Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon. Photo courtesy of ActiveStills

An interview with Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman about confronting the Occupation

half-century ago, as a 17-year-old high school senior, I attended a rally in support of Israel at the Hollywood Bowl. At that moment, Israel was fighting for its life, and the anxious crowd did not yet know the war would be over in only six days. We could not even imagine that victory on the battlefield would change not only the shape of Israel but its identity and destiny, too.

Best-selling authors, and husband and wife, Michael Chabon (“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union”) and Ayelet Waldman (“A Really Good Day,” “Love and Treasure”) — perhaps the most accomplished literary couple in contemporary American letters — have chosen the anniversary of the Six-Day War to call our attention to the darker aspects of Israel’s historic victory in “Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation” (HarperPerennial).

The book is a project of Breaking the Silence, which describes itself as “an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.”

The authors will participate in a public conversation about “Kingdom of Olives and Ash” with Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR and Yehuda Shaul of Breaking the Silence at 8 p.m. on June 5 at the Pico Union Project on Valencia Street. The event is co-sponsored by IKAR, the New Israel Fund and HarperPerennial. (Information and tickets for the event are available at olivesandashtour.nif.org.)

When Waldman attended the Jerusalem International Writers’ Festival in 2014, members of Breaking the Silence took her on a tour of Hebron.  The experience inspired her and Chabon to recruit some two dozen writers to visit the West Bank and Gaza and report on what they saw for what would become “Kingdom of Olives and Ash.” The contributors include Israeli novelist Assaf Gavron; publishing powerhouse Dave Eggers; Chabon’s fellow Pulitzer Prize winners Lorraine Adams and Geraldine Brooks; and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa. In their essays, all of them serve as eyewitnesses to life on the ground in the territories that Israel has occupied since the Six-Day War, and their testimony shines a light on aspects of the daily conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that are mostly invisible in media coverage.

“Storytelling itself — bearing witness, in vivid and clear language, to things personally seen and incidents encountered — has the power to engage the attention of people, like us, who had long since given up paying attention, or have simply given up,” Waldman and Chabon explain in their introduction to the anthology.

In advance of their upcoming appearance, I spoke with the authors by phone.

Jonathan Kirsch: You write about yourselves that “we didn’t want to write or even think, in any kind of sustained way, about Israel and Palestine, about the nature and meaning of occupation, about intifadas and settlements, about whose claims were more valid, whose suffering more bitter, whose crimes more egregious, whose outrage more justified.”  What caused you to shun the subject for so long, and what attracted your attention now?

Ayelet Waldman: What caused us to shun the subject was the incessant cycle of oppression and violence, the refusal of Israel in particular to acquiesce to any meaningful peace process, the round after round of failed endeavors, and the seeming hopelessness of it all. We decided that, as people who believe in equal rights and the principles embodied in the United States Constitution, we couldn’t rationalize our moral values with the Israeli governmental policies. But it also seemed like we couldn’t do anything or change anything. And so we just turned our back so we wouldn’t have to think about it anymore. The change happened when I went to Hebron and saw the reality on the ground, which was infinitely worse than my worst imaginings. When I returned to Tel Aviv, I realized that I couldn’t turn my back on the injustices that were taking place an hour’s drive away.

JK: The 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War is the occasion for celebration in most Jewish circles. What has been the reaction to your book, which is decidedly not celebratory?

AW: Where you see the real rage is in the idea that, “This is my goddamn holiday — how dare you not let me celebrate it?” The Six-Day War was a moment when, yes, the Israeli army was victorious over other armies that sought to end the country, but it was also the beginning of this brutal occupation that has now lasted for 50 years. If there were no occupation, there would be no book. If there were no occupation, I might be dancing a horah in the streets of Tel Aviv.

JK: American Jews who hold dissenting opinions about Israeli policy sometimes feel awkward about expressing them out loud and especially in public on the grounds that our children are not the ones at risk. What makes you feel empowered and even obliged to speak out?

AW: It’s a convenient tool of oppressors to say: It’s not your business. On the most basic level, we are all taxpayers. Israel is the single largest beneficiary of American foreign aid. As long as $4 billion go to a government that is oppressing millions of people, we have the right to say no. On a higher level, we are humans, and as humans we have a right and a duty to speak up against oppression. And if Israel calls itself the homeland of the Jews, and we are Jews, we have the right to say: Not in my name.

JK: In your introduction to the book, you chose to refer to “Palestine-Israel” rather than Israel and Palestine. Did you discuss that choice of language?

AY: Endlessly, back and forth, back and forth. But we didn’t have a rule for the other writers who contributed to the book. Even the simplest thing — the word you use to identify a place — is such a fraught decision that we told the writers: You’re just going to have to figure it out for yourself.

Michael Chabon: Maybe we should just call it “Semite Land.”

JK: Do you see a constituency for a two-state solution?

AY: It has become very convenient for the government of Israel to pretend to support a two-state solution in order to prevent a full-scale international boycott. If Israel admitted that they have no intention of allowing a viable Palestinian state, there would be no more travel to Europe for people with Israeli passports, no more diplomatic relations, and Israel would be cut off as a pariah state. The pretense is that Israel is willing to accept a two-state solution but the Palestinians are not.

MC: And while the Israel government is saying it, they are making it absolutely impossible.

JK: You quote an Israeli Defense Ministry official as saying, “We don’t do Gandhi very well.” The thought will occur to more than a few of your readers that the Palestinians don’t Gandhi very well, either. Do you see a solution to the problem that is created when Palestinians turn to violence as an act of protest and Israel responds with violence?

MC: Those who hurt other people are simultaneously hurting themselves, but that’s equally true of Israel. The attempt to combat the perceived or actual violence coming from Palestine is doing great harm to Israelis.

AW: I do think that the best way to combat a violent oppressor is controlled nonviolence. Suicide bombers give the Israeli government the cover it needs to continue to oppress. On the other hand, when people are traumatized and hopeless, the trauma and hopelessness leads to violent behavior.

JK: Michael, you write about how every experience in the West Bank is freighted with political meaning, even flushing a toilet, since water is scarce for the Palestinians and plentiful for Israelis. And you make the point that privation is as much a part of the occupation as checkpoints and barbed wire. Are you concerned that there is much talk about sovereignty but much less talk about poverty and scarcity when it comes to the plight of the Palestinians?

MC: That was my primary takeaway from my brief encounter with the occupation — the realization that what’s happening right now has ultimately nothing to do with the one-state solution, the two-state solution, the right of return and all of those other issues that everyone gets themselves entangled in. This is a humanitarian catastrophe. It is irrelevant whose fault it is. What’s relevant is how to put a stop to it immediately so the suffering comes to an end. The vast majority of people — children, families, ordinary people — are not terrorists; they are just trying to survive. It’s a burning house. When a house is on fire and people are trapped inside, you don’t stand around outside and argue about who started it. You put it out.

JK: Are you concerned that some politicians in Israel have called for the exclusion of writers and activists who criticize the policies of the current Israeli government?

MC: Ayelet actually tweeted an open challenge to [Israeli Prime Minister] Bibi Netanyahu to try and keep her out.

AW: I gave him our flight number and arrival date to make it easy for them. We will wait and see. 

JONATHAN KIRSCH, author and publishing attorney, is book editor of the Jewish Journal.

The occupation that saved Israel

Imagine sitting down at a Passover seder and receiving a visitor who wants to kill you. That visitor is not the prophet Elijah or the Fifth Son — the one absent from the table — who has a change of heart. No, he’s a killer who hates Jews and wants to destroy them.

Fifteen years ago, on March 27, 2002, Abdel-Basset Odeh left his home in the West Bank and walked into a Passover seder in Netanya’s Park Hotel. He then blew himself up, killing 29 mostly elderly Jews and wounding 64 more.

The Jewish world was horrified but not shocked. That’s because the Netanya massacre was part of a murderous Second Intifada that lasted several years and killed more than 1,000 Israeli Jews. It seemed as if every week was marked by a similar calamity — a Palestinian would enter Israel from the West Bank and blow up Jews in restaurants, ice cream parlors, discos, cafés and public buses.

Since this year marks the 50th anniversary of Israel entering the West Bank after the Six-Day War of 1967, critics have come out in full force urging Israel to “end the occupation once and for all.” For the majority of Israelis, however, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

You see, Israelis remember something that happened right before Jews were being blown up every week by Palestinian terrorists. They remember that their prime minister, Ehud Barak, had, in fact, offered to end the occupation once and for all — and the Palestinians walked away.

It happened in July 2000, when President Bill Clinton brokered peace talks at Camp David. A year later, in a Newsweek article titled, “Clinton to Arafat: It’s All Your Fault,” the U.S. president let the world know who he felt was most responsible for the agonizing failure.

When Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat told him, “You are a great man,” the president replied, “The hell I am. I’m a colossal failure, and you made me one.”

What Israelis remember, above all, is that after the failure of peace, Arafat started a war. Israelis remember that after Barak offered to end the occupation, they started getting blown up by Palestinians entering from the West Bank.

And they remember that after the Netanya Passover massacre, Israel said, “Enough.”

Israelis remember that after Barak offered to end the occupation, they started getting blown up by Palestinians entering from the West Bank. 

The Jewish state was left with no choice but to double down on the occupation and go right to the source of the terror — the West Bank.

So Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, calling up reservists and sending troops and heavy weaponry deep into the hearts of six major Palestinian cities, surrounding towns and West Bank refugee camps.

The goal was to stop terrorist attacks by regaining control of the West Bank, in particular the cities in Area A that were under the sole control of the Palestinian Authority.

What did they find when they regained control? Just what they expected. As reported in JPost, Israel uncovered 23 explosives laboratories and seized enormous quantities of weapons.

“The situation we had back then — with suicide bombers coming into the center of the country blowing themselves up — we don’t have that now,” Lt. Col. Yair Pinto, a commander during Operation Defensive Shield, said recently to JPost.

Indeed, in our zeal for peace, it’s easy today to forget the dark days of the past. Those were the days when Israelis would risk their lives any time they took their kids for ice cream, got on a bus, met a friend for coffee or sat down for a Passover meal inside a hotel.

So, yes, bemoan the occupation. Lecture Israel on the need to end it. I have as much sympathy as anyone for the need to shake up the status quo and make a durable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

But I also have sympathy for Israelis who remember that when Israel was traumatized by daily terror, it wasn’t less occupation that saved them, it was more.

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

Giora Inbar at the Jewish Journal offices in April 2017. Photo by Rob Eshman

Even the experts are turning on the West Bank occupation

For decades, I’ve been writing about the danger Israel’s occupation of the West Bank — and before that, Gaza — poses to the existence of a democratic State of Israel.

It’s not a position that makes you popular with a vocal minority of American Jews, and perhaps a majority of the Jewish establishment. One of the most frequent critiques I get is that I am a naive non-combatant writing from the safety of the United States who knows nothing about Israeli security, the realities of the Middle East or the true nature of the Palestinians.

So, fine, let’s say I plead no contest to all those charges. But suppose I could find someone who served at the highest ranks of Israel’s army or intelligence services and who holds the same positions on the issues that I do? Would that convince the critics?

Now, what if I could find 270 of them?

Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS) is a group of former combat commanders, generals and intelligence officials who have undertaken a campaign in Israel to end the occupation.

“We believe in separation as opposed to annexation,” Gen. (Res.) Giora Inbar, a CIS leader, told me. “We understand security comes by agreement, not by fighting.”

Inbar visited the Jewish Journal offices early last month as part of a speaking tour sponsored by Israel Policy Forum. He is, at 64, tall and trim, with close-cropped gray hair and a gravelly close-your-eyes-and-it’s-Yitzhak-Rabin voice. Inbar and other members of the group, including Amnon Reshef, a hero of the Yom Kippur War, will be back in Los Angeles next weekend, as well.

Like Rabin, they harbor few illusions about whether Hamas loves Jews or whether ISIS doesn’t have its sights set on Ramallah, much less Amman. As the former head of the Israel Defense Forces’ liaison unit in southern Lebanon, Inbar worked with intelligence-gathering units that likely knew more about what was going on in Syria than Bashar Assad.

“We are combat commanders,” Inbar explained. “Each of us at a point in his career understood the limits of power. We believe the two-state solution is the only solution that guarantees the security of Israel.”

When Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza in the Six-Day War, 50 years ago this June, it assumed control of the millions of Palestinians who live there, without granting them full democratic rights. Unless it withdraws, the country soon will find itself having to choose between being an apartheid state or a binational state of Jews and Arabs — something the generals and most analysts see as a recipe for a Syria-like disaster.

Commanders for Israel’s Security is dealing with an issue that so far the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to face, or, in some cases, has made worse. The CIS idea is very simple, and emblematic of the fighting ethos of the Israel Defense Forces: Seize the initiative.

“We refuse to condition our response on their initiative,” Inbar said. “We are not going to let anyone use the claim of ‘no partner’ as an excuse. No partner? OK, we are strong enough to initiate.”

For CIS, that means a simple three-point plan.

First, Israel can complete the security fence running between the country and the territories, and enforce strict security along the fence. Netanyahu, bowing to a right wing that doesn’t want to acknowledge Israel’s lack of sovereignty over the West Bank, has resisted finishing the fence — a lapse that risks Israeli lives. 

Second, say the commanders, work with Palestinians to improve their infrastructure and economy. In Hamas-controlled Gaza, that could mean allowing plans for a seaport to go forward.

“Help them build their economy and lifestyle, so they have something to lose,” Inbar said.

Finally, engage the Palestinians and Israel’s regional neighbors in talks along the lines of the Arab Peace Plan, which Israel has long rejected or ignored.

The peace talks can come last, Inbar said, and whether they bear fruit or not, Israel’s initial two steps will ensure it a safe and secure democratic state. 

“The idea is to bridge the stagnation and status quo that now exists with a permanent status agreement in the future,” the general explained.

In Israel, military yichus, or pedigree, matters. When CIS launched a controversial public relations campaign earlier this year that warned Israelis of a one-state inevitability, opinion polls showed that 7 percent of Israelis who didn’t think there was a chance of a two-state solution changed their mind — overnight.

But there is much more work to be done.

I interviewed Inbar the same week members of Netanyahu’s coalition sought to pass a bill that would extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jerusalem-area settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.

“It’s a disaster,” Inbar told me. “It really violates the territorial contiguity of the Palestinians.”

Netanyahu delayed a vote on the bill to avoid a confrontation with the Trump administration, but proponents have vowed to reintroduce it. 

Meanwhile, sources in Israel have told me Commanders for Israel have held at least two private meetings with Netanyahu himself. 

As Israel celebrates its 69th birthday, these former generals may be just the gift it needs.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email
him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism
and @RobEshman.

Richard Gere in New York on March 3, 2015. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Richard Gere: ‘The occupation is destroying everyone’

Richard Gere’s recent visit to Israel left him with a less-than-rosy picture of the political situation there.

“As we all knew, the occupation is destroying everyone,” Gere said, following a visit to the Jewish state to promote his latest movie, “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.”

In the film, which is directed by Israeli Joseph Cedar, Gere plays a Jewish fixer who befriends an up-and-coming Israeli politician.

The 67-year-old actor, who is a practicing Buddhist, lamented the impact of the occupation on both Palestinians and Israelis in an interview with The Associated Press published Thursday.

“The Palestinians are becoming more depressed and desperate and with that desperation, most likely, there’s going to be more violence. Because they have no other way of expressing themselves,” Gere said.

“On the Israeli side, you see what’s happening to these young soldiers, and they’re doing things that they don’t want to do, they’re seeing things that they shouldn’t see. And the violence that’s coming from the Israeli side is something that’s destroying Jewish soul – which is by nature incredibly compassionate and forgiving and nurturing,” he continued. “So I see both sides, both cultures, being destroyed in this process. And I don’t see leaders on either side who are speaking the will and the needs of their people.”

Gere also had some harsh criticism for President Donald Trump, slamming him for talk about moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv nd for choosing David Friedman — a supporter of Israeli settlements who has expressed doubts about the two-state-solution — to serve as envoy to the Jewish state.

“He’s winging it in a completely incompetent way from the beginning,” Gere said of Trump’s Israel policy.

This isn’t the first time Gere has slammed Israeli policies. In a recent Haaretz interview, the actor said “[t]here’s no defense of this occupation.”

“Settlements are such an absurd provocation and, certainly in the international sense, completely illegal — and they are certainly not part of the program of someone who wants a genuine peace process,” Gere told Haaretz.

Watch excerpts from Gere’s interview with The Associated Press below:

Peter Beinart joins US Jews for civil rights-style protest in West Bank

Dozens of American Jews spent Friday in the West Bank practicing nonviolent resistance against Israel’s presence here.

On hand to help were some bold-faced names in the American Jewish community’s Israel debate, including Peter Beinart, a leading liberal U.S. Jewish thinker, and Amna Farooqi, the Muslim president of J Street U.

The activists used tactics familiar from the U.S. civil rights movement to provoke Israeli authorities in Hebron — the most volatile city in the West Bank and the site of frequent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians. When many of the activists staged a sit-in and refused a military order to leave a Palestinian property, Israeli police detained six of them with dual Israeli citizenship.

Though anti-occupation demonstrations in the West Bank are nothing new, such a large group taking action under the banner of American Judaism is.

The some 45 Americans and other Diaspora Jews came to the West Bank earlier in the week with the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, a new movement that organizes Diaspora Jews to challenge Israeli rule in the West Bank. The 10-day trip is dedicated to community service and political action on behalf of the Palestinians.

The activists expressed confidence they were part of a historic shift.

“I feel like I’m seeing the emergence of a new leadership. It’s really remarkable,” Beinart told JTA. “People will try to write these guys off as lefties that don’t have any connection to the Jewish community. But it’s amazing when you talk to them, these kids actually come from the bosom of the Jewish community. A lot of them are affiliated. A lot of them are doing this without the knowledge of their families, with a lot of pain in their families.”

On the schedule Friday was an action in partnership with Palestinian and Israeli activists to turn what they said was a forsaken Palestinian metal factory in the Israeli-military-controlled areas of Hebron into the city’s first Palestinian movie theater. They expected to be disrupted by police and possibly arrested.

During the bus ride from their hotel in Bethlehem to the factory, the activists sang “Olam Chesed Yibaneh” (“The World is Built with Loving Kindness”) in English and Hebrew. Most were American Reform or Conservative Jewish millennials from major American cities like San Francisco, Chicago and New York. But older generations, Orthodox Judaism, and Europe and Australia were represented as well.

The activists have deep Jewish ties. Many belong to left-wing Israel advocacy groups such as J Street and the New Israel Fund, and others to groups that more deeply divide the pro-Israel community, including Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, and IfNotNow, which holds its own sit-ins at U.S. Jewish groups.

Ethan Buckner — a 26-year-old organizer for an environmental group in Berkeley, California, and a singer-songwriter with a eyebrow piercing — said he had avoided confronting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for most of his life. But he said Israel’s “murder” of Palestinian civilians during the 2014 Gaza War pushed him to get involved with IfNotNow protests.

Israeli authorities removing activists from the Center for Jewish Nonviolence from property in the West Bank city of Hebron, July 16, 2016. 

Buckner said his father, a Conservative cantor in Minnesota, had previously tolerated but not endorsed his anti-occupation activism. Sharing with his dad his firsthand experiences of “how the occupation is a nightmare” for Palestinians and also Israelis seemed to have an effect, he said.

“Those stories and photos really moved him in a way that I haven’t seen him moved before to really start to also take responsibility. I think there’s a growing sense of understanding of how American Jews share responsibility for what is happening,” he told JTA.

At the Palestinian property — a dirt lot with several low-slung cement structures — the Center for Jewish Nonviolence activists were joined by their Palestinian and Israeli partners. The dozen or so Palestinians were part of a local movement called Youth Against Settlements. The handful of Israelis were from All That’s Left: Anti-Occupation Collective, a Tel Aviv-based group that engages Diaspora Jews. More activists from the Israeli group had tried to join, but their bus was turned back by police at the Gush Etzion Junction en route from Tel Aviv.

One of the Palestinians, Jawad Abu Aisha, said the property was declared a closed military zone at the start of the second intifada in 2001, and even since that order was lifted in 2008, he was kept from reclaiming the factory by military and settler harassment. The activists said this was a common experience for Palestinians with property in the Israel-controlled section of Hebron.

Hebron is home to some 200,000 Palestinians and fewer than 1,000 Israeli settlers, who live under heavy military protection. The city, religiously significant to both Jews and Muslims, has long been a hothouse of Jewish-Palestinian violence. Many of the Palestinian terrorists involved in the recent wave of terror against Israelis have come from Hebron. In March, an Israeli soldier shot to death a felled Palestinian attacker.

Working with foreigners is central to Youth Against the Settlements’ strategy for supporting fellow Palestinians living in Hebron — and so much the better if those foreigners happen to be American Jews, according to a leading activist in the movement, Mutasem Hashlamoun.

“Palestinian media is always at our protests, but there is much more international media here for this group,” Hashlamoun told JTA, gesturing toward the many journalist documenting the activists. “For Palestinians, too, who only see the settlers and the soldiers and think Jews are just against them in everything, having Jews chanting against the occupation helps change their mindset.”

After sneaking onto the property, the activists got to work clearing scrap metal, weeds and debris and — once it was clear they had been spotted — singing Jewish and protest songs. Amid the work, bags of popcorn labeled “Cinema Hebron” were passed around, and a handmade sign that read “Cinema Hebron: Coming Soon” was triumphantly erected.

Meanwhile, a growing number of soldiers, police officers and settlers gathered on the street. They recorded the activists, and the activists recorded them. One of the settlers, a longtime Hebron resident named Tzipi Schlissel, told JTA the Palestinians were using the activists as a weapon against the Jews. She said the property they were cleaning up had been used by terrorists in the past.

“[The activists] think they’re doing a good thing, but they’re really helping the terrorists,” said Schlissel, whose father, a prominent settler rabbi named Shlomo Ben Raanan, was killed by a Palestinian terrorist in 1998. “I’ll tell you, in the Holocaust, Jewish people helped Hitler, too.”

After a few hours of work, a dozen soldiers and police officers entered the property to declare it a closed military zone. Thirty or so activists sat on the ground, locked arms and sang “Lo Yisa Goy,” a Hebrew song about peace. The authorities quickly pulled up the activists one by one and shepherded them up the street.

Israeli citizens were singled out and detained. Five were dual American citizens, the other was Canadian. They were charged with presence in a closed military zone and illegal gathering and questioned. Two were also charged with organizing an illegal gathering.

Ilana Sumka, the CEO of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, said the authorities’ apparent reluctance to detain American Jews validated her movement’s approach.

“I take that as evidence that there’s tremendous power in our strategy. Right? Because the Israeli military didn’t want to have a skirmish with American Jews, I think because they understand the American Jewish community is essential to Israel’s future,” she said. “We’re already planning our next nonviolent campaign, which will take place around the milestone of 50th anniversary of the occupation next summer.”

Israel gained control of the West Bank following the Six-Day War in 1967.

An officer at the Kiryat Arba police station referred JTA to the Israel Police for comment. The police did not respond to questions about the reason for the arrests or the targeting of Israeli citizens.

In response to a JTA inquiry, the Israel Defense Forces said: “On Friday, June 15, dozens of people gathered on a property in Tel Romeda. The gathering evolved into a disturbance of the peace, including clashes with IDF forces. In order to prevent escalation into violence, the Military Commander ordered the closure of the area. Accordingly, non residents were required to leave the premises.”

After being evicted from the property, most of the activists set off for the police station where the detained Israelis were being held, in the neighboring religious Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba. Singing and holding hands, they marched across town — down the empty and heavily militarized Al-Shuhada Street and past the Tomb of the Patriarchs. At various points friendly soldiers and a Druze police officer helped guide them.

Once at the station, the activists demanded the release of the Israelis and were refused. That led to more sitting, singing and chanting in the hot afternoon sun.

Soldiers and settlers – swaggering teenage boys in knit kippahs and giggling young girls – were bewildered by the Jews protesting outside their homes in Hebrew. One settler boy held out his phone so his friend on the other end could hear their singing. Some of the girls took photographs and video, but protested when cameras turned toward them.

Activists were asked to translate their bright blue shirts, which read: “Occupation is not our Judaism.”

At one point, a soldier pulled out of the prison gate in a white jeep and sang along with the activists over the car’s loudspeaker, briefly raising hopes that he was a supporter. But he ended his performance by chanting “oc-cu-pa-tion,” pumping his fist to the tune. Other soldiers laughed.

Around 2 p.m., the activists left the Israelis in the hands of legal counsel and, declaring a victory of sorts, headed to a late lunch. The Israelis were released just ahead of Shabbat and banned from Hebron for two weeks. The Center for Jewish Nonviolence activists are set to fly home Wednesday. Cinema Hebron will have to wait.

Dems reject Sanders’ platform proposal on Israel

The Democratic Party’s platform drafting committee on Friday voted down an amendment that would have called for “an end to occupation and illegal settlements” and an international effort to rebuild Gaza during a meeting in St. Louis.

The amendment was introduced by Palestinian activist James Zogby, who said Senator Bernie Sanders helped craft.

Instead, the 15-member drafting committee approved a draft that advocates for a “two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” that guarantees Israel’s security with recognized borders “and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity.”

The wording reflects Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position on mutual recognition as outlined in the famous Bar Ilan speech in 2009. “In my vision of peace, there are two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good neighborly relations and mutual respect, each with its flag, anthem and government, with neither one threatening its neighbor’s security and existence,” Netanyahu said.

In May, Sanders “>lobbying for a “new consensus” approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The organization launched an online 

The power of Jew-hatred

With the most recent violence flaring up in Jerusalem and throughout Israel, I’ve been reflecting on the kind of hatred that could animate such cold-blooded murder of innocents.

We all have dark thoughts, but very few of us act on them. Through the power of language, we are conditioned to manage our dark impulses. We learn the right words that codify moral behavior—words like “human values,” “forgiveness” and “consequences.” When language fails us, though, we can easily crack.

The darkness that continues to emanate from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very much connected to the language of Jew-hatred that permeates Palestinian society.

This Jew-hatred is especially lethal because it originates at the top – with the government, media, schools, mosques and other institutions. Even “moderates” like Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas routinely set the tone, as when he said recently that Jews have no right to “defile” the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, with our “filthy feet.”

When this hatred builds to a breaking point, the hater cracks and Jews become demons, which makes it easier to murder them. And since it is officially sanctioned, officials can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The hatred becomes codified, like a constitutional amendment.

This is the tragic paradox of the Palestinian people: They’ve been taught to hate the Jewish state more than they’ve been taught to love a Palestinian state.

This Palestinian-centric narrative must be jarring to Israel critics who focus only on Israel's disputed occupation of the West Bank. But such criticism of Israel should not cover up the fundamental, game-changing Jew-hatred that long predates the occupation.

This is the tragic paradox of the Palestinian people: They’ve been taught to hate the Jewish state more than they’ve been taught to love a Palestinian state.

Decades before the first Jewish settlement was ever built, there was a deep aversion toward Jews and Zionism. Between 1948 and 1967, when the West Bank was in Jordanian hands, and Israel was busy building a state while fighting off Arab armies, it was anti-Israel aggression that dominated Palestinian-Arab society, not the yearning for a state. The Palestinian national movement sprung to life only after Israel took over the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the Six Day War of 1967.

Since then, despite an emotional and biblical attachment to the West Bank, Israel has made several offers to end the occupation to allow Palestinians to build their own state. Yet, Palestinian leaders walked away each time, without even making counter offers. If you follow their narrative, who could blame them? Once they had taught their people to despise Zionists, how could they turn around and teach them to make peace with them?

I’m not suggesting that Palestinians had no reason to feel aggrieved by Israel, or no right to feel humiliated by the creation of the Jewish state. What I’m suggesting is that the resentment has been so internalized that it has become virtually impossible for Palestinian leaders to lose their obsession with Israel and seize opportunities to build their own state.

This resentment is reinforced by the perception of Israel as a “colonial and imperialist entity” that deserves to disappear. As Jewish Journal political editor Shmuel Rosner wrote this week, quoting Israeli scholar Shlomo Avineri, the conventional wisdom that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a struggle between two national movements may well be an “illusion.” Palestinians have been taught that the whole notion of a Jewish state is illegitimate. That's why the hatred goes so deep.

This hatred for Zionism has had another, rarely spoken of, side effect. If it's true that a Palestinian state would save the future of Zionism—by allowing Israel to remain a Jewish democracy— then why would Israel-hating Palestinian leaders want to help “save” Zionism? 

When I hear that globe-trotting Palestinian politicians are “frustrated” by the status quo, count me in as a cynic. The status quo means they can continue to bash Israel in international circles and undermine its legitimacy. Also, many of these leaders are corrupt. They know that as long as the occupation continues and Palestinians remain the victims, they'll keep collecting billions in international aid to fill their Swiss bank accounts.

Given all that, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today has become a perfect storm of paralysis, with no incentive to move forward. Throw in the violence and instability erupting throughout the region, and the prospect that a Palestinian state will arise anytime soon is as likely as Syrian president Bashar Assad joining Peace Now.

Yes, the current tone-deaf government in Israel hasn't helped things by just digging in and failing to show a future vision of Israel as a Jewish democracy. But we shouldn't let any distaste for this government cloud the reality that what really killed the two-state solution was the very birth of the Zionist state some 67 years ago — what the Palestinians call the nakba, or catastrophe.

During those fateful days when the United Nations approved a partition plan for an Arab and a Jewish state, Palestinian leaders had a choice. They could choose the destructive language of victimhood and Jew-hatred, or they could choose the constructive language of moving forward and building their own state.

Unfortunately, instead of following Israel's lead, they followed the lead of the Arab world and chose Jew-hatred. Thus began a long, destructive journey that has hardened hearts on both sides, turning Israel into a besieged country without official borders and many Palestinians into chronic haters who prefer to burn rather than build. 

In this land of confused dreams, where violence coincides with festive Jewish holidays, the language of hate is overtaking the cries for hope.

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

Islamist movement Hamas moving closer to Iran

This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

The Islamist Hamas movement has sharply criticized the Palestinian Authority for resuming peace talks with Israel, saying that President Mahmoud Abbas is giving in to American pressure. The criticism comes as Hamas moves toward a rapprochement with Iran, despite differences over Syria.

“The (Israeli-Palestinian) negotiations will not lead to anything — it’s just wasting time,” Hamas deputy foreign minister Ghazi Hamad told The Media Line. “Israeli is trying to use the talks as an umbrella to continue its aggressive measures against the Palestinian people, especially in the West Bank and Jerusalem.”

Hamad said that in the days prior to the resumption of talks, Israel announced plans to build thousands of homes in areas that Israel captured in 1967.

“It is just a silly game,” Hamad said. “There are talks and negotiations but no outcome and no results. What we see on the ground is just the facts of the occupation: more settlements, more barriers, more checkpoints, more arrests, and more confiscation of land.”

Hamas, which controls the densely populated Gaza Strip, and Fatah, in charge of the West Bank, have been trying to hold “reconciliation talks” for several years to find a way to hold long-overdue Palestinian elections. The two factions signed an agreement in March 2011 that has yet to be completed or implemented to any degree at all. The “reconciliation talks” were supposed to resume the same day that the Israeli — Palestinian negotiations got under way, but were cancelled over the differences of opinion between the two rival camps.

“Reconciliation wasn’t on the horizon anyhow,” Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian spokesman and current professor at Bir Zeit University told The Media Line. “The effect on both sides will depend on the future of the talks. If they will show progress, this will empower Fatah and weaken Hamas. If they fail, it will help Hamas and weaken Fatah.”

Khatib said that he, like many Palestinians, is not optimistic that the negotiations will produce a breakthrough. The Israelis and Palestinians remain far apart on many issues, including final borders, Jewish “settlements” and the so-called “right of return” for Palestinians who left what is now Israel in 1948.  

“I’m not optimistic the talks will lead to anything,” Khatib said. “The Americans want them, and the parties cannot afford to say no to the Americans.  But the Americans can’t afford to make them productive,” he said, hinting the US must pressure Israel to make more concessions.

Hamas has been facing a growing financial crisis since Egypt began dismantling Gaza’s “tunnel economy” by sealing scores of underground tunnels through which nearly everything imaginable from weapons to food staples and even vehicles were brought in from the Sinai Peninsula. Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by the US and Israel, had also been using the tunnels to bring large sums of money into Gaza. It also levied taxes on goods coming through the subterranean routes. Sealing the tunnels is part of the Egyptian military’s campaign against Jihadists and terrorists in the Sinai.  

Ideologically, Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and has always been close to that movement in Egypt. Under former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Hamas saw its influence in Egypt growing. Last month when Morsi was ousted and the Egyptian army appointed a caretaker government, Hamas lost its ally atop the largest Arab nation, now ruled by those with little love for Hamas.

Tension is also rife in Hamas’ relationship with Iran over the Gaza-based group’s support for Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar Al-Assad, a client of the Islamic Republic. While Shi’ite-majorit Iran, and its primary ally, Lebanon-based Hizbullah, have been supporting Assad in the Syrian civil war, Sunni Hamas has supported the Sunni rebels against the Shi’ite Hizbullah, and the Alawite (a break-off from Shi’ism) Assad.

Despite the tension, Hamas and Iran seem to be moving toward rapprochement. Hamas needs the money Iran can offer, as well as its political support.

“We are not jumping from this country to that country according to our mood,” Hamas official Ghazi Hamad said. “We are a Palestinian national movement and we are not in the pocket of any regime. If Iran is willing to support our people, okay. We are not interested in cutting off the relationship with Iran and we think we can overcome this crisis.”

A work unworthy of Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker

What is a reviewer to do when a truly gifted writer writes a genuinely awful book?

I suspect that I was invited to write this review because the editor suspected that I might be open to the author’s experience, moved by the power of her words, and might not dismiss her critique of Israel, her sympathy with the Palestinians and her participation in the Gaza flotilla out of hand. 

Alice Walker is of my generation. I am familiar with her writings and often moved by her passion and the power and majesty of her words. We marched in many of the same marches; we knew in different ways many of the same people. Her mentor at Spelman College in Georgia, Howard Zinn, was later my teacher at Boston University. I marched with Zinn, I demonstrated with him, still I remained far more critical than Walker of his work then as now, but one could not fail to be impressed by his charisma and determination. She writes movingly of my college classmate Andrew Goodman, who was killed in Philadelphia, Miss., along with James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, two Jews and a black, civil rights workers during 1964’s “Freedom Summer.”

So, as I began reading Walker’s “The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wanderings as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm’s Way” (The New Press, 2013), I was prepared to be moved and pained, to be made to cringe by Israel’s occupation and the heavy-handedness of some of Israel’s actions.

Instead, I found a work that was uninformed and self-indulgent, where mistakes that could be corrected by a simple click of the mouse and stroke of the key in Google, remained untouched by the author and her editors, where history is unreliable and maps so thoroughly distorted that anyone who knows the Middle East finds them comical.

Examples abound. Permit me a few: Ariel Sharon was not the president of Israel, but its prime minister.

Example: An Israeli commission found Sharon indirectly responsible for the murders at the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982. The actual killing was done by Lebanese Christians who entered the camps and settled old scores. But one couldn’t learn that from Walker’s writings. According to Walker, “He [Sharon] led a massacre of the people.” I celebrate the fact that the Israeli public in response to the lessons of Jewish history and Jewish morality insisted that if a massacre occurred on its watch, it was its responsibility. But there is a world of difference between direct and indirect responsibility for a massacre, as any moralist — including Walker — should well know.

Further, I have no fondness for the Israeli general who only late in life came to understand that Israel could not continue to dominate a Palestinian population that did not want its rule. Sharon used the word occupation [kibbush], much to the chagrin of his former supporters and their fellow travelers in the United States. He withdrew from Gaza, resettling its Jewish inhabitants and abandoning settlements that had been productive and prosperous, able to house Palestinians comfortably, to offer them a livelihood from fertile hothouses that yielded fruits and vegetables. These settlements were burned down by an irate Palestinian population that was more intent on eradicating any remnant of Jewish presence than on bettering its own situation.

Example: A map illustrates the loss of Palestinian land from 1946 to 2000. It neglects to mention that Israel accepted partition in 1937 and 1947. The Arab countries chose to go to war when Israeli statehood was proclaimed in 1948. It omits the fact that it was Jordan that began the assault against Israel in 1967, after repeated requests that it stay out of the war, and that Israel’s conquest of the territories was the result of a defensive war.

Walker’s sentiments, however well-intentioned — and I don’t want to bother challenging her motives — are fundamentally unserious. Walker advocates a one-state solution. Muslims, Jews and Christians living together. Kumbaya.

 Anybody looking at the landscape of the Middle East has to wonder how one-state solutions are working for Shiite and Sunni Muslims, for Coptic Christians and Muslims in Egypt, for Christians and Muslims in Lebanon, for Alawites and Shiites in Syria.

In fairness to Walker, she is no less foolish here than Jews in Israel and in the United States who advocate a one-state solution, saying that Israel’s security is served by dominating a Palestinian population that does not welcome its rule. At least the president of the Palestinian Authority is clear, even if he is not politically correct, when he says that the Palestinian state to be created on the West Bank will not welcome Jews. 

I hate the wall that was erected to divide Israel and the Palestinian territory, but any serious student of the region must at least mention why it was erected and be cognizant of the fact that it has been effective in preventing killings.

Walker is an advocate of nonviolence. Yet she writes as if Israeli wars against Gaza were unprovoked, as if Israeli citizens were not bombed and innocents not murdered. She also writes as if the leaders of Gaza did not place its military resources within the civilian population hiding behind schoolchildren and sick people, presuming that Israel would be restrained because of its values. The best argument for nonviolence as a Palestinian tactic is to remember the difference between the tactics of Intifada I and of Intifada II and the response of the Israeli public.

Alice Walker has written many serious books worthy of your consideration; “The Cushion in the Road” is, sadly, not one of them. There are also substantive critiques of Israel’s action in Gaza and the West Bank by serious people who feel responsible to understand the complexity of the situation in its historical, moral and political context. This, too, is not one of those.

When an important writer writes a book unworthy of her reputation, one can respond with anger or with sadness. I prefer sadness.

Michael Berenbaum is professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University. Find his A Jew blog at jewishjournal.com.

The truth about settlements

Whenever the Middle East peace process is a topic in the news or in discussions, its factual stagnation is almost automatically blamed on the Israeli settlement development. It is one of the most controversial issues in the Middle East conflict. Even friends of Israel dissociate themselves when it comes to questions of the settlement policies. Without any intention to define in any form what steps should be undertaken in this regard, it is extremely important that some central points concerning the settlements question are explained factually:

1. “The West Bank is illegally occupied territory, and all Israeli settlements there are unlawful.”

The reasoning that the settlements in Judea and Samaria are illegal is based on the 49th Article of the Geneva Convention IV, implemented after World War II and the Nazi occupation of European states. Accordingly, the oppressive relocation of a civil population to other states is prohibited. Such a kind of relocation, however, never took place in the West Bank.

Moreover, Israel did not — and this must be specifically stressed — occupy any territories of a recognized, sovereign state. Jordan, from which Israel took over these areas in the Six-Day War (that was provoked by the Arab states), never had been able to enforce there its sovereignty because its occupation of the territories had been illegal and not been recognized by any state except by England and Pakistan.

But most of all we must in all explicitness be reminded that the League of Nations — the decisions of which were taken over by the United Nations (Article 80 of the U.N. Charter) — at the time had clearly determined in San Remo that Jews are allowed settle down in all areas of Palestine.

These areas thus are not a matter of “occupied territories,” and the construction of settlements there does not contradict international right. The term “occupation” is linked to many dismal associations, according to which the West Bank is “stolen” territory, and consequently has to be eliminated in political discussions.

This of course does not mean that under a peace agreement this land should not be redivided — but the moral and legal grounds for the peace negotiations have to be clearly defined: It certainly is not about illegally occupied, but about disputed territories to which people make a claim and the future of which must be determined in the context of a peace treaty.

2. “Jerusalem is an Arab town, and Jews cannot legitimately build there.”

This is a totally untenable assertion. For thousands of years (see 1. Book of Kings, 8,48), Jews all over the world have prayed toward Jerusalem — not least for the good of their Holy City, and in the hope of soon being able to return in this “City of Peace” (uru-salem). 

In the 2,000 years since the Roman rule, Jews practically uninterruptedly have lived in the Holy City, and for 150 years they again have represented the majority in Jerusalem.

Until 1967, Jews were absolutely prohibited to access the Western Wall. In total contrast, the State of Israel thereafter left the administration of the Temple Mount and its mosques to the Arab side, in order to create the grounds for a peaceful atmosphere in Jerusalem. This tolerance-minded act however has been badly rewarded: Until today, it has been strictly forbidden to Jews to pray on the Temple Mount.

And now, in defiance of all these facts, it should be forbidden that Jews build up their homes in large parts of Jerusalem — what an irony! As the Arabs expelled the Jews by force from Jerusalem in 1948, and now, as a “result” of this illegal attack, a return to the city of their dreams should be prohibited to them? What a peculiar idea.

3. “The settlement construction inhibits the continuation of the peace talks.”

This is a strange statement. The absolute hostility toward Israel’s existence has accompanied the Jewish state ever since its founding in 1948. The PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization), the forerunner of the Palestinian Authority, was founded in 1964, i.e. at a time when there were no “occupied” territories yet — unless one considers the whole of Israel (also Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beer Sheva) as illegally occupied areas. But most important is that in the Oslo Accords, on which the Palestinian-Israeli efforts for peace are based, there is no talk of a settlement stop as a precondition for peace negotiations. The Accords explicitly state that the settlements in question shall be discussed only in the last phase of the peace negotiations.

4. How did the expansion of the settlements come about?

Right after the Six-Day War (1967), in which Israel was able to successfully ward off the Arab states’ attack, the Old City of Jerusalem and the West Bank were liberated from Jordan’s illegal occupation, and Israel was hoping for peace negotiations. But eight Arab states unanimously decided on a triple “no” in Khartoum: no peace negotiations, no recognition of Israel, no peace with Israel. At that time, the Israelis started, for historical and security-related reasons, to populate primarily those territories that have been a direct part of the Jewish history, such as the regions around Jerusalem and Hebron. Because of the Arabs’ rejection to negotiate with Israel, these construction activities then broadened, but it has always been clearly determined that no privately owned land may be used for settling, and to this date, Israeli courts give assistance to Arabs who can evidence their rights to private property.

At the same time, it has always been obvious that in the course of true peace negotiations certain settlements would be evacuated. So it happened for the peace agreement with Egypt (Sinai settlements). And later, Israel retreated from the 25 (!) prosperous settlements in the Gaza Strip (thus causing 10,000 people to lose their homes), in order to promote a peace process. This, however, was badly rewarded: Instead of settling Palestinian refugees in this area, these settlements were turned into bases of terror from which towns in southern Israel and their civil populations are permanently shelled. This is no confidence-inspiring development in view of future negotiations regarding the settlements!

Three years ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decreed a 10-month settlement stop in order to facilitate the peace negotiations — this, too, without any success.

5. How can the question of settlements be resolved within the scope of a peace treaty?

By means of a true will from all sides concerned to peacefully coexist in the Middle East. To achieve this, it is indispensable to accept each other, to recognize the other’s rights and to believe in an acceptable modus vivendi.

Israel has done much already in this regard. It recognizes the rights of the Palestinian Arabs and their cause to have their own state, and it prohibits (also by its courts) any attacks against the latter’s population. Also, Israel has proved that within the Jewish state, a large Arab minority (far more than 1 million people) can live freely and with full civil rights.

The Palestinian Arabs, however, still have to undertake a lot in this regard. For the time being, they deny, also in official documents, any rights of the Jews to Israel and the Holy Land (“no rights, even in Jerusalem”); they reject the formula “two states for two people” and are not willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; they use their official media against Israel and Judaism and to highly praise the worst of terrorists. And as far as the settlements: They time and again declare that the West Bank must become totally “judenrein” (free of Jews)!

In spite of all the internal difficulties, the Palestinian Arabs now have to change their basic attitude toward Israel and the Jews — then the question of settlements certainly can be resolved, be it by the elimination of settlements in areas densely populated by Palestinian Arabs, be it by the exchange of territories or be it by the peaceful coexistence also in a Palestinian state, as it has been the case within Israel since 65 years. Moreover, it would probably also be a natural solution to link the West Bank with Jordan. Jordan rules over more than 77 percent of the classical Palestine Mandate, and the majority of its citizens are Palestinian Arabs.

With a candid will of all sides, it will certainly be possible to find ways to a true peaceful coexistence in the Holy Land.

Arthur Cohn is an international film producer whose films include “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” “Central Station” and “One Day in September.”

Berkeley student senate passes divestment bill SB 160 11-9

In a dramatic vote that was emotional for all sides, the ASUC Senate voted 11-9 to divest from companies affiliated with Israel’s military early Thursday morning.

The heated debate began Wednesday evening and carried on for 10 hours, continuing into Thursday. Anna Head Alumnae Hall overflowed with hundreds of UC Berkeley students, faculty and community members engaging in a contentious debate regarding the bill, SB 160.

[RELATED: Cliffhanger divestment vote at UC Santa Barbara]

SB 160, authored by Student Action Senator George Kadifa, calls the UC system a “complicit third party” in Israel’s “illegal occupation and ensuing human rights abuses” and seeks the divestment of more than $14 million in ASUC and UC assets from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Cement Roadstone Holdings. According to the bill, these companies provide equipment, materials and technology to the Israeli military, including bulldozers and biometric identification systems.

Read more at The Daily Californian.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Settlements are not illegal

If you think the West Bank settlements have been an albatross around Israel’s neck up until now, brace yourself. With the new governing coalition announced this week, and the settlers enjoying even more power, all bets are off.

As Barak Ravid writes in Haaretz about Israel’s new government, “it seems that most of the key positions will be filled by settlers and their supporters.”

Since “Jewish settlements” are two of the most hated words in international diplomacy, we can expect that, peace process or no peace process, the pressure on Israel to stop its settlement activity will only get worse.

This pressure will be fueled by the global campaign to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state, commonly known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

What should Israel do in response to this pressure?

If it were up to me, I’d call a good lawyer.

That’s right, not a PR genius or a brilliant policy analyst, but a lawyer.

[Related: Are critics of Israeli occupation getting nervous?]

The most severe charge against Israel is a legal one. Let’s face it: The whole movement to delegitimize the Jewish state is based on this one accusation that the occupation of the West Bank is an illegal enterprise.

Much of the world has bought into the Palestinian narrative that Israel stole their land and needs to give it back.

It’s fine for Israel to keep repeating “we want peace” and “we’re ready to negotiate,” but if people think you’re a thief living on stolen land, it doesn’t have quite the same impact.

That’s why, even though one can argue that the Palestinians deserve most of the blame for the failure of the peace process, it is Israel that gets the blame.

Outlaws rarely get the benefit of the doubt.

A good lawyer would look at this mess and tell Israel: Until you can make a compelling case that you’re not an “illegal occupier,” nothing good will happen. Even friendly acts like freezing settlement construction will only reinforce the perception of your guilt.

As it turns out, and to the shock of many, a commission led last year by the respected former Israeli Supreme Court justice Edmund Levy did, in fact, conclude that “Israeli settlements are legal under international law.” (You can Google it. It’s pretty convincing.).

“The oft-used term ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ has no basis whatsoever in law or fact,” Alan Baker, director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a member of Levy’s commission, wrote recently in USA Today.

“The territories are neither occupied nor are they Palestinian. No legal determination has ever been made as to their sovereignty, and by agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, they are no more than ‘disputed’ pending a negotiated solution, with both sides claiming rights to the territory.”

Baker adds that Israel has “solid legal rights” to the territory, including “the rights granted to the Jewish people by the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the 1923 San Remo Declaration, the League of Nations Mandate instrument and the United Nations Charter,” and that the Oslo agreements “contain no prohibition whatsoever on building settlements in those parts of the territory agreed upon as remaining under Israel's control.”

The reason this point of view is so shocking to many is that it’s hard to separate one’s emotion from the law. In other words, you can love or hate the settlements on moral or strategic grounds, but that doesn’t make them illegal. “Disputed” is light years away from “illegal.”

What’s truly illegal and immoral, if you ask me, is how Israel’s enemies have exploited the dispute to try to delegitimize Israel as a criminal state worthy of the most extreme boycotts and condemnations.

So, given all this, why did the Israeli government not take advantage of the Levy report to push back and defend its honor? My guess is that they felt it would be too controversial and would only complicate things.

After all, since Israel has already shown a willingness to offer up land for peace, why make a big fuss over having a legal right to that land?

Well, for one thing, because you can’t make a deal if you’re seen as a thief who has stolen property. The other side has no reason to negotiate– all they want is for you to return their stolen property. Your concessions have no value.

But if you assert your legal right to the land, you give your concessions real value and give the other side an incentive to negotiate.

Beyond the dynamics of the peace process, Israel’s failure to champion its legal rights has allowed dangerous movements like BDS to continue to wreak havoc. BDS is an anti-Israel runaway train. It sponsors hundreds of Israel Apartheid Week events around the globe. Its mission is not to seek peace but to isolate Israel as a criminal state, and its major piece of evidence is the “illegal occupation.”

No amount of clever PR can rebut that evidence.

Israel’s best hope is to fight back by making a compelling legal case in international courts, while unleashing a global diplomatic offensive around this clear and simple message:

“According to international law, Israel has a legal right to settle in the West Bank. After 45 years, Israeli settlements account for less than 2% of the territories. Our willingness to dismantle settlements and give up precious land for a hope of peace– which we’ve demonstrated in the past– is not an endorsement of the spurious accusation that settlements are illegal. It’s a statement of how much we value peace.”

“What is illegal, immoral and unacceptable is the attempt to use this dispute to delegitimize the Jewish state.”

This message is sure to trigger a few heart attacks at the United Nations, but the fact that it goes against the conventional wisdom is precisely why the legal case must be made. Silence in the face of accusation only conveys guilt and nourishes the forces that are out to delegitimize the Jewish state.

For far too long, while being hypnotized by the peace process, Israel has let its enemies portray its presence on the West Bank as a criminal act. This unchallenged narrative has not only undermined the peace process, it has damaged Israel’s standing beyond all proportion.

If Israel doesn’t respond directly and soon, its global isolation will only worsen.

You can hate and criticize the settlements all you want and still push back against unfair accusations that they are illegal. One doesn’t preclude the other. Any good lawyer understands that.

Maybe instead of looking towards Madison Avenue to defend itself, Israel’s new government should look towards Century City.

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

Israeli-Palestinian textbook study sparks controversy

A U.S. State Department-funded study on Israeli and Palestinian textbooks released in Jerusalem has set-off a wave of insults, charges and counter-charges. Israel’s Ministry of Education called the detailed report “biased and unprofessional” while the International Society for Political Psychology called the Israeli government’s description “highly distressing.”

It was yet another example of how anything concerning Israelis and Palestinians sets tempers flaring. The three-year study, written by a joint team comprised of an Israeli and Palestinian researcher and Dr. Bruce Wexler of Yale University, found that textbooks on both sides present one-sided narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but rarely resort to demonization of the other side. The report was issued by the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land.

The researchers analyzed 74 Israeli and 94 Palestinian textbooks in-depth, covering grades 1through 12 in subjects such as literature, geography, and civics. It did not include physical sciences such as biology and chemistry, or religious subjects such as Quran or Bible.


“There was very little dehumanization on both sides,” Dr. Daniel Bar Tal, the report’s author, told The Media Line. “But we do find that both ignored the existence and the legitimacy of the other. It is a minimal requirement that Palestinians should recognize the existence of the state of Israel and Israelis should recognize and acknowledge the legitimacy of the Palestinians.”

When it comes to Israeli textbooks, the study separates those used by the state secular system (the majority) from those used by the ultra-Orthodox (an estimated 25 percent of the Jewish students in Israel). The textbooks of the state secular system are more critical of Israel, mentioning incidents such as Deir Yassin, in which Jewish paramilitary fighters attacked a village near Jerusalem in 1948, killing more than 100 villagers.

Israeli books also had some positive descriptions of Palestinians.

“The positive references we found appeared mainly on an interpersonal level,” Bar Tal said. “We find stories about a friendship between an Israeli and an Arab or an Arab who would help an Israeli Jew. But we did not find any positive description on a collective level.

Palestinian author Prof. Sami Adwan said Palestinians only began writing their own textbooks in 2000. Until then, they used Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks which had far more negative stereotypes of Israelis than the current books. Yet, he says, there is still more to be done.

“Both sides should integrate part of the narrative of the other in their own textbooks,” Adwan told The Media Line. “They should talk about the other side’s culture, society, religion and history.”

The researchers also looked at hundreds of maps, almost all of which simply ignored the existence of the other side.

The Israeli Ministry of Education declined to help the researchers and leveled some serious charges against both the researchers and their methods.

“The report is biased and unprofessional,” Michal Zadoki, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Education, said in a statement. “The conclusion of this ‘research’ was known before it was carried out, and it certainly does not reflect reality…The Ministry of Education chose not to cooperate with those elements who are interested in maliciously slandering the Israeli education system and the state of Israel. The results of the ‘research’ show that the decision not to cooperate was correct.”

Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs was even more harsh, saying that the study “omits important examples of incitement and delegitimization found in official Palestinian Authority textbooks,” although they do not offer specific examples.

Not included in the report, the Ministry says, are formal and informal educational frameworks, summer camps, and television programs with negative messages.

“The ultimate goal is to eliminate the Jewish state and reclaim the historic Land of Palestine,” it charges as well as “Jews/Zionists/Israelis possess demonic characteristics.”

Dr. Nir Boms, a board member of Impact-SE, The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, told The Media Line that while the report is commended it ignores the most critical issue – denying the other, particularly on the Palestinian side. The report suggests statistical analysis on a broad view of quotes in a computer system but it fails to focus on some of the more problematic references that encourage violence and glorify martyrdom and terrorists. Boms said there are no direct calls for violence with the exception of the Waqf [Muslim Trust] literature which was not included in the study, which is used in a small number of schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to train future clerics.

The response from the Palestinian Authority was far more positive. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad welcomed the results.

“From the onset, we took all measures to extend the highest degree of cooperation with the researchers, especially from the Ministry of Education. This cooperation stemmed from our firm conviction of the significance of the issue and the need to discuss it on objective and professional bases, rather than pre-conceived notions and stereotypes,” he said.

Mohammad Abu Zaid, Deputy Minister of the Palestinian Ministry of Education, told The Media Line that a committee will be set up to review the study and write up a response.

Ziad stated that as of three months ago, the Ministry began the process of changing their textbooks, but added, “I have to take into account the building of the state — the identity becomes essential. I don’t think we can continue peace curricula while Israelis are arresting people, and demolishing homes. Peace requires a peaceful environment.”

Ziad said, “The PLO recognizes Israel but feels Israel needs to respect the Palestinians’ existence. The situation is getting worse.”

The report’s American author, Dr. Bruce Wexler, Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Scientist at Yale, rejected the Israeli Ministry of Education’s criticism.

“They seek to discredit me and my colleagues,” Wexler told The Media Line. “The idea that the results were pre-determined is just total nonsense. The Minister of Education on the Israeli side seems uninterested in the facts of what’s in the textbooks, and unencumbered by facts when he makes his statements about the project.”

During a news conference, Wexler went further, saying that he was born in 1947 and grew up parallel to the state of Israel, which was founded in 1948. “I did not do anything to attack the state of Israel,” Wexler insisted.

Both Bar Tal and Adwan hope that the study can help contribute to peace education.

“We hope it is a step towards creating a generation that recognizes the humanity and legitimacy of each other on this land,” Adwan told The Media Line. “If we both start looking at what we teach our children, we will see a better future here.”

UC Irvine student divestment vote rejected by school officials

A resolution passed by the UC Irvine undergraduate student council calling on the university to divest from companies that “profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestine” has been rejected by the UCI administration.

At the same time, leaders of the Orange County Jewish community denounced “the nonbinding resolution, drafted and introduced with no forewarning by a small group of students with a personal agenda and deliberated in the absence of students with opposing views.”

The Nov. 13 student council resolution, titled “Divestment from Companies that Profit from Apartheid” and passed unanimously 16 to 0, asked the UCI administration, and the UC system as a whole, to divest specifically from Caterpillar, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Raytheon and other companies.

[Related: UC-Irvine student senate approves non-binding divestment resolution on Israel]

In a news release, the student council described the resolution, introduced by council members Sabreen Shalabi and Shadi Jafari, as “a historic move that could initiate a domino effect across American campuses.”

In response, the UCI administration released a statement on Nov. 14 on the resolution stating that “such divestment is not the policy of this campus, nor is it the policy of the University of California. The UC Board of Regents‘ policy requires this action only when the U.S. government deems it necessary. No such declaration has been made regarding Israel.”

Shalom C. Elcott, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation & Family Service of Orange County, lauded the strong ties between UCI and Israeli universities and promised that this work “will not be undermined by divisive efforts…that are contrary to the interests of students.”

In past years, the UCI campus has been the scene of numerous incidents between Muslim and Jewish students, with some Jewish groups criticizing the administration for its failure to take remedial action.

However, earlier this year, UCI Chancellor Michael Drake led a faculty delegation to Israel, which signed cooperation agreements with Ben-Gurion University, Hebrew University, Technion and Tel Aviv University.

Jewish settlers won’t go quietly as eviction looms

The clock is ticking for 30 Jewish settler families in the West Bank.

Israel’s Supreme Court has said their homes sit on privately-owned Palestinian land and as an eviction deadline draws near, they say they will not go quietly.

“They will have to drag me out of here,” said Yoel Fattal, 28, who lives with his wife and three young children in one of the five apartment blocs the government must tear down by July 1, on the Ulpana hill in the settlement of Beit El.

Fattal said news of the court ruling hit them “like a bolt of lightning on a clear day”. When he leased the flat five years ago, he had not imagined such a scenario could be possible.

“It hasn’t broken us, but it is very difficult,” he said as his wife sat beside him bouncing their 7-month-old son on her knee. “We are at the frontline of the struggle … our main fear is that if this goes by easily it will not stop there.”

Fattal can see the Palestinian city of Ramallah from his balcony. A military camp, where Palestinian workmen employed by Israeli authorities are preparing mobile homes as temporary housing for the 30 families, is just down the road.

Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. They say Jewish settlements will deny them contiguous territory. Some 311,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank against 2.5 million Palestinians.

The United Nations deems all settlements in the West Bank to be illegal. Israel disputes this and has sanctioned 120 official settlements, most of them built on land which had no registered owner when it was seized in a 1967 war.

But the anti-settlement group Peace Now says roughly 9,000 homes were built on land listed as owned by Palestinians. The fate of some of those houses is now in the hands of the Supreme Court, which is yet to rule on a number of ongoing cases.


“No one wants a fight,” Fattal’s wife, Yiska, said. “It is difficult for us and it is difficult for them too,” she said, referring to the Israeli policemen or soldiers who may be assigned to carry out the eviction order.

Ulpana is a political headache for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The settlers are a traditional support base for him, but the pending eviction has left them feeling betrayed.

“People definitely feel cheated and he (Netanyahu) probably cannot follow through on all the promises he has made,” Yoel Fattal said. In an effort to appease the settlers, Netanyahu has pledged to build 851 new homes for them in the West Bank, angering Palestinians and drawing international condemnation.

Treading through a political minefield, Netanyahu last week won a parliamentary battle against an attempt to legalize all Israeli settler homes on private Palestinian land.

Talks are ongoing between officials and settler leaders to try and avoid any violence at Ulpana. A contested eviction would be reminiscent of Israel’s removal of 8,000 Jews from Gaza in 2005—a withdrawal that still stirs great settler resentment.

Outside the Ulpana apartments, settlers have erected a protest camp. A poster on the fence says: “We will not let the destruction of the neighborhood pass quietly,” and calls on Israelis to march against the eviction.

Tyres have been stacked by the road apparently to serve as a barricade should Israeli forces move in to remove the settlers.


Beit El is the scene of several biblical tales. In one, God changes Jacob’s name to Israel and promises to give him the land of his fathers, Isaac and Abraham.

Like many settlers, Brad and Michal Kitay, who bought their Ulpana home more than two years ago, cite such Biblical ties to West Bank land, which Israel calls by its Old Testament name, Judea and Samaria, as the reason for living there.

“Unfortunately we found ourselves in the middle of a big politicization of this issue. It’s difficult on a personal level. It’s a home, it’s not a house. It’s love and it’s memories and it’s family. It’s not just brick walls,” Brad said.

There are no cardboard boxes piling up in their house and they have not begun packing their belongings.

Moshe Rosenbaum, head of the Beit El council, was one of the founders of the settlement 35 years ago. He says some 7,000 people now live there, the vast majority in houses that face no legal challenge. But he is upset that 30 families must move on.

“It is immoral, it makes no sense, it is unjust and inhuman,” Rosenbaum said of the impending eviction. “Everyone is saying this is private Palestinian land. This is a lie,” he said, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling to the contrary.

“The lands were abandoned … even if it were ever proved to be owned by an Arab, he can be financially compensated,” Rosenbaum said. “Demolishing homes here will rip us apart – not just in Beit El. It will open a rift with hundreds of thousands of (Israelis) who live in Judea and Samaria.”

Palestinians have rejected offers of compensation and say they are eager to regain the Ulpana land.

Rosenbaum is concerned the eviction may get out of hand.

“Of course I’m worried. I know that thousands of people will come here. No one has control over what happens when there are thousands of people here, especially when the atmosphere is heating up,” he said.

Additional reporting by Rinat Harash; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Crispian Balmer

Knesset committee rejects law to annex settlements

A bill aimed at applying Israeli law on West Bank settlements was rejected by a Knesset committee.

The bill proposed to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation by Likud lawmaker Miri Regev would have removed Israeli settlements from military rule and effectively annexed them.

In Sunday’s vote, nine lawmakers opposed the bill—including most of the committee’s Likud members—and five abstained in an unexpected turnaround of several members who had originally said they would support the bill. They reportedly changed their votes after Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman asked Regev to postpone the vote, and after learning that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planned to vote against the bill.

Netanyahu reportedly did not want to go head to head with the Obama administration over the settlements at this time.

The bill can be resubmitted in six months.

Fatah and Hamas: Palestinian reconciliation will end Israeli occupation

The rival Palestinian movements Fatah and Hamas agreed Wednesday to reconcile and form an interim government ahead of elections, after a four-year feud, in what both sides hailed as a chance to start a fresh page in their national history.

Israel said the accord, which was brokered in secrecy by Egypt, would not secure peace in the Middle East and urged Abbas to carry on shunning the Islamist movement, which has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007 after ousting Fatah in a civil war.

Forging Palestinian unity is regarded as crucial to reviving any prospect for an independent Palestinian state, but Western powers have always refused to deal with Hamas because of its refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

Read more on Haaretz.com.

Israel must get the monkey of occupation off its back

Although the events that swept through Egypt in recent weeks had little to do with Israel, they still hold profound lessons for Israel.  The most important lesson is that Israel must break its addiction to occupation and settlements.

The link between the occupation and Israel’s relationship with Egypt (and by extension, the entire Arab world), dates back to 1978, when Israel and Egypt struck their historic bargain with the Camp David Accords.  That agreement delivered enormous security benefits for Israel. It meant that Israel was no longer forced to fight wars to defend its very existence.  It paved the way for peace with Jordan and for the Arab Peace Initiative, which holds the promise of full peace and normalization between Israel and the entire region.  It opened the door for Israel to truly become part of the Middle East.

But many people forget: the bargain in the Camp David Accords was not simply the Sinai in exchange for peace.  It also required Israel to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.  Even in 1978, the occupation was a bone in the throat of Anwar Sadat, just as it would be for Hosni Mubarak, and just as it will inevitably become for any future Egyptian leader.

But Israel never followed through with that second part of the Camp David Accords.  Israel relinquished the Sinai and pocketed peace with Egypt, apparently confident that Sadat (and later Mubarak) would overlook the fact that Menachem Begin’s promise was never fulfilled.

Over the decades that followed, Israel’s Camp David commitment to end the occupation was forgotten.  Over time, a status quo set in.  The occupation grew more entrenched with each passing year.  Its champions – in Israel and the U.S. – doggedly defended it as necessary for Israel’s security and insisted it could be sustained in perpetuity.

They were wrong.  They are still wrong. 

The pro-status quo crowd’s reactions to the fall of Mubarak betray their recognition of this fact.  They understand that peace with Egypt these past 30 years hung on Mubarak’s readiness to overlook Israel’s failure to fully implement the Camp David Accords and end the occupation.  They understand that any future Egyptian government that is more accountable to its population will have a much harder time doing so.  They know, whether they admit it or not, that the occupation is a constant source of humiliation, frustration, and outrage to Arabs across the region, just as ill-treatment of Jews anywhere provokes outrage among fellow Jews, wherever they may be.

Their reactions also betray how deep their addiction to occupation and settlements has become, and how frightened they are at losing one of the main enablers of that addiction.  The absence of accountable governments in the Middle East these past decades has allowed Israel to operate under the delusion that its policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians need not have any bearing on its relations with its neighbors.  These governments, in effect, acted as enablers as Israel’s self-destructive addiction to occupation and settlements deepened.

No more.  The Arab world today is opening a new chapter in which governments will have to be more responsive to the views of their people.  While Israel’s concerns about the future of its peace agreement with Egypt are understandable, this change in the Arab world could turn out to be good for Israel, for a number of reasons.  Not the least of these is the fact that addictions are hard to break under any circumstances, but they are especially hard to break when the addict is surrounded by enablers.

The door for Israel to be accepted as part of the Middle East, first opened in 1978, is still open today – and with it is an opportunity for Israel to forge new relations with the region and its people on the basis of a shared interest in a stable, secure, prosperous region.  But in order to walk through that door, Israel must first get the monkey of occupation and settlements off its back.

This is a lesson that must be absorbed in Israel, where the addiction must be broken, for Israel’s own sake.  And it is a lesson that must be learned in Washington, which remains today Israel’s greatest enabler, and which has at stake not only its concern for Israel but its interests in the entire region.

Lara Friedman is the Director of Policy & Government Relations for Americans for Peace Now.

CIA paper cites Jewish acts of terrorism

A recent CIA paper cited Jewish acts of terrorism in the West Bank in its analysis of whether the United States is an exporter of terrorism.

The papers were released by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks Wednesday. They were classified under the relatively low-grade “secret.”

The documents analyze U.S.-backed Jewish, Muslim and Irish terrorist attacks. They conclude that international perceptions that the United States is an exporter of terrorism may lead to foreign countries’ non-cooperation in anti-terrorism operations and less willingness to share relevant intelligence. Those perceptions could even lead to the arrest of CIA or other American agents overseas, according to the documents.

The analysis cites the example of Jewish-American doctor Baruch Goldstein, among others, as an example that the U.S. exports terrorism. Goldstein emigrated from New York to the West Bank in 1994 and joined the extremist group Kach. In 1994, he killed 29 Palestinians praying at a mosque in Hebron.

The paper was released in February by the CIA’s Red Cell, a think tank set up by former CIA director George Tenet to analyze intelligence issues. Last month WikiLeaks published 76,000 classified U.S. military records and reports about the war in Afghanistan.

Clash of ‘right and right’ festers in Jordan Valley

A tragedy, as defined by Amos Oz, one of the Israel’s most outspoken advocates of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is “a clash between right and right.” In the northernmost corner of the West Bank, Oz’s maxim holds true; it is a place where wronged are pitted against wronged. Where the Israeli forced from Gaza meets the Palestinian pushed from his West Bank home.

The tiny settlement of Maskiyot, with just eight families, lies on a gentle rise overlooking the Jordan Valley. Since the Israeli government announced plans to expand the settlement in late July, this settler outpost and one-time army training facility, established in 1982, has emerged as a central symbol for the intractable road to peace between Palestinian and Israeli.

Maskiyot is one of more than 20 settlements in the 75-mile-long Jordan Valley. Date farms, Bedouin shacks and small hamlets break up the brown-and-gold landscape of craggy hills and dry plains. The valley accounts for 28.5 percent of the West Bank land mass controlled by Israel after the Six-Day War. It is sparsely populated, with no more than 6,000 Israeli settlers and 47,000 Palestinians, most of whom live in the ancient city of Jericho.

It is a land where Bedouins shepherd their goats and Palestinian farmers cultivate olives and raise chickens. It is also a place where Israel Defense Forces soldiers guard Israeli settlements surrounded by electric fences, razor wire and lights that face outward.

But more than the physical barriers that separate them, the residents of this valley stand on either side of an unbridgeable ideological chasm. The Palestinians bent on seeing the Israelis go, and the Israelis unwilling to.

Fathy Khdirat is the head of Jordan Valley Solidarity, a Palestinian grass-roots organization that works to publicize the progress of the Israeli presence in the valley. Khdirat sits in a car traveling to a friend’s farm in Al Farsiya, a small community sandwiched between Israeli settlements and military land.

“It is like a needle in your body,” he says, while passing the sign for Maskiyot. “You have to get rid of it as soon as possible.”

However, if Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak signs off on a plan to build 20 more homes just outside the current perimeter fence — and he has not yet said whether he will — Maskiyot could become a northern Jordan Valley fixture for years to come.

The announcement of the expansion elicited condemnation from the United Nations and many in the international community. Maskiyot would be the first new settlement built by the Israeli government since 1999, in contradiction to the guidelines of the all-but-dead “road map” for peace. Plans to expand the settlement in 2006 were frozen after similar criticism.

Yosi Chazut, Maskiyot’s manager, sits at a picnic table at the edge of the six small, pre-fabricated homes that form the nucleus of the tiny settlement. His family, like six of the eight other families living in Maskiyot, was forced from Gaza during the Israeli pullout in the summer of 2005. And although the 29-year-old says he wants peace, his confidence in his Palestinian neighbors was shaken by their actions after the Israeli government took the significant step of moving 8,500 Jewish families from Gaza.

“I gave up my home there, and what did we get in return?” he says. “We got Qassam attacks on Sderot. This [the Palestinians] is not a people that want peace. The purpose is to kick us out of this land and send us somewhere else.”

But Chazut’s future plans lie firmly in Maskiyot. He sees the tiny outpost growing into a 500-family hub of Jewish life in the northern Jordan Valley within 10 years.

He looks out over the bowl of land that sits below the settlement, where settlers have already planted palm and olive trees. The afternoon winds have picked up, whistling through the homes and barracks, alleviating the intense heat that pounds the valley throughout the day. Because of the harsh conditions, settlement in the Jordan Valley has been slower than in the heavily settled areas in the center of Israel, primarily around Jerusalem.

“I didn’t come to live here to stop the future peace plans,” he says. “But if the Arabs don’t want to live with me in peace, it is their problem, not mine. I am the strong one here.”

The argument over the Maskiyot and the Jordan Valley is one at the core of the existence of both Israel and a future Palestinian state.

For the many Israelis, the victory in 1967 and the expansion into the ancient lands of Judea and Samaria were the realization of the full Jewish state as described in the Bible: the Israel that the architects of Zionism had always dreamed of — one which extended from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River.

But with a larger Israel came a price, most notably the demographic question of the Palestinians — 2.35 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. If Israel were to annex the land, the Jewish majority would be lost to the new Israeli citizens: Palestinians who have a much higher birthrate than Jewish Israelis.

Despite the “demographic time bomb,” settlers like Ephraim Bluth, who lives in a large settlement near Ramallah, don’t see divestment from the West Bank and the Jordan Valley as an option. A native New Yorker, Bluth, moved to Israel 37 years ago. He has eight children, all of whom served in the Israeli army, a fact he alludes to with pride.

There are three different camps of opinion over the question of the land gained in 1967, particularly the West Bank, according to Bluth. One group sees the territories as a strategic asset to be traded for peace, another sees them as a strategic liability, which must be given up, and then there is his constituency.

“I am from the camp that says the land of Israel, including those territories captured in 1967, are in fact a gift from God … this is ours, has been ours and with God’s help, always will be,” Bluth said.

ALTTEXTBut just as Bluth is confident of Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank, Khdirat is sure of its end.

“When the Israeli military jeeps leave, he [Chazut and all the settlers] will leave before them,” Khdirat says with a chuckle. “He have experience leaving from many place to the other. He left his homeland in Morocco maybe, or maybe Europe, and he left Sina [the Sinai Peninsula], and he left Gaza, and he will leave the Jordan Valley.”

But until the settlers leave, he sees them as a constant threat. Khdirat visits the farm of Jasser Daraghmeh, who says that the Israeli government has ordered the demolition of his home because it does not comply with Israeli building code.

“Even if they destroy our home, we will build a new one,” Daraghmeh says. “We will never leave.”

Daraghmeh’s farm is at the bottom of a valley hemmed in by land reserved for the Israeli military to the west and a string of settlements along the ridge to the east, including Maskiyot.

As dusk gives way to the deep blue of coming night, Daraghmeh invites Khdirat to sit with his father and a neighbor for tea. They recline around a small table in plastic chairs set on a dusty patch of ground. The lights of the settlements on the hills above flicker on, as bats flit in and out of the growing darkness on the valley floor. The afternoon winds that come up the valley and over the hills have died down completely.

The men tell stories of their sheep being shot from helicopters and of a brother being killed by a mortar shell. They talk of kin being pushed off the land, of the ever growing radius of the settlers’ fences. Whether some of the stories are exaggerated or entirely fabricated, the truth of their pain is clear. This is the tragedy of the place.

“We have been patient, but I don’t know what my children will do,” says Daraghmeh’s neighbor, Faiq Spah. His allusion is to a future of violence. For these men, like those living in the settlements, true co-existence seems impossible — the threshold for peace long passed, despite leaders on either side who say they are working toward it.

In complete blackness, their stories come to an end. The lights of the settlements gleam on the hills, and the farmers on the valley floor retire to their homes, black without electricity.

Demonization — or peace talks?

Throughout Jewish history, it has been necessary, time and again, to fight prejudice and false accusations. To mention just one notorious example, there is the blood libel of Pesach, which accuses the Jews of using the blood of Christian children for the baking of matzot — a blood libel that is again being disseminated, in our days, in Arab countries and even in Russia.

As a matter of fact, many more false accusations are being circulated nowadays: Israel stands accused of ethnic cleansing, of the purposeful killing of innocent people, and especially children, and of endless atrocities in the “illegally occupied” territories.

Jews all over the world are trying in every possible way to refute these terrible accusations. Lately, however, one often has the feeling that Israel’s leaders are not taking the active part they might be expected to take in the struggle against the demonization of the Jewish state. What is behind this strange silence? Is there no concern in Israel that the steady repetition of blood libels and false accusations against Israel that remain unanswered will gradually change the world’s attitude toward the Jewish state? Is it not alarming that 52 percent of respondents in a recent worldwide poll declared that Israel has “a mainly negative influence in the world” (edged out only by Iran!)

Here are some examples of incidents in which the leaders of Israel failed to stand up in defense of Israel’s moral integrity:

1. Moral Equivalence at Annapolis

In Annapolis a mutually signed agreement was released which declares that “both sides” — Israel and the Palestinians — should end terror and incitement. Thus it is officially documented that Israel and the Palestinians are equally guilty of these inhuman activities. So now we know: Israel declares, in a statement published worldwide, that it conducts incitement and terror against the Palestinian Authority — a singular success for Abu Mazen. How could Israel sign such a statement?

All the official organs of the Palestinian Authority, including schoolbooks, TV programs (including children’s programs), and newspapers disseminate the most heinous lies about Jews and Israel, poisoning the hearts and minds of a new generation which should become part of a peace process. Yet none of this is exposed in Israel’s state media or education programs. So again we must ask: How could Israel put its signature on a document that, in effect, nullifies all our efforts to explain the difference between Palestinian incitement against the Jews and Israel’s continuing efforts to create an atmosphere of mutual understanding?

2. The “Illegal Occupation” Myth

During his recent visit in Israel, President Bush declared in a public appearance that Israel has to end “the harmful occupation.” Nobody got up at that point to state that the areas administered by Israel since the 1967 war are in no way part of an “occupation” (with all the negative connotations of the word). On the contrary, these areas, which were promised by the League of Nations to be the basis for Jewish settlement of the land, were taken in 1967, in a defensive war, from Egypt and Jordan. There never had been a Palestinian entity there.

It may well be that, for the sake of a peace treaty with the Palestinian Arabs, Israel will have to agree to a territorial compromise. But when there is talk of “occupation,” there can be nothing to discuss: All areas that have been in Israel’s possession since 1967 (including half of Jerusalem and settlement block like Gush Etzion) will have to be handed over to the Arabs.

Why, we must ask, did Israel’s leaders keep silent and let the world media accept this definition by President Bush, according to which even large parts of Jerusalem, which were forcefully taken from the Jews by the Jordanians in 1948, must today be considered “occupied territory”?

Why did the eloquent prime minister of Israel not utilize this auspicious opportunity to explain the situation in the light of Israel’s moral, historical and legal rights?

And when Condoleezza Rice, the powerful foreign minister of the United States, in an emotional statement, compared the miserable condition of the Palestinian Arabs with the past condition of the blacks in America’s South, thus implying that Israel is a racist entity, did anyone get up to reject this absurd comparison?

3. Abu Mazen’s Lies

Worst of all the lies and the deliberately false accusations uttered by Abu Mazen and his colleagues, Israel’s “partners: in the so-called peace talks.

How could Abu Mazen speak, as he did some time ago in Damascus, about Israel pursuing ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem?

How could Abu Mazen say explicitly that “the time may come: when he will return to the track of terrorism?

How could Abu Mazen speak about “the Holocaust” allegedly committed by Israel in Gaza, in response to the endless rocket attacks on Sderot?

Above all, how could Abu Mazen and his colleagues allow the official teaching materials in the school and the media outlets of the Palestinian Authority to spread lies and incitement to violence, and to describe the worst terrorists as heroes and role models?

Again, no one in Israel’s government denounces theses demonizations of Israel in strong terms. And we ask: How can Israel engage with these “moderate” leaders in peace talks without reacting strongly to what is said and published by its “partners”?

If it is felt that Abu Mazen has to accuse Israel of all these atrocities in order to survive as a leader, he surely cannot be a partner in peace talks. An agreement with the Palestinian Arabs (and with the Arab states of the region) is not merely a question of geopolitical issues. Mainly, it is a question of mutual acceptance and understanding. Only people who are ready to give up outright lies and false slogans will be able to engage in a fruitful dialogue and serve as true partners in a peace process.

Israel must reject, in the clearest terms, all the blood libels and demonizations against the Jewish state. Israel must demand that the established facts pertaining to Israel’s past — from the Kingdom of David in Jerusalem to the horrors of the Holocaust — are accepted. Israel’s leaders must put on record, on every possible occasion, that Israel’s fight for survival is based on a solid ethical foundation of historical and moral rights.

Arthur Cohn is an international film producer whose films include “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” “Central Station” and “One Day in September.

OneVoice speaks mistakenly on achieving peace

Again and again, private organizations appear on the scene, promoting agendas designed to advance the peace process in the Middle East. In many cases, their intentions may be good; unfortunately, however, they generally lack a minimal understanding of the situation, and their programs and proposals are based on mistaken assumptions. As a result, their contribution to an easing of the prevailing tension between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs is of little or no value.

Let us examine one of these peace efforts.

A recently founded movement that calls itself

Bittersweet legacy of the Six-Day War


Forty years ago, Israel launched a preemptive attack against belligerent Arab nations and emerged victorious, bringing under its control East Jerusalem, the West Bank,the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. It is called the Six-Day War because it was over in six days.

Yeah, right.

The war is not over. The truth is, not even the battlefields are silent.

In 1967, Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Dayan resisted attacking the Gaza Strip — he didn’t want the burden of more than a quarter-million Palestinian refugees and house-to-house combat. But as Michael Oren relates in his definitive history, “Six Days of War” (Oxford, 2002), Palestinian positions within Gaza opened fire on Israeli settlements nearby, and Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin overruled Dayan.

Now the Hamas leaders continue to order Qassam rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza, which Israel returned to the Palestinians two years ago. In Gaza, the war continues.

On the eve of battle in ’67, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol penned a letter to Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin that explained the next day’s preemptive strike against Egypt: “Surrounded on all sides by hostile forces, we are engaged in a life and death struggle … to prevent [Egyptian President Gamal] Nasser from fulfilling his goal of repeating the crimes perpetrated by Hitler against the Jewish people.”

Now Israel has a peace treaty with Egypt, but how hard is it to imagine the current Israeli leader, or the next one, writing the same letter, substituting for Nasser the name of the president of Iran? The war continues.

When Israel conquered the Jordanian-controlled West Bank, it had no plans for dealing with its unexpected, unplanned responsibility. The Israeli Cabinet stayed up through the night debating what should be done with the 1.2 million Palestinians now under Israeli rule. A long occupation, two intifadas and several peace processes later, that war is far from over.

The war continues, too, in the heart and soul of American Jewry. You can’t underestimate the impact of those six days in June on Jews outside of Israel. In a fell swoop, the war challenged if not obliterated the archetype of Jew-as-nebbish — something not even Larry David can resurrect.

Gen-X Jews felt free to twist and challenge and reshape their Jewish identity, because they were suckled on this great story of Jewish invincibility. What couldn’t be wiped out by seven Arab armies will certainly, they reckoned, survive the magazine Heeb.

And a generation of Jewish intellectuals, the neo-conservatives, imbibed how swiftly military could reshape the entire Middle East — and foolishly came to believe that America could do the same in Iraq.

Not even Israel’s near-extermination in the Yom Kippur War, its recklessness in the first Lebanon War and its failures during last year’s second Lebanon War have shaken American Jewry’s belief that Israel, as vulnerable and reviled and besieged as it is, will somehow triumph in the end. Our collective chest is still puffed out, our collective gut sucked in.

American Jews, who didn’t actually fight the war, have in some sense been compensating ever since. Israel’s victory inspired, in historian David Biale’s words, “unprecedented cohesion and purpose to Jewish political activity.” The assertion of American Jewish input at the highest levels of statecraft and the rise of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee all followed 1967.

Awed and humbled by Israeli corage and sacrifice, American Jews tended to suspend their own good sense and quiet their own reasoned voices as Israel embarked on a disastrous, self-defeating policy of settlement and occupation.

So, the war that began 40 years ago goes on. “I think you’re going to have a major Middle East war,” said U.N. Gen. Indar Jit Rikhye on the eve of battle, “and I think we will still be sorting it out 50 years from now.”

But what about 50 years from now?

As we are busy celebrating what happened in Israel 40 years ago this week, let’s try to imagine Israel in another 40 years.

There are only three alternatives.

Israel could hold onto the territory it captured in the war and become a fortress state, gradually bereft of international support, including that of the United States, besieged by endless war and terror and committed to inhumane policies in the name of security.

Or it could hold onto that territory and become a state of chaos — the chaos erupting the moment Palestinians decide to forgo a two-state solution and opt for one democratic state on all the land Israel controls.

“An inversion of the Palestinian position,” Gidi Grinstein of the Re’ut Institute told me, “is the single-most dramatic threat to Israel’s national security. And it may not be that far away.”

Or it could be a state with smaller boundaries, with a democratic Jewish majority and productive relations with its Arab neighbors.

Those are the choices left to Israel by the Six-Day War, and the choice it makes will be the last fateful battle of that war.

And it will be fought among Jews.

History surprises in new ’67 War documentary

Is there a middle-age Jew alive who doesn’t remember the euphoric days of June 1967, when the caricature of the cringing, defenseless Jew was destroyed forever, when every American Jew suddenly stood taller, when God finally rewarded His people for centuries of suffering, when Israel taught the Arabs a lesson they would never forget?

If the Americans or Russians had won such a war, they would have celebrated with a string of chest-thumping movies, with reckless John Wayne or his Russian counterpart leading his clean-cut soldiers to a glorious, permanent triumph.

Israelis made few such films, even in the immediate post-war months, and now a new documentary to mark the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War conveys a sense of somber reflection, rather than patriotic elation.

“Six Days,” an Israeli-Canadian-French co-production directed by Israeli filmmaker Ilan Ziv, is subtitled, “June 1967: 40 Years, New Revelations.”

In fact, there are few startling surprises for anyone who has read any of the numerous post-mortems of the war.

What the film drives home are how vast are the miscalculations by fallible statesmen, how easy it is to arouse a people to a pitch of war fervor, and — as every dogface in the trenches instinctively knows — how laurel-wreathed generals, all “brilliant strategists,” fly by the seat of their pants most of the time.

Not to go overboard entirely, the opening strike by the Israeli air force, which gambled every available plane to wipe out the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian air forces, was a daring masterstroke.

Israeli troops on the ground fought bravely, intelligently and with high morale. And Israel’s political leaders, aided by considerable luck, avoided being crushed between American and Soviet Cold War confrontations.

The biggest loser was Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who blindly believed his generals that they would “have lunch in Tel Aviv next week.”

Nasser, who saw himself as the imminent leader of one great pan-Arab nation, learned that once having roused the masses to a hysterical pitch, he could not reverse himself when he wanted.

The second loser, according to the documentary, was Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, a prudent, sensible politician, whose hope for a diplomatic solution was foiled by his own generals’ militancy, political pressures and the people’s demand for a muscular, charismatic leader like Moshe Dayan.

As in any war, the 1967 conflict easily lends itself to an endless game of “what if?” — with most of the questions aimed at the Arab side.

What if the Kremlin hadn’t convinced Nasser in mid-May of the fabrication that Israeli troops were massing at the Syrian border?

What if King Hussein of Jordan, blinded by Egyptian boasts of smashing victories, had heeded Israeli warnings to stay out of the war?

What if Nasser had not called off his planned first strike against Israel nine days before the Israelis struck first?

But there are plenty of what-ifs on the Israeli side.

What if Chief-of-Staff Yitzhak Rabin had listened to his mentor, David Ben-Gurion, who was adamantly opposed to Rabin’s pre-emptive war plans?

What if the Israeli Cabinet, which initially split evenly on whether to go to war, had tilted slightly the other way and avoided what no less a hawk than then-Gen. Ariel Sharon described subsequently as “a war of choice”?

And if you want to reverse the game, what if the Egyptian air force had struck first — would the Tel Aviv parks consecrated as future mass graves have been filled up with Israeli corpses?

Yet the sense of foreboding about the aftermath of the war, expressed by Ben-Gurion and which pervades much of the film, has been largely justified by events.

The film posits that the euphoria of the victory and the defeat of Nasser turned a mainly secular conflict into an intractable religious one and spawned a costly and divisive occupation.

Perhaps the bitterest postscript of the war comes from Yossi Sarid, a veteran left-wing politician who served in 1967 as political adviser to Eshkol.

One need not agree with his lacerating words, but they are worth hearing: “So, all right, Nasser made a mistake and Hussein made a mistake. So why do we have to fall into the trap of their mistake and turn our lives into an ongoing hell?

Forty years, 40 years, we have been living in an ongoing hell because of this cursed occupation.”

“Six Days” opens June 1 at Laemmle’s Grande 4-Plex, 345 S. Figueroa St., downtown Los Angeles (213) 617-0268).

Historiographical struggles: Archives dispel claims Israel sought Six-Day War

‘Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid’ comes to UCLA

As part of UCLA’s Palestine Solidarity Week, on Sunday, May 20, the Southern California Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid (CEIA) staged a forum titled, “Israel, Zionism and Apartheid: The Case for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.”

Part of a movement developing nationally on behalf of Palestinians, this is one of many events leading up to a scheduled June 10-11 protest in Washington, D.C., dubbed, “The World Says NO to Israeli Occupation!” In what was a one-sided day of criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and advocacy for divestment, including Arab, Jewish and Christian speakers, the event drew a small crowd of roughly 100 guests to a humanities lecture hall on the UCLA campus. The group ranged in age, though most appeared to be middle-aged, and they came from within and beyond the UCLA community.

Greeting attendees was extensive literature on the topics of occupation, Marxism, socialism, feminism and more set out on tables run by the American Friends Service Committee, the student leg of the Socialist Party, a national group called Radical Women and others.

With a guard at the door at all times, the event kicked off with a speech by Zahi Damuni, co-founder of Al-Awda: The Palestinian Right to Return Coalition, an association of activists and students. Damuni’s speech, titled, “The Consequences of Zionism: The Inherent Inequalities of the Jewish State,” raised the question of a Palestinian homeland, asking, “Why must we advocate for a fundamental right to return home?”

Damuni spent much time outlining a history of the Jewish people, with many inaccuracies. He described sympathy for “Jewish oppression,” which he used, unconvincingly, as a tool to imply sensitivity and an ability to see both sides.
He outlined the oppression of Jews in Europe beginning in the mid-19th century and ending, with pogroms, with no mention of the Holocaust.

“Zionism,” Damuni said, “developed because of a huge amount of discrimination that restricted their movements. The Palestinian cause is a direct consequence of Zionism.”

Appearing increasingly angry and red in the face, Damuni referred to the “exclusive Zionist state of Israel” as a “colonial project,” rooted in racism, that could have been established in three ways: 1) expel the people, 2) kill them or 3) slow transfer. Slow transfer, as he described what he believes has occurred in Israel, consists of the squeezing of a people. It has resulted, in his words, in “ethnic cleansing.”

“Although personally,” he said, “I don’t see what’s so clean about it.”

“We must be aware of our own power to make change,” Damuni said. “Boycotts, divestment and sanctions led to the dismemberment of apartheid in South Africa.”

Damuni advocated for these in America, although precisely “how” was yet to be determined.

Damuni is an Arab Israeli citizen from Haifa who identifies as Palestinian. His wife is from the village of Petunya. They cannot live together in their home, he said, because of the geographic division of their roots.

“But,” he said with clear derision, “I am a citizen. A happy-go-lucky citizen of Israel.”

Paul Hershfield of the CEIA followed Damuni with a short speech on “The Misuse of Anti-Semitism.”

A tall, thin man, Hershfield wore a black T-shirt and black pants, had a tattoo peeking out from under his sleeve, and addressed a question from the audience, “What is the difference between a Zionist, an Israeli and a Jew?”

He described how he was raised in a middle-class Jewish household. Born a Jew, he said he hopes to die “a human being.” He said he is more interested in humanity than racial/ethnic identity. For this choice, Hershfield described how Jews and Zionists often label him a “self-hating Jew” and discredit his voice on the topic of Israel. Because he criticizes Israel, he is often, he said, deemed an anti-Semite.

“Anti-Semitism,” Hershfield said, “is the hatred of Jews for no reason.”

He argued that in his opposition to Israel, “we know what our motivations are.

If it’s for justice — it is not racist to oppose a racist ideology.”

Introducing the next speaker was Barry Weiss of the CEIA, a descendant of Holocaust survivors. Weiss explained his Holocaust roots as “all the more reason why I oppose Israel’s policy of oppression on another people.” Appearing solid and peaceful in his belief that Israel should not echo the oppressive past inflicted upon his ancestors, Weiss was the most convincing in his arguments.

Weiss introduced Samuel A. Paul, an ordained Pentecostal minister who holds a doctorate in religious and public policy from Fuller Theological Seminary and was active in the 1980s student movement in South Africa.

In his speech, “Lessons From South Africa,” Paul described the demise of apartheid in South Africa in 1994. It was the first time in the history of his nation, he said, “that white and black joined to find solutions.”

“Out of the struggle for revolution,” Paul explained, “came liberation for all.”

A South African Christian of Indian descent, Paul is not a citizen of India, he explained, but also not white, so he was not allowed to be considered South African under the apartheid rules. Despite the fact that he is Christian, he said, his color negated his inclusion in that group, as well. This changed in 1994 under the new regime, when he was finally deemed a South African citizen.

Paul’s presentation reached near-gospel outbursts that came at unexpected and often flat moments. His optimism about South Africa today preserved the idealism of the “rainbow nation” while negating the large gap between upper and lower classes, neglected and impoverished townships, and unemployment that continues in his country. To bolster his argument, he painted things prettier and more equal than what has been depicted of today’s South Africa in news and other accounts. Paul created a simplistic recipe for change, attributing negotiations and compromise as having been the solo means of reform in South Africa.

“Dialogability,” he explained, “only survives under positive intellectual pluralism.” Apartheid government was anti-dialogue, he said.

Palestinian remarks generate cheer and gloom

Cheerful news reached us last week from Damascus. Hamas’ political chief, Khaled Meshal, told Reuters in an interview on Jan. 10 that Israel is a “matter of fact,” and that Hamas
might consider recognizing Israel once a Palestinian state is established.

Don’t misjudge me. I am not particularly thrilled with the content of Meshal’s statement, especially after learning that one hour later a Hamas spokesman denied any change in Hamas’ refusal to ever recognize Israel. What I do find refreshing, though, is that Reuters asked the question, dozens of linguists and analysts were busy interpreting the answer and news channels from China to Africa were eager to report the results.

What made me cheerful was seeing that the fundamental question of whether the Palestinians would ever recognize Israel, the key to any peace settlement in the region, is back on the table and can be discussed in good company without fear of dismissal or ridicule.

Let me explain. Five years ago, if you were to ask this question among Middle East analysts, you were sure to be scolded by an army of well-meaning conflict-resolution experts for being a spoiler of peace or ignorant of the latest polls from the West Bank.

“It does not matter what the Palestinians think about recognition or legitimacy,” was the standard answer, “what matters are conditions on the ground.”

“The road to peace is incremental,” repeated all the headlines.

Remember Peter Jennings, the legendary ABC News anchor? When he interviewed Hanan Ashrawi on his show and asked her about Israel’s right to exist, she hushed him with: “Chairman Arafat has recognized Israel in 1988,” and this kept poor Peter meek and timid for the rest of the interview.

When the Syrian Ambassador spoke at UCLA in 2005, and I asked him whether he personally recognizes Israel’s right to exist, my learned colleagues were quick to rebuke my question as impertinent — “What further proof would Israelis want to convince themselves of Arabs’ intentions?” they asked.

In other words, the question of Arab intentions, the mother of all questions and the key to all solutions, has been locked in the closet for 10 good years, and it is only Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian election, together with financial sanctions by Israel and Western governments, that have brought it back to the spotlight it deserves. Moreover, now that Hamas is recognized as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, Hamas’ official stance toward Israel has given Western observers a crisp and reliable thermometer to gauge the Palestinian vision of peace, many times more reliable than the ambiguous polls and speeches we have been reading about in the past.

The emergence of such a reliable thermometer now provides valuable new insights into Middle East affairs, especially for those who believe that honesty and clarity are prerequisites to peace. True, we owe this progress to Hamas, but we have never denied credit where credit is due.

However, before we gloat, I should note that my friends in Israel have been consistently skeptical of all polls and speeches since the outbreak of the second intifada, and they have paid no attention at all to those who debate whether Hamas truly represents the heart and mind of Palestinian society.

Most Israelis today have become resigned to some version of the “salami theory,” according to which the vast majority of Palestinians, Fatah and Hamas alike, will never accept Israel as a legitimate neighbor and no matter what agreement is signed, will continue their struggle to “liberate Palestine” in incremental stages (“shlavim” in Hebrew.)

The current fighting between Fatah and Hamas is viewed by most Israelis as a confrontation between two tactics aiming for the same goal, one calling for dismantling Israel in stages, using diplomacy, international isolation, demography, deceit and occasional terror and attacks, the other calling for open warfare.

This gloomy view, depressing as it is, rests on some hard evidence, which even moderate Palestinians have not been able to dispel. Aside from Arab’s century-long rejection of Jewish sovereignty on any part of Palestine, well funded Palestinian organizations have recently intensified their anti-Israel campaign in Europe and on U.S campuses, aiming not at ending the occupation but at undermining the legitimacy of Israel as the historical homeland of the Jewish people.

Another indicator viewed with alarm by Israelis is that the subject of “comprehensive peace,” including hopes, images and responsibilities of state ownership, is not being discussed in the Palestinian street. While Palestinians do lay conditions for peace, they refrain from discussing its parameters, even behind closed doors.

Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds University in East Jerusalem, is the only leader who dared remind his countrymen that compromises on the refugees “right of return” must be made if peace is to be given any chance at all. But all discussions of such compromises are considered taboo by the rest of Palestinian society, for whom “peace” has always meant a return to Jaffa, Haifa and Ramlah.

Finally, Palestinian intellectuals have been a great disappointment to Israeli peace activists. In an unprecedented candid exchange between two of the Middle East’s most respected journalists, Salameh Nematt, an Arab, and Akiva Eldar, an Israeli, Eldar writes (Ha’aretz, December 2006): “The Jewish minority, which calls for the expulsion of Palestinians from their land and steals their olives, is my enemy. I will do everything legally possible in order to protect my Arab neighbors from the obnoxious attacks of this racist minority.

“But Israelis need to know that Arabs who call for the expulsion of Jews from their [Jewish] land and deliberately murder their children are enemies of yours, and that there are many among you willing to defend my family against those who deny my right to a secure existence in my own country.”

Those familiar with Eldar’s record as a peace activist and a champion of Palestinians’ rights and statehood would appreciate his readers’ disappointment — after 30 years of intense outreach efforts, Eldar is still begging his Palestinian friends to acknowledge his “right to a secure existence in my own country.”

Worst Fears Come to Pass for Foes of Gaza Pullout

Librarian Stephanie Wells so opposed Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza last summer that she moved to the disputed territory just three weeks before troops moved in. She stayed to the bitter end.

Among the most committed in the fight against the withdrawal, the Los Angeles resident said she flew halfway around the world and took a two-week leave of absence from her job to show her support for the settlers. She’d hoped that taking a stand, both literally and physically, would help derail the planned evacuation. She believed that pulling out of Gaza would embolden Palestinian terrorists and go down in history as one of Israel’s gravest mistakes.

Less than a year after Israel’s withdrawal, Wells and other Los Angeles-based disengagement opponents view what’s happening in Gaza as their worst fears coming to pass. Far from acting as a catalyst for peace, they say, Israel’s “abandonment” of Gaza has been greeted with Qassam rocket attacks, terrorism and the murder and abduction of Israeli soldiers. The Palestinians have elected a government headed by Hamas, a party committed to Israel’s destruction and classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. Israel last week re-entered Gaza to quell violence emanating from a crowded and impoverished territory teeming with Islamic extremist and other terrorists.

“We had people who were willing to be the front line in Gush Katif, and now the front line has moved into Israel proper,” Wells said. “And what did Israel get for [the unilateral withdrawal]? Hamas is in charge, and Israel is being shelled daily.”

Disengagement proponents respond that terrorism has been an ongoing problem and did not suddenly appear after Israel’s evacuation. They also dispute the argument that Palestinians voted for Hamas as an endorsement of the group’s terror tactics. Instead, they say, Palestinians had tired of the then-ruling Palestinian Authority’s corruption and turned to Hamas to send a message of frustration and as a signal of the need for a government they believed would be more responsive and competent in serving their needs.

Leaving Gaza also made sense morally, said Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

“For Israel to remain a democratic and Jewish state, it cannot occupy and control millions of Palestinians indefinitely,” he said.

The Israeli consulate in Los Angeles declined to comment for this article.

The majority of Israeli and American Jews believed that the occupation of Gaza came at an unsustainable political, economic and moral price. And despite the “I told you so implications” of some who opposed the move, there is no widespread public support for going back into Gaza.

Nevertheless, many opponents of the withdrawal here in Los Angeles and elsewhere look upon the unfolding events in Israel as a tragic consequence of last year’s pullout.

Jon Hambourger, founder of L.A.-based SaveGushKatif.org, at one time the biggest U.S. organization committed solely to keeping Gaza in Jewish hands, believes that nothing good has come from the withdrawal. He believes it has boosted the standing of Hamas and other terrorist groups in Palestinian society, which claim that suicide bombers and Qassam rockets forced the Jews to retreat in fear. With Israel out of Gaza, new terror groups have moved in to fill the vacuum, including Al Qaeda, Hambourger said.

“The unilateral withdrawal didn’t bring peace, it brought war,” he said.

Hambourger, like many of the mostly Orthodox Jewish members of his organization, believes God entrusted the Jews with stewardship over Gaza and the West Bank, which they call Judea and Samaria. As such, Hambourger largely opposes the concept of trading land for peace, especially since he so distrusts the Palestinians.

Still, he thinks Israel made a terrible strategic mistake by giving away Gaza without demanding anything in return. At the very least, Hambourger said, the Jewish state should have insisted that the Palestinians cease publishing officially sanctioned newspapers and school textbooks brimming with anti-Semitic invective.

Wells, the L.A. resident and SaveGushKatif member who moved to Gaza, believes an Israeli school where she spent some time during her stay in Gush Katif has since become a terrorist training camp.

For settler advocates, the aftermath of the Gaza pullout has only intensified their opposition to ceding another inch of Israeli territory — disputed or otherwise — to the Palestinians, whom they consider an implacable foe bent on Israel’s destruction.

“The lesson is obvious: A pullout from Judea and Samaria will result in another terrorist state within Israel,” said Larry Siegel, a SaveGushKatif member, who in 2003 raised $140,000 for Israeli terror victims.

“The Israeli government is basically in a state of war right now for having given away Gaza,” added Shifra Hastings, another SaveGushKatif partisan. “There is no justification for giving away any more.”


Protestors at Israeli Consulate Face Off Over Gaza Actions

“Anti-apartheid!” a young man wearing a kaffiyeh yelled into a megaphone, rallying a crowd of anti-Israel protesters marching in a circle in front of the Israeli consulate on June 29 to protest Israel’s action in Gaza. “Anti-oppression!” he shouted.

Last Thursday afternoon, ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) gathered some 75 people bearing Palestinian flags and signs like, “Free Palestine!” and “End the Occupation Now” for the consulate protest.

On the other side of Wilshire Boulevard, about two dozen StandWithUs counterdemonstrators held Israeli and American flags and banners that read, “Hamas Stop This Abuse!” “Stop Using Gaza as a Base for Terror,” and “Free Gilad Shalit.”

The Israeli consulate has not been a site for demonstrations since the disengagement from Gaza last summer, and last Thursday’s demonstration and counterdemonstration was relatively small — perhaps attesting to general world support for the release of the kidnapped soldier.

“Israel is going to have to protect its soldiers and it’s going to have to respond to Qassam rockets,” Roz Rothstein, executive director of StandWithUs, told The Journal. Regarding the constant barrage of rockets, so far, “Israel has been extremely restrained,” she said.

Amnon Mahler, former head of the Council of Israeli Communities said, “I am angry at the Arabs because of what they are making us do to them. We don’t want to do it, we don’t like to do it, they are forcing us to do it.”

The pro-Palestinian protesters, in their widely distributed e-mail call for the demonstration, wrote that the kidnapping was just a “pretext” for the “Israeli Occupation Forces” to launch “a brutal assault on the entire population of Gaza.”

“We see this as a form of collective punishment that must be opposed, and that’s why we’re demonstrating today,” said Muna Coobtee, one of the ANSWER organizers. She also said they want to end the economic damage that Israel, the United States and the European Union are doing by withholding funding from the Palestinian government.

On the ANSWER side, there were many UCLA students and women covering their hair, like Nahida Al Khairat, a Syrian woman who has lived in the United States for the last 10 years. She brought her four children — ages 3-8 — to the demonstration, and her 5-year-old son chanted into the megaphone: “Free Palestine!”

Do they have relatives there?

“We the Arab people are all related,” she said.

For security purposes, Ehud Danoch, consul general of Israel, remained upstairs in the consulate, watching the action below.

“What absolute nerve people have at a time when Israel is being held hostage to these terrorists and an Israeli citizen has been killed,” he said.

He has received numerous letters of support for Israel and prayers for the kidnapped soldier.

“These [pro-Palestinian] people have come to show support to the Palestinian murderers and kidnappers,” he said. “Everyone knows how hard it was for Israel to leave Gaza. They didn’t do it just so they could go back in…. The action can end immediately if they would just release Gilad Shalit.”

Downstairs, both groups grew as the work day ended, but the rallies were relatively peaceful. Both groups’ organizers expressed hope that the people, not the leadership, would bring justice to the Middle East.

“I think the outrage of the Israeli society at the kidnapping has to be directed toward their government,” Coobtee said. “Israelis feel so outraged by one kidnapping — they should take a look around and feel greater outrage.”

Rothstein said she was generally pleased by the world’s support for Israel and that now they see the true face of Hamas.

“There will come a time when the people will get so angry at this game of baiting Israel into responding,” she said. “The Palestinian people will get so fed up with terrorist groups like Hamas baiting Israel that they will overturn the terrorist leadership.”