Religious Aspects of the Current Israel/Palestine Crisis
From Jew to Jew:
Jerusalem would have been similarly dissected so that each Palestinian island would be surrounded by an Israeli sea. This wouldn’t be an acceptable “end of the conflict” to you if you were Palestinian, would it? Please see the map on the cover of this paper and see for yourself what this “most generous” offer actually looked like. (Israel actually presented no maps at Camp David itself, but this was their offer of two months previous, and only marginal additional territory was theoretically offered at Camp David.)
The other important question here is 95% of what? “Greater Jerusalem” was unilaterally annexed by Israel after the 1967 war and so it was not included as West Bank territory in Barak’s offer, even though it takes up a large chunk of the West Bank, most of it having no municipal connection with the actual city of Jerusalem. The international community has never recognized Israeli sovereignty over “Greater Jerusalem” and has repeatedly declared that Israel should withdraw from this and all territories it conquered by force of arms in 1967. Barak’s offer also excluded large swaths of the Jordan Valley which the Israeli military would control indefinately. Thus the Foundation for Middle East Peace estimates that the actual percentage of occupied land offered to the Palestinians was more like 80%, not 95%.
After the Camp David talks ended without an agreement, did Arafat refuse to negotiate? In a word, no. At the end of Camp David it was Barak who said that his offers there would not be the basis for further discussions, that they were now “null and void”, that Camp David was an “all or nothing” summit. The Palestinians were willing to continue serious negotiations, and did at Taba, even after the current intifada had started. According to Ron Pundak, an Israeli diplomat who was a key architect of the Oslo Accords, “The negotiations in Taba, which took place moments before Barak’s government lost the elections, proved that a permanent status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians was within reach. (It) led to dramatic progress on all issues on the agenda.”
But meanwhile, Sharon had gone to the Temple Mount with 1000 Israeli soldiers in tow, followed the next day by a demonstration of Palestinians (who had no firearms), which was met with totally unnecessary lethal force by the Israeli police, resulting in at least four Palestinians being shot and killed. This demonstration, which could have been contained by nonlethal means if the Israeli government had wanted to, was the beginning of the current cycle of violence.
“What about Palestinian crimes? Why don’t you lay equal blame on them?” Certainly, Palestinians have committed grave crimes, and in any process of reconciliation, both sides will have much to answer for. But as Jews, we are responsible to look at Israel objectively, and not just when Israelis are victims of violence.
In order to understand why there is the level of violence we see today, it is necessary to understand how we got to this point.
a) Before the 1967 war. Before the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, there was little organized Palestinian resistance. The majority of the tension was between Israel and the neighboring states. For the most part, violence between Israel and the Palestinians was limited to isolated Palestinian “infiltrations”, as Israel generally referred to them.
The Israeli population may certainly have believed that they were in mortal danger from the armies of their Arab neighbors. But by the mid-1960s, Israeli leaders had a good deal of confidence that they could defeat a combination of Arab forces similar to that which they acomplished in 1948, and with greater ease. History, of course, proved them correct, which calls into question the myth that Israel was fighting a selfdefensive war for its very existence in 1967.
b) The 1967 war itself. The myth that the 1967 war was a purely defensive one is further weakened by statements of Israeli leaders themselves. For example, the New York Times published an article on May 11, 1997 quoting Moshe Dayan’s own diaries, in which he admits that the kibbutz residents who pressed the Government to take the Golan Heights in 1967 did so less for security than for the farmland. “They didn’t even try to hide their greed for that land. . . The Syrians, on the fourth day of the war, were not a threat to us”, Dayan wrote.
Or again from Prof. John Quigley’s landmark book, “Palestine And Israel”, “Mordecai Bentov, a cabinet minister who attended the June 4 (1967) cabinet meeting and supported the decision to invade Egypt, said Israel’s ‘entire story’ about ‘the danger of extermination’ was ‘invented of whole cloth and exaggerated after the fact to justify the annexation of new Arab territories’.”
Even Menachem Begin said, “The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.” In short, the argument of self-defense does not stand up to a close examination of the historical record.
c) Peace Proposals after the 1967 war. In 1969, Nixon’s Secretary of State, William Rogers, proposed a peace plan based on UN Resolution 242, which would have guaranteed Israel’s security within her pre-1967 borders. Israel rejected it out-of-hand. In 1971, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat offered Israel a similar proposal (which did not mention Palestinian rights at all). This was also rejected by Israel.
In 1976, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and the PLO supported a resolution in the UN Security Council affirming Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, as in UN Resolution 242, but with a Palestinian state created alongside Israel. Israel opposed it and the US vetoed it. Arafat personally reaffirmed his support of a two-state solution in statements made to Senator Adlai Stevenson in 1976, and Rep. Paul Findley and New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis in 1978. The Saudis made similar proposals in 1979 and 1981, which were reiterated in their 2002 peace proposal, adopted by the entire Arab League.
Yet Israel rejected all these peace proposals, and more, even though Israel’s security was guaranteed in each one of them. Why? The historical record is clear that Israel’s desire for additional land has been the single most important factor behind its expansionist policies. As David Ben-Gurion said in 1938, “I favor partition of the country because when we become a strong power after the establishment of the state, we will abolish partition and spread throughout all of Palestine.”
In sum, the 1967 war was not a purely defensive war on Israel’s part, as Begin told us. The Israeli army met very little Palestinian resistance during the early years of the occupation. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, most Palestinian violence came from groups outside of the Occupied Territories. It is the Israeli desire to retain control over the West Bank, its expanding settlements and land appropriations that have sown the seeds of the situation we have today.
d) The Israeli occupation as the root cause of the violence. The main hallmark of the Israeli occupation has been the forcible expropriation of over half of the West Bank and Gaza for Jewish-only settlements, Jewish-only by-pass roads and Israeli closed military areas. These expropriations are possible only because of overwhelming Israeli military might and are, in and of themselves, acts of violence—just as armed robbery is an act of violence, even if no one is hurt. Can we really expect that no violent reaction to it would have occured?
Israel’s former Attorney General, Michael Ben-Yair stated point-blank in Ha’aretz (3/3/02) that, “We enthusiastically chose to become a colonial society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the occupied territories, engaging in theft and finding justification for all these activities. . . In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture. That oppressive regime exists to this day.”
e) How did the current level of violence come about? Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians are well documented in our own media. And, while major Israeli incursions have gotten a good deal of attention, day-to-day excesses of the Israeli military have not been so widely reported. To get an accurate picture of the chain of events, let’s look at the reports issued by human rights groups near the beginning of the current intifada.
Human Rights Watch, for example, stated that, “Israeli security forces have committed by far the most serious and systematic violations. We documented excessive and indiscriminate use of lethal force, arbitrary killings, and collective punishment, including willful destruction of property and severe restrictions on movement that far exceed any possible military necessity.”
B’Tselem is Israel’s leading human rights group and their detailed analyses of the current intifada can be found at www.btselem.org. They concluded early on that, “In spite of claims to the contrary, Israel has not adopted a policy of restraint in its response to events in the Occupied Territories...Israel uses excessive and disproportionate force in dispersing demonstrations of unarmed Palestinians. . .Collective punishment, in the form of Israel’s severe restrictions on Palestinians’ movement in the Occupied Territories, makes life unbearable for hundreds of thousands with no justification.” Collective punishment is illegal under international law.
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights reported the following, “There is considerable evidence of indiscriminate firing at civilians in the proximity of demonstrations and elsewhere (by Israeli troops). . .The live ammunition employed includes high-velocity bullets which splinter on impact and cause the maximum harm. Equally disturbing is the evidence that many of the deaths and injuries inflicted were the result of head wounds and wounds to the upper body, which suggests an intention to cause serious bodily injury rather than restrain demonstrations. . . The measures of closure, curfew or destruction of property constitute violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention and human rights obligations binding upon Israel.”
Amnesty International has also made numerous statements on the current intifada, including the following: “Amnesty International reiterated its long-standing calls to Israel to end its policy of liquidations and other arbitrary killings and urged the international community to send international observers . . . In these state assassinations the Israeli authorities offer no proof of guilt, no right to defense. Extrajudicial executions are absolutely prohibited by international law.”
This attitude of the disposability of Palestinian life has now filtered down to the ordinary soldier. An IDF reservist interviewed on prime-time First Channel Israeli TV (12/14/01) stated, “Nowadays, there is much less of a dilemma. We more or less got a clearance from both the military and the political echelons. Nowadays, we shoot them in the head and no questions asked.” Is this what we want our Jewish legacy to be?
The overwhelming consensus of these reports means that Israeli demands for the Palestinians to “stop the violence” turns reality on its head. The Palestinians have suffered almost four times the fatalities that Israel has in the current fighting, as well as tens of thousands of serious injuries. Furthermore, answering stone throwing with M-16 military weapons designed for battlefield use, or ineffective Molotov cocktails with very effective armored tanks and attack helicopters is simply not morally justifiable.
It is also important to keep in mind that many of Israel’s current actions have been going on, in various degrees, for the last 35 years—systematic torture of Palestinians in Israeli jails, the forcible and illegal appropriation of over half the West Bank and Gaza by Israel for Jewish-only uses, daily humiliations and abuse at Israeli military checkpoints all over Palestinian land—these have combined to bring Palestinian anger to a boiling point.
In sum, we have seen that Israeli actions have served to seriously escalate the violence, and that Israel’s stubborn refusal to end its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, even to the extent of just stopping its settlement activity, has been a major obstacle to any progress towards peace.
To be sure, Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians have also been major obstacles towards such progress. Occupation and repression can never justify terrorism against civilians, but neither do terrorist acts by a few negate the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination.
The best way to address these crimes is to end the occupation which inspires the Palestinians to commit them. Recent history has demonstrated clearly that support for such crimes, and the number of Palestinians willing to commit them, drops precipitously when the Palestinians have had hope for independence, and risen sharply in response to the intensifying occupation and expansion of settlements.
We must also bear in mind that we are not morally responsible for Palestinian crimes, although we must work to prevent them. But we are morally responsible for Israeli actions taken in our name and with our tax dollars.
One’s opinion on the Israel/Palestine conflict need not be a black or white question; you can support the Israeli people but still criticize their government’s illegal and ultimately selfdestructive policies.
We believe that the Jewish peace movement, both in Israel and around the world, has a far better plan to ensure Israel’s security. That plan is to create real peace as a consequence of real justice being done, not a “peace” of victor and vanquished. We recommend that you go to www.gush-shalom.org, www.btselem.org and www.batshalom.org to read for yourself what thinking Israelis demand of their own government.
Thousands of Israelis, including hundreds of Israel’s top university professors, are convinced their government is committing unpardonable acts and have taken public stands against them. For example, over 400 reserve combat officers and soldiers in the IDF have publicly stated their moral opposition to Sharon’s increasingly brutal use of force during the current intifada. These “refuseniks” have the sympathy of a growing portion of the Israeli public, now up to 26% of those surveyed in a February 2002 poll. Their statement reads, in part:
“We, who sensed how the commands issued to us in the Territories destroy all the values we had absorbed while growing up in this country. . .hereby declare that we shall not continue to fight in this War of the Settlements. We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people. We hereby declare that we shall continue serving in the Israel Defense Forces in any mission that serves Israel’s defense. The missions of occupation and oppression do not serve this purpose—and we shall take no part in them.”
Even Ami Ayalon, the former head of the Shin Bet (Israel’s equivalent to the FBI), recently stated in Le Monde, “I favor unconditional withdrawal from the Territories, preferably in the context of an agreement, but not necessarily. What needs to be done, urgently, is to withdraw from the Territories, a true withdrawal which gives the Palestinians territorial continuity.”
So if disagreement with the Israeli government is kosher in Israel, shouldn’t it also be a topic of discussion among American Jews? For just one example, a recent survey of American Jewish attitudes showed that 35% of us think that sharing Jerusalem would be an acceptable outcome of peace talks, in total contradiction to the views expressed by the major American Jewish organizations that claim to speak in our name. Our community does not, and should not, have just one opinion on these questions. What is needed is more discussion, not less, on these crucial matters.
The intifada is not primarily the result of Arab religious fanaticism or blind anti-Semitism or “inherent violent tendencies”. Rather, in our view, it is the inevitable result of the most basic human emotions—their need to be free and to live with dignity in the land of their ancestors. A Palestinian child who is awakened at dawn by Israeli soldiers demolishing his home and uprooting the family’s olive grove does not need anyone to tell him to hate.
The Israeli Occupation has seriously eroded the Jewish people’s proud moral heritage, developed over the centuries; and, in any case, we are convinced it will never work, even in the most pragmatic terms. The Palestinians will always resist being under military occupation, and have the right, under international law, to do so. As a result, there will never be real security for Israel until there is a reasonable version of justice for the Palestinians. How could it be otherwise?
“But doesn’t Israel have to do something to stop the suicide bombers?” A reasonable question, and here is a most reasonable answer from Gush Shalom’s founder, Uri Avnery:
“When tanks run amok in the center of a town, crushing cars and destroying walls, tearing up roads, shooting indiscriminately in all directions, causing panic to a whole population —it induces helpless rage.
“When soldiers crush through a wall into the living room of a family, causing shock to children and adults, ransacking their belongings, destroying the fruits of a life of hard work, and then break the wall to the next apartment to wreck havoc there—it induces helpless rage.
“When officers order to shoot at ambulances, killing doctors and paramedics engaged in saving the lives of the wounded, bleeding to death—it induces helpless rage.
“And then it appears that the rage is not helpless after all. The suicide bombers go forward to avenge...
“Anyone who believes that Arafat can push a button and stop this is living in a dream world. . . At best, the pressurecooker can cool off slowly, if the majority of the people are persuaded that their honor has been restored and their liberation guaranteed. Then public support for the ‘terrorists’ will diminish, they will be isolated and wither away. That was what happened in the past.”
A major cause of misunderstanding between the Jewish peace movement and other American Jews is that we rely on different sources of information. If what you know about Israel and Palestine comes from the corporate press, TV news &/or the mainstream Jewish press, then your perception of events will be determined by their world-view. As Jewish media critic Normon Solomon wrote in 2001, “Searching the Nexis database of U.S. media coverage during the first 100 days of this year, I found several dozen stories using the phrase ‘Israeli retaliation’ or ‘Israel retaliated.’ During the same period, how many stories used the phrase ‘Palestinian relatiation’ or ‘Palestinians retaliated’? One. Both sides of the conflict, of course, describe their violence as retaliatory. But only one side routinely benefits from having its violent moves depicted that way by major American media.”
If, however, you supplement your information by reading the Israeli press, progressive magazines like Tikkun or The Nation, internet sites like www.commondreams.org and radio stations of the Pacifica network, then a very different picture of what is going on emerges. In particular, we suggest that you sign up for our free email news service, the Jewish Peace News, which gives you the latest news and most cogent analyses of Middle East events, much of it from the Israeli press. You can subscribe by sending an e-mail to email@example.com.
Ariel Sharon has always opposed real negotiations with the Palestinians, preferring instead to try to defeat them militarily. He has vehemently opposed all Palestinian/Israel agreements and has repeatedly stated that he has no intention of returning a single settlement to Palestinian rule.
Even the editors of the Washington Post (2/22/02) wrote that, “During lulls in the conflict, Mr. Sharon frequently has been the first to renew the fight; during three weeks in December (2001) and early January (2002) when the Palestinians responded to a call from Mr. Arafat and stopped almost all attacks, Israeli forces killed a dozen Palestinians.” The obvious conclusion to draw is that Sharon does not want peace or real negotiations, just a vanquishing of his sworn enemies.
Indeed, if Sharon really wanted Arafat to arrest Palestinian militants, then why has he systematically destroyed the Palestinian Authority’s ability to do so? According to the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom, “The Palestinian police and security services have hardly any premises or prisons left in which to put terrorists, even if the decision was taken to arrest them; the bombardments were all too thorough.”
Most crucially, in the spring of 2002, Israel commenced its most severe armed attacks yet in the West Bank, involving the following “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions— some of them rising to the level of war crimes, according to Human Rights Watch and other monitoring groups.
And Israel is now constructing a “buffer zone” that will de facto annex about 15% of the West Bank to Israel and break it up into 8 separate bantustans, each surrounded by concrete barricades, hi-tech barbed-wire and electric fences, canals, guard towers, etc. In other words, 8 big open-air prisons, which Palestinians cannot get out of, except at the whim of the Israeli authorities. Again, this kind of collective punishment is specifically outlawed by the Fourth Geneva Convention.
A joint statement by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists (4/07/02) stated, “We strongly deplore actions by the state of Israel that harm persons protected by international humanitarian law. . . Such actions violate international standards and transcend any justification of military necessity.”
Even in practical terms, these Israeli actions are counterproductive. As Gush Shalom writes, “The retaliatory and punitive raids by the army do manage to intercept some potential suicide bombers—but the very same raids and incursions, by demonstrating the brutality of the Occupation, also increase on the Palestinian side, the motivation for retribution, and help the recruitment of new suicide bombers. Only an end to the Occupation by political means, allowing a fair expression of the basic Palestinian aspirations, can dry up the suicide bombing phenomenon at its source, and provide new hope to the desperate young Palestinians from whose ranks the bombers are recruited.”
The recent upsurge in anti-semitism worldwide is clearly connected with escalated Israeli aggression. As Israel has succeeded in convincing many people that it represents world Jewry, many supporters of Palestinians have directed their anger at Israeli actions against Jewish institutions in their own countries. Right-wing white supremacist forces have also seized this opportunity to give their anti-semitic venom legitimacy. Thus all Jews have a stake in seeing the sorts of human rights violations we have just described stopped.
Any country has the right and the responsibility to protect its citizens, and Israel is no exception. But its policies for the last 35 years, and especially during the current intifada, have been based on the old adage, “the best defense is a good offense”. While that’s OK in football, in Israel that has translated into systematic torture or ill-treatment of literally hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Israeli prisons, according to B’Tselem and other reputable groups. It means wanton cruelty being inflicted every day at military checkpoints, wanton destruction of Palestinian homes, and illegal strangling of Palestinian economic life, leading to extreme deprivation. And there is no other phrase than “war crimes” to accurately describe many of the actions of the IDF during the attacks against the Palestinian civilian population in the spring of 2002. In short, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory is simply wrong—brutal, illegal and unnecessary.
We do agree that both sides have done poorly in advancing the cause of peace. As Jews, however, it is incumbant upon us to put our own house in order, above all else. As Americans, our responsibility is doubled. Our government has, through unprecedented financial and political support, allowed Israel to maintain its occupation and commit human rights violations with complete impunity. Thus, we are both responsible for the escalation and in a unique position to do something about it.
In the long-run, the only hope for a normal, peaceful life for the people of Israel is for their government to end their occupation of Palestinian land, allow the creation of a viable Palestinian state, and live and let live. The only other alternative is the current situation of endless bloodshed, which our silence, among other things, makes possible.
|HOW TO DO YOUR PART FOR PEACE|
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Only by joining with others who agree that the Occupation must end can we make a real difference. The U.S. government must come to understand that a good part of the American Jewish community does not condone Israel’s illegal and excessive actions. Only then will it be able to reverse its position of unqualified support for whatever the Israeli government does. And that is the key to ending the nightmare of the Occupation once and for all.
|The Historic Role of |
Religion in the Conflict
|Discrimination & Fanaticism|
|Religious Peace Efforts|
|Religious Peace Groups|
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