Respect and tolerance - a solution for Israel ?

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 26-Oct-08 | Author: Peter Silverman

In 1967 I was as the British would say, `supernumery to establishment’ with the IDF during the 6 Day War. I recall returning to Israel in an M-3 half track along roads festooned with signs proclaiming `Thank God for Our Army.’ It was not uncommon for elderly Israelis, survivors of the Holocaust, approaching, with hands outstretched, thanking me for saving them from a second Shoah. These were, as it became known, the “Days of Euphoria” when it was believed that now the Arabs would accept the reality of Israel and make peace. “He is waiting for the phone call” my Israeli friends would say. It took a while before I realized they were talking about Moshe Dayan waiting for the ‘phone call” from the leaders of the Arab front line states to begin peace negotiations.

Sadly history records that it never happened, and the Israelis were faced with a situation they never envisioned, having to control and administer a new “Empire,’ the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the West Bank. Like the Americans in Iraq, there was no after war plan, in part because Israel did not expect to win so overwhelmingly. `Arab stupidity,’ I remember one Israeli officer saying, `gave us the excuse and the time to take the west bank and the Golan.’ (What he did not mention is that it also allowed the Israelis to expel 100,000 Arabs from the Golan, a brutal event described in the diary of a Canadian UN observer that I was given).

Not knowing what to do, policy was created on the spur of the moment. No where was this more apparent then among the IDF officers who had fought the war. I recall a dinner party held by Brig General Aharon Davidi, the first Commanding officer of the Israel Parachute Corps where I was an invited guest. (I had met Davidi in England).At one stage one of the Colonels (Dani Matt) asked me `What I would do with the West bank?” “The Palestinians” I pointed out, “are the most secular, the best educated, the most entrepreneurial, and like the Jews they are hated by everyone. Cut a deal.” As I look back there was a heated discussion over this, but no conclusion. Surprisingly there was no mention of the potential battle of the cradle both within the `Administered Territories’ (the West bank and Gaza) and Israel itself where the marginalized Arab population had a long list of grievances that were constantly negated by the Government of Israel. Worse none foresaw the true accomplishment of Yasser Arafat, the creation of a virulent Palestinian nationalism, a nationalism that was to be fueled by the ongoing occupation..

Dayan, exercising that combination of controlled pragmatism concealing an iron fist, wanted a regime where the Arabs would “rule themselves.”, but within limits. Yet for a brief moment it seemed as if it might work. The Israelis provided a far better administrative regime then the former Jordanian, the infrastructure was improved, the economy, based in part on Palestinian labor flowing into Israel, boomed. The Territories became Israel’s largest market (aside from polished diamonds) and as the British born Oxford educated Walter Eytan noted ironically that the economic relationship between `Palestine and Israel, envisioned by the U.N. in 1947, but long rejected by the Arabs had been achieved by the Six day war. Unfortunately economics did not drive the political process. When the Military Governor Chaim Herzog and then deputy PM Yigal Allon seemed willing to accept an ‘independent Palestinian entity, Dayan turned it down. One of the excuses I was told was that there was no political structure in place, no one they the Israelis could negotiate with. This raises the question why was not one created, why was no attempt made to introduce political structures starting from the municipal level. I have yet to find the answer. Some have argued that any attempt at establishing a Palestinian entity was undermined by Jordan who saw it as a threat to King Hussein, and by Palestinians living outside. But one can also assume that in Israel too many powerful figurers, (Sharon, Ezer Weizman, and Menachem Begin) did not want to foster or acknowledge any form of a Palestinian State. The Hubris created by the overwhelming victory of 67 carried over into every sphere, leading to the assumption that the Palestinians, (docile and in shock) recognizing the might and power of Israel arms would remain acquiescent

As is recorded acquiescent turned into anger Dayan’s `benign’ administration’ became more one of brutality then `benign’ as time passed. Israeli author Danny (David) Grossman in his book, the Yellow Wind, described the treatment accorded to the Palestinians by the Israeli Administration The petty rules, the arrogance bordering on contempt, (the Palestinians had to speak Hebrew to deal with officials) poisoned the relationship between Palestinian and Israeli. Into this potage of growing rage and hatred was the illegal (and later `legal’) settlements spurred on by the Land of Israel Movement, and the Right wing Likud Bloc. From my own experience in South Africa of observing the implementation and apparatus of control, I can see little difference between the methodology of Apartheid and the Israeli Administration of the West Bank. President Carter has been much vilified for suggestion this similarity but the similarities of the methods used, all `legally’ sanctioned leads me to use the phrase, `only the names have been changed,’ but they do not protect the innocent. Examples abound, the seizure of land, the rigid control of the population by use of the military and police, the emphasis on `

the imposition of a thousand rules and regulations designed to harass and intimidate, the separation between the settlements and the Palestinian population, `white’ (Israeli) enclaves on the one hand and Palestinian Bantustans (West Bank Palestinian areas) on the other, the privileged status of the settlers vs. the increasing poverty of the occupied population, the deliberate suppression of a viable economy in the West Bank, and the use of targeted killings, mass arrests and the documented use of torture. Then in 2006, Israel’s High Court narrowly upheld a law denying Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza married to Israeli citizens the right to live in the country with their spouses. However, Israel’s actions are not, as in South Africa, based on a crude racism as much as survival. Though one might assume that the growth of Hamas and Islamic militancy could lead to religious bigotry.

Now we see the rather powerful outpourings of the Revisionist Israel Historians (Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim, Illan Pappe, Avi Shlaim) who as they examine some cherished Israeli myths about the Founding of the State of Israel and the War for Independence also now argue (out of frustration) that perhaps Israel was not ruthless enough. Perhaps they say the major mistake made in 48 was not expelling all of the Arabs from what then became Israel. Now as Morris laments, it is too late. (Though the idea of a mass expulsion occasionally rears its ugly head, as world renowned military analyst Martin van Creveld noted in an interview) Both within and without the demographic time bomb ticks away, though some demographers, looking at the numbers again, claim that with growing (relative) prosperity the Israeli Arab birthrate has stabilized. However, that assumption does not hold when talking about the Occupied Territories and Gaza

Still, for a brief moment before the start of the second al-Aqsa Intifada, when a peace agreement seemed possible, there was a second chance. Then something occurred which many have overlooked, the return to `Palestine’ of a contingent of ex Palestinians who had gone overseas, principally to the United States. For the most part they were well educated, more important they brought with them capitol, business acumen, expertise and a belief in the democratic process. I met many of these overseas Palestinians, one who I became close to was a businessman,, Tawfig Morrar He, with his business partner/ wife and his 16 year old daughter Jamilah lived in a large well appointed home in Ramalah. They had store dealing in gold, currency and jewelry. When I last saw them all was in doubt. “We depend” Tawfig tells me, `on people that come from the surrounding area...they can’t reach us due to the road blocks. Our business is zero.’ There is a sense of bitterness as he describes the Israeli attacks, the dead piled up, the smashed buildings and the random, senseless destruction.” My store alone has 90 bullet holes.’

Possibly the tragedy lies in the fact that his former close ties with his Israeli business colleagues have ended. On this issue Tawfig and his wife are emotional “We miss our relationships together our dealings together. We have friends in Jerusalem, but. we are not allowed to go there.” His daughter Jemilah, is a striking teenager, with large expressive eyes and a keen intelligence. She is one of the new generations who have only dealt with Israeli soldiers. Her two sisters, one a lawyer the other a doctor is still in the US. She describes living in an atmosphere of terror and anger, laced with simmering hatred. Far less then her parents is she ready to forgive and forget. `What I tell my parents that I would rather be in front of the tank instead of in the house listening to it. So I say the (terrorist suicide) bombings are the only way that we can kill them (the Israelis) now they walk and they look at their shadows and they are so scared of us. They can call us suicide bombers but we find it as a way to get want we want.’

What makes the situation so explosive in the short term is the possible realization of the slogan by Dayan, `that Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother,’ that it will unleash its military in a final attempt to `solve’ the Palestinian problem. Two elements seem to make this more then a remote possibility, the growing number of Orthodox Jews who are members of the Officer Corps, replacing the former secular Kibutsniks. Called the `kippot srugott' (named after the hand knitted yarmulkes they wear) they have strong right wing political affiliations, and many are graduates of the yeshivot hesder. (Talmudic high schools with a strong nationalist military orientation, and who churn out 3000 solders a year for the IDF including 750 potential officers)

These men, inspired by a deep sense of divine guidance, wrapped in a willingness to sacrifice individual aspirations for wider social goals, namely that every inch of Judea and Samara (the occupied territories) is sacred Jewish land which must be held. Fanatically allied to the settler movement, what might happen, if by some miracle a peace agreement is worked out and the settlements have to be dismantled? Will a military led in large part by new Orthodox officer elite obey the orders of the government? This possibility is not beyond reality, and was underlined by when I visited, the Gush Etzion (bloc of the Faithful) settlements south of Bethlehem on Israel route 95. The biggest of the bloc was Efrat, with 6000 plus population. Up to 25% of the population is American, (in fact in its search for settlers its broacher makes the point that English is a common language) whose Zionist fanaticism is unquestioned. These indeed are the `Shock Troops’ of the settlers, well armed (they boast an all purpose shoot ranging including instruction on how to fire from a moving car) and make little effort to conceal their hatred of the `Arabs.’ They are festering sore in the Occupied Territories. However the IDF cannot provide for their security, and providing for it on their own is beginning to strain the `Bloc’s” financial stability. Without American Jewish money, the chances are the settlements would have to be abandoned. But the money still flows, the settlements remain, the festering sore of hate grows, fed by the arbitrary administrative seizure of Arab land.’ Would the IDF use force to push the settlers back over the Green Line? And would these `band of Zionist brothers’ fight back? What government in Jerusalem would want to find the answer to these questions?

Sharon, never the strategist but always the brilliant tactician, acting on advice from people like Dr Gabriel Ben-Dor, Director of the National Security Studies Center at Haifa University opted for a policy of unilateral disengagement. In brief the final establishment of permanent borders between the Palestinian State and Israel. Unstated is the desire to limit the flow of underpaid Palestinian labor into Israel, labor that some seeing as undermining the essence of the Jewish State. (At present Israel imports temporary labor from Thailand, the Philippines, and Eastern Europe. Unlike the Palestinians they have no desire to stay in Israel and have no `historical right to return.’) The pullout from Gaza was the first step that was expected to bring a Palestinian response of curbing Hamas and Islamic Jihad. What is certain is that the dismantlement of the Gaza settlements was costly, the settlers were `paid off’ and found new homes. Taking advantage of their `pioneering spirit’ and dedication, some established new settlements in the Negev. More ominously, many moved to the religious blocs in the Occupied Territories. A few will decided that the bright lights and decadence of Tel Aviv are more attractive However; the whole policy was a huge gamble. The best case scenario was for peace and tranquility emerging on the West Bank. Fueled by European Community money (now supporting the Palestinians at a per capita level equal to US support of Israel) the economy would prosper (based in Gaza on low tech low labor cost industries and tourism. Even now Israelis who flash ball point pens and wear rather cheap shirts and use plastic garbage cans do so curtsey of manufacturers using Gaza labor`) in the West Bank somewhat more sophisticated industry and enterprise, also unwritten by the Japanese and Europeans. While it is the United States who is the main player, and whose backing of Sharon allowed him `a lot of wiggle room,’ it is the Japanese and Europeans (with Russia edging in with it’s oil and weapons) who would provide the cash to the new Palestinian entity to survive. Many question if there is enough water to sustain the economies of Israel and `Palestine’ or even if their will be a Palestinian economy to sustain. It also begs the question of `whether Jordan.’ Can the Kingdom survive the pressure of the restless millions of Palestinians lapping up along its border? What is certain is if the terrorism starts up again, and Hamas and the Islamic Jihad can not be contained, the IDF (in technology and firepower the world’s third most powerful military) will retaliate with massive force. That could bring short term security, but a long term disaster.

Now as the `Security Fence’ inches it’s way dividing the West Bank from Israel their still remains the demographic reality of the Israeli Arab population. Now 20% of the total they have never been regarded as first class citizens. Their treatment by Israel has led to recent severe clashes with security forces and a grudging acceptance (in part) that they have not been treated fairly or equally, from providing education, roads, basic infrastructure, to personal and social freedom. This has been one of the great failures of the Jewish state; to have avoided any effort to assimilate those Arabs who stayed in Israel after 48, to enjoin them to become truly Israeli with its rights and obligations including military service. Not content with its own internal form of `segregation’ the new Israeli Citizenship Law starkly underlines the current relationship between the two people. In summery it will deny Israeli citizenship to any person from Judea, Samaria and Gaza who have married an Israeli citizen, the definition realized but unstated been an Arabs Israeli citizen. The basic rational for this assault on `Arab Israeli civil liberties’ is not anti terrorism, but demographics. The last thing that Israel wants is an increasing Arab Israeli population. This Law is a tidy way of insuring that the current population is not augmented by marriage... In 2006, Israel’s High Court narrowly this law, denying Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza married to Israeli citizens the right to live in the country with their spouses.

Perhaps I should leave the last word to an Israeli Arab. His name is Sami; I met him in his shop near the King David Hotel. He possessed a certain elegance of manner and style,

And spoke with a `passionate intensity’

I want peace for both of us, Palestinians and Israelis. I want my Jewish brothers to look me in the eye just the way I look at you. To give me, if not love, trust and care at least to give me some kind of hope for the future. I want them to respect me as a human being. Respect my right of my kids to grow up next to their kids to build a future together. Peace and justice, it’s very simple.’