Jews, Arabs, dolphins


Negative stereotypes can be numbing. One that has dulled our senses for years is that Jews and Arabs can’t get along. Many of us simply take it for granted. Read haaretz.com regularly, and you might even conclude that Israel’s Arab population is living miserably under an apartheid-like regime.

I certainly understand how reporters are wired to focus on the negative, and that good news is not really news. Reading about Israeli Arabs who might be happy under Israel’s democracy and who suffer little or no discrimination is not newsworthy. Abuse of human rights, however, is newsworthy — and that’s a good thing, because awareness is what forces a society to improve itself.

At the same time, though, reading only negative stuff can become exhausting and demoralizing.

Maybe that’s why it was so refreshing to sit with 250 people the other night at Laemmle’s Music Hall theater in Beverly Hills to watch the Israeli documentary film “Dolphin Boy.” The film was presented by The Jewish Journal’s Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival and its executive director, Hilary Helstein, as a preview to our annual festival, which kicks off on May 3.

“Dolphin Boy” tells the true story of an Israeli Arab boy who disconnects from humanity after suffering a vicious beating. The boy, Morad, was assaulted not by Israeli soldiers, but by his neighbors in his Israeli Arab village, who misinterpreted a text message Morad sent to the sister of one of the neighbors.

The beating was so traumatic that when we first see Morad, in a doctor’s office, he is zombie-like and cannot utter a word. His doctor, an Israeli Jew who is a world-
renowned expert on post-trauma care, develops a deep personal and professional attachment to the boy. Over several months, the doctor tries every treatment in the book to get Morad to speak and express himself, but nothing works.

Finally, before committing the boy to a mental institution, the doctor recommends a radical treatment: dolphin therapy (with the state picking up the costs). Meanwhile, one of the endearing stars of the film, Morad’s father, decides to leave his job and accompany his son to the dolphin reef in Eilat, where Jews — and loving dolphins — will help Morad undergo a miraculous three-year process of recovery.

The film challenges more than one stereotype. Of course, there’s the one that Jews and Arabs don’t get along. Even if that is true in many cases, in this story, all you see are Jews and Arabs treating one another like human beings.

There’s also the stereotype that Arabs live for revenge and justice. In fact, early in the film, Morad’s father is tempted to take revenge against the Arab neighbors who attacked his son. Some friends even suggest it. But in a defining scene, with a few friends playing the drums around a campfire, the father gets up, starts to dance and decides that he will devote every ounce of his being to saving his son, because, as he says, “His blood runs through my veins.”

You can’t be human and not be moved by these expressions of love — the love of a father for his son, the love of a doctor for his patient, the love of workers in a dolphin lagoon for a traumatized boy they help bring back to life.

It is this very celebration of life — symbolized by the playful and loyal dolphins — that slowly coaxes Morad back to humanity. How ironic that it takes loving animals to help him regain his trust in humans.

As I reflected on the film, I found myself wishing it would play on Al Jazeera and be seen by millions across the Middle East. That deeply divided part of the world could use an innocent reminder that the truest label we all share is our humanity. Beyond Arab and Jew, man and woman, Shiite and Sunni, Christian and Muslim, we are all part of the same species, sharing primal needs — like our craving for love — that transcend all differences.

“We didn’t really focus on the idea of Jew and Arab when we shot the film,” Dani Menkin, the co-director and producer of the film, told me during the panel discussion I moderated after the screening. “We shot a story of humans interacting with each other. We weren’t thinking of giving a special message. It was just an amazing story that I fell in love with.”

We’ve seen many Israeli films over the years that play to the negative stereotype of the big, bad Israel as the oppressor of Arabs. This stereotype is reinforced by the endless string of news stories describing discrimination against Israeli Arabs and examples of mutual animosity between the groups.

But lost in this big picture are the many little stories of Jews and Arabs peacefully co-existing and treating one another like human beings.

We can only be grateful for films like “Dolphin Boy,” which come along once in awhile to crack our cynicism and remind us that beneath the heavy noise of darkness lies the silent whisper of hope.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Jewish teens arrested for attacks on Arabs


Israeli police have arrested nine Jewish teens suspected in a series of attacks on Arabs.

The seven minors, including a 14-year-old girl, and two young men have been arrested over the last two weeks, police announced Tuesday after a gag order on the case was lifted.

The Jewish teens reportedly had the girl seduce the Arabs and lead them to various meeting places, including Independence Park, where they would attack them with stones, glass bottles and pepper spray. Several of the Arabs required hospitalization.

The suspects confessed to police that their acts were nationalistically motivated, according to reports. They are under house arrest; more arrests are expected.

Meanwhile, about 200 residents of the coastal city of Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv, protested Monday night against renting apartments to Arabs and against relationships between the town’s Jewish women and Arab men under the banner “Keeping Bat Yam Jewish.”

Most of the protesters were young and religious, Haaretz reported. The chief rabbi of Bat Yam two weeks ago signed his name to a rabbinic ruling forbidding Jews from renting to Arabs.

Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahyani condemned the demonstration. A counter protest was mounted.

Poll: More than half of Jewish Israelis want Arabs to leave


Some 53 percent of Israel’s Jewish population believes that the state can encourage Arabs to leave the country, a new poll found.

The Israel Democracy Institute’s 2010 poll released Tuesday also found that 86 percent of the Jewish public, constituting 76 percent of the total public, believes that critical decisions for the state should be made by the Jewish majority.

In addition, 43 percent of the general Israeli public believes that it is equally important for Israel to be a Jewish and democratic country, while 31 percent believe the Jewish component is more important and 20 percent say the democratic element is more important.

Some 51 percent of the general public approves of equal rights between Jews and Arabs, according to the poll, which also found that the more Orthodox the group the greater the opposition to equal rights between Jews and Arabs.

The poll also found that 46 percent of the Jewish public is bothered by Arabs, 39 percent by foreign workers, 23 percent by haredi Orthodox Jews and 10 percent by non-Sabbath observers.

The six researchers who conducted the annual study compiled its answers from public opinion polls that questioned more than 1,203 people. It was presented Tuesday to Israel’s President Shimon Peres, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Minister of Justice Yaakov Neeman and High Court Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch.

How to answer the most common anti-Israel charges


Some charges criticizing Israel are distortions and slanted, based on faulty information and half-truths, animus, and even classic anti-Semitism.
However, the situation and history are complex, and unfortunately, Israel is not perfect.

Here are some answers in a nutshell:

The establishment of the Jewish state violated the right of Palestinian Arabs to self-determination

In 1947, the United Nations had offered self-determination to both Arabs and Jews in western Palestine, and both had been offered their own separate state. Palestinian Arabs could have created their own state in the portion allotted to them under partition at any time. The Arabs unanimously rejected this offer, and the partition boundaries were erased by the Arab invasion in 1948. It was the Arab states — not the Jews — who destroyed the proposed Arab Palestine as they sought to grab all the territory for themselves. Part of what was designated as Arab Palestine was seized by Transjordan in the east (the West Bank and East Jerusalem) and by Egypt on the southwest coast (Gaza). Israeli forces captured western Galilee, which had been used as a base by Arab irregulars. Ironically, in 1947, the only group in the area supporting a separate Arab/Palestinian state was the State of Israel.

Israel expelled the Palestinians in 1948 and has consistently taken over Palestinian land

From the Israeli left to the right, there is agreement about mass expulsion, that many were, in fact, forced to leave. The only question is what proportion of the 700,000 Palestinians who left in 1947-48 were forcibly expelled, and what proportion left voluntarily. About 300,000 were likely forcibly expelled by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and 100,000 to 200,000 left because they were “encouraged” by rumors, bombing of empty buildings by the IDF or frightened that Israeli atrocities like the Deir Yassin massacre would be repeated.

There’s no doubt that David Ben-Gurion and others were very concerned about the large number of Palestinians in the land, and talked openly of “transfer,” going back to the 1930s (in 1936 Jews were only 28 percent of the total population). There’s also no doubt that once Palestinians started leaving, the political and military leaders of the Yishuv were eager to “facilitate the situation.” The debate was over Tokhnit Dalet (Plan D), the military plan that called for expulsions near or behind enemy lines, in hostile villages, etc.

Historian Benny Morris argues that the evidence doesn’t show an intentional program designed ahead of time, but rather a spontaneous response to military conditions by low-level commanders in the field. Others argue (using Morris’ own evidence) that documents clearly show a plan for mass expulsions from above, that is, that Tokhnit Dalet was the realization of the “transfer impulse” under the cover of military language.

Still other scholars take a middle position, arguing that Tokhnit Dalet was originally intended as a purely military and small-scale operation, but that once Palestinians were “encouraged” to leave and the IDF had attained military superiority, the understanding became that the long-term interests of the state would be served by having as few Palestinians as possible. So the argument goes, military commanders were given a “wink and nudge” to expel and Tokhnit Dalet served as an appropriate cover/rationale.

Most of the area of Israel was once Arab owned

According to British government statistics, prior to the establishment of the state, 8.6 percent of the land area now known as Israel was owned by Jews; 3.3 percent by Arabs who remained there; 16.5 percent by Arabs who left the country. More than 70 percent of the land was owned by the British government. Under international law, ownership passed to Israel once it was established and approved as a member nation by the United Nations in 1948. The public lands included most of the Negev — half of Palestine’s post-1922 total area. (Source: Survey of Palestine, 1946, British Mandate Government).

Arabs formed a majority of the population in Palestine, and the Zionists were colonialists from Europe who had no claim to or right to the land of Israel

Jews have had a continuous emotional, religious and historic connection to the land of Israel for the past 3,300 years.

At the time of the 1947 U.N. Partition Resolution, the Arabs did have a majority in western Palestine as a whole. But the Jews were in a majority in the area allotted to them by the U.N. Partition Resolution (a very small but contiguous area mostly along the coast and in parts of the Galilee — much smaller than the borders after the 1948 war).

Israel humiliated Palestinians during the second intifada (2001-2005) and continue to treat them inhumanely

It is true that Palestinians felt humiliated by the series of checkpoints and searches throughout the West Bank. However, to cite the feelings of humiliation, as legitimate as they are, out of context belies the greater truth. Israelis have had good reason to fear their Palestinian neighbors because of the relentless terrorism, bombings of public buses, restaurants, university cafeterias, kibbutzim, children’s houses and the deliberate murder of Israeli civilians. Israel’s series of checkpoints and searches, while at times excessive, are done not to intimidate or humiliate but for security. The erection of the security fence roughly the length of the Green Line was hotly debated in Israel until it became clear to the government that political considerations aside, the fence was a security necessity. It has proven successful in drastically reducing infiltration of Palestinian terrorists. Even Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) acknowledges the importance of the fence as a security measure.

Israel’s settlements are illegal

Technically, they are not illegal because there has been no peace agreement delineating borders between Israel and the Arab nations. Consequently, Jews have the right to live anywhere they wish. However, from a political point of view, many believe that many of these settlements are obstacles to peace. Current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has promised to remove the vast majority of these settlements subsequent to undertaking the unilateral evacuation of Gaza by Israel in 2005.

Palestinians are victims of Israeli aggression

Undeniably, Palestinians are victims — but of whom? For decades the despotic Arab nations used the Palestinians for their own purposes and kept them in squalor in refugee camps. They are also victims of former Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat’s well-documented corruption and inability to take the final step to make peace with the Jewish state. They are now victims of Palestinian terrorist movements (e.g., Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, etc.) that have refused to accept the existence of the State of Israel and therefore to compromise over land. The Palestinians are victims of retaliatory raids by the Israeli military against terrorist leaders who deliberately operate out of civilian areas and draw fire from Israel.

The dreadful ‘D’ words


Divorce, dissolution, divestment: These are words that spell the end of a relationship and of what might have been — through time and patience — a meaningful and inspiring marriage.

We know how often this happens to people we know, and so it is happening at this moment to the State of Israel. Like meddling in-laws, we, the world community, sit in the family room voicing our interests in the couple’s future, yet the minute we sense marital discord, we rush for the exit or take sides and fan the flames.

Israel has a population of 7.2 million — 76 percent Jews, 20 percent Arabs and 4 percent immigrant workers. The Israeli-Arab citizenry breaks down as 82 percent Muslims, 9 percent Christian and 9 percent Druze. All these groups live together in an intricate array of diverse ancestry, professional ties and domestic dependence. Each citizen has a vote in the functioning democracy that is the State of Israel, and by extension a voice at the family table of the Knesset.

The entire world debates how to intervene in this contentious and vociferous marriage, whose every dispute we mostly hear second-hand from the world media. Do we continue to support Israel, even though we know there are serious domestic disputes and inequities? Should we divest from, abandon, a world leader in high-tech, biotech, medical and environmental enterprises that benefit the world? In our desire to punish the couple, or one partner, do we ultimately punish ourselves?

These were some of the questions we sought answers to when we joined the Los Angeles Religious Leaders Delegation in an interfaith mission to Rome, the Vatican, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in January 2008, a group of Jews, Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians and a Muslim.

Israeli society is far more complex than we had envisaged. With the exception of the Druze and Bedouins, the Christian and Muslim Arab citizens of Israel identify themselves as Palestinian by nationality and Israeli by citizenship. Nowhere is this glass partition more apparent than in Jerusalem, where we experienced the psychological barrier between Arabs and Jews. Although many Israeli-Arabs earn more than their counterparts in other Middle Eastern countries, their wages and the social services they receive in Israel are not on par with Israeli Jews. This Israeli-Arab minority needs to be nurtured, ensured equal social status and accorded full civil rights and municipal services.

According to Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, who covers the West Bank and Gaza for various publications and with whom we met, the employment discrepancy can be attributed to two factors: a lower level of education in the Arab work force, resulting in skills more suited to lower paying jobs, and anti-Arab employment discrimination, at all levels of business sectors. Toameh — respected by both Israelis and Palestinians — outlined proposed solutions to the problem, noting that the Israeli government is prioritizing educational reform in the Arab sector, and making genuine efforts to increase Arab employment in higher-paid professions.

As a Christian and a Muslim, who ourselves would be minorities in Israeli society, we believe our most constructive role should be to support responsible investment in Israel, not punishment through divestment actions destined to backfire.

Rather than divestment, we support investment — financial and otherwise — in Israeli enterprises that address social and economic inequalities, enable joint business enterprises, increase employment among the Arab population, and offer high-quality social services to underprivileged and minority citizens. Such enterprises are seeding the ground for a flourishing, mutually beneficial society for Israelis and Palestinians.

For example, at Tel Aviv’s Bialik-Rogozin School, at-risk students from lower socioeconomic level Jewish and Arab families and children of immigrant workers harmoniously coexist in a project partially funded by Cisco Systems. Children find a safe haven at Bialik-Rogozin, and receive a quality kindergarden through 12th-grade education. At Mishkenot Ruth Daniel Multicultural Center in Jaffa, Jewish and Arab teenagers interact socially and engage in a variety of social justice projects together, many of which benefit Palestinians in the West Bank.

We also came to understand how successive corrupt Palestinian leaderships have fed the political, economic and humanitarian crisis in the territories. Any wishful thinking that divestment will lead to military calm along Israeli-Palestinian borders is strategically flawed. The present war of attrition between Israel and self-governing Gaza has been instigated and sustained by the extremist Hamas leadership whose charter calling for the eradication of Israel harms the very people it claims to serve, malnourishing the nascent Palestinian state which otherwise has the support of virtually the entire international community.

On the occasion of Israel’s 60th birthday, we believe people of good will should turn away from the destructive D words of Divorce, Dissolution and Divestment, and work instead for peace, security and happiness for both Israelis and Palestinians. We believe in supporting the prosperous marriage that can result from targeted investment and economic partnerships between the respective states, and between their many peoples.

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson oversees 390 United Methodist Congregations in Southern California, Hawaii, Guam and Saipan. Dr. Nur Amersi is the executive director of the Afghanistan World Foundation.

Debra Winger explores Jewish/Arab day schools


Students at the Hand in Hand Max Rayne Bilingual School in Jerusalem didn’t know they were meeting a celebrity. They weren’t born when the films “Officer and a Gentleman” and “Terms of Endearment” garnered Debra Winger her Oscar nominations.

But Winger’s tour last month to the Hand in Hand Arab-Jewish day schools was not necessarily meant to move the students, but to enrich her own understanding of pathways for Arab and Jewish co-existence.

“I’d like to think I’m helping, but in the end, it feels selfish — how much I got out of seeing this and what it did to my heart,” the 53-year-old actress told a group of reporters in the library of the school’s new Jerusalem campus.

Raised in a secular Jewish household in Cleveland, Winger volunteered on a kibbutz in 1972 and has maintained her connection ever since. In fact, she was introduced to the bilingual schools following a talk at the Jewish Federation in Florida on the occasion of Israel’s 60th anniversary.

Speaking to the federation audience, she recalled a “fight” she had with an Arab American friend that was triggered by the Second Lebanon War, which broke out while Winger served as a judge for the Jerusalem Film Festival.

“We couldn’t even talk to each other,” Winger told The Jewish Journal, recounting the episode. “She would forward me e-mails with newspaper articles for me to read, and I would reply, saying could you please replace ‘Zionist occupation’ with ‘Israel’ before you send it to me, and then I’ll read it, because I want to hear different opinions, and you have to show some respect.”

Eventually the two reconciled and made their private peace.

“I think in a way we have a deeper, richer understanding and more openness,” she said.

At first, the audience — perhaps expecting a more “what-Israel-means-to-me” type speech — responded with silence to the story. But then Lee Gordon, director of the American Friends of Hand in Hand and the bilingual schools’ co-founder, initiated a contagious round of applause. After the talk, he spoke with her about the schools’ efforts at promoting dialogue.

Initially, Winger was skeptical of the educational franchise.

“I thought, ‘Oh, it’s another Jewish school that’s inviting a few Arabs, kumbaya, and, you know, it doesn’t ultimately work,'” she said.

But she accepted Gordon’s invitation and went to Israel with her husband, director and actor Arliss Howard, and their 10-year-old son. Upon touring three of the Hand in Hand schools, Winger’s skepticism softened.

“I used to think I could see the face of a peacemaker,” she said, “but clearly, I’ve been wrong way too much. The [students] look like peacemakers to me. They understand the dilemma in a different way.”

At one point, Winger stopped two children in the yard, and they admitted they didn’t know who she was. They thought she was just some American visitor.

“Do you have any questions for me?” Winger asked.

They stared and smiled.

The students carry on their day as usual in what comes across as a typical elementary school. Teenagers roam the halls in jeans and sneakers, and toddlers storm the yard at recess. At one point, Winger joined the children for folk dancing in the yard.

Several clues hint to the school’s uniqueness. Two languages are spoken: Hebrew and Arabic. Some female teachers wear the traditional Muslim hijabs. Universal messages of love and peace taken from the Torah, the Gospels and the Quran, as well as from great Western thinkers, are printed in Hebrew and Arabic on classroom doors.

The Jerusalem student body is equally diverse — 50 percent Jewish, 40 percent Muslim and 10 percent Christian. The majority of Arabs are Israeli citizens.

A good portion of the classes are taught by an Arab-Jewish team. The school supplements the state curriculum with programs that attend to the dual nature of the school. From fourth grade on, Jews and Arabs study their respective religious traditions independently.

The Jerusalem branch opened 10 years ago, along with the Galilee branch, followed by new schools in Wadi Ara and Beersheva. The new Jerusalem campus testifies to the growth of the school from a small, first-grade class to a full-fledged day school with 450 children. The school is expanding into high school, and this fall will add a 10th-grade class.

Seventh-graders Areen Nashef, a Muslim, and her Jewish best friend, Yael Keinan, both 12 years old, smiled mischievously when they got called out of class to speak with The Journal. This is not the first time they’ve spoken to the press. Friends since first grade, they often get together outside of school and sleep over at each other’s houses.

“I thought Areen was a Jew when we first met,” said Yael who has long, dirty-blond hair and a pink paper clip dangling from her earring. “After a few days, she told me she was an Arab, and after that it didn’t matter.”

Both are proud for breaking stereotypes of the “other.”

“I went to my cousin who lives in Taibe, up north,” said Areen. “They didn’t know that I study at a bilingual school. They study in Arabic and learn Hebrew because you have to communicate. When I told them I study with a Jew, they asked, ‘What, they didn’t hit you, hurt you?'”

Yael, who describes herself as traditional, has encountered similar suspicions.

“I have a friend who couldn’t believe I had an Arab friend. She saw only what she saw on the news,” Yael said.

Both thoroughly enjoy their studies.

“It’s fun to speak more than one language and also learn another culture,” said Yael.

Speaking in Hebrew, the students have much to say about sensitive issues, particularly politics. Areen described wanting “to feel that Jews were hurt by the Nazis.” On the same note, Yael recalled visiting Arab villages that fell to the Israeli forces during the War of Independence.

“I don’t identify with the Jews or the Palestinians,” said Areen. “I just know you have to have two nations. I think you may need a Jewish state, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of another people.”

Barbaric Acts Kill Palestinian Sympathy


I know there are many Palestinians out there who are sickened and ashamed by what happened in Gaza to the remains of the six dead Israeli soldiers.

I don’t hold them responsible; I don’t associate them with those acts just because they are Palestinians or Arabs, not in any way.

In fact, I think it’s important now to remember Arabs like the Palestinian man who drowned in the Sea of Galilee a couple of years ago trying to save a drowning Israeli boy. I remember a Jaffa Arab who was killed in 1992, I think, trying to stop a wild man from Gaza who was slashing at Jewish children with a saber.

An old Iraqi Jewish woman in Ramat Gan once told me how her neighbor back in Baghdad, a rich Sunni Muslim, had sheltered her family and scores of other local Jews from a pogrom, and had told the rioters that if they wanted to kill the Jews in his house, they would have to kill him first. A lot of Jews who survived the 1929 pogrom in Hebron could have described the same kind of scenes.

There are some Arabs who have a humanity and courage that is rare to find in any society — including, by the way, among Jews. Then there are many Arabs, although I can’t guess what proportion, who are just ordinary decent people.

But there are some Arabs living in the Middle East who are, to say the least, indecent. They do things that Jews here or anywhere else don’t do, no matter the provocation — and Jews over the years have had their provocations, including some even worse than anything faced by the Palestinians.

There is no shortage of Israeli soldiers who have done despicable things to Palestinians — although less despicable, on the whole, than what soldiers in most, if not all, other armies have been known to do to their enemies.

The point is, we are living next to a society that is, for all its decent people and even its righteous gentiles, different from ours in a crucial way: some of its members are out and out monsters.

Their behavior is utterly demented, yet they’re perfectly sane. Worse, they’re not only tolerated, they’re cheered by many of their peers. And the decent members of Palestinian society seem powerless to stop them or prevent them from coming out again and again.

I’m an Israeli leftist who hates the occupation, and there are a lot of things the Palestinians do that I’m willing to put down to circumstances, to this long tragedy we’ve been living in. Zionists, after all, deliberately killed plenty of innocent Arab civilians in the ’30s and ’40s.

But there are no circumstances that mitigate this reveling in the body parts of the enemy, the grabbing and parading of Israeli bones and gore as trophies. That’s something that can’t be traced to politics, and there is no political solution for it.

Wherever this behavior comes from, it didn’t begin with the bone-snatching in Gaza’s Zeitoun neighborhood. In this intifada, it began with the crowd dancing on the blood of the two soldiers lynched in Ramallah. It resurfaced when two boys in Tekoa were bludgeoned literally to a pulp. It gets reprised every time a crowd of Palestinians gathers to celebrate another bus full of Israelis getting blown apart.

This prominent feature of the intifada has hollowed out any idealism I once had about “making up” with the Palestinians and becoming good neighbors. While there are so many I’ve met whom I would love to have as neighbors in my apartment building, and a great many more I haven’t met who are in no way monsters, as far as the Palestinian nation goes, I want a hard border between them and us, and separate national lives — because of what we were reminded of at Zeitoun, because Palestinian society allows that element to flourish.

I’m afraid that this deformed face of the intifada has withered the idealism of a lot of people on the Zionist left. I don’t think it’s made anybody a fan of the occupation, or changed their ideas about where the final borders should be, but it’s blighted the spirit of the peace movement. Speaking for myself, it’s deadened my heart toward the Palestinians.

As much as ever, I’m still filled with rage at Israelis who enjoy abusing and humiliating innocent people. I still have no tolerance for sadism. But my attitude has become sort of abstract, a matter of conscience alone, because while I still feel fury at the bullies, I no longer feel compassion for the victims.

If I knew that the civilians being treated viciously were not enthusiasts of Hamas, Islamic Jihad or Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, that they did not root for the violent deaths of Israeli children, then my heart would go out to them as before.

But since the intifada began, I know there’s a very strong chance that a given Palestinian goes around hoping that the suicide bombers will get through. So unless I know otherwise, I’ll believe in his human rights, but I can’t feel any sympathy for him. Too much candy has passed between Palestinian hands for that.

Sympathy for the Palestinians and shame over their repression were the animating emotions of the Israeli peace movement, but the eager barbarity of the intifada has removed much of that shame and about all of the sympathy. What remains for peaceniks is a hatred of injustice and brutality, and a yearning for security, but a numbed heart.

To all the brave and humane or even just decent Palestinians out there, I’m sorry. In no way am I blaming you. I just hope you won’t blame me, either.


Larry Derfner is the Tel Aviv correspondent for The Jewish Journal.

There Is No ‘Occupation’


Arab spokesmen regularly complain about what they call "the Israeli occupation" of the Judea-Samaria-Gaza territories. But the truth is that there is no such "Israeli occupation."

To begin with, nearly all Palestinian Arabs currently live under Yasser Arafat’s rule, not Israel’s. Following the signing of the Oslo accords, the Israelis withdrew from nearly half of the territories, including the cities where 98.5 percent of Palestinian Arabs reside. The notion that the Palestinian Arabs are living under Israeli occupation is false. The areas from which Israel has not withdrawn are virtually uninhabited, except for the two percent where Israelis reside.

The term "occupation" is also used to indicate that Israel has no right to any presence in Judea-Samaria-Gaza or the Old City section of Jerusalem, and that the Israeli presence in any of those areas constitutes illegal "occupation" of someone else’s land. In fact, Israel has the strongest religious, historical and legal claim to this land.

The territories of Judea-Samaria-Gaza and the Old City of Jerusalem were integral parts of the Jewish kingdoms throughout the biblical eras and are explicitly mandated by the Hebrew Bible as part of the land of Israel. These lands were Jewish thousands years ago under King David, King Solomon and other Jewish rulers.

Can anyone name a Palestinian Arab king who ever ruled over Palestine? No, because there never was one.

All of the most important Jewish religious sites are situated in those territories. The very name "Judea" — a term which was commonly used by the international community throughout all the centuries until the Jordanian occupation in 1949 — is derived from the same root as the word "Jew," testifying to the deep Jewish connection to the land.

The reason Jews are called "Jews" is because we come from Judea. This historical-religious right was the basis for the League of Nations decision in 1922 to endorse the Jewish people’s right to all of the Holy Land on both sides of the Jordan River.

From the standpoint of international law, it is important to note that prior to 1967, there was no other recognized sovereign power in the territories. Israel’s capture of Judea-Samaria-Gaza and the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967 did not constitute an illegal "occupation" of someone else’s land, because prior to 1967, there was no legal or recognized sovereign power there.

The Jordanian occupation of Judea-Samaria and Jerusalem during 1949-1967 was illegal, having been carried out in defiance of the United Nations Security Council. The only countries in the world to recognize it were Pakistan and (in part) England.

Furthermore, Israel captured the territories in self-defense. Israel took over Judea-Samaria-Gaza and the Old City of Jerusalem in self-defense, in response to aggression by Jordan and Egypt in June 1967. Had Jordan not invaded Israel — ignoring pleas by Israel to stay out of the war — Israel would not control Judea and Samaria today.

As Stephen Schwebel, a former U.S. State Department legal adviser and former head of the International Court of Justice in the Hague, has written: "Where the prior holder of territory had seized that territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense has against that prior holder better title."

It is also significant that U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 does not require complete Israeli withdrawal from the territories. Resolution 242 requires Israel to withdraw "from territories" captured in 1967, but the authors of the resolution deliberately left out the word "the" before "territories" because it was their conviction — as articulated by then-British Foreign Secretary George Brown — "that Israel will not withdraw from all the territories." The Soviets tried to insert "the," but that effort was specifically rejected so as not to suggest that Israel is obliged to surrender all of the territories.

Finally, it should also be noted that the Oslo accords recognize Israel’s right to remain in the territories, at least until a final settlement is reached. The accords accept Israel’s presence in the territories, at least until an Israel-Palestinian Authority agreement on the final status of those areas is reached.

Chapter Two, Article X, Clause Four specifically recognizes that in the disputed territories, "Israel shall continue to carry the responsibility for external security, as well as the responsibility for overall security of Israelis for the purpose of safeguarding their internal security and public order" until a final accord is reached. Furthermore, the Oslo accords do not require Israel to dismantle any of the Israeli communities in Judea-Samaria-Gaza — in effect, an acknowledgment of Israel’s right to maintain those communities, at least until a final agreement is reached.

In short, the notion that there is an illegal Israeli "occupation" is a myth.


Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America.

The Good Fence


Secretary of State Colin Powell spent a week in the Middle East and managed to extract from Israeli and Arab leaders concessions that were promising and far-reaching — for 1991.

That was when another Republican secretary of state, James Baker, flexed the muscle that another President Bush had built up in waging a war against Arabs, and convened a Middle East peace conference in Madrid.

Is this a case of, as our friends the French would have it, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, or is it more like a bad meal coming back up on you?

While Powell was finessing "progress" toward a solution, the Israeli body politic, according to polls, had already decided on one.

It’s called a fence.

According to a recent poll published by Ma’ariv, over 70 percent of Israelis support putting up a fortified electronic barrier between the West Bank and Israel. The fence would follow the contours of borders largely agreed to by both sides in previous negotiations.

The Israelis would be on one side of the fence, Palestinians on the other. That means Israel would have to evacuate Jewish settlements that are not largely contiguous with the Green Line — meaning about 40,000-60,000 settlers.

It also means Palestinians could do what they want on their side. They could declare a state and organize it and eventually negotiate with their neighbor. Or they could declare holy war and hit targets outside Israel, risking more retaliation. Given Yasser Arafat’s track record, he might just choose to do both simultaneously.

Supporters say the fence would put an end to the suicide attacks that have debilitated Israel’s economy and morale.

There is just such a fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and since it was erected not a single suicide bomber has passed over the border from Gaza. To most Israelis, that alone is a winning argument.

Hundreds of former Israeli army officers have signed a resolution in support of the fence. From a security standpoint, they say, the fence is the best interim solution, until the sides can reach a political settlement.

Who opposes the idea? The hard right and the far left — which may be as good an indication as any of the plan’s quality.

The right doesn’t want to give up on settlements. Its view is that Jews have a right, going back to the Bible, to the lands of Judea and Samaria. But the cold facts are that the only way Israel can retain Gaza, Judea and Samaria and remain a Jewish state, is to banish the 3 million Palestinians who live there, or create an apartheid-like regime.

The right also says that Israel without Judea and Samaria would create a fragile, narrow-waisted country. A Palestinian army with Iranian-supplied weapons could muster in Tulkaram, some 7 miles from Netanya. This is correct, but it’s also true that Israeli forces would destroy that army long before the threat became a reality.

The generals who signed on to the fence idea know it is much easier to protect a country contained within secure borders than one spread out on both sides of a porous border.

The far left sees the fence as a barbed wire garrote around the Oslo dove. It would indicate that, at least for now, Shimon Peres’ new Middle East vision of regional trade and travel is a pipe dream.

True, as both Peres and Ariel Sharon point out, you can’t build a fence high enough to keep out mortars or Scuds. But that is what Merkava tanks and F-16s are designed to do. What they can’t do is keep 16-year-old Palestinians girls with backpacks full of explosives out of Israel. A fence can do that.

The most convincing argument against a fence is that the Palestinians would see any pullback, even of settlements that never should have been built in the first place, as a sign of weakness. Emboldened by this "victory," the Palestinians would press their terror campaign even harder.

Proponents of the fence argue that the terror campaign would come to a full stop at the new border. The separation could lead to a nasty divorce or a good-faith mediation, but at least it would be a separation.

It may not be the perfect answer, it may not be the only one, but it is worth serious exploration. As we rally for Israel on April 21 at Woodley Park, let’s hope the Israeli government spokesmen who address us there go beyond vague calls for support, and speak to the specifics of this promising first step.

The Two Sides of the Street


The only thing Jerusalem’s Jewish and Arab shopping malls had in common when news broke last Friday of the Wye II deal was that no one was dancing in the streets. There was relief that something at last was about to move on the Israeli-Palestinian front, but it takes more than Madeleine Albright playing what she fetchingly called an American “handmaiden” to disperse the suspicions of half a century.

As if to underline the dissonance, the two sides of town were operating on different time zones. For reasons known only to a handful of kabbalistic sages, Israel has put the clock back for the winter while temperatures are still topping 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The Palestinians are still on summer time. Seasons apart, Jews and Arabs are still trying to fathom Israel’s tenacious new prime minister, Ehud Barak.

“Every step is one-sided,” said a grumbling Aharon Ringwald, locking his watchmaker’s shop for Shabbat on Ben-Yehuda Street. “It can only work to the Palestinians’ advantage. They haven’t kept any agreement they’ve signed, right from the beginning. They don’t recognize our right to be in this land. They would still like to drive us out. And we’re making it easier for them.”

His neighbor, Herzl Muthada, confessed to mixed feelings. “We give, but we don’t get,” he said outside his narrow flower shop, which overflows with bronze, purple and white chrysanthemums, Michaelmas daisies and stately gladioli. “But it’s too soon to know whether we’re going to fare better under Barak. We have to wait — and give him credit.”

Avi Ben, a liquor store owner, had more faith in his prime minister. “Barak’s done an excellent job,” he argued. “He’s playing tough, and it’s working. It’s the same in the way he handles his coalition. He’s somebody with guts. It’s important that he’s strong, that he’s a leader. That’s how he has to be.”

At Cafe Atara, the manager, Yehudit Levisohn, was cautiously pleased with the deal. “We have to aim for peace,” she said, “but I hope Barak will do it in the right way, even if it takes time.” Two years ago this month, Levisohn was wounded by a Hamas suicide bombing outside the cafe. “I’m sure crazy people will continue to cause problems, but we mustn’t let them succeed.”

Yair Baruch, an 18-year-old who’s waiting to start his three years’ army service, had no reservations. “This agreement,” he said, “is a good move for both sides. What’s important is to create a better atmosphere. If there is an atmosphere of welcoming peace, that should work. The details are less important.

“Barak’s already proving better than Bibi Netanyahu. Netanyahu wasn’t consistent, so nobody trusted him. Barak is trying to do just the opposite.”

Across town, on Saladin Street, Wahib Tarazi, an Arab veterinarian, was less confident. “At least we’re getting something,” he said. “But the Palestinian street won’t be satisfied that they’re only freeing 350 prisoners. It’s ridiculous that we’re making peace, and our prisoners are still in jail.”

What did he make, I asked, of Barak? “Netanyahu was better,” he said. “He presented the real face of Israel. They want to take everything, but they don’t want to deal with the Palestinians as human beings. Barak is more pragmatic. We all know how it’s going to end. There’ll be a Palestinian state. So why is he making it take so much longer than necessary?”

We met in a bookstore, where Tarazi was looking for an Arabic-French dictionary. I asked the woman behind the counter, a Christian Arab with a cross hanging from her neck, what she thought of the peace agreement. “What peace?” she said. “What agreement?”