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Red Rag: Passover role-reversal; Ron Pundak, RIP; Mordechai Vanunu
By: Gideon Spiro
16 April 2014 (English translation 27 April)


The Haggadah is a story of passage from slavery to freedom. The people who went out to freedom so many thousand years ago are not our people. The people in the Haggadah are a freedom-loving people, and all they wanted was to leave slavery in Egypt to freedom. The people that have been reading the Haggadah for the past 47 years are another people, who have exchanged roles with ancient Egypt. In its relations with the Palestinians today Israel plays the role of Pharaoh and the Palestinians are the Children of Israel. With slight changes the Haggadah today could be a document that tells the story of subjugation to Pharaonic Israel. Slaves we were to Israel in Palestine and everyone who discusses the struggle against the Occupation is praiseworthy. And the Israelis made us suffer and put hard work on us … and they set taskmasters over us to make them suffer with their burdens, and they built storage cities for Israel, Ariel and Maale Adumim. And Israel made the Children of Palestine work with rigour.

Israel is enslaved to enslavement, and to the people groaning under the yoke of Occupation, humiliation, killing and destruction, the Haggadah suggests very violent methods of struggle: blood and fire and pillars of smoke, and then the 10 plagues including biological warfare, plague, lice, locusts and the cruelest blow of all – the slaying of the first-born, mass murder of all the first-born children of Egypt. The Haggadah supports carrying out judgements against the occupier and the oppressor. The Palestinian struggle against the Israeli Pharaoh is very restrained in comparison to what the Haggadah suggests.

It is not only the Palestinians who are living under the Pharaonic fist of Israel; asylum-seekers and refugees from devastation and war in Africa naively thought that the a state of refugees like Israel would accept them, in keeping with the Jewish principle of redemption of captives, as a people of brothers. But they too have come up against an Israel that is indifferent to their suffering and treats them with an iron Pharaonic fist, harder than if they were criminals: it imprisons them in detention camps, bars them from working and thus imposes on them unemployment and malnutrition in order almost to the point of hunger (which is prevented only because of decent Israelis who provide them with one meal a day), and worst of all, acts like a slave trader and expels them to Uganda into conditions that endanger their lives. In return Uganda receives some kind of aid, the details of which we do not know because in is partly secret and probably includes weapons and military training, at which Pharaonic Israel excels.

It is not freedom that Israel celebrates, but its enslavement to enslaving others.

The myth of the nation-state

Government of Israel demands that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish People. That is a precondition for any future agreement. The Palestinian Authority refuses because it contradicts the Right of Return of the refugees, regardless of its actual implementation, on which there will be separate negotiations. The Palestinian refusal is resolute and absolute even if causes the breakdown of the talks. Without getting into the wisdom of the Israeli demand and the Palestinian refusal, the issue itself should be cleared up: is there really any substance to that pretension that the State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish People? Fifty percent (at least) of the Jewish People live outside Israel as citizens of other states, and they do not want to be citizens of Israel. Along comes the State of Israel and imposes on them a nation-state and inflames those who would cast aspersions on the loyalty of Diaspora Jews to their countries. Add to that the fact that over 20% of Israeli citizens are not Jews, which makes Israel effectively a binational state, even if there are Jews who cannot digest that and try to convince themselves by passing all kinds of apartheid laws. That, of course, will not help in the long run. The State of Israel will not be “Jewish and democratic” even if they duplicate a million times the Basic Law that declares it to be such. The State of Israel will be either Jewish, which means a regime of discrimination and exclusion of non-Jews, or it will be a democratic state.

So what is it? Israel is a state with a Jewish majority, which is expressed in language, culture and official holidays, and those mostly will not change even if the Jews eventually become a minority – on condition that the State is democratic. Not a hair on their head will be touched. But if the transition to a new majority takes place in an undemocratic state, there will be some who say: now you will learn how we felt when you ruled over us.

A fighter for peace who missed peace

Dr. Ron Pundak, a distinguished fighter for peace, who was in the first team that concocted the Oslo Accord, has died. I assume that the intentions of the drafters of the Accord were good, that is to say, to bring about the end of the conflict; but in practice the Rabin government did nearly all it could to evade and sometimes even to sabotage a comprehensive and fundamental accord that would address the core issues. The Palestinians, who hoped that the agreement would be the beginning of the end of the Occupation, saw their hopes fade very quickly. The Rabin government continued to build in the settlements, build bypass roads to the settlements so that the settlers would not have to see Arabs along the way, the Shimshon and Duvdevan units continued to execute Palestinians extra-judicially, and Rabin continued to declare that he was against a Palestinian state. And Peres, one of the fathers of the crime that is the settlements, babbled at length about peace but whenever there was a chance of arriving at a peace agreement he changed colours like a chameleon and withdrew from any substantial process. Today he travels all over the world and serves as a public-relations officer for Netanyahu.

On 30 January 1995 the newspaper Davar published my article under the headline “The flaw in the Oslo Accord. Among other things, I wrote: “The Oslo Accord is a flawed accord, and its flaw is precisely what its creators saw as its genius: bypassing the hardest and most urgent issues – the settlements and Jerusalem …. It’s amazing how wise and intelligent people like those who conducted the negotiations could have thought that it would be possible to conduct a peace process while setting aside the worst open wounds of the Occupation: the settlements.”

And going on: “the present track, in which the Rabin government is succeeding with remarkable skill at making the people see peace as a burden, will put the Right in power. It is likely that in the near future we will face an aggravated conflict with the Palestinians and heightened cruelty even to the point of using means of ethnic cleansing.” And that is indeed what happened. I am not a prophet who sees the future, but a logical analysis can anticipate events, sometimes successfully and sometimes without success. I quote from my article because I keep my writings, but there were others who also anticipated the collapse of the Rabin government.

And indeed, it was hard to miss it, when a weak-willed government like the Rabin government not only did not evacuate the invading settlers from Hebron after the Goldstein massacre, and the attorney general did not prosecute the rabbis who issued a Din Rodef against Rabin, which was in effect a call for his assassination, but Rabin himself imposed a curfew on the victims and the Occupation army continued added several dozen victims from among the protesting Palestinian population. None of that saved Rabin from the wrath of the settlers and their rabbis, and he ended up being murdered for no crime he committed against the settlers. They ascribed to him positions that were not his at all – as Eitan Haber, who was the director of his office, will attest.

A more serious and less impetuous look leads to the conclusion that all Rabin and Peres wanted was to domesticate Arafat to become a puppet in the service of Israel and the US, like the Lebanese Major Saad Haddad or General Antoine Lahd, who will rein in their people, take care of garbage-disposal settle for symbolic trappings such as honour-guards at airports. The Sharon and Netanyahu governments have succeeded in achieving that so far with Abu Mazen. Arafat understood his role differently.

The Oslo Accord brought not peace but disaster. The settlers took over many loci of control, they domesticated the courts, the army, people in government and the Knesset in key positions, the budgets for expanding the settlements well like a growing waterfall, the Occupation and the apartheid regime are alive and well and kicking hard. The world sometimes protests with a feeble voice but keeps aiding Israel with money and weapons and trade relations. A Garden of Eden, as our Foreign Minister Lieberman put it, who assures us that a Russian-speaker will soon sit on the Prime Minister’s chair. Guess who he has in mind.

The picture that has been drawn here was not concealed from eyes of Ron Pundak. That creative and intellectually fruitful man saw how his accomplishments were fading. He had seriously intended to contribute to a peace treaty with the Palestinians. He was a thoroughbred who wanted to lunge forward, but the groom Peres grabbed the halter and stopped him. Pundak thought he could exercise influence from within. That is a logical ideal, which sometimes works and sometimes does not. The tragedy of Pundak, even if he had a few isolated successes, was that the cumulative whole showed that it did not work, and that is also the tragedy of all of us.

In all the years he sheltered under Peres’ umbrella, he expressed no support for the military refusers of Yesh Gvul. Maybe in his heart he felt solidarity with the Occupation refusers, but to say that to Peres, the apple of whose eye is the army, would end the relationship. As soon as he left the management of the Peres Centre for Peace he felt more free, and a few months ago he received the Liebowitz Prize, which is awarded by the Yesh Gvul movement. There are two possible explanations for his agreeing to accept the prize, in whose name it is conferred he knew, after all: either he was on our side all along and came out of the closet, or he did a self-critique and came to the conclusion that refusal to take part in the crimes of the Occupation and apartheid is legitimate.

Two further observations: Gideon Levy wrote an article in praise of Pundak, as should be done (Haaretz 13 April 2014), but the article included two sentences that are the drop of tar that spoils the barrel of honey. They did no favours to the author or to Pundak. Levy writes: “Pundak was a Zionist who loved Israel and did not love Arabs”. Hardly a day passes without someone flinging at me the question: “Why do you love Arabs and hate Jews?”
There was a time when I tried to explain that I do not love or hate nations. I love my children, my partner and my friends, including Jews, Arabs, Germans, Britons, Kenyans and other people from different countries that I lack space to name them all here. But mainly I love human rights, to which all human beings are entitled, without regard for my degree of closeness to them, and hate their violation and those who enact the violation of those rights. When I realized that it was pointless and the question was asked again and again I changed my answer and just said that love is impossible to explain and I would close the matter with that. In the Israeli reality, when a person who is known for his dovish, liberal, or leftist views is said to have loved Israel, that he was a Zionist and did not love Arabs, that sounds like an attempt to appease the Right, as if to say, “even in the Left not everybody loves Arabs”, in short: it smells bad, and it won’t help either, because in the eyes of the Right he will always remain an “Oslo criminal”.

The second sentence that left a bad taste: “Pundak came to peace from a very patriotic place. It was not the injustice done to the Palestinians that fired him up, but the future of the State.” That is like saying that if someone could prove to him that the Occupation did not harm Israel he would have been OK with it. To me that is an injustice to the man. All who heard or read his words at the Liebowitz Prize ceremony saw a humanist who had struggled against the Occupation because of the injustices it caused to our neighbours as well, and it could not be otherwise.

May his memory be blessed.

28 Years

On 21 April 2014, the nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu and with him his friends and supporters in Israel and the world will mark 10 years since he was freed from the Ashkelon prison. From the moment he left the prison restrictions were imposed on him, the main ones of which were a ban on leaving Israel, entering the Occupied Territories [1], talking with journalists and tourists and approaching diplomatic missions. Those restrictions, which are renewed every year, have converted Israel into one big prison for Vanunu, and he is a Prisoner of Zion whose freedom must be fought for like that of the Prisoners of Zion in the Soviet Union. There is no justification for the restrictions except the revenge of the ISA and the Defence Ministry Security Department, which cannot accept that Mordechai Vanunu, after imprisonment of 18 years, including 12 in solitary confinement, has expressed no regret and is at peace with what he did. Long ago the time came to let him go. He has no secrets. All he knew he told to the Sunday Times of London, and he has no additional information, because for 28 years he has not been in the reactor at Dimona. Eighteen years of prison plus 10 years of restrictions, 28 years in total. That is more than enough. Free the Prisoner of Zion Mordechai Vanunu. Let my people go!

And here’s news from the Israeli Kingdom of Racism

• Supreme Court Judge Dafna Barak Erez continues to sink into depravity and wrote a ruling that supports the army’s ban on a marathon runner from Gaza who wanted to participate in the Bethlehem Marathon. What security danger is posed by the marathon runner? None. But the ban is one of the evils of the Occupation which declares: I’m the boss here. Clearly the Israel Security Agency knew what it was doing when it approved the judge’s appointment, nearly certainly after she made it clear that democracy is for academic papers only and in everything related to the realm of the army and the covert services she would cooperate and not break the united front of Supreme Court judges that meticulously follows the directives of the ISA. This is what Supreme Court justice towards the Palestinians looks like.

• The appeal of human-rights organizations to compare the sentences against minor and adult Palestinians from the Occupied Territories to those against settlers, who live in the same territory, was rejected by the High Court of Justice. Judge Edna Arbel wrote the ruling, saying that the discrimination the Palestinians suffer from is “measured and reasonable”. That is an international innovation which, if is adopted by courts worldwide, will lead to us seeing people acquitted of racism because their antisemitism was measured and reasonable.

• Rabbi David Lau, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, said in an interview with Haaretz for its Passover Eve issue (14 April) that the number of people eligible to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return should be reduced because “the state of Israel has to decide if it wants to be a welfare state for the Third World”. [2]

• Judges of the Nazareth District Court (Avraham Arbel, Binyamin Arbel, Esther Hellman) convicted former MK Said Nafaa of going to an enemy state and contact with a foreign agent when he visited Syria with a delegation of Druze clergy who wanted to visit holy places and meet with relatives. That is a harsh ruling with an admixture of racism. Jewish journalists who are citizens of Israel have visited enemy states more than once, for example Ron Ben-Yishai, a journalist who served serves the military establishment, who visited Syria and Lebanon, and met with many foreign agents according to the law, but was not put on trial. That is one example of many.

Translator’s notes

1. Except East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, which Israel considers to be part of its territory.

2. Under the Law of Return, a person does not have to be Jewish to be entitled to `return` to Israel and become an Israeli citizen. A person is eligible under the Law of Return if they are married to a Jew or have one Jewish grandparent, or even if they are married to the grandchild of a Jew. The fact that large numbers of non-Jews worldwide meet these criteria is of concern to Rabbi Lau, who gave the example of `a grandfather who isn’t even buried here, he’s buried in Russbach, Germany, but because of one grandfather, 78 [relatives] of his wife, grandchildren, everyone gets absorption benefits and all the rights.`

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent
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