Peace in our Time?

February 15, 2007

My blog on The Guardian’s COMMENT IS FREE, in response to Seth Freedman

Filed under: Blogroll, Palestine, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 3:17 pm
Comment No. 432454
February 15 12:40
Seth, sorry you didn’t come round to debrief as you’d said you would after the tour. In a general discussion you might have realised I’m not a racist. Twenty percent of the Israeli population is of Russian origin. Lieberman represents many of them and is in the Cabinet. One minister resigned to protest that appointment and if you google fascism and Lieberman you get 34,000 answers (and the same number if you google fascist and Lieberman). Lieberman was the Prime Minister’s bureau chief under Bibi and had to resign. Now he heads his own party (Rehavam Zeevi had his own brand of fascism, also preaching transfer, so Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu party is not alone…), and he’s been working to get a law passed to facilitate dictatorship.

Since the Russian aliyah, Israel has become a world leader in sex slavery, with women now being trafficked to this country from the FSU. I find that problematic. Just as post-communist Russia has a major problem with corruption (along with many other parts of the world) and Russian Mafia money-laundering is rampant here: during the past ten years I recall major bank fraud cases involving it. The ultra-right politics of Russian Israelis has been explained to me, by Russians, as a result of Russian experience under communism. Many are anti-Arab/Muslim because of their experiences pre-immigration in the Afghanistan and Chechnya wars.

I have heard that oligarchs are supporting settler activities in East Jerusalem. I don’t have bank details, but local people have seen Abramowich, Leviev et al, at City of David celebrations. Those settler groups aren’t shy about their tunnelling and archaeological activities in Silwan, next to the Al Aqsa Mosque. Leviev’s construction firm, Hefziba, is the major settlement expansion company. A Russian guard at Kiryat Arba settlement in Hebron wouldn’t allow me into that illegal settlement until I proved that I am Jewish. That indicates a closed and totalitarian world, so maybe you are missing the point. I had a long conversation recently with a Russian woman who was “proud of having killed Arabs when [she] was in the army.” Similarly, in my work over a period of years in MachsomWatch, monitoring Israeli military checkpoints, we see that very often Russian soldiers are amongst the worst in their attitude to Palestinians. Not all: I remember one guy from DCO who was amazing. I remember a Russian friend in the 80s who went to live in Ariel simply because that was her only option financially, being a single mother. But she understood nothing about the history of the conflict and didn’t realise she was being manipulated and exploited, and didn’t listen then to my arguments that living over the Green Line was immoral and one day she would have to leave because it’s not our land. In this, all new immigrant groups – Russian, Ethiopian, French, American – who are encouraged to settle in those subsidised illegal city settlements are problematic. Now there are half a million of them.

As a left-winger, the Russian contribution and perhaps development of the extreme right wing, is worrying. Is that racist to say so? Israel is increasingly portraying itself as far-right, with Russian politicians saying things that Jean Le Penn or Jorg Haider would baulk at. For example: Lieberman’s suggestion to bomb the Aswan High Dam, or execute Arab members of Knesset who travel to Syria on fact finding tours, or drown Arabs in the Dead Sea.

Secondly, I take issue with your portrayal of me implying that the Russians are the cause of the problem. No, it’s far more complex than that. There are MANY problems. One of them is the inability to reach out to the ultra-right and engage them in a measured debate. When did you last try talking to settlers in Hebron? I have tried and can testify that it’s not a conversation, or a dialogue. They have a pre-recorded tape that repeats mantras, using a slanted version of the events of 1929 to justify their behaviour.

The lurch to the right is also a result of the Lebanon War defeat, the lies of Barak, reaction to terror attacks and the fear that’s always been cultivated by Bibi of tiny Israel – “Israel haKtantonit”. Tiny Israel indeed: We have the fourth largest army in the world, supported by the largest. We have the fourth largest nuclear power supported by the largest and we are the third largest producer of weapons.

Other explanations for the lurch to the right also include our rampant militarism and our education system which doesn’t teach children their history. Aharon Megged, when “Tekuma” was on TV a few years ago, said it’s better children should feel good about themselves with mythology than learn history. Denial, hatred, revenge, post-holocaust trauma, landaholic insecurity, centuries of anti-semitism, you name it, I can continue with a long list of what has brought us to this complexity. Even the brainwashing which says: “We didn’t cause the refugee problem.” Some of all this we discussed on the tour, so why didn’t you quote me on that, too?

On the tour we passed West Jerusalem Arab mansions and talked about how those Palestinian Christians had left in panic on the day of Dir Yassin, because Jews came around with megaphones warning them to get out before? “(we) do to you what we did in Dir Yassin”. Yes, we caused the refugee problem. I believe we’ve a collective moral responsibility to acknowledge this and I hope that one day we will have the strength to apologise, compensate and live in truth and reconciliation and hope and normalcy. That alone will give us a far greater chance for peace and real security. Real security, not the military’s version of ongoing war, or the bad faith negotiations that characterised Israeli “peace making” during Oslo when settlements doubled. Conflict resolution, not cold war games. Respect of other peoples’ basic human rights…

Seth, I arrived here over 26 years ago (coming from apartheid South Africa — this is far worse, in my opinion — not least because in South Africa they needed the black labour force, whereas here we’ve brought in 300,000 foreign workers, so most Palestinians are unemployed and hungry now). I don’t have all the answers. It is complex. But the fact is that East Jerusalem is occupied territory. On the tour I said that Palestinians of East Jerusalem pay their rates and taxes and so, even though they are not citizens of Israel, those 230,000 people should receive municipal services, which they don’t. All they get for their money are bulldozers demolishing their homes – over 18,000 buildings demolished in the OPT since 1967, (having nothing to do with security or punitive measures — the army ceased its demolition policy two years ago, as counterproductive – i.e. it helps cause terror). That means literally hundreds of thousands made homeless deliberately by bureaucratic means. Palestinians boycott the municipal elections as a legitimate form of protest against the occupation. A tax payer’s protest should not preclude him or her from receiving municipal services. Can you imagine the same happening in London? And if the international community and international law do not recognise the annexation of East Jerusalem (I pointed out on the tour that there are therefore no embassies in Jerusalem, they’re all in Tel Aviv), why should the Palestinians recognize Israeli sovereignty on occupied land, when no one else does? You want them to vote? Last time they did, look where it got them. Financial suicide.

And Seth, if you want to know what I DO believe: I believe we’re all equal; we share in common far more than we allow ourselves to realize. The tragedy is that if you concentrate on differences and separation you lose that truth. “Hafrada,” the government policy, means “apartheid” and the ghetto mentality that Rabin tried to encourage Israelis to leave behind, saying ‘We are strong enough to come out of the ghetto.’

Those who believe their God is real, without seeing it’s the same God which created all Life, deny that all is sacred. This “Love of the Land” is causing not only conflict but its own ecological destruction.

I also believe we’re in danger now of bringing down the modern Temple on ourselves. We’re losing the thread of Judaism as a moral, ethical code. “Thou Shalt Not Covet” has religious Zionists obeying Sharon’s order: ‘Grab every hilltop’. As David Grossman said, we have no leadership. “Never Again” has become, tragically, “Never Again to Us”. And that’s a mindset that realpolitik only aggravates, because power politics doesn’t contain the essence of social justice and is therefore unsustainable and usually immoral and undemocratic. Bertrand Russell preached that truth must be universal if it’s to have meaning. It cannot be exclusive.

Finally, I believe if you are not very vigilant and aware, you create what you fear. I think we’ve fallen into that trap.


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