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Occupation magazine - Commentary

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Red Rag column
By: Gideon Spiro
4 September 2010

Heart-rending scenes

The two guerrilla actions in the Occupied Territories that killed four settlement residents and wounded two others are a reminder that the Occupation continues and so does the resistance to it. These actions, for which Hamas took responsibility, are a manifestation of a deep conflict within the Palestinian people, another manifestation of which was of course the beginning of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority under the auspices of the USA. Both Hamas and the settlers see the talks as a betrayal of their respective peoples.

The Palestinian Left that endorses the two-state solution views these talks with a great deal of suspicion due to Israel’s settlement policy and fear that American pressure will push Abu Mazen towards accepting an Apartheid South African-style Bantustan that will be called a “Palestinian state.”

A friend who does not share my world-view asked me what I thought of the killing of the four, who were civilians, after all. That is an excellent question, considering that one of the main reasons why I oppose the Occupation that has been going on now for over forty years is the ongoing harm that the Occupation forces inflict on the civilian population. Does that category include the settlers? International law forbids an occupying state from transferring its population to the territory it occupies, and accordingly the settlers – certainly those who are armed – are not innocent civilians, but part of the forces of the Occupation.

Nearly every male settler carries a gun, sometimes he is in uniform and sometimes he is not, and so attacking them is not the same as attacking a non-combatant civilian population. That is not the case with women, children and old people. Even if they live in settlements they are not a fighting force, and so attacks on them by those who are conducting an armed struggle against the Occupation should be avoided and condemned.

Armed struggle against occupation is internationally recognized as legitimate. It was practiced by the Zionist underground organizations, Etzel, Lehi and the Haganah, [1] by the guerrilla organizations that struggled against colonial rule in Africa, Asia and Europe, and by the Americans when they struggled against British rule in the 18th century.

I have many reasons to oppose Hamas, both ideological, as a person who believes in a secular and democratic state, and also as a human rights activist who condemns the violations of human rights committed by the Hamas regime in Gaza. But when it comes to the struggle against the Occupation, Hamas does not diverge from what is known and accepted throughout human history.

As a member of the occupying people, it would be arrogant of me to presume to dictate to the Palestinians how they should conduct their struggle – all the more so because they are confronted with a cruel and armed military force that made little effort to spare the lives of the Palestinian civilian population, even women and children.

I cannot dictate, but I do have the right to support an unarmed struggle. Confronted with the armed struggle carried out by Hamas and others, I support the non-violent Palestinian struggle of the type that is occurring in Bil’in and Ni’lin, and not just rhetorically. It spares human lives and also is often more effective.

The four settlers who were killed left seven children behind them. It is indeed heartrending to see small children weeping for their parents, crying “mommy!” before the coffin goes into the grave.

The difference between me and the settlers is the ability to feel empathy for the suffering of the other side. As far as Palestinian suffering is concerned, they are utterly impervious. To the settlers I say: think for a moment about the sorrow and grief that the Palestinians are experiencing in situations that are similar, but much larger in scale.

Think about the families in Gaza that lost 400 children in the latest war alone. Think about the thousands of children in the Occupied Territories who have buried their parents and became orphans during the Occupation, think about 1,500 Palestinian children who have been killed by the fire of the “security forces” throughout the 43 years of the Occupation, about the sorrow and the crises that the families have undergone. Without the ability to see what is human and similar on the other side, reconciliation is impossible.

The leaders of the settlers did not waste any time in enlisting the tragedy and the spilt blood for their own political ends. Even before the four were buried the call had already gone out to the Prime Minister to return from Washington, to stop the peace talks and to resume with more momentum in the construction of new settlements. Thus are they pouring more fuel onto the fire.

The settlements are a monster that will end up burying all of us if no one can be found who will dismantle them.

Peace talks or a show for the media?

President Obama succeeded in dragging Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abu Mazen to the ceremonial opening of the direct negotiations for peace that will bear fruit “within a year,” in the words of the president.

The speeches that were given were rather choreographed, but we have long been used to ceremonies with speeches that afterwards turn out to have been devoid of substance. If the Israeli Right and Left agree on anything today, it is the assumption that nothing will come of these talks, because the rift between the sides is too wide. Netanyahu warned in his speech that “both sides will have to make painful concessions.” And this raises the question: what more can the Palestinians concede after the Palestinian Authority long ago agreed to a state on territory that constitutes 22 per cent of the territory of historical Palestine (i.e. the Occupied Territories), and has in effect renounced the right of return to Israel if the two-state solution is implemented?

Undoubtedly the settlements are the hardest obstacle to any peace agreement. Meanwhile there are those who propose that the settlements should remain in place under the sovereignty of the Palestinian state, sanctimoniously observing that there is no reason why Jews should not live in the Palestinian state just as Arabs live in Israel. But that is a misleading comparison.

The Palestinian citizens of Israel are not undermining the existence of the State of Israel, whereas the settlers see a Palestinian state as an illegitimate entity. They see themselves as lords of the land with a title-deed from the Bible, so they will be a kind of Trojan horse that will try to drag Israel and the Palestinian state into unending conflict. Besides the fact that the Palestinian state will need every square centimetre that is currently being held by the settlers in order to resettle the refugees that were expelled by Israel in 1948 and 1967.

I am not far from concluding that due to the spread of the settlements and the number of settlers a two-state solution is nearly impossible. If that is the case, then the future struggle will be over what form will be taken by the one state for the two peoples: will it be a democracy, or another Middle Eastern dictatorship? Although I share the view that Netanyahu is not a De Gaulle who withdrew from Algeria or a De Klerk who withdrew from South African Apartheid, I entertain a faint hope of being surprised.

On 30 November 1977 I published an article in The Donkey’s Mouth, the Hebrew University student newspaper, after President Sadat’s visit to Israel. Among other things, I wrote: if Prime Minister Menachem Begin makes a big breakthrough and signs a peace agreement with Egypt and ends the Occupation, I will go out into the street with a sign saying “Begin, King of Israel” and the next day I will resume my quarrel with him about the social and economic regimes in Israel. I say the same to Netanyahu: if the unexpected happens and he signs an honourable and balanced peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority that will end the conflict, I will go out into the street with a sign saying, “Long Live the King Messiah Netanyahu”, and the next day I will resume my quarrel with him over privatization and social justice.

The delegitimization of “delegitimization”

The government of Israel, the World Zionist Organization as well as AIPAC and the establishments of the Jewish communities in Europe are currently conducting a massive propaganda campaign against what they are calling “the delegitimization of Israel.” In their eyes criticism of Israel verges on undermining the State’s right to exist. I do not know if people are buying this in the outside world, but here in Israel the notion has taken root. The Israeli media, for the most part, is collaborating with the campaign, and many in Israel, not necessarily just those who identify with the extreme Right, have enlisted in the effort.

I would like to take this opportunity to use the meagre power I have to burst this mendacious balloon and to say that this is a propaganda campaign that is intended to silence people. All the talk about “the delegitimization of Israel” is vacuous nonsense. There is criticism of the actions of the government of Israel, of the Occupation, the settlements and the racism, of the government’s war crimes of the Second Lebanon War and the Gaza War, Of the Mafia-style hijacking of the Gaza aid flotilla in international waters and the killing of nine civilians on it, of Israel’s possession of hundreds of nuclear weapons that is spurring a nuclear arms race in the region and other things – criticism shared by many Israelis. That has nothing to do with undermining the existence of the State of Israel. If Israel’s existence is in danger, the government of Israel is responsible. The danger is a result of its policies.

Boycott of Ariel

More than once I have written in my columns that a society does not have to reach the depths of dictatorship and tyranny attained by Nazi Germany in order for a substantial part of the population, including academics and intellectuals, to collaborate with evil and injustice.

Israel is an excellent example. There is no Hitler here, no Gestapo and no Auschwitz. There is still space for freedom of expression, though it is contracting, and there is a multi-party regime. But for all that, the extent to which all sectors of the population collaborate with the Occupation and racism, from high school dropouts to holders of advanced degrees and professors, writers and artists is no less than that found in tyrannical regimes.

Twenty-five years ago Ariel College was founded in the Occupied Territories. Not long ago it was upgraded to a “university centre” under the sponsorship of the military administration that is the sovereign on the ground there. The college operates under the apartheid conditions that prevail in the Occupied Territories, that is to say, there are no Palestinian students there who are residents of the Occupied Territories. The college now has 11 thousand students and it receives generous governmental support. A large proportion of the research grants received by the staff come from departments of the government.

Even though the college is operating in an area where a military administration is effectively in force and where violations of human rights that contradict the basic rules of academic freedom occur on a routine basis, it has not been boycotted by any Israeli university within the Green Line. [2]

There are lecturers who divide their work between the college and one of the institutions of higher learning within the borders of the State of Israel. Of course, there are lecturers who oppose the Occupation who would never teach at Ariel College, but they are the minority that is not illustrative of the rule.

What happened with the college in Ariel is now being repeated in the milieu of the theatre. Ariel is an urban settlement that was established deep inside the Occupied Territories for the purpose of preventing any future Palestinian state from having territorial contiguity. The construction of a palace of culture that is to house theatre productions will soon be completed there.

It turns out that a small miracle occurred in the realm of the theatre. For the 43 years of the Occupation no major Israeli theatre companies performed in the Occupied Territories. Not so much for principled reasons as because there was just no suitable auditorium for theatre productions.

The directors of all the major theatre companies in Israel announced that their companies would perform in the Ariel palace of culture, even though it is in the Occupied Territories. A group of actors published a petition declaring that their consciences would not permit them to perform in the Occupied Territories. These are territories outside the borders of the State of Israel in which there is a military administration and where the Palestinians do not enjoy civil and political rights. Occupation and violation of human rights are contrary to the values of culture. As long as the Occupation continues there, they will refuse to entertain the occupiers.

One of the signatories, the playwright Anat Gov, declared that to demand that she cross the Green Line is akin to demanding that a religious person desecrate the Sabbath.

The actors who signed the petition showed civic courage, for they are jeopardizing their livelihoods. And indeed, a campaign of incitement against the signatories ensued. The minister of culture declared that she would reconsider government support for the theatre, and the Culture Committee of the Knesset, which has an automatic Right-wing majority, condemned the signatories, as did the prime minister. The Israeli Union of Performing Artists (Heb. Emi), published a racism-tinged announcement dissociating itself from the signatories and affirming that its members would perform wherever Jews lived. Somebody in Emi forgot that the organization also has Arab members. Strangely, the announcement contains a statement to the effect that art and culture are above politics, even though the announcement itself is an expression of a political position. It is hard to understand how the Israeli Union of Performing Artists does not see that performing in the Occupied Territories is a political act.

I read with dismay that the Israel Prize Laureate for Theatre, Orna Porat, is one of the supporters of the Emi declaration. That is inconsistent with what I know about her personality, her life experience also with memories from my youth, when Orna Porat, who was known as a supporter of Mapam, [3] visited my kibbutz – a Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz – more than once.

Eighty-six-year-old Orna Porat is a native of Germany (1924), and she was a member of the Hitler Youth. She studied theatre at the School of Drama in Cologne, and upon the end of the war she met a soldier from the Jewish Brigade, learned about the Holocaust, converted to Judaism and tied her fate to Israel. She knows very well the evil done by racism: after all, Jews were forbidden to study at the school where she studied, and performances were for Germans only.

The Ariel settlement is for Jews only. It is forbidden for Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories to live in it. The theatre performances in Ariel are intended for Jews who live in the settlements. Most local Palestinians, even if they speak Hebrew, are forbidden to enter the city except Palestinian construction workers who received work permits from the military administration. Hence the absurd situation in which Palestinians are building the palace of culture but are forbidden from participating in cultural events to be held there. I hate to think that Orna Porat is reverting to the bad old days of her youth.

This matter has also engendered encouraging manifestations. An impressive list of the best of Israel’s writers, poets, playwrights, screenplay-writers, translators, directors, musicians and artists have signed a petition in support of the actors who declared their refusal to perform in the Occupied Territories in general and Ariel in particular. The pockets of resistance to the Occupation are still alive and kicking.

On this somewhat optimistic note I would like to wish my readers a Happy New Year, [4] a year in which the Occupation will end and Israel will become a state that is democratic not only for Jews, but for all its citizens and residents.

Translated for Occupation Magazine by George Malent

Translator’s notes

1. Etzel: Irgun Tzva’i Le’umi - National Military Organization. Associated with the Revisionist branch of Zionism, which later evolved into the Israeli Herut Party and then the Likud. Lehi: Lohamei Herut Yisra’el - Fighters for the Freedom of Israel. Also known as the Stern Gang, after its founder, Avraham Stern. It was considered the most right-wing and extremist of the Zionist underground organizations. Haganah: literally “defence” – the largest, most important and most “mainstream” of the Zionist underground organizations. It was associated with the Labour Party of David Ben-Gurion.

2. The Green Line: the border between Israel and the territories it has occupied since 1967.

3. A left-wing Zionist party associated with the Hashomer Hatzair-Kibbutz Artzi kibbutz movement. It dissolved itself in 1997 and merged with the Meretz party.

4. The Jewish year 5771 began on 8 September 2010.

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