Blog

Who are the Victims?

italkisrael : : israel

Her tone was sharp, her words piercing: “You want us to think that you are the victims. You talk about the Romans, the Holocaust and the Arab armies in 1948 and 1967. But you’re not the victims.”

These remarks were directed at me recently by a woman from England who was part of a small Christian delegation that had come to our home in Efrat that morning.

The group had an interest in visiting an “illegal settlement” and hearing the views of a “settler” about Israel’s “occupation of Palestine.”

Early in the morning this woman and the others in her group had stood in line with Palestinians at the Kalandia checkpoint on their way to Efrat from Ramallah where they had spent the night. Another member of the group took pains to refer to this experience several times. It sounded as if their encounter with the checkpoint was not only a demonstration of this group’s solidarity with Palestinians but also a badge of honor.

This group was typical of the veritable endless caravan of delegations whose members come to “Israel Palestine” from abroad to “learn about the conflict.” During a typical five- to 10-day visit the bulk of their time is spent among Palestinians within the Palestinian Authority (or meeting with pro-Palestinian Israeli NGOs).

This particular group allocated approximately two hours to hear the views of a single “settler.”

It should therefore come as no surprise that to this woman it is the Palestinians who are the victims and Israel, and in particular Israeli settlers, who are responsible for their victimization.

She was expressing a phenomenon known as “Holocaust fatigue” and taking it one step further. This benighted concept has emerged in recent years to express the feelings of some non-Jews who are sick and tired of hearing about how Jews suffered and died in the Holocaust.

What was, they feel, was. Having come through the checkpoint that morning it was clear to this woman who are the victims today.

This group, like others with a similar agenda, was interested in hearing the Israeli “settler” narrative. But their primary objective while touring the area was experiencing the Palestinian narrative. They strove to personally know individual Palestinians and witness their suffering; thus, the Kalandia checkpoint experience. In contrast, most internationals rarely spend more than a couple of hours when visiting an “illegal settlement.”

Such distancing, trying to avoid attaching a name or a face to the image of “settler,” contributes to the delegitimization of Jewish community life beyond the 1949 armistice lines. The people who organize these groups’ itineraries know that seeing is believing, while hearing represents a far less powerful experience. They feel secure that visitors given only a limited opportunity to interact with Jewish “settlers” are unlikely to question their own commitment to the Palestinian cause; in fact, after their brief exposure to a community like Efrat, this commitment may in fact become stronger.

The woman who spoke out acknowledged that she was visiting the region for the first time and that she knew very little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before deciding to join her co-religionists on this mission. The Christian denomination to which she belongs is Low Church and liberal. Among other social justice campaigns with which it is involved, it supports the boycott of all manufactured products as well as fruits and vegetables produced by Jews in Judea and Samaria.

Her present understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she said, was formed at the short, preparatory seminar offered to all trip participants approximately a month before departure. The views presented at that time were now being confirmed by the partisan encounters that comprised this group’s tour. For example, as I learned, the few other Israelis invited to meet with this group all expressed strong criticism of the “occupation.” Otherwise, this group’s time was spent with Palestinians.

It is no wonder this woman reacted to my presentation in the manner she did. Until reaching Efrat she was likely surrounded by discussions of stolen land, refugee camps, home demolitions, travel restrictions, checkpoints, abusive soldiers and the scarcity of water, all attributable to the “occupation.”

Most poignantly, she was taken to see the “wall,” Israel’s national security barrier, which has become the premier symbol of the “occupation” and synonymous with “apartheid” in the lexicon of all groups sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

Since her group’s arrival in Israel she surely had also observed dozens of IDF personnel with automatic weapons as well as military jeeps on patrol. To this woman, a people whose soldiers drive around in jeeps with guns and are able to control the movement of other people are certainly not victims… they can only victimize others.

This woman’s failure to view current realities as the outcome of past events blocked her ability to understand the causal relationship between the extended waves of suicide bombings Israel faced a decade ago and the obligation of a government to maintain whatever measures are necessary to protect its citizenry. Her jaundiced view of the conflict echoed in her cynical dismissal of the explanation for such measures.

“Why,” she asked, “does the ‘wall’ not follow the precise route of the ‘green line’ (the 1949 armistice line)?” In other words, why does the security barrier run through and divide privately owned Palestinian property or in other ways deviate from the route of the “green line” and spill over onto Palestinian land? The answer she received, that except where Israeli security experts deemed it necessary the barrier does follow the “green line,” caused her to cast a fleeting, conspiratorial glance at a colleague.

THE PALESTINIAN narrative continues to win peoples’ hearts and minds because people respond more viscerally and permanently to what they see and experience than to what they are told, and Palestinians regularly make sure that outsiders are brought to see the assortment of encumbrances imposed upon them by the “occupation.”

In contrast, visitors to Israel will undoubtedly hear the story of the Jewish People’s unprecedented national renaissance in the wake of the Holocaust or be treated to a PowerPoint presentation highlighting the state of Israel’s incredible achievements in science, technology and culture. As impressive as these may otherwise be, this approach has a significantly lesser impact on dubious visitors than the unsettling experience of being stopped by soldiers carrying weapons and asked to present passports at an IDF checkpoint, an experience reported by some overseas groups.

This woman had it wrong. My telescopic recounting of Jewish history leading up to the creation of the state of Israel to her and her group was not intended as a review of Jewish victimization. That Jews carry the unenviable distinction of being the most consistently victimized people throughout the past two millennia is self-evident from any sober reading of world history.

Rather, my intention was something else, and twofold.

First, I wished to trace the trajectory of events framing Israel’s unique historic exile and return to the Land, events that I am certain had no place in this group’s consciousness. Second, I wished to illustrate how we Jews, in spite of our travails and against all odds, through a combination of abiding religious faith and sheer will, succeeded in returning to history and re-establishing our membership among the sovereign nations of the world. This feat was not achieved by touting our victimization.

Following their morning visit to Efrat this group returned by bus to Ramallah, a journey that again involved their waiting in line at the Kalandia checkpoint.

I have no doubt that while standing patiently in line alongside Palestinians they would again contrast the surrounding dismal scene with the green lawns and comfortable homes they just left behind in Efrat. But would it enter their minds that some of the people who live in Efrat, or their parents or grandparents, not so long ago, were made to wait in line surrounded by soldiers in a black universe where Kalandia would have been considered a life-giving oasis? Although we never forget those lines, here the woman from England was actually right; we did not allow them to make us victims.

The author lives in Efrat and is the director of iTalkIsrael.Her tone was sharp, her words piercing: “You want us to think that you are the victims. You talk about the Romans, the Holocaust and the Arab armies in 1948 and 1967. But you’re not the victims.”

These remarks were directed at me recently by a woman from England who was part of a small Christian delegation that had come to our home in Efrat that morning.

The group had an interest in visiting an “illegal settlement” and hearing the views of a “settler” about Israel’s “occupation of Palestine.”

Early in the morning this woman and the others in her group had stood in line with Palestinians at the Kalandia checkpoint on their way to Efrat from Ramallah where they had spent the night. Another member of the group took pains to refer to this experience several times. It sounded as if their encounter with the checkpoint was not only a demonstration of this group’s solidarity with Palestinians but also a badge of honor.

This group was typical of the veritable endless caravan of delegations whose members come to “Israel Palestine” from abroad to “learn about the conflict.” During a typical five- to 10-day visit the bulk of their time is spent among Palestinians within the Palestinian Authority (or meeting with pro-Palestinian Israeli NGOs).

This particular group allocated approximately two hours to hear the views of a single “settler.”

It should therefore come as no surprise that to this woman it is the Palestinians who are the victims and Israel, and in particular Israeli settlers, who are responsible for their victimization.

She was expressing a phenomenon known as “Holocaust fatigue” and taking it one step further. This benighted concept has emerged in recent years to express the feelings of some non-Jews who are sick and tired of hearing about how Jews suffered and died in the Holocaust.

What was, they feel, was. Having come through the checkpoint that morning it was clear to this woman who are the victims today.

This group, like others with a similar agenda, was interested in hearing the Israeli “settler” narrative. But their primary objective while touring the area was experiencing the Palestinian narrative. They strove to personally know individual Palestinians and witness their suffering; thus, the Kalandia checkpoint experience. In contrast, most internationals rarely spend more than a couple of hours when visiting an “illegal settlement.”

Such distancing, trying to avoid attaching a name or a face to the image of “settler,” contributes to the delegitimization of Jewish community life beyond the 1949 armistice lines. The people who organize these groups’ itineraries know that seeing is believing, while hearing represents a far less powerful experience. They feel secure that visitors given only a limited opportunity to interact with Jewish “settlers” are unlikely to question their own commitment to the Palestinian cause; in fact, after their brief exposure to a community like Efrat, this commitment may in fact become stronger.

The woman who spoke out acknowledged that she was visiting the region for the first time and that she knew very little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before deciding to join her co-religionists on this mission. The Christian denomination to which she belongs is Low Church and liberal. Among other social justice campaigns with which it is involved, it supports the boycott of all manufactured products as well as fruits and vegetables produced by Jews in Judea and Samaria.

Her present understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she said, was formed at the short, preparatory seminar offered to all trip participants approximately a month before departure. The views presented at that time were now being confirmed by the partisan encounters that comprised this group’s tour. For example, as I learned, the few other Israelis invited to meet with this group all expressed strong criticism of the “occupation.” Otherwise, this group’s time was spent with Palestinians.

It is no wonder this woman reacted to my presentation in the manner she did. Until reaching Efrat she was likely surrounded by discussions of stolen land, refugee camps, home demolitions, travel restrictions, checkpoints, abusive soldiers and the scarcity of water, all attributable to the “occupation.”

Most poignantly, she was taken to see the “wall,” Israel’s national security barrier, which has become the premier symbol of the “occupation” and synonymous with “apartheid” in the lexicon of all groups sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

Since her group’s arrival in Israel she surely had also observed dozens of IDF personnel with automatic weapons as well as military jeeps on patrol. To this woman, a people whose soldiers drive around in jeeps with guns and are able to control the movement of other people are certainly not victims… they can only victimize others.

This woman’s failure to view current realities as the outcome of past events blocked her ability to understand the causal relationship between the extended waves of suicide bombings Israel faced a decade ago and the obligation of a government to maintain whatever measures are necessary to protect its citizenry. Her jaundiced view of the conflict echoed in her cynical dismissal of the explanation for such measures.

“Why,” she asked, “does the ‘wall’ not follow the precise route of the ‘green line’ (the 1949 armistice line)?” In other words, why does the security barrier run through and divide privately owned Palestinian property or in other ways deviate from the route of the “green line” and spill over onto Palestinian land? The answer she received, that except where Israeli security experts deemed it necessary the barrier does follow the “green line,” caused her to cast a fleeting, conspiratorial glance at a colleague.

THE PALESTINIAN narrative continues to win peoples’ hearts and minds because people respond more viscerally and permanently to what they see and experience than to what they are told, and Palestinians regularly make sure that outsiders are brought to see the assortment of encumbrances imposed upon them by the “occupation.”

In contrast, visitors to Israel will undoubtedly hear the story of the Jewish People’s unprecedented national renaissance in the wake of the Holocaust or be treated to a PowerPoint presentation highlighting the state of Israel’s incredible achievements in science, technology and culture. As impressive as these may otherwise be, this approach has a significantly lesser impact on dubious visitors than the unsettling experience of being stopped by soldiers carrying weapons and asked to present passports at an IDF checkpoint, an experience reported by some overseas groups.

This woman had it wrong. My telescopic recounting of Jewish history leading up to the creation of the state of Israel to her and her group was not intended as a review of Jewish victimization. That Jews carry the unenviable distinction of being the most consistently victimized people throughout the past two millennia is self-evident from any sober reading of world history.

Rather, my intention was something else, and twofold.

First, I wished to trace the trajectory of events framing Israel’s unique historic exile and return to the Land, events that I am certain had no place in this group’s consciousness. Second, I wished to illustrate how we Jews, in spite of our travails and against all odds, through a combination of abiding religious faith and sheer will, succeeded in returning to history and re-establishing our membership among the sovereign nations of the world. This feat was not achieved by touting our victimization.

Following their morning visit to Efrat this group returned by bus to Ramallah, a journey that again involved their waiting in line at the Kalandia checkpoint.

I have no doubt that while standing patiently in line alongside Palestinians they would again contrast the surrounding dismal scene with the green lawns and comfortable homes they just left behind in Efrat. But would it enter their minds that some of the people who live in Efrat, or their parents or grandparents, not so long ago, were made to wait in line surrounded by soldiers in a black universe where Kalandia would have been considered a life-giving oasis? Although we never forget those lines, here the woman from England was actually right; we did not allow them to make us victims.

The author lives in Efrat and is the director of iTalkIsrael. 

From the Jerusalem Post: http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/Who-are-the-victims-330510

 

 

Leave a response »

Palestinians are NOT Afro-Americans and this is NOT 1963

italkisrael : : israel

Today, the twenty-eighth of August, marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.   The estimated 250,000 marchers makes it the largest political rally for human rights ever held in the United States.  It is the event where, standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.  The theme of the march was “Jobs and Freedom.”  It was organized by a coalition of civil rights, labor and religious organizations.   Notable is that in spite of the racial tension throughout the country at that time, particularly during the weeks and days leading up to the event, the march was remarkably peaceful.  more »

1 Comment »

Who are the Victims? Who are the Perpetrators?

italkisrael : : israel

The rock-throwers and their relatives are personalized through the use of their names and individual stories. But all the Jews in the article are anonymous settlers or soldiers.

Palestinian uses sling to throw rocks at IDF near Deir Jarir in the West Bank, May 17, 2013.

Palestinian uses sling to throw rocks at IDF near Deir Jarir in the West Bank, May 17, 2013. Photo: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
Among the hundreds of mostly pro-Palestinian sympathizers with whom I speak each year in Efrat I have taken note of a recurring sentiment that I find very disturbing. Most recently it was expressed by a student who was part of a delegation from a Midwestern Christian college that had come to Efrat for a short, token stopover in an “illegal Israeli settlement.”After spending four full days in Bethlehem, the group’s hour plus in Efrat was disingenuously described to me as an effort to “understand both sides of the conflict.”For this student, as for all of the people with whom I meet in this context, be their worldview religious or secular, an expressed concern for social justice is the motivation behind their visit to the area.

That is why I was troubled by the response of this student when I mentioned the brazen statement made by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a recent press conference in Cairo.

For those who are unaware of this incident, Abbas told a mostly Egyptian press corps, at around the same time that preliminary peace discussions between Israel and the Palestinians were getting under way in Washington, DC, that no Israeli, neither soldier nor civilian, would ever be “present” in Palestine.

The student said something along the lines of, “Maybe this is their response to being treated so badly.”

It was not a query. Her tone belied her pretense of objectivity; she was being protective. She was, in fact, suggesting a rationale, an apology, an excuse, even a form of a justification.

As unseemly and counterproductive as Abbas’s statement sounded to Israelis, as well as to anyone else hoping for an authentic and final resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it appears that this student found it acceptable.

I have encountered this attitude before in my meetings with selfdefined social justice groups that come to tour the Palestinian Authority. It emanates from a black/white political template in which Israel is the oppressor overlord and the Palestinians are the oppressed underdog. To suggest anything other to them is futile.

Using this template the underdog is relieved of most of the moral and social responsibilities of other civilized groups. Of course, this is never stated, but it is implied in the absence of unequivocal and public condemnation by human rights groups of even the most egregious defamatory and inflammatory words and acts of violence that emanate from Palestinian society.

Such was the attitude reflected in an August 4 New York Times article by the newspaper’s Jerusalem-based correspondent Jodi Rudoren. The article, titled “In a West Bank Culture of Conflict, Boys Wield the Weapon at Hand,” conveyed a tacit understanding of the potentially lethal activity of young Palestinians who regularly engage in stone throwing at Jewish vehicles traveling on roads passing their towns and villages.

Rudoren gives voice to a number of Palestinians from the West Bank village of Beit Umar, located between Jerusalem and Hebron, who either engage in rock throwing or who have family members that have been arrested, sometimes multiple times, for doing so. In the article, the rock-throwers and their relatives are personalized through the use of their names and individual stories.

But all the Jews to whom she refers in the article are anonymous settlers or soldiers. While it is not the responsibility of a journalist to either praise or condemn the activities of a news story’s actors, a reporter can, via tone and vocabulary, indicate which side in a dispute he or she personally favors.

Clearly, the author of this article empathizes with the rock-throwers, their parents and their community.

Reading Rudoren, one would think that the rock-throwers’ intent to injure, maim or kill Jews plays no role in their activity. “They throw because there is little else to do in Beit Umar – no pool or cinema, no music lessons after school, no parttime jobs other than peddling produce along the road. They do it because their brothers and fathers did.” Rudoren tells her readers that for young Palestinian males “rock throwing is a rite of passage and an honored act of defiance.”

By the end of Rudoren’s article the true victims of rock throwing appear to be the young Palestinians who are arrested by needlessly aggressive Israeli security forces for engaging in nothing more than a time-honored local hobby.

W h e n meeting with internationals, it is I, not they, that raises the issue of suicide bombers.

The subject enters our dialogue only because I mention it as the reason that Israel constructed the national security barrier, exclusively referred to by these groups as “the Wall.”

The Wall has achieved iconic status among these visitors; it represents all that they see as evil and anti-humanist in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. To these groups the wall stands for apartheid, land theft, family separation and personal humiliation. When reminded that the barrier came only as a defensive response by Israel to the repeated Palestinian suicide bombings that took place during the second intifada resulting in 1,137 civilian murders and countless maiming and injuries, both physical and emotional, the typical response is silence.

At this point, I can sense the cognitive dissonance. To my discussion partners, the Palestinians are the victims, not the perpetrators. They are the oppressed, not the oppressors.

Thus, it is typical for one person in the group with which I am meeting to respond with some variation of the following statement: “Well, what do you expect? You have your tanks and jets, they only have their bodies!” With this statement, one that I have heard often, the cat is out of the bag: This person doesn’t “condone” terrorism, but can “understand” it and, in the case of Palestinians and Jews, when up against the wall (pun intended), can even justify it, at least in a closed conversation out of earshot of the press.

From words to rocks to suicide bombing.

I still consider myself politically liberal on many social issues.

But the same loss of moral compass that ultimately turned me off the New Left in America decades ago leaves me recoiling in horror from the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” mentality displayed by too many of the social justice and church-based groups with whom I meet. Their relative silence or stated excuses throughout the past decade on the subject of open terrorist warfare conducted against Israeli civilians by ideologically driven and trained Palestinian Arabs is tantamount to standing on the sidelines and winking approval.

How do otherwise seemingly moral people come to this? Is it the outcome of misguided self-righteousness? Is it a sublimated expression of anti-Semitism, or when expressed by Jews, a form of selfhatred? Is it the result of blatant ignorance? Or is it the expected outcome of full identification with the Palestinian narrative? Sympathy is an important sentiment.

But when sympathy crosses the line, the results can be lethal.

Jerusalem Post   August 22, 2013

 

Leave a response »

Not a Good Match

italkisrael : : israel

 

My wife is a psychotherapist who practices marital counseling.  She is scrupulous about maintaining the confidentiality of her clients, but from time to time she will anonymously make reference to yet another couple who in her opinion should never have wed.

Most of her clients are religious Jews whose observance runs from modern to ultra-Orthodox.  Some are suffering in their marriage because their matchmaker was more interested in getting the couple under the canopy than in the welfare of their long term relationship.   The broker was mainly seeking to chalk up another success.  The matchmaker gets immediate credit and moves on; the couple later gets a therapist and then a divorce.

During their courtship, such that it was, the couple themselves were not comfortable with the direction in which they were moving.  Their respective friends warned them that they were walking into a bad situation.  But after remaining single for so long the pressure was on.  Others who also genuinely cared about them told them that the window of marital opportunity was closing.  It was now or a single household solution.

This is not too far an analogy for the circumstances under which Israel and the Palestinians are again talking, the objective of their talks being a signed peace accord, not to be confused with reaching the goal of peace itself.

Clearly, Secretary of State John Kerry had to have wielded some very persuasive arguments to get both Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.  Exactly what he offered, or threatened, with President Obama’s backing, is still not known to the public.  But he somehow succeeded in convincing the “couple” to get together.

We do know that to induce the Palestinians to participate, Kerry convinced Israel to agree as a precondition of the talks to a de facto freeze on planning new homes starts in Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem as well as to the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners being held in her jails for security violations, all with “blood on their hands.”   Furthermore, it is understood that following the outcome of negotiations Israel will be left with only the “large settlement blocs,” i.e., Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion, and essential travel arteries, some 4-5% of Judea and Samaria, which will then be annexed to the state.  East Jerusalem will become the capital of Palestine.  Freedom of access to the Western Wall will be guaranteed to Jewish worshipers, but not so the Temple Mount.  Jews living beyond the 1949 armistice lines in smaller, outlying communities and outposts will be obligated to abandon, comme dans l’Gush Katiff, but with the probability of greater civilian resistance and violence.

In return for implementing these “painful decisions” Israel will receive the signature of the head of the new Arab state as a symbol of his commitment to upholding the pledges made by the Palestinian side.  In their essence they require the Palestinian leadership to formally recognize Israel as a Jewish, democratic state, refraining from violence and incitement, and officially declaring the decades-old conflict to have ended.  No doubt the members of the Quartet, being the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, will step forward and offer to oversee the implementation of all terms.

Gauging by the pressure placed on both parties by Secretary of State Kerry to get them to agree to return to the negotiating table there is the sense that the United States is capable of imposing even further pressure upon them until they come to terms.   Such an outcome would be nothing less than that long considered by many to be but a chimera, namely, a formal peace agreement between the state of Israel and the state of Palestine.

And then what?  Who really believes that the day after their festive signing ceremony the new couple will live happily ever after?  Of course, people caution, the new relationship will demand good will and great effort from both sides.  Things won’t be easy at first, they never are.  But thankfully there will be friends around to help the couple through their inevitable disagreements.  Really?

The morning after the ceremony Palestinians will wake up to the reality of having finally acquired a sovereign state.  But this state will not include within its borders the cities and towns that generations of Palestinian children are taught to this day, in their schools and in their summer camps, were stolen by the Zionists. These include Jaffa, Haifa, Tiberias, Beersheva, Nazareth, Umm al Fahm, and others, cities all unequivocally part of Israel. Furthermore, by signing the agreement the Palestinian leadership will have acceded to forfeiting the highly controversial claim to a “right of return.”   For many Palestinians, such compromises only enshrine the historical injustice done to their nation and render the agreement intrinsically invalid.

Less than two years after signing the Treaty of Hudaybiyya in March 628 C.E. with the Quraish tribe of Mecca, Muhammad returned with an army and took the city.   This historical fact should neither be dismissed nor taken lightly. The narrative is a formative event in the development of Muslim pride and identity.  A millennium and a half later, in September 1993, PLO strongman Yasser Arafat was a signatory to the Oslo Accords, an earlier attempt, blessed by the U.S., to formally set the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to rest.  Less than a year after the signing, in May 1994, in Johannesburg, S. Africa, in a speech he delivered in a local mosque, Arafat proclaimed: “This agreement, I am not considering it more than the agreement which had been signed between our Prophet Muhammad and Quraish, and you remember the Caliph Omar had refused this agreement and considered it a ‘sulha dania’ [a despicable truce]. But Muhammad accepted it and we for now are accepting this [Oslo] peace accord. But we will continue our way to Jerusalem, to the first shrine, together and not alone.  We are in need of you as Moslems, as warriors of Jihad [in Arabic, Mujaheddin].

Today, from North Africa to the Gulf States, the Muslim world is at war with itself.  Israel’s neighbor states are imploding, one by one.  Today it is Syria and Egypt.  Next up may be Libya and then Jordan.  The Shi’ite-Sunni conflict, as well as intra-Sunni fighting, is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths over the last decade.   Differences in religious ideology drive this conflict, a conflict with no end in sight, a conflict involving millions of people and vast land expanses.  And all this pertains but to Muslims.   When Jews, Zionism, Jerusalem, Fatah and Hamas are thrown into the mix, the realistic chances of a forging a stable peace between Israel and the Palestinians are negligible.

How, for example, would a Palestinian government respond to cross-border incursions and the firing of short-range to mid-range missiles from its territory into Israel by sundry terrorist cells? Either form of aggression originating from the soil of a neighboring country constitutes a causus belli.  Would a Palestinian government have the will or be ready to risk a civil war to forcibly stop such hostilities?

Furthermore, continuing with our analogy, what is the dowry, in terms of state building potential, that the Palestinians bring to this marriage?  How strong within current Palestinian society are such values as the rule of law, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, civil rights, especially the protection of weaker minority groups,  and equality of women?  None of these values are hallowed in Palestinian society, neither de jure nor de facto.

Finally, the outlandish declaration made by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas before a mostly Egyptian press corps in Cairo at the end of July, just as the peace talks were resuming in Washington, that “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands,” only goes to emphasize the a priori incompatibility of the partners to the proposed arrangement.  As Jerusalem Post columnist Sarah Honig states: “That’s his vision for the future. It’s not a slip of the tongue, (nor) braggadocio geared to impress a newly friendly Egyptian audience or just meaninglessly mouthing off.”  And this vision is not just his.  It is shared by many, perhaps a majority of Palestinians.

As a potential peace partner with Israel, Palestinian society is not yet ready, not politically, not economically, but most importantly, not ready mentally.  It is not capable of standing by its vows.

What is to be said about having entered into a bad relationship with eyes wide open?  According to recent polls the majority of Israelis are of the opinion that the current talks, like those previous, will fail.    Need Israel continue down this road?  Some Israelis who feel negatively nevertheless maintain that even if these talks end in failure Israel still has an obligation to make an effort.  Previous breakdowns between these parties have resulted in violence and terror.  Has Israel backed herself into a corner?

This Wednesday, three days after the Israel government cabinet’s final approval of the first group of terrorists to be set free, talks are scheduled to resume with the Palestinian interlocutors in Jerusalem.  With each meeting Israel will be making additional concessions while the Palestinian side will offer… what?  Rather than plunging headlong into an unbalanced relationship doomed from the start, Israel should condition all further talks upon the Palestinians meeting specific and realistic benchmarks over the next 12 – 18 months.

These could start with (1) the capture and trial of terrorists known to be at large within the Palestinian Authority, (2) the reform of Palestinian Authority educational curricula to purge from them all racist and hateful references to Jews, Judaism and Israel, to be replaced by a curriculum that promotes peace and co-existence; (3) the positive reformation of UNWRA-sponsored summer camps and other youth programs that are, in fact, Palestinian run and in which young Palestinians are indoctrinated to aspire towards war against Israel; (4) the cessation of all incendiary statements or defaming caricatures of Israel or Jews in any publications underwritten by the Palestinian Authority; and (5) no inflammatory statements made by Palestinian Authority officials.  These conditions are certainly no more extreme than releasing over one hundred convicted Palestinian terrorists.  They exemplify the confidence building measures that Prime Minister Netanyahu has referred to in the past as necessary for moving the peace process forward.

There is, of course, the possibility that the Palestinians, even under third party scrutiny, will default on one or more of the conditions to which they must agree.  This would justify Israel choosing to at least delay, if not cancel, the agreement.  But having succeeded in securing the release of their imprisoned compatriots the Palestinians could conceivably then abandon the talks and blame the Israelis for their recalcitrance.  Much of the world would undoubtedly side with whatever remonstrations are conjured by the Palestinians.

After Israel has done the unthinkable and released terrorist murderers, the Palestinians too must be held to some measurable standard of responsibility.  Concrete terms and conditions to be met within a reasonable amount of time by the Palestinian side must be part of this agreement.   Most observers remain doubtful if this match will materialize.  But having been brought together by the matchmaker, Israel needs to secure a legitimate, transparent and early exit strategy as soon as it becomes clear that, in spite of all best efforts, this match ain’t going to work out.  Again.

             

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a response »

Zimmerman, the EU and Israel

italkisrael : : israel

What does the European Union’s recent vote to prevent its institutions from providing “support in the form of grants, prizes or financial instruments” to companies or organizations with activities in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights have to do with the fallout over the recent verdict in the Florida trial of George Zimmerman?   Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch coordinator, 38, of European and Hispanic ancestry, was acquitted last week in a Florida courtroom of charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the shooting death of 17-year old Trayvon Martin, a local resident and an Afro-American.  The jury that acquitted him also ruled that racism played no role in the shooting.

This verdict has enraged not just the Afro-American community, but also many political liberals who are stunned by what they decry as being a miscarriage of justice.  Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.  , in an opinion piece published in Commentary online (http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2013/07/16/deconstructing-reality-and-zimmerman/), addresses the blowback to the Zimmerman verdict as follows:    “What we’re seeing from the left is post-modernism on full display. The facts, the truth and objective reality are subordinate to the progressive narrative….  What matters, after all, is The Cause. And everything, including basic facts, must be bent to fit it.”  So, what is the connection to the EU?

Get on a plane and fly from central Florida to Tel-Aviv, including a stopover in Brussels at the headquarters of the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union (EU).  The EU’s legislative body, the European Parliament, has ruled that all Israeli activity in the area to which it refers as “the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, namely the Golan Heights, the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip,” is “illegal under international law.”   It is not only the EU that proclaims this.  The many international visitors of diverse backgrounds with whom I speak in Efrat also employ this axiom and express it in mantra-like fashion.  My experience with such critics, however, is that when asked, they are mostly unable to cite the source for the “law” to which they refer.  Rather, it is an idea that they have internalized after reading it and hearing it ad nauseum; it simply goes unquestioned.

Individuals who are somewhat more knowledgeable are able to make general reference either to the United Nations or to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.  Still, most are incapable of citing any specific ruling.  Only a few have done their homework on this topic and they defiantly cite Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.  However, the application of Article 49 to the circumstances of Judea and Samaria, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem is, at best, debatable.    The article in question speaks of:

‘individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or that of any other country, occupied or not…The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.’

First, it relates only to sovereign political entities, “High Contracting Powers” in the actual text; the area of Judea and Samaria has been lacking political sovereignty since the year 70 C.E.  It is not a country; technically it remains no man’s land.  Second, the Jews who have populated this area from June 1967 were not forcibly transported or deported to it.  Moreover, and with no little irony, this law was created in 1949 in direct response to the Nazi’s policy of forced transfer of populations, particularly Jews, during World War II.  Its application vis-à-vis Israel’s administrative hegemony over this land is misplaced and fallacious.

Lay people may be excused for their ignorance.  What about EU parliamentarians?  We wish to think that as people who address weighty matters and are charged with making decisions that affect many lives, elected officials, even if not wiser than the average individual, at least take the time and trouble to research and understand the issues brought before them.  Uh uh, not necessarily.   Elected officials are also politicians who, in democratic regimes, if they wish to retain their seat must answer to their constituents.  As far back as the 1970s, cowed by the murderous attacks on their cities and their airlines by PLO terrorists, Europeans with a political bent were quick to see the light of Palestinian nationalism.

What remains forgotten or ignored, even by today’s parliamentarians, is the long legal history of this contested area.   This history extends beyond 1967 and beyond 1948, all the way back to the conclusion of World War I, nearly a hundred years ago.  The Balfour Declaration of 1917, the San Remo Treaty of 1920, and the 1922 League of Nations Palestine Mandate all acknowledge the right of the Jews as a people to settle this area, today commonly referred to as the West Bank or, in partisan politicized jargon, “occupied Palestinian territory.”  These enactments by the international community were never rescinded; in fact, their validity was enshrined in the charter that established the United Nations in 1945.

So, what is going on here?  Does international law support or deny the right of Israel to administer the territory it captured from Jordan and Syria in June 1967?  The answer is that to much of the international community, it doesn’t matter.  What does matter to this crowd, as Wehner notes, is the “Cause.”  And beginning in June 1967, with a significant increase in volume following the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, the “Cause,” as we are regularly reminded, is the “plight of the oppressed Palestinians whose lands were stolen by Israel (or Jews) as far back as (fill in whichever year you wish), who are not allowed to build homes or travel, and live mainly in hunger and poverty, even being denied sufficient water for its population.”   That is the “Cause; that is the narrative.

Embracing this “Cause” irrespective of the details exemplifies the simple but apt adage that “perception is reality.” Another expression that conveys this mind set is “Don’t bother me with facts, my heart is made up.”  The point is that under such circumstances both the historical record and current empirical facts have little if any bearing upon how people understand the Israel-Palestinian conflict.  What counts, what motivates them, is how they perceive things and how they feel.

Information from the field is nullified through a dynamic known in the literature of Social Psychology as the “Social Construction of Reality” (Berger and Luckman).  In this process individuals or groups mutually negotiate the content and borders of their reality.  Once agreement is reached, this shared reality is as concrete as anything; it becomes something that “everybody knows.”  A classic example of reality construction is when one population group establishes a prejudice based on the belief that another population group is physically or intellectually limited, irrespective of the latter’s actual performance, and relates to it accordingly.

Another more applicable example is seeing today’s Palestinian Arabs as a “people.”  Until approximately the second half of the twentieth century, the world, including the Arab world, did not view the Palestinians as a people; today it does.  Being convinced that Israel has imposed a policy of racially-based apartheid, some say only upon Palestinians, some say upon all Arabs, is yet another example of socially constructed reality.  These perceptions are not without their empirical consequences and practical ramifications.  A case in point is the new, now published, policy of the European Union that addresses key aspects of its relationship to Israel.  Voila!  Perception becomes reality.

Is there a lesson in this for Israel?  First, Israel has to stop trying to influence people’s perceptions cognitively, mainly through the dissemination of facts. Either people don’t absorb this information, shortly forget it, or don’t care.  This is not an effective method for changing people’s perceptions and attendant attitudes.  In contrast, simple Palestinians play host to thousands of Westerners each year.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, their experiences with Palestinian families are worth millions.  No statistics, no colorful charts, no amount of professionally produced PowerPoint presentations by an Israeli official can compete with a week of warm home hospitality in Beit Sahour.  In this regard Israel should steal a page from the Palestinians.   The Israel Ministry of Tourism, along with NGOs, should develop programs to bring more tourists to communities in Judea and Samaria to meet and stay with Jewish residents.  Only in this way will people discover that “settlers” are human beings and that “settlements” are the homes and communities in which they live, work, shop and send their children to school.

Second, as has been stated in other discussions, Israel must never equivocate over her rights to Judea and Samaria.  That Judea and Samaria constitute the heartland of Biblical Israel, that the People of Israel are the indigenous inhabitants of the Land, that Gd’s covenant with Israel is eternal, that modern Israel represents the re-establishment of the Jewish nation in its historic homeland, are all notions that must be iterated and reiterated in forum after forum.

Finally, it must be remembered that this latest sanction imposed by the EU is not the first time that external political forces have attempted to interfere with Jewish life in Israel.  The British White Paper of 1939 declared that Jewish immigration to Palestine was to be limited to 75,000 over the following five years, after which it would depend on Arab consent.  A boycott by the Arab League Council of all products made in Israel has been in effect since 1945.  And in November 1975 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution equating Zionism with racism.  Each of these decrees was intended to undermine and cause damage to the modern Zionist enterprise; each of these failed to meet its objective.  Ironically, the new EU directive is liable to cause greater financial damage to the Palestinian community in Judea and Samaria than it is to the Israeli institutions it is intended to affect.  Its authors did not take into account the full legal history nor the current social complexities of the region; rather it emanates from a socially constructed reality that is based on long established perceptions instead of facts.   As a consequence, sooner or later, it too will fail and we Jews will continue to remember Europe.

Leave a response »

“Don’t bother me with facts, my heart is made up”

italkisrael : : israel

In recent weeks, two reactions from visitors during a dialogue in my living room reinforced the maxim, with the variation I coined,  ”Don’t bother me with facts, my heart is made up.”  The first reaction came from a woman who insisted on believing that the Gaza Strip remains today under military siege, thanks to Israel’s cruel and unwarranted embargo policy.  The Gaza Strip is, she alleged employing a stock phrase used by human rights groups, an “open air prison”.  My efforts to convince her that this depiction of life in Gaza lay far from the truth was to no avail.  I could clearly tell by the look on her face that my assurance to her and the others gathered in the room that hundreds of trucks bring thousands of tons of food and supplies into Gaza each week, and that Gaza has crowded shopping malls and busy, modern hotels including beautiful swimming pools for guests, were not penetrating her consciousness.

In a similar vein, a second woman would not be satisfied hearing that the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem administers an affirmative action-type program in which Palestinian medical professionals, including physicians, nurses and technicians, work side-by-side with their Israeli counterparts  treating both Israeli (Jews and Arabs) and Palestinian patients. In response, she reached back into the past to dredge up an anecdote involving one Palestinian doctor she once met in Colorado who complained to her about the difficulties he encountered then trying to enter Jerusalem.  Touche?

When people are deeply invested in certain beliefs, the introduction of conflicting information typically engenders a process referred to as cognitive dissonance.  Their minds immediately seek ways to reject or dissemble the disconcerting facts.   In the former case, the woman simply refused to believe that what I was telling her was true.  It hardly made any difference to her whether I was actually lying to her or,  in spite of my personal integrity, I myself was deluded.   In her mind Gaza was and must remain under siege.

In the second case, while the woman did not challenge my veracity or the accuracy of the facts, her need to hold on to the notion that Israel practices South African-type apartheid with respect to Palestinians caused her to ignore the importance of this revelation.  Instead, she chose to promote as relevant an alleged single case in point from the past in an effort to point out Israel’s discriminatory policies.  Just as for the other woman Gaza must be under siege, for this woman Israel must practice apartheid; it cannot be any other way.  Unless…

Words alone are ineffective in dispelling strongly invested beliefs.  The mind works to avert the psychological  discomfort brought on by cognitive dissonance.  The dissonance is simply purged through denial or rationalization.

What is effective is seeing, as opposed to only hearing, and even better, experiencing.

I would have, if I could have, taken that woman to see the Gaza Strip today.  Perhaps we would have stopped into one of its malls for a cup of coffee.  But that possibility does not exist, and not because of any blockade on the part of the state of Israel.

On the other hand, it is possible to visit the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem and not only witness, but speak to its Palestinian medical staff and learn of their experiences.  Of course, just one such encounter would put paid to the unfounded allegation that Israel practices apartheid.  Perhaps that is why the Hadassah Medical Center is never on the itinerary of the myriad international  social justice groups that arrive each week at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Mere facts, be they from the podium, discussion circles, or PowerPoint presentations will go ignored when coming up against cognitive dissonance.  To reach people’s hearts and minds people must see and experience; they must become engaged.  No one understands this better than the human rights organizations and churches bringing tourists daily to the Palestinian Authority.  It is about time that Israel understands this too.

Leave a response »

BDS for Naught

italkisrael : : israel

I was a student activist in the early 1970’s when I was at Northwestern University.  I could not be considered a student radical, but being caught up in the zeitgeist, I mixed with that type often enough to discern certain traits among some of them that convinced me not to go any further in that direction.  Among these traits were a pack mentality, a willingness to play fast and loose with facts, and a belief that the ends justify the means.  Some were just self-righteous and overzealous; others were angry, frustrated and somewhat neurotic people, what we called a little “messed up.”  Irrespective, they clung to their cause, ending the war with North Vietnam, and they were certain of their own virtue.

more »

Leave a response »
« Page 1 »