It’s not about peace

Posted: February 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Left, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments »

One of the common mistakes done when discussing the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is in setting peace as the goal of the political process. It is not only wrong, but also counter-productive, and in the end, serves mainly those who which to maintain the current state of affairs. This is not to say that we shouldn’t wish to end all hostilities between the two sides, but rather that to do so, we must change the way this story has been framed since the beginning of the nineties.

First of all, we should be realistic. As we learned in Gaza, an Israeli withdrawal does not promise an end to the violence. Both sides still have conflicting interests which might lead to the use of military power, and in both sides there are elements that will try, at least in near future, to sabotage any agreement by violent means. It’s clear that the more good faith Israelis and Palestinians show today, the easier it will be to stabilize the region, but more than forty years of occupation will inevitably leave plenty of bitterness on the Palestinian side even after the last soldier leaves and the last settlement evacuated; the evacuation of settlements on the Israeli side bring its problems, and the huge socioeconomics gap between Jews and Arabs on such a small territory won’t help either. So we shouldn’t promise that public something that will be hard to deliver.

Even more important is the image created by all these talks about peace. for many people – and this is something I’ve noticed especially in the US – it seems as though there are two equal parties, almost two states, who are entering a diplomatic process to sort their on-going differences. But there is only one state here. Israel is negotiating – when there are negotiations – with the people who are under its own control, and for which it is refusing to grant civil rights.

In other words, talking about peace hides the real nature of the problem, which is the occupation. When we set peace as our goal, it means that the absence of peace – meaning the violence – was the problem. This is true for the Israeli side, but it’s only partly true for the Palestinians. Their main concern is the lack of civil and human rights. For them, the violence that they suffer is only the result of the initial problem, which is the occupation. By talking about peace and peace only, we are accepting the Israeli definition of the problem as well as its solution.

When we discuss peace, only the two state solution is acceptable, since that’s how you make peace – between states. On the other hand, if it’s a human or civil rights problem, we can also think of other solutions, such as a confederation, or “one person, one vote”. These ideas are totally unacceptable for Israel, so again, by returning to the idea of “the peace process” the world actually chooses the Israeli narrative over that of the Palestinians. I even think that by this endless talk of the would-be-Palestinian state, we almost tend to believe that such state exists, or that at least the Palestinians are running their own lives, when in fact, the army’s control over the West bank has never been tighter, and the measures against the Palestinians have never been harder. Not many people notice that, because in order to understand what’s going on now, when there is no apparent violence, we must ask questions about rights, not peace.

Israeli governments have understood this long ago, and that’s way they never had a problem to enter negotiations with the Palestinians (at least not in the last twenty years). As long as we discussed national security and containment of violence, these endless talks only increased the international legitimization of Israel’s presence in the Palestinian Territories. Advocates for Israel became experts at finding evidence for “incitement” and “propaganda” on the Palestinian side, which served as proof that the other side doesn’t want peace, so we can and should go occupying their land and running their life forever. But ask Israelis and their supporters why Palestinian civilians are tried in military courts without due process for more than 40 years – or any other question concerning civil rights – and you start get funny answers.

That’s why I hate these debates, so common in both Israeli and Jewish politics, on whether or not the Palestinians really want peace. it never gets you anywhere. Each party holds an elaborate theory on why everything is the other side’s fault, with all sorts of historical “evidence” to back it up. This whole concept of a “national desire” for peace is absurd. How can you measure such abstract notion? But these debates do serve the current Israeli interest well; much better than talking about civil rights, which is a simple concept that anyone can understand, measure, and even worse – identify with.


Liberal Jews and Israel / a case of split personality disorder

Posted: January 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: the US and us, this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

taglit

Last Saturday I met an Israeli-American friend who came for a short visit from his studies in Europe. We talked some politics, and finally came to an issue which always puzzles me: the fact that American Jews are unwilling – almost unable – to criticize Israel, both in public and in private, and even when Israeli policies contradict their own believes. My friend noted that if some of the articles on the Israeli media – and not even the most radical ones – were to be printed in the US and signed by none-Jews, they would be considered by most Jewish readers like an example of dangerous Israel-bashing, sometimes even anti-Semitism.

I’ve became more aware of this issue myself since I started writing this blog. Things I say or write which are well within the public debate in Israel are sometimes viewed as outrageous by American Jewish readers; at the same time, events which would make the same readers furious if they happened in the US – for example, the Israeli municipality which tried to prevent Arabs from dating Jewish girls – are met with indifference.

Naturally, I’m generalizing here. Between millions of Jews you can obviously find all kinds of voices – and this is part of the reason I hesitated before writing this post – but I think one can recognize some sort of mainstream opinion within the Jewish community, which both echoes the official Israeli policies, regardless of the identity of the government in Jerusalem, and at the same time, turns a blind eye on events which might distort the image of Israel which this community holds. And this is something which is hard to understand.

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All known data indicates that the vast majority of US Jews supports the democratic party, and many consider themselves as liberals (Barack Obama captured 78 percent of the Jewish vote). Yet except for a group of well known activists, you can hardly hear these people criticize Israel, which is not exactly a picture-perfect liberal democracy.

I am not talking here about the old Jewish establishment or about AIPAC. AIPAC are professional politicians. Their status is based on their connections to the Israeli governments, and their ability to promote Israeli interests in Washington. Breaking up with Israel – even just criticizing Israeli politics – will not just hurt their status, it will simply leave them unemployed. Expecting AIPAC or other Jewish leaders with good ties in Jerusalem to declare that, for example, Israel should lift the siege on Gaza, is like asking an insurance lobbyist to speak in the name of the public option.

Naturally, I don’t expect anything from Jewish neo-cons either. These people like Netanyahu, they supported George Bush, and they will go on speaking about culture wars and Islamo-Facists versus Judo-Christians even on the day Ismail Haniya converts to Zionism. You can agree or disagree with them, but at least their views are consistent.

With the Liberals it’s quiet a different story. It’s obvious they care much about Israel, and some of them are very passionate about politics and extremely well-informed about what’s going on here, but from time to time, I get the feeling they hold back some of their views.

I don’t think many liberals, if they really are ones, can accept the siege on Gaza. Even if they think that Hamas is to blame for the current state of affairs, surly they don’t support collective punishment against 1.5 million people, do they? What would they say if the US was to seal the areas in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan where the insurgents are hiding, not letting even basic supply in or out, preventing civilians from growing food or working, and practically leaving the entire population on the brink of starvation? I presume many Americans will oppose such policies.

But let’s leave geo-politics aside, and talk about the current wave of anti-Arab legislation in Israel. There are things happening here on a daily basis which would make most American Jews go out of their minds if they occurred to Afro-Americans in Alabama or to Native-Americans in Oklahoma, rather than to Arabs in the Galilee. Take for example the temporary order preventing Arab citizens who marry none-Israelis to live with their partners and children here, or the new legislation which will make it legal for Jewish neighborhoods and settlements to refuse to accept Arabs. Is this something Americans – not just liberals – would tolerate? I’m not even talking here about the de-facto discrimination of Arabs, but on a legal effort to introduce ethnic segregation in Israel. Isn’t that the same issue Jews fought against throughout our entire history? Weren’t American Jews an important part of the civil right movement? What’s the difference between Blacks in Birmingham and Arabs in Katzir?

I guess that part of the reason for not criticizing Israel is that many Jews are extremely sensitive to the existential threat Israelis sense, so they don’t like to speak against security measures taken by Israel, since it’s not them who would be hurt when these measures are lifted. This is understandable, but many of the problems the Arab minority faces has nothing to do with national security, but with the desire of many in the Israeli public – and their elected officials in the Knesset – to make Israel not just a Jewish state, but a state for Jews, and Jews only. It’s not about terror, just racism.

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Given the sense of shared history and even close family ties between the two communities, there is something very natural with the American-Jewish community’s desire to take side with Israelis in what seems as its conflict with the Arab world. I guess taking sides also means avoiding looking at some of the faults of your partner. But the problem with the Jews’ attitude towards Israel is much deeper than that, and it shows the most on issues which have nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict, and are purely an internal matter of the Jewish people.

Here is an example: as we all know, the Orthodox Jewish establishment has an official statues in Israel (unlike most Western countries, state and religion are not separated here, and the chief Orthodox Rabbi has a position similar to this of a supreme court justice). The same Orthodox establishment is very hostile to none-Orthodox Jews, which happen to make most of the American Jewish community. A few weeks ago, Fifth-year medical student Nofrat Frenkel was arrested for wearing a talit at the Kotel. I expected all hell to break in the States. After all, this concerns Jews’ right to practice their faith in the most holy place in the world. I wouldn’t say the event went unnoticed – I saw some blog posts and articles referring to the incident, and Forward published Frenkel’s account of the day – but it certainly wasn’t enough for people in Israel to notice. If American Jews spoke on this matter, it was with a voice that nobody heard.

Now imagine the public outrage if Frenkel was arrested anywhere else in the world for wearing a talit. Read the rest of this entry »


Those ungrateful Arabs

Posted: October 5th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

If you want to understand everything that’s wrong about the way Israel is treating its Arab minority, just read what Jerusalem District Police Chief Aharon Franco had to say about the demonstrations near the Temple Mount that’s been taking place in the last few days:

“There is a degree of ungratefulness from the side the city’s Muslim population after the police had worked to ensure peaceful prayers in the Temple Mount throughout the month of Ramadan.”

Ungratefulness? Why didn’t Franco also call the Orthodox Jews of Jerusalem “ungrateful” as well, after their violent clashes with the police a few weeks ago? After all, Franco’s cups worked very hard to let the orthodox pray in their holidays as well.

Apparently, Jerusalem’s Chief of police believes that he did the Arab citizens some sort of favor by letting them celebrate the Ramadan, and now he expects them to return one. You might say that that’s exactly the way many, if not most of the Israelis look at the relations with the non-Jewish minority: we are doing them a favor by letting them live here, let alone enjoy some rights, so they are expected to keep quite, ask for nothing and do as they are told.


Forget the peace process (part II)

Posted: September 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

There were interesting comments to my previous post, regarding the future of the struggle to end the occupation. My basic point was that though the two state solution remains the most popular – and even most likely – idea on the table, we might have reached some dead end, at least as far as the Israeli public is concerned (and to be honest, right now the Palestinians don’t seem too enthusiastic about restarting negotiations as well). My point was that maybe we should stop thinking, at least for some time, about the desired political structure (one state? Two states?), and go back to dealing with the basic human and civil rights problems which are at the heart of the matter. I think that with time, this approach might even lead us out of the political deadlock.

There was one issue, raised in the comments by Aviv and Judy, which I like to answer here. Judy writes: “isn’t there such a body as the Palestinian Authority that the Palestinians of the West Bank vote for?” And Aviv adds:

That the Palestinian’s internal national institutions are less than democratic is not Israel’s problem – civil rights have to be earned in hard work of Palestinian nation building. (In this case it would have to be the first Arab civil society, which is even harder).

This argument – that the Palestinian got their civil and human rights within the PA so that the international criticism on the matter should not be directed at Israel – is very popular with the Israeli right and among Israel’s supporters in the world. The irony is that these are the same people – Netanyahu, Bennie Begin, etc. – who rejected the idea of a Palestinian autonomy during the 90′s, and now they use the autonomy to support their claim that “there is no occupation”.

The problems is that as my right-wing Professor Martin Sherman use to say, sovereignty’s main characteristic is that it cannot be divided. You can divide authorities or jurisdictions, but at the end, in the current international system, there isn’t but one sovereign. In most cases it is the state apparatus, which represents – even in undemocratic regimes – the people. And it is within this sovereignty that civil rights are given.

Now, who’s the sovereign in the West Bank? I don’t really think there is any question. Last month I gave some examples from my own experience, but here is something from today’s paper:

Tensions are mounting between Israel and the Palestinian Authority following Ramallah’s call on the International Court at The Hague to examine claims of “war crimes” that the IDF allegedly committed during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip… Israel has warned the Palestinian Authority that it would condition permission for a second cellular telephone provider to operate in the West Bank – an economic issue of critical importance to the PA leadership – on the Palestinians withdrawing their request at the International Court.

The Palestinian “authority” can’t even decide over the deployment of a cellular provider without an Israeli approval – which comes with very specific, and not at all related, conditions – let alone issues such as air and ground travel, export and import, construction and commerce, and much more. Even more important is the fact that for more than forty years, Palestinians are tried in Israeli army courts, were suspects’ rights are considerably reduced. A fight for civil rights for the Palestinians could start with the demand to incorporate them into the Israeli civilian system.

Read the rest of this entry »