Peace in our Time?

August 2, 2007

The Apostate

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 1:07 am

A Zionist politician loses faith in the future.
by David Remnick
July 30, 2007
“People are not willing to admit it, but Israel has reached the wall,” Avrum Burg says.

The self-regard of Israelis is built, in no small part, around a sense of sang-froid, and yet few would deny that the past year was deeply unnerving. Last July, Israel launched an aerial attack on Lebanon designed to destroy the arsenal of the radical Islamist group Hezbollah, the Party of God, and force its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, to return two kidnapped soldiers and end its cross-border rocket attacks. “If the soldiers are not returned,” Dan Halutz, the Israeli Army’s chief of staff, said at the time, “we will turn Lebanon’s clock back twenty years.” Israel bombed the runways of the Beirut airport, the Beirut-Damascus highway, and numerous towns, mainly in the south; Hezbollah, from a network of guerrilla installations and tunnel networks worthy of the Vietcong, launched some four thousand rockets, mainly Katyushas, at cities in northern Israel. Israel degraded Hezbollah’s military capabilities, at least temporarily, but there was no victory. Hezbollah survived and, in the eyes of the Islamic world, in doing so won; Nasrallah emerged as an iconic hero; and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, one of his sponsors, called yet again for the elimination of Israel from the map of the Middle East. Halutz, who had dumped all his stocks on the eve of the war, resigned, and Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, saw his approval rating fall to as low as two per cent.

More recently, Hezbollah’s ideological ally in Palestine, Hamas—the Islamic Resistance Movement—led a violent uprising in the Gaza Strip, overwhelming its secular rival, Fatah. Suddenly, Israel, backed by the United States, found itself propping up the Fatah leadership, in order not to lose the West Bank to Hamas as well. Not even the ceremonial office of the Israeli Presidency was immune from the year’s disasters: a few weeks ago, President Moshe Katsav agreed to plead guilty to multiple sexual offences and resign, lest he face trial for rape. Despite a resilient, even booming economy, peace and stability have rarely seemed so distant.

In this atmosphere of post-traumatic gloom, Avraham Burg, a former Speaker of the Knesset, managed to inflame the Israeli public (left, right, and center) with little more than an interview in the liberal daily Ha’aretz, promoting his recent book, “Defeating Hitler.” Short of being Prime Minister, Burg could not be higher in the Zionist establishment. His father was a Cabinet minister for nearly four decades, serving under Prime Ministers from David Ben-Gurion to Shimon Peres. In addition to a decade-long career in the Knesset, including four years as Speaker, Burg had also been leader of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency for Israel. And yet he did not obey the commands of pedigree. “Defeating Hitler” and an earlier book, “God Is Back,” are, in combination, a despairing look at the Israeli condition. Burg warns that an increasingly large and ardent sector of Israeli society disdains political democracy. He describes the country in its current state as Holocaust-obsessed, militaristic, xenophobic, and, like Germany in the nineteen-thirties, vulnerable to an extremist minority.

Burg’s interlocutor for the Ha’aretz article was Ari Shavit, a writer well known in Israel for his confrontational interviews and his cerebral opinion articles. (His Profile of Ariel Sharon, “The General,” appeared in these pages in January, 2006.) Shavit’s interviewing style is aggressive and moralistic—not so distant, at times, from Oriana Fallaci’s in her prime. Politically, he is left of center, but, in the view of some to his left, he has seemed apocalyptic of late, warning darkly of the “existential” threats against Israel. In the preface to the interview, Shavit declared himself “outraged” by Burg’s book: “I saw it as one-dimensional and an unempathetic attack on the Israeli experience.”

The Israeli political world is unfailingly intimate. Shavit, who is forty-nine, and Burg, who is fifty-two, met twenty-five years ago, when they were both protesting against Israel’s first war in Lebanon. After the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by Israel’s allies among the Christian Phalangists in 1982, Burg gave a powerful speech before four hundred thousand people at an anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv—the biggest rally in the history of Israel. This was his entrance into public life. “Because Avrum was a lefty and a religious Jew who wore a kippa, he really stood out among the left-wing speakers,” Shavit told me. “That gave him a very specific role in our society, and he played it extremely well.” Whatever remained of the relationship between Burg and Shavit frayed badly when they met for their interview. After Burg described Israel as a perpetually “frightened society,” the discussion quickly grew tense:

SHAVIT: You are patronizing and supercilious, Avrum. You have no empathy for Israelis. You treat the Israeli Jew as a paranoid. But, as the cliché goes, some paranoids really are persecuted. On the day we are speaking, Ahmadinejad is saying that our days are numbered. He promises to eradicate us. No, he is not Hitler. But he is also not a mirage. He is a true threat. He is the real world—a world you ignore.
BURG: I say that as of this moment Israel is a state of trauma in nearly every one of its dimensions. And it’s not just a theoretical question. Would our ability to cope with Iran not be much better if we renewed in Israel the ability to trust the world? Would it not be more right if we didn’t deal with the problem on our own but, rather, as part of a world alignment beginning with the Christian churches, going on to the governments and finally the armies? Instead, we say we do not trust the world, they will abandon us, and here’s Chamberlain returning from Munich with the black umbrella and we will bomb them alone.

Burg has a fairly standard left-leaning view of the Palestinian question: even now, with Hamas in control of Gaza, the longer Israel delays in coming to terms with a sovereign Palestinian state, the more Palestinian society will radicalize and embrace maximalist, jihadi ideologies, and the more Israeli society will lose its moral sense. But some of the views that Burg expressed in the interview were far from standard. He told Shavit that civil disobedience would have been preferable to the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto and that Israel should give up its nuclear weaponry in exchange for an unspecified “deal” with its Arab neighbors. Israel’s “law of return,” which allows any Jew around the world to immigrate and become a citizen, was “dynamite” in the Arab world, he said, and needed to be reëvaluated. One subject that especially infuriated Shavit, and provoked countless letters to the editor, e-mail screeds, and editorial-page rebuttals, was Burg’s depiction of the European Union as an almost irresistibly attractive “biblical utopia” and his flouting of the fact that he holds a French passport, because his wife is French-born, and voted in the recent French elections. When Shavit asked Burg if he recommended that all Israelis acquire a second passport, Burg replied, “Whoever can”—a moment of determined cosmopolitanism. Shavit sarcastically called Burg “the prophet of Brussels.” He went on:

SHAVIT: There really is a deep anti-Zionist pattern in you. Emotionally, you are with German Jewry and American Jewry. They excite you, thrill you, and by comparison you find the Zionist option crude and spiritually meagre. It broadens neither the heart nor the soul.

BURG: Yes, yes. The Israeli reality is not exciting. People are not willing to admit it, but Israel has reached the wall. Ask your friends if they are certain their children will live here. How many will say yes? At most fifty per cent. In other words, the Israeli élite has already parted with this place. And without an élite there is no nation.

SHAVIT: You are saying that we are suffocating here for lack of spirit.

BURG: Totally. We are already dead. We haven’t received the news yet, but we are dead. It doesn’t work anymore. It doesn’t work. . . . There is no one to talk to here. The religious community of which I was a part—I feel no sense of belonging to it. The secular community—I am not part of it, either. I have no one to talk to. I am sitting with you and you don’t understand me, either.

This was not the first time that Burg had outraged some of his countrymen. In 2003, when Hamas was carrying out a suicide-bombing campaign, he published an article in the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth (which was republished worldwide), saying, “Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism.” That statement caused a sensation not only because of the offices Burg held but also because of his ambitions. “Once I wanted very much to be prime minister,” he admitted to Shavit. “It burned like fire in my bones.” He allowed that he had been living “a lie” while he was in government. “I was not myself.” Now he was very much himself, a man with multiple identities, “beyond Israeli,” a universal humanist.

In Ha’aretz, Burg was prepared to explore his spiritual options and defend his quest for material well-being. Even as he lamented lost values, he made no apologies for going to court to retain the perks of his old job (particularly a chauffeur-driven jeep) or for his desire to leave behind public service for business. “Life is not just to be a pioneer with a hoe and a bold fighter at Lions Gate,” he said. “Life is also to be a merchant in Warsaw. Unequivocally, that is a richer totality in life.”

Soon after the interview was published, Otniel Schneller, a Knesset member from Ehud Olmert’s centrist Kadima Party, said that when Burg dies he should be denied burial in the special section of Mt. Herzl National Cemetery, in Jerusalem, reserved for national leaders. “He had better search for a grave in another country,” Schneller said. One letter to the Jerusalem Post compared Burg to young people who, after military service, go off to India to find their spiritual selves in an ashram. “Yesteryear, Burg would have been disowned as at least a lunatic,” the columnist Sarah Honig wrote in the same paper. “The grave danger is that today he gives voice and lends insidious quasi-respectability to what was heretofore unutterable. By tomorrow, the uncontrollable infestation he spreads might confer outright legitimacy on Israel’s delegitimatization.” If and when Israel’s borders changed, Honig continued, “Burg probably won’t stick around to risk the ensuing slaughter. The new Wandering Jew will pack his sinister seeds and propagate his wicked wandering weeds from afar.”

My own unscientific survey suggested that criticism of Burg was, with few exceptions, general and crossed ideological lines. Conservatives like the former Likud adviser Dore Gold said that Burg’s analysis was “dead wrong: what we used to call crum pshat—twisted interpretation—in the Yeshiva world.” A range of prominent political and cultural figures on the left—Yossi Beilin, the chairman of the Meretz-Yachad Party; Shulamit Aloni, a feminist and a former education minister; A. B. Yehoshua and Meir Shalev, both well-known novelists; and the peace activist Janet Aviad and the philosopher Avishai Margalit, a founder of Peace Now—expressed a familial disgust, or worse, for their wayward brother. They sensed in him a kind of undergraduate universalism, a table talk at once snobbish and half-baked. Burg’s remarks about Edenic Europe and his French passport were hypocritical, a particularly Israeli form of bad taste at a time when it could least be tolerated. “For the so-called head of the Zionist movement to say all this—to say, ‘Get another passport for your kids,’ ” Avishai Margalit said to me. “It’s like the Pope giving sex tips.”

“Avrum is a friend, but I felt what most people felt—that, beyond the ideological debate, there is something profoundly wrong in his character,” Yossi Klein Halevi, a writer, said. “You don’t take all the perks of the Zionist movement and refuse to relinquish them and then repudiate the most cherished notions of Zionism at the same time. There’s something smarmy about it. He is so totally out of touch with Israeli reality that I’m appalled that he ever had any positions of Israeli authority. That interview really destroyed him, or he destroyed himself.”

Avrum Burg lives with his wife in the tiny village of Nataf, in the hills west of Jerusalem. They have six children, all grown. Burg’s bungalow is surrounded by shrubbery, desert blooms, bougainvillea, and a tiny lawn. The Israeli Arab village of Abu Ghosh is a few minutes down the road, and the border with the West Bank is little more than a thousand yards away. The house in Nataf is quiet except for the mewling of cats, whinnying horses, and the attention-beseeching barks of Burg’s dog, Buling, who is missing his left hind leg. The dog, Burg explained, lost the leg when, on patrol with one of Burg’s sons in the West Bank city of Nablus, he leaped at a Palestinian gunman just as he was firing his gun. “Buling saved my son’s life,” Burg said, “so we had to adopt him.”

Burg is a vegetarian, and fit; he has taken up marathon running. He is nearly bald, and wears a small knit yarmulke. Normally, this is the yarmulke of the modern Orthodox, though Burg seemed eager to emphasize his disaffection from all things Orthodox; he told me of his affinity for B’nai Jeshurun, a synagogue on New York’s Upper West Side where some of the rabbis are women and the sermons are as likely to quote Martin Luther King as Maimonides. “My alliance with the people at B’nai Jeshurun,” he said, “is much more immediate and intensive and important for me than my alliance with my nephew or my cousin, who lives two kilometres away in the West Bank, a fundamentalist settler.”

Burg comes from a conservative Zionist family; his father helped found Mafdal, the National Religious Party. But when he started out in politics he joined the Labor Party; he was deeply influenced by Yeshayahu Leibowitz, a scientist and philosophy professor at Hebrew University who had contempt for the Greater Israel movement’s conflation of religion and politics and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Leibowitz referred to abusive Israeli soldiers as “Judeo-Nazis” and was so upset by the sight of the festivities around the Western Wall after the Six-Day War that he referred to it as a “disco wall.” In the pursuit of increasingly higher offices, Burg avoided such language. He held back, he self-censored. “You’re into the system,” he said. “You’re in the tunnel. I was a devoted politician and so I talked the talk.”

But then, he said, “after some fifteen, twenty years in political life I had a feeling all of a sudden that, to use the Biblical term, Israel was the kingdom without prophesy. I realized that the three founding narratives of the national idea of Israeliness were over: the mass immigration to the land, aliyah; the security of the land; and the settling of the land. All three had served their purpose and were no longer the core of the nation’s narratives. I asked myself what was the alternative. This was a long process of thought. I didn’t feel that the political system in Israel was trying to renew its thinking.”

In 2001, Burg attempted to succeed Ehud Barak as leader of the Labor Party and lost. Thwarted, if not entirely humbled, he quit the Knesset in 2004. At one point in the last months of his political life, he said, “I went on a very long walk on the Appalachian Trail. I went for five weeks and crossed half the state of Connecticut, the whole state of New York, and half the state of New Jersey. I saw maybe twelve people, none of them Jewish—for the first time in my life. I did a lot of thinking, and I realized that I had to change the pace of my life.”

In “Defeating Hitler,” Burg writes that one of the most dispiriting aspects of Israeli political conversation is the constant reference point of the slaughter of six million Jews in the nineteen-forties. “The most optimistic years in the state of Israel were 1945 to 1948,” he said to me. “The farther we got from the camps and the gas chambers, the more pessimistic we became and the more untrusting we became toward the world. It was a shock to me. Didn’t we, the politicians, feed the public? Didn’t we cheapen the sanctity of the Holocaust by using it about everything? Some people say, ‘Occupation? You call this occupation? This is nothing compared to the absolute evil of the Holocaust!’ And if it is nothing compared to the Holocaust then you can continue. And since nothing, thank God, is comparable to the ultimate trauma it legitimatizes many things.” Burg said that contemporary Israelis “are not at the stage to be sensitive enough to what happens to others and in many ways are too indifferent to the suffering of others. We confiscated, we monopolized, world suffering. We did not allow anybody else to call whatever suffering they have ‘holocaust’ or ‘genocide,’ be it Armenians, be it Kosovo, be it Darfur.

“In the last years, Israeliness has confined itself for itself only and lost interest almost for what happens in the world,” he went on. “For me, Israel is shrinking into its own shell rather than struggling for a better world. Who is responsible for identity? The ultraOrthodox. They sit in the yeshivot”—the religious schools. “Who is responsible for our fundamental relation to the soil? The settlers. The two tribes responsible for the spiritual dimension and the territorial dimension are anti-modern Israel.”

Burg is ambivalent about the kind of support that the Israeli government has traditionally received from the United States government and the American Jewish community. His views, in fact, are not far from those expressed in a controversial article published last year in the London Review of Books, by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, denouncing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for subordinating American policy to Israeli interests and, by doing so, radicalizing public opinion in the Arab world.

“Can you imagine the European Union with a lobby or a PAC for the Knesset?” Burg said. “Maybe this was O.K. in the early fifties, but today I don’t need it.” He would prefer that Israel take no financial aid from the United States: “I don’t like it. A state like mine should live on its own means.” What Israel does need from its superpower ally is the impetus to move forward on negotiations with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, no matter how paralyzed, fractured, and desperate the situation now appears. A purposeful American President, he said, can always push forward even the most conservative Israeli Prime Minister. “Even Yitzhak Shamir shlepped to Madrid” for a peace conference in 1991, he said. “Israel needs dramatic decisions, like de Gaulle giving up Algeria.”

The longer Israel waits to resolve the Palestinian question, Burg said, the more intractable the problem becomes and the more deeply it scars the psyches of both sides. In towns near Gaza, like Sderot, the political outcry is not for peace talks but for military action. Among some right-wing Israeli politicians, there is open talk of schemes to “transfer” Palestinians to Jordan or other neighboring Arab countries, and this alarms Burg: “You hear the conversation in the Knesset, you hear it in the public, you see the graffiti ‘Arabs out’—like Juden raus. I don’t care all that much about the right-wing hoodlum who writes the graffiti so much as I do the municipalities that don’t erase it. The seeds of national chauvinism are here and flourishing. Of course, I can understand all the fears—can you imagine an American kid hit by a foreign rocket in Chevy Chase? Can you imagine the hysteria? I’ve watched Jack Bauer very closely. ‘24’ iconizes the fears of America. So if this seems right in Los Angeles it must be right in Sderot.”

Although Burg is now trying to make a living as a businessman, there are those who think that “Defeating Hitler” is an attempt to reënter the political discussion and, eventually, the electoral arena. And, in fact, Burg’s views on some issues, if not his language, are in keeping with the Israeli mainstream. Even now, with Palestinian politics in chaos, around two-thirds of Israelis, and almost as many Palestinians, are ready to accept a two-state solution—an independent Palestine in Gaza and the West Bank with part of Jerusalem as its capital. What Ari Shavit and so many others are less willing to accept is Burg’s harsh diagnosis of “Israeliness.”

“The comparison with pre-Nazi Germany is absurd,” Shavit said over lunch one afternoon in Jerusalem. “Also, Israel was much more militaristic in the old days. I don’t like the role of generals in political life, and I regret the lack of a Truman to restrain the influence of generals—a tough, decent civilian who understands the need to use power but who is decisive in controlling the Army. But there is nothing here of that Junker tradition or even anything like America’s military élites and academies. Israelis live in an open, free society with a very free spirit, even verging on anarchy. To describe us as a Bismarckian state with expansionist chauvinism—if there was a grain of truth to that, it was thirty years ago! Soldiers here take off their uniforms as soon as they come home. They’re not proud of their uniforms or their ranks. Wearing a uniform doesn’t get you girls.” There are anti-Arab racists in Israel, he added, but nothing like those in Burg’s favorite part of the world. “There are actual racist parties in Continental Europe that are far more powerful than any of the sickening elements here,” Shavit said. “There is no chance that an Israeli Day parade will draw as many as the number of people who came out for the Gay Pride parade in Tel Aviv. So to describe this as a Prussian Sparta is ridiculous.”

One morning, Shavit and I drove south to Sderot, which is surely the most anxious—and Burg-resistant—town in Israel. Sderot is a “development town,” one of many towns that began as absorption sites in the nineteen-fifties for “Oriental” Jews, mainly religious and poor, from Morocco, Algeria, and other Muslim countries. More recently, many immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who are generally low-income and politically conservative, have moved to such towns. Sderot, with a population of twenty-four thousand, is the closest Israeli town to the Gaza Strip—about half a mile from Beit Hanoun, just over the border. Since 2001, Sderot has been hit by nearly five thousand homemade Qassam missiles launched from Beit Hanoun by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other groups. Qassams are extremely inaccurate, but they have exacted a toll, especially psychologically. The rockets have killed eleven Israelis in Sderot—far fewer than the Gazans who have been killed by Israeli F-16s, helicopter gunships, and troops—and have succeeded in terrorizing the town. In the second half of May, when hundreds of rockets fell on Sderot, eighty per cent of the population evacuated, according to city officials.

The mayor, Eli Moyal, a rangy, chain-smoking Moroccan who has been called the Rudy Giuliani of Israel by his admirers, has demanded that the Olmert government take more severe military actions against Gaza and has denounced the leadership for failing to spend enough on shelters. The shelter problem has been addressed by Arcadi Gaydamak, one of the most mysterious figures in Israel. He is a Russian-born, multi-passport-holding billionaire oligarch who is wanted in France for tax evasion and for making illegal arms deals with Angola. (He has denied any wrongdoing.) Gaydamak has provided temporary housing for residents from Sderot during heavy periods of attack, and last summer, during the war with Hezbollah, he underwrote a tent village on the beach in Nitzanim for people fleeing the shelling in towns in northern Israel. Gaydamak recently bought Beitar Jerusalem, the popular soccer team supported by the city’s political conservatives, and used his money to improve its roster. Last year, he offered the people of Sderot free vacations to the beach resort of Eilat; and he has even talked—in Russian and English; he speaks almost no Hebrew—about running for mayor of Jerusalem.

When I asked Moyal about Gaydamak, he took a long drag on his cigarette, with such force that he burned it to the filter.

“Aaacchh,” he said, exhaling at last. “Don’t make me talk too much about . . . him.” The Gaydamak phenomenon was evidence of a failed government. Nor was Moyal pleased, he said, to have received a gift of more than two million dollars from an American evangelical group for the purpose of reinforcing buildings against rocket attacks. Moyal came to office hoping to build schools, and he has ended up on the borderline of what is widely known in Israel as “Hamastan.” Even as the Israeli government, along with the United States, tries to bolster the Fatah president, Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank, with funds and diplomatic blandishments, Hamas has an absolute hold over Gaza.

“Look,” Moyal said. “Hamas wants to empty Sderot. If we experience a hundred rockets a day—and Hamas says it has ten thousand rockets in its arsenal—no one will stay, and Hamas will be able to show the world that it can beat Israel with its primitive arms. It’s so simple: make Hamas pay a price for this. But the Israeli reaction is nothing. And if Sderot collapses this will be the end of Israel. Then Hamas will reach Ashdod,” ten miles farther north. “And then what? Evacuate Ashdod, a city of two hundred thousand people? Imagine if they start launching rockets from Judea and Samaria”—the West Bank—“and they hit Tel Aviv.”

Moyal said that if the United States could send troops thousands of miles to Afghanistan to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Olmert could surely order a more decisive force into Gaza. Sharon’s unilateral disengagement, in August, 2005, he said, had been a disaster: Hamas controlled Gaza and the Qassams had not stopped. “The big mistake is that this was all for nothing. At the time, the defense minister under Sharon, Shaul Mofaz, said that if after disengagement there was just one Qassam Gaza City would be shut down. We’ve had a few thousand rockets since then.”

Moyal expressed disgust for the generation of Israeli politicians now in their forties and fifties—not least Avraham Burg—and said that it was because of their failure that “we are living in a retro age,” in which the emerging contenders for Prime Minister are two former Prime Ministers: Barak, of Labor, and, Moyal’s preference, Benjamin Netanyahu, of Likud.

Later, Moyal took me to the police station where the municipality stores debris from the missiles that have fallen on Sderot. About a hundred of the rockets—twisted metal tubes, thicker ones by Hamas, thinner by Islamic Jihad—lay on a set of shelves. “Here is the latest harvest!” he said, as if the distorted metal were a rack of prize melons. The police paint the date on the rockets the day they fall. Moyal pointed to one from the previous morning, which exploded in a scrubby field on the edge of town. “This is yesterday’s, fresh from the oven.”

Nearby, in a tiny office, a few young Army technicians monitored a series of computer screens. They were getting satellite information from surveillance cameras, including cameras mounted on a blimp that hovers above Gaza. More than ninety per cent of the time, when rockets are launched toward Sderot from Gaza, the system, called Red Dawn, picks up their flight and an alarm sounds throughout the town.

“You have about fifteen seconds to take cover,” Moyal said.

Most Israelis believe that the occupation of Arab lands is untenable, and they also wonder how, when both Palestinian and Israeli politics have degenerated, the economy has soared. The Tel Aviv stock-exchange index has gone up two hundred and ten per cent in the past four years.

In the coming months, it may turn out that the most important constituency applying pressure to the Israeli government to engage the Palestinians in diplomatic negotiations will be not the activists or the left wing of the Labor Party but, rather, the entrepreneurs and managers who run such successful companies as Teva, Check Point, and Iscar. According to Bernard Avishai, a consulting editor with Harvard Business Review and the author of “The Tragedy of Zionism,” the business élites know that political unrest and, of course, potential war on any front threatens their interests. Those same businessmen are also wary of the most right-wing sector of society: the thirty-eight per cent of the Jewish population that wants the state to be run by religious law, and the thirty per cent that wants Yigal Amir, the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin, to be pardoned.

“The continued success of the economy depends on global companies being willing to let Israeli companies into their networks,” Avishai told me over lunch in Jerusalem. “If Israel collapses into chaos—if the Lebanon war had been six months instead of one—that could all end.”

Olmert and the two leading contenders to succeed him, Netanyahu and Barak, differ politically, but they are all closely connected to the business élites, and they can easily see that, decades after the country left behind its old semi-socialist pioneer economy for a modern one, it cannot afford to let its most educated and entrepreneurial young people leave for Europe and the United States. Avishai said that about a third of forty-five business and law students he taught a few years ago at the Interdisciplinary Center, in Herzliya, now live abroad, and many of them may never return. According to a study by the Institute for Economic and Social Policy at the Shalem Center, in Jerusalem, Israel is the world’s largest exporter of intellectual capital to the United States.

“Will the young people take the job offer in London from Goldman Sachs or will they stay here and wait for the missiles to fall?” Avishai said. “The question is, is this a good enough place to come back to when they are married and have children? Finally, the Israeli government has to confront its own crazies and create a national consensus on democratic ideals, enact a secular constitution, and really confront the settlers. So far, the government is only willing to say that it is making ‘painful’ moves. We are told that we have to grieve with the settlers, think about making deals, but quietly let on that we actually think these are the real Israeli pioneers. Bullshit. Avrum Burg might not express the need to change in the most effective way, but at least he has the courage to insist on it.” ♦


Fury As Israeli Textbook Admits Expulsions

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 12:54 am


ISRAELI right-wingers are furious at the acknowledgement in a new schoolbook that Palestinians were forcibly expelled when Israel was established in 1948.
They claim it undermines Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish nation state.
Zevulun Orlev, the leader of the National Religious Party, called on the education minister, Yuli Tamir, to step down after she gave the go-ahead for the new textbook, which is much more honest about the 1948 war than many Israelis are.

“Some of the Arab residents were forced to leave their houses and some were expelled and became refugees in the neighbouring Arab countries,” the book says.
The book says that what for Jews was a fight for Israeli independence was for Arabs “a catastrophe, a war of disaster and loss”.

The departure from the official Israeli version that all Palestinians ran away during the 1948 fighting rather than being evicted, as many were, comes in a book called Living Together in Israel that is being introduced into schools among Israel’s Arab minority this September.

Ms Tamir, a founder of the Peace Now movement and veteran Labour party MP, said the book “gives a balanced picture that enables the Arab pupil to read about his story.
One shouldn’t expect that the Arab student will connect with a text that says the state of Israel was born and everyone danced in the streets”.

Taleb al-Sanaa, an Arab MP, termed the new text “a significant step”.

“In order for there to be historical reconciliation we need an end to the brushing aside and ignoring of what happened during the [1948] catastrophe,” he said.

Dalia Fenig, an education ministry official, said the text was not being introduced into textbooks for Israeli Jewish eight-year-olds.

Right-wing politicians have reacted furiously to the book. “This is an anti-Zionist decision, which erases Jewish history and denies that the state of Israel is a Jewish state,” said Mr Orlev.

Limor Livnat, a former education minister from the right-wing Likud party, said: “The moment that you teach pupils in the Arab sector that Jews expelled them from their homes and that the establishment of Israel was a catastrophe, they are liable to learn from this that they should undertake armed struggle against the state of Israel.

“The result will be that under the generous sponsorship of our education system, we will with our own hands be raising a fifth column here.”

July 24, 2007

“All the dreams we had are now gone’ (Wolfensohn interviewed by Shahar Smooha)

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 11:52 am

NEW YORK – Even on a steaming hot day such as descended on New York last Monday, the Middle East looks very far away from the office of James D. Wolfensohn, 29 stories above Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. Construction staff in work boots, wearing hip- hugging tool belts, are still working industriously to complete the renovations – Wolfensohn is renting the entire floor. That will happen very soon, at which time Wolfensohn, 73, who was president of the World Bank for 10 years (1995-2005) and then spent 11 months as the Middle East envoy of the Quartet (the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations), will launch his new adventure. His sons are now working to raise $500 million to develop alternative fuel sources, and he will head up the vast new fund.

Wolfensohn’s period in the Middle East has left its mark on him. He may have left Israel and the Palestinian territories at the end of April 2006, but Israel and the territories have not yet left him. Which is understandable.

An Australian-born American Jew, Wolfensohn arrived in the region three months before the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, brimming with good intentions. His decade as head of the World Bank, his relaxed temperament and his intimate acquaintance with the leaders of the Quartet made him an ideal candidate for the post of special envoy. His father, who served with the Jewish Battalions in World War I, planted emotional ties to Zionism and the region in his heart.

Wolfensohn landed in the Middle East in May 2005 in order to monitor the Israeli disengagement from Gaza and to help heal the badly ailing Palestinian economy. In the beginning he was full of hope: He was able to raise $9 billion ($3 billion a year for three years) to bolster the Palestinian economy, and in November 2005, three months after the disengagement, he served as the mediator between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in negotiations on transit routes and on access to and from the Gaza Strip. He also donated money of his own to help the Palestinians buy Israeli-owned greenhouses in Gaza.

However, the departure of Ariel Sharon from the political arena in January 2006, the fact that Wolfensohn’s efforts were constantly undermined by none other than the U.S. administration, and the rise of Hamas to power combined to derail his mission. At the end of April 2006, fed up with both the Israelis and the Palestinians, and after understanding that he would not get backing from the Quartet, he decided to pack it in. He returned to the United States, where he divides his time between Manhattan and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and tried to leave the failed mission behind him.

For more than a year, Wolfensohn kept his feelings about his year in the Middle East to himself. He watched, appalled, as the disengagement plan failed and as violence continued to rage in the region. It was only after the recent takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas and the appointment of former British prime minister Tony Blair to the post he held that Wolfensohn agreed to speak on the record. Indeed, the impression is that he considers it his duty to do so.

Lost dreams

Even before he is asked about his reaction to Blair’s appointment as the Quartet’s emissary, Wolfensohn opens the conversation with something of a self-justification: “I don’t think that when negotiations are going on at various different levels – and I’m reasonably well informed about what’s going on – that intervention by a third party really adds much.”

The current situation in the Middle East leaves him in despair. “I think it was certainly easier in that glowing moment when there appeared to be an agreement that would give hope to the Palestinians and security to the Israelis – and you need to have both. You need to have a secure Israel, which is very clear, and you need to have a Palestinian community that feels it can have hope. The polls show that Israelis and Palestinians have such a balance – they’d like to come to a deal on borders, they’d like to reach a situation in which each can get on with their lives and live side by side for centuries. I think the average person, whether it be Hamas or Fatah, or religious or not religious, would love to settle down and live.

“I think that there was a framework for that in the agreement that Condi [Condoleezza] Rice announced in my presence and in the presence of the European representative Javier Solana,” Wolfensohn continues. “But in the months following, every aspect of the agreement was abrogated. In fact, the sadness of it is that the last remaining aspect – the opening to Egypt [via the border crossing] – has seen the international observers reducing their representation because of non-usage [of the terminal]. So all the dreams that we had then have now gone, and beyond that you now have an elected Hamas government and a split with Fatah and [PA Chairman] Abu Mazen, with a new prime minister, and you’ve got Hamas in Gaza. So we have an added difficulty in that we don’t have two parties now, we have three. And one with whom neither of the other two wishes to deal.”

However, in Wolfensohn’s view, none of the sides can allow itself to observe from afar the new reality that has emerged in the region and to wait for it to change. “The reality is that you have 1.4 million Palestinians living in Gaza and you can’t wish them away, you can’t leave Gaza as a place where the rich and the intellectuals and the powerful can get out, and leave just the people who can’t make a living – or can make a living if they could, but have no leadership. And military use or subjugation doesn’t solve the problem, it seems to me.”

It is Wolfensohn’s view that “in the interest of Israel, in the interest of the Palestinians, there is a need to get things back to a situation where there is representation of all the Palestinian people in an entity that can deal with Israel to bring about, if Israel wishes, a two-state solution, which appears to be a thing Secretary [of State] Rice is now committed to.” The situation, he says, cannot simply “be allowed to lie there, because just pretending that 1.4 million people can live in a sort of prison is not a solution at all. So I think it’s going to require, on the part of Tony Blair or someone, some real negotiations to try and get this started.”

Asked about another possible way out of the deadlock – with Israel taking the initiative and exerting pressure on the Palestinian population to rid itself of the Hamas leadership, or assassinating the organization’s leaders in order to pave the way for Fatah to take control again – Wolfensohn shrugs his shoulders. “I’m not at all sure that Israel can determine what happens in Palestine, the Palestinian territories. There’s been no evidence up to now that a decision taken by the Israelis will determine what the Palestinians do. I don’t think personally that a military solution is a solution,” he says dryly.

Corruption at the crossings

Wolfensohn sounds hurt and disappointed as he describes the slide into violence after the disengagement from Gaza. “Part of the reason it happened, in my view, is that the conditions in Gaza deteriorated so terribly,” he explains. “If you recall, in the time of the withdrawal there was a day or two of people looting, but within 48 hours it was under control. Things were peaceful in Gaza, and this was not because of a military presence of the Israelis. It was because the Palestinians recognized that if they want to have any hope, they need to be in a more peaceful mode.”

He toured the Gaza Strip with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) immediately after the PA asserted its authority there, and recalls a euphoric atmosphere that dissipated very quickly.

“I remember seeing the greenhouses with the chairman and looking at the fruits and everything, and there was a joyous atmosphere: ‘Boy, we’re about to get this going and we’re going to have hotels by the beaches and we’re going to have tourism and it’s going to be fantastic, and the Palestinians really know how to be hosts.’ But in the months afterward, first of all Arik [Sharon] became ill and the current prime minister came in, and there was a clear change of view.”

At that time, Wolfensohn recalls, powerful forces in the U.S. administration worked behind his back: They did not believe in the border terminals agreement and wanted to undermine his status as the Quartet’s emissary. The official behind this development, he says, was Elliot Abrams, the neoconservative who was appointed deputy national security adviser in charge of disseminating democracy in the Middle East – “and every aspect of that agreement was abrogated.”

The non-implementation of the agreement naturally had serious economic consequences. According to Wolfensohn, the shattering of the great hope of normality, which the Palestinians experienced so deeply when the Israel Defense Forces and the settlers left the Gaza Strip, brought about the rise of Hamas. “Instead of hope, the Palestinians saw that they were put back in prison. And with 50 percent unemployment, you would have conflict. This is not just a Palestinian issue. If you have 50 percent of your people with no work, chances are they will become annoyed. So it’s not, in my opinion, that Palestinians are so terrible; it is that they were in a situation where a modulation of views between one and the other became impossible.

“And you can blame the Palestinians because there were those among them who were firing rockets or you can blame the Israelis for overreacting,” he continues. “But either way – whichever side you take – the situation that emerged was that you had 50 percent of the population frustrated, no resources, and a border which was corrupt on both sides. I saw it with my own eyes: Israelis and Palestinians, arm in arm, walking off together and clearly pricing how you could get your truck to the top of the line or get it through at all. It was an absolutely transparently corrupt system at the border – you had to buy your truck’s way across. I thought it was a disgrace.”

The issue of the greenhouses is especially painful to Wolfensohn because of his personal contribution to them. “Everything was rotting because you couldn’t get the fruit. And if you went to the border, as I did many times, and saw tomatoes and fruit just being dumped on the side of the road, you would have to say that if you were a Palestinian farmer you’d be pretty upset. So my view is to try and not demonize the Palestinians. I’m not denying that there are Palestinians who fire rockets and do terrible things; I know that that happens. But to get a fundamental solution, you have to have hope on both sides.”

Wolfensohn is not naive. He knows that the Hamas election victory in January 2006 did not derive only from the collapse of the border-crossings agreement after the disengagement, but also from the years-long corruption of the Fatah leadership. He says he cautioned Fatah representatives with whom he was in contact about this danger, but they ignored him.

“Fatah wasn’t that popular at the time. A lot of people thought that the Fatah leadership was overpaid. The Palestinians, at least, did. They thought they had a dishonest leadership – not, I think, at the level of Abu Mazen, but at a ministerial level. They felt that there was an elite class that was taking advantage of the situation, and that the only way they could get some improvement was by electing a group that, at least at the time, was perceived as straightforward. My own opinion is that the decision to move to Hamas was partly ideological, but partly because of the failure of the Fatah leadership. I know that to be the case and so does everybody who was there.” Wolfensohn had discussions with the Fatah leadership, he says, “but at the time they were pretty self-confident. If you look at [Mohammed] Dahlan, the people who were there, the informal leaders – there wasn’t a lot of talk about Hamas ousting them.”

Didn’t they think it was a problem for them to drive their shiny Mercedes through refugee camps?

Wolfensohn: “I thought it was and said so many times. It’s not only that, it’s also the building of the big houses, the private armies. They said their polls showed that they’d win. What can you do? I’m an outsider. For any outsider there’s a level to which you cannot penetrate.”

Even though Wolfensohn identified the danger already then – in contrast to many observers and commentators, who see America’s insistence on holding democratic elections in the PA as the factor that enabled Hamas to become so strong – he does not view this as a mistake. “I think that’s a very hard question to answer, because although it’s pretty clear that the tide had turned in terms of support for Hamas, there had been a promise of elections. I think probably that I, too, would have taken the position to press on, in the hope that the outcome might have been different.”

Surprised by Bush

James Wolfensohn was born in Sydney, Australia in 1933. He is a graduate of the faculty of law of the University of Sydney, was the captain of the Australian fencing team at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, and served as an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force. After the Olympics he entered Harvard Business School, emerging with an MBA. He was then employed briefly by the Swiss-based cement company Holderbank (now Holcim), before returning to Australia and working in a number of banking firms, specializing in investments.

His principal employer in this period was the investment bank J. Henry Schroders. He served as a senior executive in the institution’s London headquarters before becoming the managing director of its New York branch, a post he held from 1970 until 1976. Afterward Wolfensohn held a senior position with Salomon Brothers, the Wall Street investment bank.

In the 1970s, he became friends with the cellist Jacqueline du Pre and began to study the instrument with her when he was 41. He continues to take this hobby seriously and performs on various occasions. Wolfensohn says that if peace is ever attained between Israel and the Palestinians, he has an agreement in principle with Ehud Barak (“I like Ehud Barak, but that’s largely because he’s a pianist”) and with a Palestinian violinist to give a joint concert.

Wolfensohn became an American citizen in 1980 and was already then considered a candidate to head the World Bank, after the tenure of Robert McNamara. When this did not happen, he established an investment firm bearing his name, and devoted much of his time to philanthropic activity. Among other public service activities, he was chairman of Carnegie Hall in New York and of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.

In 1995, he was nominated by then-U.S. president Bill Clinton to be president of the World Bank, and won the unreserved support of the bank’s board. His term was unanimously extended for another five years in 2005, making him the third person to hold the presidency for two consecutive terms (after Eugene Black and McNamara). During his term of office, Wolfensohn placed the emphasis on changing the institution’s organizational culture, focusing attention not only on making loans, but also on creating economic growth in the Third World and reducing the rate of poverty throughout the world. He was surprised, he says, that President George Bush let him continue as president of the World Bank, instead of appointing one of his people to the post.

“No Democratic appointee kept his job, and he wanted to put in [Paul] Wolfowitz, so it was clear to me that I couldn’t stay a day longer at the World Bank,” he reveals. “It was very clear that it wasn’t personal. It was practice. But they then asked me if I’d take on this other term, which was hugely unusual and I have no I idea why it happened. I was very surprised, and delighted.”

‘Small print’

According to James Wolfensohn, the major blame for the failure of his Middle East mission lies with him. “I feel that if anything, I was stupid for not reading the small print,” he admits. “I was never given the mandate to negotiate the peace.” The mandate he received, he says – which is identical to the one Tony Blair has now been given – was solely to try to improve the economic situation in the territories and to improve the Palestinians’ situation in general, whereas he naively thought that this included intervention to advance peace.

“To be quite honest with you, I was so anxious to try to help. I was getting out of the World Bank, and I thought, you know, this is a good place to start. I was full of ideas and good intent, and everybody would see me and they would all discuss the peace process with me. I was given enough rope so that I could go to the G7 [meetings of finance ministers from seven industrialized nations] and see any leader that I wanted, and when I got out of the bank I just continued, not because of the need to see them, but because I thought this job was pretty good, because I was really helping to do something that I was keenly interested in.”

In 2005, Wolfensohn’s access to the G7 leaders may have made it easier for him to extract from them a commitment for a $9-billion package to ameliorate the situation of the Palestinian economy. However, he says, afterward Condoleezza Rice and Elliot Abrams made it very clear to him that intervention in peace negotiations was not within his purview. “I had to fight my way into the November [2005] meeting when Secretary Rice announced the six-point plan. I was there with Javier Solana when it was announced, and what I didn’t realize was that that was the death penalty, because after that the Israelis and the Americans took apart that agreement one by one, and I knew less and less what was happening. And my team of 18 people was fired. So I was left with no office and no people, and even though they asked me to stay on, it was pretty clear to me that the only thing to do was to get out.”

Asked whether the disengagement plan was not one big mistake, because of its unilateral character and because Israel has been attacked relentlessly from the Gaza Strip since its implementation, Wolfensohn waxes nostalgic for Ariel Sharon. “I don’t think it was a mistake, if it had been followed by the second part of the disengagement – to create a self-sustaining entity that could be the first step to Palestinian statehood that could allow the Palestinians to live their lives and develop a sense of national integrity. That was an opportunity that was missed, and at the heart of it was Arik [Sharon]. He was an unlikely negotiator of peace because of his record, but I have to say that personally I found him very pragmatic. I can’t say that he was fond of Palestinians, but he knew that for the future, you couldn’t have an Israel full of Palestinians. That demographic imperative made it essential that there would be some kind of two-state solution.”

Sharon, Wolfensohn continues, “was hugely suspicious of me, as he was of the Quartet, but in the end he accepted me and I think I knew what was in his mind. I think he saw the Gaza withdrawal as a very positive thing. When Condi [Rice] came over for those meetings in November [2005], he and I at that stage were becoming pretty good friends. He got up from the table where he was sitting with Condi – and that’s something he never did – came across to my table and gave me a hug. He was prime minister, so it was for me to [rise to] greet him, but he did it in a very obvious way. I think personally that he had the strength and the standing, and in my opinion the determination to move through with the two-state solution.

“I don’t blame [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert. He doesn’t have the strength or the leadership that Arik had. Arik, as you remember, confronted the nation and said, ‘If you want to attack someone, attack me.’ Ehud [Olmert] has not had the standing and his popularity is quite low,” Wolfensohn adds, smiling.

“I have no doubts that I may have made tactical, strategic mistakes, but the basic problem was that I didn’t have the authority. The Quartet had the authority, and within the Quartet it was the Americans who had the authority. It was not a Quartet decision to close the office,” he explains, in a very unsubtle hint. “There was never a desire on the part of the Americans to give up control of the negotiations, and I would doubt that in the eyes of Elliot Abrams and the State Department team, I was ever anything but a nuisance.”

Not such a big deal

Wolfensohn is convinced that he was also perceived as a nuisance by Olmert and by Dov Weissglas, Sharon’s close adviser, who stayed on in the initial period after Sharon was incapacitated by a stroke. Wolfensohn feels that he may have been able to wield influence in matters of little importance, but that he did not have access to the real decision makers after Sharon’s departure. “I was mature enough to understand that at the main gate, I had no position,” he says.

“My worry for Tony Blair is that if you read the mandate he has – it’s exactly the same as mine. It talks about helping both sides, helping the Palestinians, but there’s nothing there about negotiating peace. I would only hope that there’s a greater mandate given to him, because even with the superior standing that he has over the standing I had, if he doesn’t have a mandate … If halfway through the negotiations your office is closed and someone takes over the negotiations, you have to say you failed,” Wolfensohn says, breaking into loud, bitter laughter.

Did you speak with Blair after his appointment?

“I have no comment on that.”

How do you assess his chances?

“Better than mine were. He is closer to George Bush. He was prime minister. I do not believe there’s much time. I think it is difficult. But we’re fortunate to have somebody with experience.”

Precisely because he views himself as an analyst who observes the global arena from a bird’s-eye view, Wolfensohn is convinced that the Palestinians – and even more, the Israelis – cannot allow themselves to waste time. He also disputes the prevailing concept in the region, which holds that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is central to the future of the world.

“In the end, both sides have to recognize that they are 11 million people in a sea of 350 million Arabs,” Wolfensohn says, and goes on to illustrate the proportions numerically: “Over the last four years, the war in Israel and Palestine has cost the international community – including military expenditure – somewhere between $10 and $20 billion. The Iraq war has cost $600 billion. The Afghanistan war has cost between $50 billion and $100 billion. You have a nuclear threat in Iran, you have the issue of Syria and which way it goes, and you have a doubling of the Arab population in something like between 10 and 15 years. So instead of 350 million, there will be 700 million. Israel may grow from six million to eight million, if they’re lucky, or nine million.

“There has to be a moment when Israelis and Palestinians understand that they are a sideshow,” Wolfensohn continues. “The real global politics is the politics of war and the politics of nuclear weaponry and the weight of the population. In the Western press the Israeli-Palestinian conflict gets a lot of coverage, but you should see the press in the developing countries, as I did when I visited more than 140 countries: It’s not such a big deal there. I don’t see any way to argue that Israel’s position is improving.”

Wolfensohn carefully avoids giving a reply to the question of whether the continuation of the conflict and the worsening of Israel’s situation are liable to produce a regime with apartheid characteristics. At the same time, he notes that Israel has for some time been suffering from a brain drain, and adds that when the country reaches junctures of major decisions, the strength of the security establishment always overcomes that of the civil forces in society.

“The expenses on military and intelligence in Israel are probably greater than in any democracy I know of, and I can understand that, given the situation, but as a continuing characteristic of the country, I don’t think it’s hopeful. To me it is so bloody sad that all the creativity you have in Israeli youth has to go through this experience in the army, risking their lives,” Wolfensohn says, casting his gaze far beyond Central Park. “Israeli youth finish high school and spend two-three years in the army, and then go to Thailand and other places and smoke pot to get over it, then come back and start their lives when they’re 24. I don’t think that’s an ideal way for the next generation of Israel to live their lives.”

Did your mission in Israel change the way you perceive Zionism and Israel?

“No. I still believe in that. But Israelis and Palestinians really should get over thinking that they’re a show on Broadway. They are a show in the Village, off-off-off-off Broadway. I hope I don’t get into too much trouble for saying this, but what the hell, that’s what I believe, and I’m 73.”

June 19, 2007

Unmoved by the humanitarian crisis

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 8:35 am

By Nehemia Shtrasler

From the perspective of Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu, the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip proves that the right-wing stance was correct all along. Israel didn’t have to quit Gaza in 2005 or withdraw from Lebanon in 2000, Netanyahu says. The conclusion of Netanyahu and National Union’s Zvi Hendel is that Israel should not negotiate over either the Golan Heights or the West Bank, because Syrian President Bashar Assad is unreliable and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is weak.Such a position makes it seem like rockets weren’t being fired on Sderot when Israel was deep in Gaza, and Hamas wouldn’t have taken control of the strip if the Gush Katif settlement bloc had remained in Israel’s hands. Except that if Israel had not withdrawn from Gaza, the Palestinian fire would have been aimed at the settlers, and the Israel Defense Forces would have paid a heavy price to protect them.

But Netanyahu and Hendel are not moved by the death toll. According to their thinking, we will still be living by our swords in another hundred years. They are also unmoved by the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. They think Israel was charitable toward the Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza because the quality of their lives rose during the years of occupation.

But the facts indicate otherwise. In 1970, the gross national product in the West Bank was $250 per capita, and today it is $1,300 – five times as hi gh in nominal terms. During the same period, Jordan experienced 10-fold growth, going from $280 to $2,800.

Similarly, Gaza’s GNP rose from $170 per capita in 1970 to $1,000 today, growing six times, while the figure in Egypt rose from $200 to $1,800 – nine times. In other words, the Palestinians’ conditions under Israeli rule worsened compared with the region, not to mention the large gap between them and us. Israel’s GNP per capita is 20 times larger than the Palestinians’.

Israel has used the resources of the West Bank and Gaza shamefully, taking full advantage of the occupied areas. For years, Israel prevented the Palestinian territories from developing and setting up factories due to opposition from Israeli industrialists, but exploited the cheap and humiliated labor pool. Palestinians stood on endless lines at the Erez Crossing starting at 2 A.M. to land a day’s work in Israel. Israel also saw the 3.5 million residents of the West Bank and Gaza as a captive market for Israeli products, generally those of inferior quality. To this day, Israeli factories in the fashion industry continue to take advantage of the cheap labor in Gaza for simple sewing work.

In addition, Israel prevented the Palestinian Authority from setting up a large power station so that it could remain dependent on the Israel Electric Corporation. Israel also prevented the construction of a port so it could control all the imports and exports, and put Dor Energy in charge of supplying the territories with gas.

For 40 years, Israel imprisoned 1.4 million people in the large, neglected and backward refugee camp that is the Gaza Strip, turning them into “the poor that are cast out,” as Isaiah would have it. There is a 60-percent unemployment rate in Gaza, and residents depend for sustenance on the rice and hummus they get from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. It is a hopeless situation. Parents are unable to provide their children with food, the housing is dismal, the poverty is humiliating, and the filth, neglect and overcrowding cause despair and aggression.

There is virtually no family in Gaza that has not had relatives killed or wounded, that has not suffered degradation. In such a situation, they have nothing to lose other than life itself. It has become clear that when despair goes sufficiently deep, even life holds no attraction. Last week a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy, a mother of eight children, was arrested on her way to carry out a suicide bombing.

When the Palestinians had a strong and widely accepted leader, Yasser Arafat, with whom one could arrive at a final-status solution, Israel depicted him as a monster and imprisoned him in his Muqata headquarters until his death. When Abbas, an easygoing leader, came along afterward, Israel humiliated him and weakened him and damaged the Palestinian Authority. Israel wouldn’t agree to let him have even the accomplishment of the withdrawal from Gaza. No wonder then that Hamas won the elections.

There is a lot of talk over here about the large gaps between the income of the top Israeli decile and the bottom decile, gaps that are said to endanger the stability of Israeli society. But what about the gaps between us and the Palestinians? Don’t they endanger us? After all, no one wants to live in a “villa in the jungle,” as Labor Party leader Ehud Barak put it. No one wants his neighbor to be poor, unemployed and bitter, to be planning to take revenge on him. But that is precisely our situation. That is where our leaders have brought us. Netanyahu and Hendel, though, aren’t bothered by this. They want to continue to lead the country on the path of destruction and bereavement – because Rachel’s Tomb is more important.

June 18, 2007

Assaf Oron on 40 years of Occupation

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 9:40 pm

Forty years ago this week, tiny Israel demolished the greatest Arab armies and acquired territories three times its size. For us Israelis, these newly occupied territories — East Jerusalem, West Bank, Gaza, Golan, Sinai — were love at first sight. The occupied people — especially more than a million Palestinians — much less so.

In Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol’s words, “We want the dowry, not the bride.” Legal experts concluded that settling Israelis in occupied territories would be illegal. The late Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Israel’s leading intellectual, warned that occupation would turn Israel into a terror-ridden police state. But these voices were drowned in the euphoric din. The Israeli Defense Forces and Shin Bet secret police were ready; we embarked on a mission to have the cake and eat it.

Already in June 1967, citing “municipal unification,” we annexed East Jerusalem, immediately confiscating land and building Jewish neighborhoods. The world looked the other way. Before long, all old borders were erased from our maps. New roads connected Israel with the territories. New settlements were built on “borrowed” land. We loved touring those biblical landscapes, and Palestinians seemed happy. After all, we brought them modernity and great jobs.

Their jobs: building our homes, washing dishes in our restaurants, tilling our fields. No civil or social rights. Palestinians became the ideal cheap foreign laborers — ones who returned home every night. The Shin Bet made sure Palestinians “looked happy,” spreading its nets everywhere: recruiting collaborators, corrupting leaders, jailing or expelling incorruptible ones, torturing bad guys when needed. The IDF provided boots on the ground (including mine), liberal daily doses of humiliation and a system of kangaroo military courts.

The occupation is still intact. We have settled more than 400,000 Israelis beyond the 1967 borders, seamlessly integrating them into Israel. Palestinians are impoverished, demoralized, bitterly divided and oppressed by us more than ever. Considering the fate of other modern occupation regimes, our little “dowry” project seems like an astounding success. Or is it?

Many tend to forget, but settling Sinai and ignoring Egypt brought us the costly 1973 war. We gained peace by completely evacuating Sinai, but failed to apply the same logic elsewhere. So it happened again: Since 1987, East Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza have erupted with rebellions and terror waves, turning the occupation into an emotional drain and a financial sinkhole — kept afloat only with U.S. support. Most Israelis don’t visit the West Bank anymore, and Jewish Jerusalem suffers a mass exodus of its young.

Meanwhile, the have-the-cake-and-eat-it attitude permeates and corrupts Israeli society and politics to a frightening degree. Tribalism and internal rifts between Jewish population groups have intensified. External threats temporarily unite us, but last summer’s war exposed another problem: After decades of functioning mostly as an occupation police, a bloated IDF could not defeat Hezbollah — a force the size of one regiment.

Most Israelis blame everything on “Arab mentality” or on the Oslo process, conveniently leaving us with an empty to-do list. But occupation and settlement were our free choices. We must take drastic, honest steps to dismantle both.

Unfortunately, the occupation mind-set predates 1967. “Good Arabs,” a new book by Hillel Cohen based on declassified government documents, describes our military rule over Israel’s Arabs from 1948 to 1966. All the occupation’s ingredients were there. In the 1950s, our “security” system even objected to municipal elections in Israel’s Arab towns, for fear of losing control. From the start, our security establishment has equated Israel’s security with controlling Arab lives.

What a narrow-minded, immoral, disastrous mind-set. Go tell Israelis that: We blindly trust our “security experts.” After the much-heralded 2005 Gaza evacuation, Israelis did not question the outrageous security demand to continue controlling Gaza’s exit and entry, its imports and exports. We merely converted Gaza from occupied colony to remote-control prison, precipitating the current chaos there.

Israel is sinking fast. Our Jewish population will soon be outnumbered by the country’s Palestinians, most of them under occupation. Perhaps Americans, who have funded this madness, will help us undo it? Oops, I forgot: Americans are now stuck occupying Iraq.

Assaf Oron is writing his doctoral dissertation at the University of Washington

Nurit Peled-Elhanan, laureate of Sakharov Prize

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 8:57 pm

Speaking at the Tel Aviv demonstration marking 40 years of Occupation

Good evening. It is a great honour for me to stand on this stage beside my friend and brother Bassam Aramin, a man of the Palestinian peace camp, one of the founders of the Combatants for Peace movement of which two of my sons, Alik and Guy, are members of. Only last week, on Tuesday in Anata and on Thursday in Tul Karem, the Combatants for Peace movement succeeded in organizing two massive gatherings and recruited 10 thousands Palestinians to their goal – a joint non-violent struggle against the occupation through close cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. If not for the racist laws of the State of Israel all those of thousands of people could be with us here this evening to prove once and for all that we have a partner.

Bassam and I are both victims of the cruel occupation that has been corrupting this country for forty years now. The two of us came this evening to lament the fate of ths e that has buried our two daughters – Smadar – the bud of the fruit* and Abir – the perfume of the flower*, who were murdered at an interval of ten years, ten years during which this country has filled with the blood of children and the underground kingdom of children on which we tread day by day and hour by hour has grown to overflowing.

But what unites Bassam and me is not just the death that the Occupation sentenced us to. What unites us is principally faith and a willingness to raise the children that have been left to us so that they will never again allow corrupt, greedy and power-hungry politicians and generals who thirst for blood and conquest to rule over their lives and set them against each other. No more will they allow the racism that has spread over this country to lead them off the path of peace and brotherhood that they have paved for themselves. Because only that brotherhood can bring down the wall of racism that is being built before our very eyes.

For forty years now, racism and megalomania have dictated our lives. Forty years during which more than four million people do not know the meaning of freedom of movement. Forty years in which Palestinian children are born and raised as prisoners in their homes that the Occupation converted into a prison, deprived at the outset of all the rights that human beings are entitled to because they are human. Forty years during which Israeli children are educated in racism of the type that has been unknown in the civilized world for decades. Forty years during which they have learned to hate the neighbours just because they are neighbours, to fear them without knowing them, to see a quarter of the citizens of the State as a demographic danger and an enemy within, and to relate to the residents of the ghettos created by the policy of occupation as a problem that must be solved. Only sixty years ago Jews were residents of ghettos and seen in the eyes of their oppressors as a problem that needed to be solved. Only sixty years ago the Jews were enclosed behind ugly concrete and electrified walls topped with watchtowers manned by erect armed figures, and deprived of the ability to make a living or to raise their children with dignity. Only sixty years ago racism exacted its price from the Jewish people. Today racism rules in the Jewish state, tramples people’s dignity underfoot and deprives them of liberty, condemns all of us to lives of hell. For forty years now the Jewish head has unceasingly been bowed in worship of racism while the Jewish mind is devising the most creative ways to devastate and demolish and destroy this country. That is what remains of the Jewish genius, which has become Israeli. Jewish compassion, Jewish mercy, Jewish cosmopolitan-ness, love of humanity and respect for the other have been long forgotten. Their place was claimed by racism. It was only racism that motivated a Border Guard soldier to pull the trigger from inside his armoured vehicle and to shoot at the head of little Abir as she huddled by the wall of her school in fear of the military vehicle that was plopped down in the schoolyard as if it owned the place. It is only racism that motivates the drivers of bulldozers to demolish houses on top of their occupants, to destroy vineyards and fields, to uproot centuries-old olive trees. Only racism can invent roads on which circulation is classified on the basis of race, and it is only racism that motivates our children to humiliate women who could be their mothers and to abuse old people at the evil checkpoints, to strike young people their own age who, like them, want to drive with their families to bathe in the sea, and to look on impassively as women give birth on the road. It is only pure racism that motivates our best pilots to drop one-ton bombs on residential buildings and it is only racism that permits those criminals to sleep well at night.

Because racism eliminates shame. This racism has erected for itself a monument in its own image – the monument of an ugly, rigid, menacing and invasive concrete wall. A monument that proclaims to the whole world the banishment of shame from this country. This wall is our wall of shame, it is testimony to the fact that we have turned from being a light unto the nations to “an object of disgrace to the nations and a mockery to all the countries.” **

And this evening we must ask where we take our shame? How will we remove the disgrace? But first and foremost, how is it that the shame does not keep us from sleeping at night? How do we consent to have half our salaries be used for the execution of crimes against humanity? (more…)

Crisis in Gaza

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 6:11 pm


June 16, 2007

American Jew finances anti-demolition campaign

Filed under: Blogroll, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 10:01 am

By Tovah Lazaroff

An Orthodox American Jew has donated $1.5 million to fund a campaign against the demolition of Palestinian and Beduin homes throughout Israel and the territories, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions announced on Monday.

The committee plans to use those funds to rebuild as many as 300 Palestinians homes it expects to be demolished this year either by the Interior Ministry, the Jerusalem Municipality or the Civil Administration.

Israel officials argue that Palestinian homes are only destroyed for security reasons or because they were illegally constructed, but ICAHD disputes both those arguments. Director-General Jeff Halper said that the government discriminates against Palestinians and therefore it is very difficult for them to obtain building permits.

Nor does he believe the security argument. “These are not people that have done anything or have been charged with anything. There is no security issues at all in terms of these homes,” he said.

“This is really part of a continuing policy of displacement and dispossession” of Palestinians, he added.

He would not give the name of the US donor but said it was someone who did not want to be complicit with the policy of destroying Palestinian homes.

In the last 10 years, ICAHD has rebuilt some 35 destroyed Palestinians homes, but this is the first time that it has embarked on an anti-demolition campaign of this magnitude, in which it plans to rebuild each destroyed Palestinian home. It has already rebuilt five homes in the Jerusalem area and started on another eight, including four in Hebron.

To mark both the start of its campaign and the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War, the group held a press event in the Old City in one of the few homes that remains from the Mughrabi Quarter which once stood at the site of the plaza that stretches out from the Wailing Wall.

While there have been few home demolitions in the Old City itself in the last 40 years, Halper said that the first act of the “occupation” in 1967 at the end of the war was to destroy part of the Mughrabi Quarter, including two mosques, to make space for worshipers at the wall. Bulldozers came at night and 135 families were forced to leave their homes, Halper said. “We are coming back to the place where the occupation began,” he said.

Speaking with him was the mukhtar of the Mughrabi Quarter, Mahmoud Masloukhi, whose family had lived there for 120 years. He himself was born in 1933 and grew up in the quarter. In 1967, he had recently remarried. When he and his family understood that the quarter was being destroyed, they fled with only the clothes on their backs, he recalled. Now all he has left of his ancestral home is a few black and white photographs which he brought with him. He recalled how at one time, Jews and Muslims lived peacefully together in the Old City. Jews were forced to leave the Old City after the War of Independence in 1948, when Jordan had control of the area. It also destroyed most of the Old City’s Jewish Quarter.

After the Six Day War, it was Masloukhi and his family who had to leave. He and his sister are among the few who have returned to the Old City.

As Masloukhi stood with reporters and showed them the photos of his former home, a number of Jewish children in a school located above the courtyard threw large spitballs and water at him and the other people standing below.

June 10, 2007

ICAHD wins Jewish Voice for Peace “Olive Award”

Filed under: Blogroll, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 11:38 am

On Saturday, April 28, 2007 in Oakland, CA, Jewish Voice for Peace proudly presented the 2007 Olive Branch Award to two extraordinary people representing two extraordinary Israeli human rights organizations: Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and Professor Anat Biletzki, former chair of B’Tselem, the Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

Jewish Voice for Peace is one of the largest and. oldest Jewish peace organizations in the United States. We are dedicated to promoting a US foreign policy grounded in international law and democracy that recognizes the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to self determination.

Both ICAHD and B’Tselem embody the spirit of the Jewish tradition of universal justice — ICAHD through its unwavering dedication to stopping the illegal and inhumane practice of the destruction of Palestinian homes, B’Tselem through its fearless commitment to documenting human rights violations in the Occupied Territories. Both organizations are beacons of light to thousands in the United States. We look to you for leadership, courage and inspiration. It is with great pride that we have selected both groups to win the prize this year. Nominees were selected by a group comprised of members from across the United States.

*Cecilie Surasky Director of Communications Jewish Voice for Peace*
1611 Telegraph Ave., Suite 806; Oakland, California 94612
ph: 510 465 1777 x303 fx: 510 465 1616 cell: 510 410 4202

June 8, 2007

UNOCHA Map of Fragmentation of West Bank

Filed under: Blogroll, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 4:25 pm

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