Dissent in Israel

Published : May 23, 2003 00:00 IST

Members and supporters of Peace Now, an anti-settlement group in Israel, scuffle with the police during a demonstration at the Gush Etzion junction, between Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Hebron, on April 21. - GALI TIBBON/AFP

Members and supporters of Peace Now, an anti-settlement group in Israel, scuffle with the police during a demonstration at the Gush Etzion junction, between Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Hebron, on April 21. - GALI TIBBON/AFP

ISRAEL's outrages against Palestinians rose just as the Bharatiya Janata Party government began wooing it. A firm relationship has been established, especially in purchase of military hardware. National interest, however, does not require the government to grovel before Israel and tender abject apologies for Jawaharlal Nehru's policies as Jaswant Singh did. As External Affairs Minister, he spoke to the Israeli Council of Foreign Relations in Jerusalem, on July 2, 2000, of a "tectonic shift of consciousness". He attributed India's policy in the past to, predictably, the Muslim vote and, at one remove, Nehru.

However, Gandhi's writings on the Palestine question were as pro-Arab as Nehru's. The record shows that after Independence Nehru fought for Israel when he could. At the South-East Asian Prime Minister's conference in Colombo on April 30, 1954, he said he would not "be a party to a resolution which stated that the creation of Israel was a violation of international law" (for details, vide the writer's article "Foreign policy"; The Statesman, July 22, 2000). It was not sentiment but realpolitik that governed his policy. Had he taken a publicly pro-Israeli line then, Pakistan would have had the Kashmir dispute removed from the United Nations Security Council to the General Assembly. It did not. Nehru's policy ensured that the Arabs states would not vote against India en bloc. Privately, to friends like Frances Gunther Nehru's letters were full of empathy for Israel ("in favour of the general Jewish attitude in Palestine").

The Jan Sangh advocated a pro-Israeli policy less out of love for the country than antipathy for the Arabs. Noted Muslim-baiters were the loudest fans of Israel. As a Persian saying goes: Na ba hubbe Imam, valley be Zidde Yazid (Not for the love of Imam Hussain, but out of hatred for his enemy Yazid). They were in fact plus royaliste que le roi (More royalist than the king). For, in Israel a peace lobby began to emerge among academics, journalists, artists and a wide range of intelligentsia. Dissent became more outspoken as Israel's savagery increased. Ilan Pappe, a Haifa University scholar, is the most outspoken among them. In an interview with Dan Perry of the Associated Press, he gave a resounding "Yes" to the question "Was Israel born in sin?". He amplified: "The Jews came and took, by means of uprooting and expulsion, a land that was Arab... We wanted to be a colonialist occupier, and yet to come across as moral at the same time" (The Asian Age; December 24, 1997).

Tom Segev's definitive work One Palestine Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate documented that thesis from archival material (vide the writer's review "Palestine and Israel"; Frontline, July 20, 2001).

THERE is unfortunately little awareness in India about the range and depth of dissent in Israel; still less of the scholarship on which it is based and the fearlessness with which it is expressed. Nothing comparable to it exists in India on sensitive issues like Kashmir or the border dispute with China. This book presents a broad range of these dissenting voices, articulating practical, legal, and moral objections to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's actions. Contributors include high-ranking former government officials like Michael Ben-Yair, a former Supreme Court Justice and Attorney-General; Ami Ayalon, who headed Israel's internal security service, Shin Bet; and Shulamit Aloni, a former Cabinet Minister and Member of the Knesset, as well as many journalists, activists, military reservists, and professors.

The book opens with an introductory overview of the present situation by Anthony Lewis, twice Pulitzer Prize winner and famous columnist for The New York Times. It features essays on the movement to refuse military service in the occupied territories, the security ramifications of Israel's "war on terror" and the damaging effect of the occupation on civil society within Israel. A chronological series of reports from the front lines details the costs and consequences of Israel's settlements and checkpoints in the territories, and the brutality of Sharon's recent invasions of the West Bank. The book closes with four assessments of possible resolution, asking: Are Israel's true supporters those who urge occupation and reprisal or those who courageously call for reconciliation and a just settlement? Their expositions deserve to be quoted in extenso, so stunning are they.

Tom Segev has contributed a Foreword. One editor Roane Carey, is copy chief at The Nation. The other, Jonathan Shainin, is on the staff of the publishers The New Press. This unique firm was established in 1990 as a not-for-profit alternative to the large commercial publishing houses currently dominating the book publishing industry. The New Press operates in the public interest rather than for private gain, and is committed to publishing, in innovative ways, works of educational, cultural, and community value that are often deemed insufficiently profitable.

The book deserves the widest readership in India. It is very timely. The Editor's Note says: "It is a common enough characteristic of the American media that it will reach for the easy cliche or the crude simplification. This is perhaps more true with respect to foreign affairs, given the minimal time and space allowed for such matters by our entertainment-besotted culture. Ever heedful of the bottom line and the presumed low attention span of the consumer, our information merchants recoil from complexity.

"It should therefore come as no surprise that the Middle East conflict is generally explained here as a struggle between merely two sides, Israelis and Palestinians; even worse, it's often characterised as a battle between Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat, as if geopolitics and a century of conflict could be reduced to a boxing match. `Support for Israel' is thus automatically interpreted to mean uncritical endorsement of the repressive measures used to enforce Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip."

"In fact, a significant number of Israelis have challenged Sharon's policies, and they have done so out of a deep love and concern for their country... Israelis who are speaking out against the occupation realise that it facilitates the most regressive tendencies within Israel. No people can hold another in subjugation without deforming their own character and psyche. It has to lie to its own people and to the world." (emphasis added, throughout)

Ilan Pappe places the immediate origins of the present situation in the context of history (April 11, 2002). "The focus is on who will control the twenty-two per cent of Palestine that did not become part of the State of Israel in 1948. Israel in 1948 was built on fifty-six per cent of Palestine allotted to it by the U.N. and an additional twenty-two per cent occupied by force (in 1967). Most of the roughly 900,000 Palestinians living in the newly formed state were expelled by force, their villages destroyed and their city neighbourhoods settled by Jewish immigrants. Israel's creation was thus enabled by military power, ethnic cleansing and the de-Arabisation of the country."

Since 1967, and more so since 1987, the future of the remaining twenty-two per cent is the main issue on the local, and to some extent regional, agenda. Until 1993, the various Israeli governments wished to keep all the area under their full control, short of formal annexation, while expanding Jewish colonisation and executing a policy of slow transfer. Any popular or armed resistance was brutally squashed and yet the first Intifada led the Israeli government in 1993 to be content with direct control over only part of the 22 per cent, while allowing for the creation of a Bantustan in the rest. "This map, together with a demand to forgo the Palestinian right of return, was presented as a dictate to Arafat at Camp David in the summer of 2000. His refusal and a chain of by now known events led to the outbreak of the second Intifada."

He points out that other states opting for a similar policy and strategy would have been defined as an untouchable state long ago. "But a European guilt complex (understandable, given the horrors of the Holocaust) and a strong Jewish lobby in the United States have thus far absolved politicians like Sharon from facing a fate similar to that of Slobodan Milosevic."

What one writer after another brings out clearly is that unless the settlements are dismantled, there can be no peace. But settlements have been established at a frenetic pace. A variety of controls over Arabs would rob the Palestine state of a vestige of independence. Prof. Jeff Halper writes: "Massive expropriation of Palestinian land is an ongoing phenomenon. Since 1967 Israel has expropriated for settlements, highways, bypass roads, military installations, nature preserves and infrastructure some 24 per cent of the West Bank, 89 per cent of Arab East Jerusalem and 25 per cent of Gaza. More than 200 settlements have been constructed in the occupied territories, 400,000 Israelis have moved across the 1967 boundaries (200,000 in the West Bank, 200,000 in East Jerusalem and 6,000 in Gaza). Although settlements take up only 1.6 per cent of the West Bank, fully 42 per cent is under the effective control of Israel's local and regional councils or the military. Besides settling the `Grater land of Israel', a key goal of the settlement enterprise has been to foreclose the establishment of a viable Palestinian state (or, for some, any Palestinian state) by carving the occupied territories into dozens of enclaves surrounded, isolated and controlled by Israeli settlements, infrastructure and military." While leaving enough land free for a Palestinian mini-state of greater or smaller proportion, the settlement network ensures effective Israeli control over Palestinian movement and construction. Some 70 per cent of the Palestine people are refugees.

Understandably Palestinians were driven to violent protest. Prof. Adi Ophir records: "The Israeli leaders chose to ignore the circumstances under which the Palestinian uprising broke out, the daily anguish of the occupation and the frustration and hopelessness that nurtured it, instead reacting to the uprising as if it were a threat to Israel's existence, using immense force completely disproportionate to the actual threat. At the same time, the Palestinian leader chose to ignore the Israeli sense of threat and did not take into account the Israeli readiness to employ full military force to suppress the uprising and preserve the occupation. The Israeli response generated a chain reaction of violent escalation."

The Bush administration gave a carte blanche to Sharon. Anthony Lewis writes: "Night after night Arab television stations showed such scenes as Palestinian children being killed by Israeli weapons - as again U.S., diplomats must have reported. Yet, Vice-President Dick Cheney seemed surprised when he toured the Middle East in late March and government after government told him that U.S. support of Israel's tactics made it impossible to approve of any American action against Iraq. It is hard to know whether the best adjective for American policy towards the conflict over the last year is stupid or shameful."

Michael Ben-Yair opines: "The Intifada is the Palestinian people's war of national liberation. Historical processes teach us that no nation is prepared to live under another's domination and that a suppressed people's war of national liberation will inevitably succeed. We understand this point but choose to ignore it. We are prepared to engage in confrontation to prevent a historical process, although we are well aware that this process is anchored in the moral justification behind every people's war of national liberation and behind its right to self-determination, and although we are well aware that this process will attain its inevitable goal."

Prof. Baruch Kimmerling drew up (February 1, 2002) a formidable indictment of Sharon written in the style of Emile Zola J'Accuse ("I accuse"): "I accuse the American government, and especially the administration of President George W. Bush, of complicity in the deaths of both Jews and Palestinians through its complete misunderstanding of the situation in the Middle East expressed by its willingness to give Sharon free rein in implementing a policy of `politicide' against the Palestinians. The United States government, as Israel's patron, bears full responsibility not only for the recent escalation but for the coming bloodshed as well."

Arafat is not spared. His corruption, folly and authoritarian behaviour have harmed Palestine's cause. A journalist censured the Labour leader Shimon Peres in these stinging words: "You are a partner in crime... . You were quoted as saying (privately, again) that it was hard for you to criticise the government's actions when the United States wasn't doing so. What kind of pathetic excuse is that? What does the fact that there is a predatory administration in the United States that has no counterbalancing power in the world, that does as it pleases and lets Israel do as it pleases, have to do with your principal positions?" After the occupation of Iraq the situation will get worse as Edward Said has noted.

How 9/11 emboldened Sharon is ably established by Prof. Neve Gordon, Ha'aretz's political analyst, recently quoted Israeli officials as having said: "For Israel, September 11 was a Hanukkah (miracle)". Thousands of American fatalities are considered - in this cynical world - a godsend because their deaths helped shift international pressure for Israel onto the Palestinians, while allowing the Israeli government to pursue its regional objectives unobstructed.

According to a poll that appeared in the country's largest newspaper, Yedict Ahronot, 74 per cent of Israelis are in favour of the government's assassination policy. But when asked if they thought the assassinations were effective, 45 per cent claimed that they actually increase Palestinian terrorism.

This confusion suggests that "a visceral instinct has taken over the national psyche, marginalising and repressing all forms of political reasoning. In Republic, Plato warns against the ascendancy of feelings and emotions in the public sphere, claiming that these traits characterise the emergence of despotic rule. Many years from now people may ask (just as we wonder about other times and places) how it was that a whole population did not realise what was happening...

"Torture, which was finally banned in September 1999 after a decade-long struggle in the Supreme Court, has remerged with a vengeance. According to the Israeli Public Committee Against Torture, the secret service has not only replaced outlawed methods of torture with new ones, but ill-treatment, police brutality, poor prison conditions and the prohibition of legal counsel are now widespread. B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, has documented the torture of Palestinian minors, while the Association for Civil Rights and other organisations have appealed to the Supreme Court against the new practice of holding suspects incommunicado. In the past year, however, the Supreme Court has rejected all human rights appeals that in any way relate to the lives of the Palestinian population in the occupied territories." So much for Israel's democracy.

The media are fully complicit in all this. It is "actively assisting the state not only in legitimising its actions, but also in delegitimising Israel's Palestinian citizens." Arrin Levie who reports on the media for Ha'aretz, the largest daily, remarks on the erosion of "the line between the defence framework and the additional framework that is supposed to report and criticise... Both in New York and Tel Aviv, when journalists cease collecting facts and asking questions and instead turn to beating the war drums - Ma'ariv editor Amnon Dankner ran a front-page article devoted to smashing, killing, trampling, and destroying - it's time to say good-bye, at least in meantime, to a free press." This was written a year before the American media disgraced itself in its coverage of the war on Iraq.

The chapter of Refeaal contains moving pieces by soldiers who refused to serve. An open letter to the Defence Minister records: "An officer for whom you are responsible has sentenced me today to twenty-eight days in military prison for my refusal to serve in reserve duty. I did not refuse only to serve in the occupied Palestinian territories, as I have for the past fifteen years. I refused to serve in the Israeli army in any capacity.

"Since September 29, 2000, the Israeli army has waged a `dirty war' against the Palestinian Authority. This dirty war includes extra-judicial killings, the murder of women and children, the destruction of the economic and social infrastructure of the Palestinian population, the burning of agricultural fields and the uprooting of trees. You have sowed fear and despair but failed to achieve your ultimate objective; the Palestinian people have not given up their dream of sovereignty and independence. Neither did you provide security for your own people, despite all the destructive violence of the army over which you have responsibility. In light of your great failure, we are now witness to an intellectual debate amongst Israelis of the worst kind: a discussion about the possible deportation and the mass killing of Palestinians."

While the U.S. actively backs Israel, the Arab states do no more than mouth protests. The Non-Aligned Movement is quiescent. And the BJP regime is all admiration for Israel, as a role model for repression.

The Other Israel
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