in our history. When Israelis discuss the timing of a possible attack, they often ask: If Obama wins the election, should we hit Iran before January?
True, you told AIPAC that "we should take no option, including military action, off the table." But that was the one moment in your speech that failed to convince. Last December you appeared to endorse the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which broadly hinted that Iran may not be seeking a nuclear bomb after all– a claim that may have soothed Americans worried about Dick Cheney launching another preemptive war, but appalled not only Israeli intelligence but also French and British intelligence (and that has since been at least partially retracted). In the Iowa debate, you responded to a question about the NIE by stating that "it's absolutely clear that this administration and President Bush continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology...They should stop the saber-rattling, should have never started it, and they need now to aggressively move on the diplomatic front."
From where Israelis sit, it's clear that Iran temporarily suspended its weaponizations program– which is, in fact, the least important part of its effort to attain nuclear power– for the same reason that Muamar Qadaffi abandoned his nuclear program: fear of America after the Iraq invasion. A senior European Union official told me last year how grateful he was to America and Israel for raising the military threat against Iran. "You make our job easier," he said, referring to European-Iranian negotiations.
I am convinced that you regard a nuclear Iran as an intolerable threat, as you put it to AIPAC, and that, under your administration, negotiations with Iran would be coupled with a vigorous campaign of sanctions. And you've made the convincing argument that you could summon international goodwill far better than the current administration. No nation would be more relieved by an effective sanctions campaign than Israel. We know what the consequences are likely to be of an attack on Iran– retaliatory missiles on Tel Aviv, terrorism against Jewish communities abroad, rising antisemitism blaming the Jews for an increase in oil prices.
We worry, though, that the sanctions will be inadequate and that the Iranians will exploit American dialogue as cover to complete their nuclearization. Unless stopped, Iran's nuclear program will reach the point of no return within the early phases of the next administration. We need to hear that under no circumstances would an Obama administration allow the Iranian regime to go nuclear– that if sanctions and diplomacy fail, the U.S. will either attack or else support us if we do.
The rise of Hamas has only confirmed what Israelis have sensed since the violent collapse of the peace process in September 2000: that the Palestinian national movement is dysfunctional. The bitter joke here is that we're well within reach of a two-state solution– a Hamas state in Gaza and a Fatah state in the West Bank.
In your speech to AIPAC, you intuited an understanding of the Israeli psyche– hopes for peace, along with wariness. But our wariness isn't only a response to terrorism. More profoundly, we fear being deceived again by wishful thinking, by our desperation for peace, as we allowed ourselves to be during the years of the Oslo process. At that time, many Israelis began a painful, necessary process of self-reckoning, asking ourselves the crucial question of how Palestinians experienced this conflict, in effect borrowing Palestinian eyes. Many of us forced ourselves to confront the tragedy of a shattered people, one part dispersed, another part occupied, yet another uneasy citizens in a Jewish state.
Most of all, we allowed ourselves the vulnerability of hope. We lowered our guard and empowered Yasser Arafat, convincing ourselves that he had become a partner for peace. The subsequent betrayal wasn't Arafat's alone: Even now Fatah continues to convey to Palestinians the message that Israel is illegitimate and destined to disappear. Many Israelis have become so wary of being taken for fools again– which this generation of Jews had vowed would never happen to us– that talk of hope seems like unbearable naivete.
Most Israelis want a solution to the Palestinian problem as keenly as does the international community, and understand, no less than our critics abroad, that the occupation is a long-term disaster for Israel. The Israeli irony is that we have shifted from dreading the creation of a Palestinian state to dreading its failure. Fulfilling the classical Zionist hopes for a democratic Israel with a Jewish majority, at home in the Middle East and an equal member of the international community, ultimately depend on resolving the Palestinian tragedy. The Jewish return home will not be complete until we find our place in the Middle East.
But empowering the Palestinians requires renewing the trust of the Israeli public toward them. And that, in turn, requires some sign from Palestinian leaders that Israel's legitimacy is at least being debated within Palestinian society rather than systematically denigrated. Repeating a commitment to "peace" is meaningless: Peace, after all, can include a Middle East without a Jewish state.For many years, Israelis denied the right of the Palestinians to define themselves as a nation, considering Palestinian nationalism an invention by the Arab world to undermine Israel. We experienced our conceptual breakthrough in the 1990s. Now it's the Palestinians' turn. Admittedly, Israelis, as the powerful protagonists, could more readily develop a nuanced understanding of the conflict.
Psychologically, though, we too are the underdog: Israel may be Goliath to the Palestinian David, but we are David to the Arab world's (and Iran's) Goliath. We cannot empower the Palestinians while fearing our consequent diminishment.
You can be a crucial voice in encouraging the transformation of Palestinian consciousness. Perhaps parts of Palestinian society and of the broader Arab world would be able to hear from you what it cannot hear from us: that the Jews aren't colonialist invaders or crusaders but an indigenous people living in its land. Perhaps you can help the Middle East reconcile itself to our existence, and in so doing, help us complete our return home.
As you go through the requisite visits to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and the President's House, the Israeli public will be hoping to hear, beyond affirmations of your commitment to Israeli security, that America under President Obama will understand what maintaining that security involves. We hope that you will insist on a peace based on acceptance of the permanent legitimacy of a Jewish state, and on a Middle East free of the apocalyptic terror of a nuclear Iran. We, too, need the hope that you have promised America.
Yossi Klein Halevi is a contributing editor of The New Republic and a senior fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies of the Shalem Center.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Prof. Morris is a great historian because he is ordinarily so careful about marshaling facts and evidence in relation to conclusions. Consequently, my shock was complete at reading his jump to the harshest of judgments regarding the absolute "need" for Israel and/or the US to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, and the "inevitability" of nuclear war if such an attack fails or doesn't occur, prior to Iran going nuclear.
There is a very scary assumption that Morris makes, that Iran's ruling Islamist elite is so crazed by religious extremism that they would look forward to a nuclear exchange with Israel, which some actually believe that Iran would "win" while the much smaller Israel is effectively destroyed. Apparently, there have been some statements by prominent Iranians that lend credence to such a view. But it's not the wisest course to act upon the worst possible interpretations about Iran-- which even Morris knows would mean war, even as he knows that Israel's prospects for success in destroying Iran's nuclear potential are small.
I've spent many unhappy hours over the years in dialogue and diatribe with leftist critics and enemies of Israel. One, who knows Farsi (the Persian language of Iran), has made a big deal of the notion that Iran's Pres. Ahmadinejad did not literally call for Israel to be "wiped off the map." This is how that person translates Ahmadinejad on Israel: "The Imam [Khomenei] said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time."
Reassuring, right? Even the notion that Israel is referred to as the "regime occupying Jerusalem," is an extremely hostile statement. Yet I had to tangle with this translator even on the fact that (West) Jerusalem is Israel's capital – leaving aside my understanding that East Jerusalem is legitimately regarded by most of the world as occupied.
My argument with Morris is not that his concern is wrong, but that his "remedy" guarantees a bad result.
Monday, July 21, 2008
The video's most egregious flaw is in not even mentioning the 1948 war, when the creation of 750,000 Palestinian refugees was a direct result of the Palestinian leadership's effort to destroy the Yishuv in late '47 and early '48. It also fails in not saying anything specific about the waves of terrorist attacks that Israel has faced over the years.
But I see manifestations of moderation as well. Although they look at the causes and history of the conflict in a biased and one-sided way, Sabeel's actual ideas are not bad: They call for non-violence and a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine; and even while advocating that all Israeli settlements be given up, they suggest that Jewish settlers should have the right to remain there as Palestinian citizens. They also want the settlements' infrastructure to remain in place to serve returning Palestinian refugees. Their idea of a "confederation" of two sovereign states is unrealistic for now, but something like that could evolve one day after a long period of peace.
While I agree with them that Jewish settlements (all or most) are illegal and an obstacle to peace, I see a swap of territories that would allow many settlements to be annexed to Israel as a far more practical and likely outcome than for Israel to simply surrender all settlements. But I do see the need for Israel to leave more settlements than most Israelis are willing to envision at this point; for example, I think it would be difficult for a Palestinian state to be viable on the West Bank if Israel annexes Ariel and Maale Adumim.
I also see a need for both sides to acknowledge or at least learn of the tragic political errors, harsh measures and crimes that they have committed against each other. But I don't see Sabeel as truly "fringe" or extremist.
The following addresses Jews who appeared in the Sabeel video: 500 Israeli women of Machsom Watch (represented in this video by one of their number) do very commendable work in monitoring IDF behavior at 25 checkpoints. Anti-housing demolitions activist (and anti-Zionist ideologue) Jeff Halper is hardly featured at all and what he says here (as opposed to elsewhere) is rather innocuous.
It's interesting to see the theologian Marc Ellis speak; I've heard of him, but only barely. He employs a kind of Jewish "liberation theology" that rhetorically sides with the forces of "social justice" over those of "power," as represented by the "Constantinian" Jewish establishment. I see him as shallow and extremely one-sided in the way he looks at a complex and multi-dimensional conflict.
Friday, July 18, 2008
P.S. Catch this excellently reasoned and impassioned article by Leonard Fein (a longtime Labor Zionist), "Reflections of a Sometime Israel Lobbyist," in the spring issue of Dissent magazine.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
If Israel’s goal of the release was to begin to strip away the issues that Hezbollah uses to justify keeping its weapons — as some political analysts inIs yesterday’s trade for the bodies of the two captured Israeli soldiers part of a concerted effort at peace between Hezbollah and Israel? I would certainly hope so.
the region speculated — Sheik Nasrallah did not sound concerned. [Given this following sentence, the reporter might have posed this much more positively and
speculated upon its meaning– ed.] After leaving the stage, in remarks broadcast to the audience, he said that he would be willing to accept a diplomatic solution to the remaining land disputes with Israel — and with Lebanese factions that are opposed to Hezbollah keeping its weapons.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
He often sent more than one cartoon for our choosing, and when IH was commenting about the work of Professors Mearsheimer and Walt on the "Israel Lobby," he sent us a cartoon that delighted me. It pictured two hasidim stirring (as if they were witches) a boiling cauldron labeled "Israel Lobby." I marveled at the fact that it actually was an antisemitic image but the context of who we are as a publication, and who the cartoonist is, meant that we were lampooning any antisemitic fallout from the Israel Lobby controversy.
It also could have been interpreted as accusing Mearsheimer and Walt of intentionally stirring up antisemitism. Readers of IH and/or this blog would know that I don't think highly of M & W's work and that I view M & W as having unintentionally stirred up antisemitism, but I don't believe that they meant harm. Yet they merit being lampooned. Nevertheless, after discussing this with a couple of associates, I reluctantly chose to play it safe and go with another cartoon.
It should be obvious that ISRAEL HORIZONS would not be promoting antisemitism. It should be obvious to anybody who knows The New Yorker that it was satirizing the insinuations about Senator Obama being Muslim – "not that there's anything wrong with that" (I'm quoting Jerry Seinfeld's character's P.C. afterthought when he and George Castanza were mistakenly identified as gay lovers) – and that somehow Obama and his wife support terrorists.
The ridiculousness of the images portrayed on The New Yorker cover clearly connotes satire: Michelle Obama in a large Afro with an assault rifle slung across her back, making a "terrorist fist bump" (in the idiotic words of a Fox News commentator) with Senator Obama, himself dressed in African Muslim attire, an American flag burning in the fireplace, a picture of Osama bin Laden apparently on the wall.
It was said at the time that the attacks of 9/11 killed off irony. We also may be reminded of the violent reactions around the world to the Danish cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammad; protestors had a genuine reason to raise their voices against a perceived insult to their religion but never to engage in violence. And their lack of regard for the prerogatives of free speech (which should protect the cartoonists and the protestors equally) and the institution of a free press was disheartening. But the New Yorker cartoon is being protested out of a misunderstanding (as I feared would happen with that cartoon meant for IH).
I have to agree with one of NPR's "car guys" (I'm going far afield here but I love this quote): "Ah stupidity, the universal language." (See the Egyptian-born Muslim commentator Mona Eltahawy's sage reaction to the Obama cartoon affair.) Whether it's stupidity, hyper-sensitivity, or an over-eagerness to confront critics who are too often perceived as enemies, we lose something as a society when publishing a cartoon becomes a risky endeavor.
P.S. If you don't believe that The New Yorker meant to undermine vicious attacks on Obama with this cover, see this video of Charlie Rose's July 16 PBS interview with David Remnick, The New Yorker's editor.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
The closest that I have seen the two come to any kind of formal meeting or staged run-in was a picture snapped during France's annual Bastille Day Parade where Olmert can be seen walking past Assad, who is talking to Qatar's Emir Khalifa al-Thani. However, when Prime Minister Olmert was giving a speech to the forum the day before, President Assad happened to be absent from the room. Coincidence? I think not. So what does this mean?
First, everyone knows that Israel and Syria have been conducting indirect peace talks via Turkey for a little over a month. However, what puzzles me the most is that though the world understands that Assad isn't going to directly hold talks with Olmert, can't he at least sit through the man's speech? He is, after all, trying to negotiate a peace agreement with him. Are things so bad that he can't bear to hear what Olmert has to say?
If I were an Israeli politician, this would be a clear sign to me that in fact the Syrian regime is not serious about any form of peace talk. If a friend says to me, “I know Jon punched you in the face, but seriously, he is a good guy”, how can I ever believe that he is a good guy? He punched me in the face! The same follows for President Assad. We hear that he wants to make peace, but his actions say otherwise --- just a little food for thought.
Monday, July 14, 2008
On Thursday July 10th, Meretz USA hosted Meretz party Member of Knesset Avshalom ("Abu") Vilan at Beit Shalom in New York City. The briefing was also attended via conference call by participants from across North America. Over the past years, MK Vilan has been a keystone for bringing first-hand, up-to-date information about the internal and external current affairs of Israel and its government.
MK Vilan’s talk covered a gamut of issues, from the expected prisoner exchange with Hezbollah and efforts to effect a similar deal with Hamas for the release of Gilad Shalit, to peace talks with Syria and the Palestinian Authority, tensions with Iran, possible upcoming elections in Israel and America, and the status of imprisoned Palestinian political figure Marwan Barghouti.
Read the entire summary at the Meretz USA Website.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Halfway down the hill we stopped to eat our picnic breakfast of Nabulsi goat's cheese and tomatoes – which we had to eat whole because I could not risk being stopped on the road carrying a Swiss army knife. ... On the way down, we made several stops to record the morning sounds of the nearby village, the cock crowing and the pedlar selling his wares, as well as the more sinister sound of the cement mixer pouring concrete for new housing at the Talmon settlement north of the village.
Just as we arrived at Ain Qenya's main and only street [Ain Qenya is a West Bank Palestinian village– ed.], we noticed a car parked at the side of the road. The driver wore a knitted skullcap; next to him sat a younger man with the side locks worn by ultra-religious Jews. The driver rolled down his window and asked: "Who are you?"
I thought he might have mistaken us for Israelis who had lost their way. Reassuringly I said: "I live near here."
Looking me in the eye, the settler said in his poor English: "In different from you, I'm living here, really living here, not like you."
I wanted to know what he meant by "not like you." But the settler did not answer; he rolled up his window and began to dial the army on his mobile. We stood by awkwardly until the Palestinian driver of a van parked nearby called us over and invited us to hop into his vehicle.
"This settler is from Dolev," our driver said. "He's constantly driving down to the village and making trouble. Sometimes he blocks the road with his car, or he brings younger people who throw stones at cars and homes."
When we attempted to turn up the hill to Ramallah, the settler swerved and blocked the road. I was wondering what lies he would tell the army, when - finally - he let us pass. After passing through the army barrier and entering Ramallah, I had the distinct feeling of arriving at a ghetto surrounded by hills forbidden to its residents. As I was driven to my house overlooking these hills, I wondered how much longer it would be before I will be prevented by fanatics from "really living here."
Raja Shehadeh's "Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape" (Profile, £7.99) won the Orwell Book Prize 2008. This article by Mr. Shehadeh, "A Short Walk in Palestine – Or Is It Eretz Yisrael?" (abridged above) can be read in full at the UK New Statesman issue of July 3, 2008, and at its website.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
After she greeted me, I wished her a chag sameach, and latching on to the fact that they introduced the segment by playing Don McClean's "American Pie," I told her that when I was a youth in New York, I remembered distinctly "the day the music died," when Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash — a very sad, traumatic event for all American music lovers. I'm not sure she knew what I was talking about. She then asked me how I celebrated the 4th of July.
Well, I said, first I read a book about Sandy Koufax, the legendary Jewish baseball player (Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy) [Hillel Schenker departed his native Brooklyn for Israel in 1963.— ed.], and I just finished watching Venus Williams defeat her sister Serena in the Wimbledon final, which was a symbolic victory in the bastion of the British conqueror.
Wow she said, you people really keep a grudge. And, I added, my friends in Democrats Abroad- Israel set up a registration stand for the November elections in the party run by AACI (the Association of American and Canadian Immigrants in Israel, in the Biblical Zoo, replete with kosher hotdogs). After all, there are about 100,000 American citizens and potential voters living in Israel.
It's quite an achievement that a black man is the presidential candidate, she said. Yes, I added, and the fact the two leading Democratic candidates were a woman and a black demonstrates how much American society has advanced. Interestingly, she said that they were forced to forgo the usual "holy balance" (of having both a Democratic and a Republic spokesperson), because all the Republicans they approached were religious and couldn't appear on her program because it was broadcast live before the end of Shabbat.
That didn't surprise me, since the prominent Republican spokespeople I've met in TV studios are all religious settlers. You know, she said, that there is a lot of concern about Obama in Israel.
I know, and that's mainly because he's an unknown quantity. However, friends who have known him since his early Chicago days vouch that he will is totally committed to defending Israel's security. And what is equally important, unlike McCain, he is also committed to being involved in promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace, which is both an American and an Israeli interest.
Did you have a barbecue to celebrate the holiday? Nope, I had sushi (which she thought was sacrilegious - she used the word mzuaza'at, with a twinkle in her voice). She signed off wishing me a chag sameach. — Hillel Schenker
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
This Haaretz column by Akiva Eldar, reflecting upon the two terrorist incidents perpetrated in recent months by Arabs of East Jerusalem, indicates that Seidemann’s warning was tragically on target.
Monday, July 07, 2008
Rabbi Waskow acknowledged that Israel was not actually a reason for the war in Iraq. And Ms. Cagan came the closest I’ve heard her to endorsing a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine– but not quite that far; she voiced with a titter something of a throw-away line that Israelis and Palestinians should be able to make peace. If I had the presence of mind to say all that I might have at that moment, I would have added the following: that it’s important to emphasize that Israel and its supporters were not responsible for the war in Iraq, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict bears no real relationship to the war in Iraq (notwithstanding how the UFPJ has seen this) and that Israel is central to the Iran issue only because of Iran’s hostile actions and rhetoric.
Directly after this session, I privately discussed with Larry Bush (editor in chief of the Workmen’s Circle’s Jewish Currents magazine) exactly the concern he has just articulated on his blog:
What if the surge is working in Iraq? How should those of us who have opposed this war from the start respond? Jewish Currents is currently working with the Workmen's Circle and the Shalom Center to organize a November 23rd activism connference, Jews Uniting Against the War and to Heal America, at Central Synagogue in NYC. [Speakers will include Meretz USA’s Lilly Rivlin.]Click here to read the rest of his posting.
Friday, July 04, 2008
What, exactly, is a decent person supposed to think?
On a quiet and clear morning in Jerusalem, a woman is driving toward the heart of the city, her infant with her in the car. There is nothing to fear.
It is not a military area, it is not a sector of occupation, it is not a settlement – Jews have lived and worked here for more than a century. Jewish doctors and nurses were treating Arab infants, women, the elderly and the infirm here as early as 1902, when Shaare Tzedek Hospital opened across the street.
There is nothing to fear. Except for the man behind the wheel of a bulldozer, who has taken it upon himself to kill Jews. Not Israeli security force personnel, not occupation troops, not the Shin Bet. Jews. Women and children and the elderly and the infirm. Jews who may be in favor of an independent Palestinian state. Jews who have nothing against Arabs. Jews who may work to end the occupation. Jews.
When the killing starts, the woman behind the wheel does what Jews have learned to do since the Holocaust, and for 2,000 years before that: Save your child. Whatever it takes.
She manages to throw her infant out the side window and clear of the car before the Hero of Palestine steers the massive earth mover toward her car and crushes it flat.
It doesn't take long, after the Hero of Palestine has finished overturning buses full of Jews – and Arabs as well – and driving over other cars, even backing up to crush one twice, before the public relations and marketing department of Hamas had formulated its praise for the attack.
"We consider it as a natural reaction to the daily aggression and crimes committed against our people in the West Bank and all over the occupied lands," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told the press. ...
Read the rest of Burston’s column in Haaretz online. Please note that his exasperated musings about ultimate Palestinian intentions regarding peace and statehood are entirely his own. They are not the view of Meretz USA.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
The deal struck with Hezbollah, which will be done in two phases of exchanges, will eventually allow for the release of notorious terrorist Samir Kuntar, who in 1979 was imprisoned for his role in a Nahariyah terrorist attack. To be more specific he shot a man dead, in front of his four year old daughter, and then proceeded to brutally kill her as well. All the while the man’s wife was inside their house hiding where she accidentally suffocated her infant child trying to keep her quiet so as not to be found by Kuntar and his thugs. The question of how this man could ever be released must be raised. He has murdered several times and who is not to say that he won’t murder again. How can we, the Jewish people, be sure that he won’t revert back to his terrorist roots? Are we willing to risk more lives over the remains of a few casualties of war? Hezbollah has the world’s attention, already proclaiming Israeli weakness as a result of the trade, and certainly Kuntar will be welcomed back as a hero to the Islamic extremist world. It is not wise to fuel the fire of Islamic extremism as we have found out in the past. The release of Kuntar could add a large part of a formula for a major Arab uprising in what could arguably be the most unstable Middle East since the Six-Day War.
I think a hypothetical situation is in order to properly explain my thoughts. Let’s assume that Mexican rebels kidnapped two American soldiers on the border of Texas and Mexico. Let’s also assume that the United States is fighting a guerilla war with Canadian terrorists and dealing with the possibility that Brazil is developing nuclear arms and has made innuendos as to wanting to use them against the U.S. To finish the scenario we will say that America is holding Joe Black, a Mexican rebel known for his part as the leader of a cell that killed five American civilians, two of which were children under the age of 5, on American soil. Do you think that for one second the American government would even allow a negotiation for his release unless it was the direst of circumstances? No. Not one word would be negotiated under any circumstance less then full scale war. This has nothing to do with the lack of appreciation or caring for its soldiers, as many would argue, but instead the caring for the greater population. The bodies of two dead soldiers in most people’s minds simply are not worth the price of someone who you know will seek to kill as many of your people as he can, and most likely succeed. Enter Jewish values.
We as Jews pride ourselves on knowing that we are a unique community, one that has always looked out for each other (even in the midst of the inability to agree on most things), even the ones who have fallen protecting us. Though it is important in Jewish custom that a body has a proper burial, there is definitely something else, something special, and something…sincere about the lengths that Israel goes through to retrieve the bodies of its lost soldiers. The state is sincere in its feeling about the importance of each individual loyal citizen. Of course there is the obligation to those soldiers families to do everything in their power to get them back, however isn’t their a limit to the cost? Say Samir Kuntar? Apparently not in Israel. They have a mentality that stresses a higher importance on their citizens, not their enemies. That says something about a country. For all of its negative qualities, one can not say that Israel does not care for its people or soldiers. It is what gives Jews around the world a loyalty to Israel, even the ones who have never been! Israel has our back, for better or for worse. This is something that has not always been the case for the Jewish people, and quite frankly I like the feeling of knowing someone is watching out for me, making sure that in the long run they will help me in my most extreme time of need.
So where does this bring us? Do we face the harsh reality realizing that by giving up a man (a man only in the sense of gender) like Samir Kuntar, we are probably killing a few more Jews in this world, indirectly, or do we focus on the Jewish value of no man left behind? The latter may keep us pure of heart and maintain our ideals of looking out for every Jew, regardless of circumstance, which in essence is the reason for the existence of the modern state of Israel, is it not? However, unnecessary bargaining with our enemies could also be the downfall of the state considering the geographical size and emotional wear of the small wonder. The answer is that there is no right answer, only opinion, both sides are reasonable in their arguments with neither one being more correct then the other. But since I’m writing this article I will tell you that if I had my way, we would just keep a better look out on our soldiers and avoid putting ourselves in this position in the first place, l’chaim.
Mark is correct that Hebron included a vibrant Jewish community until the bloody pogrom of 1929 and that Jews do validly own property there. (Avrum Burg once movingly wrote about how half of his relatives in Hebron were murdered by Arabs while the other half were saved by their Arab neighbors.) But every writer on Hebron today need not go back to 1929. The murders of Jews in 1929 do not justify the ongoing hooliganism and lawless violence against Arabs there today.
In a better world, a Jewish community should live there in peace and security. But this community, whether made extreme by the circumstances or out of a deeply indoctrinated hatred, has instigated a rein of terror over the Arab majority of this city. Meretz USA supports the Union of Progressive Zionists’ sponsorship of Breaking the Silence, a group of IDF veterans that publicizes human rights abuses by the occupation in Hebron and elsewhere in the West Bank.
As a postscript, I add the following revelation: a couple of years ago, Gary Rosenblatt, the editor in chief of NY Jewish Week, admitted in response to my questioning that my Meretz USA association has inhibited him in publishing my work. NY Jewish Week has published me three times over the years, but repeatedly rejected other submissions, albeit politely. I was outraged and responded in an email that his associate editor, Jonathan Mark, was far more right-wing in his pronouncements than I am left-wing. Sadly for me, I evidently burnt my bridges, as NY Jewish Week has never even responded to any of my submissions or queries since.