Sunday, December 25

Is there an Alternative to the Israeli Occupation?

All of us are aware of the continuing occupation eroding human values. The late Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz has emphasized this constantly since the Six Day War of June 1967. Much of the brutality of the Israeli Border Police in its treatment of the Palestinian population is swept under the carpet by the various governmental ministries. Haaretz, in an editorial (23 December 2005), mentions the apathy of the public towards brutality of the worst kind towards innocent Palestinians going about their business and not involved in terrorism.

There is a certain amount of demonization of the Palestinians by Israel. Haaretz journalist, Gideon Levy has written about the cruel treatment of Mahmoud Shawara, a Palestinian labourer who was brutally murdered. Of course, there are the horrific and cruel suicide bombings against innocent Israelis, which has been the result of the violence against Israel over the last six years of intifada. Nobody in his right mind can find any justification for Palestinian terror, which has killed so many innocent people. However, we must differentiate between this and the brutality of the Israeli Border Police and not justify the use of this kind of torture because of Palestinian terrorism. The victims of Israeli Border Police brutality are usually innocent Palestinians. In many cases, there is a fear of reporting these abuses to the right authorities. Many individual perpetrators go unpunished as a result.

Hebron is another town that has become the focus of attention where zealous Jewish settlers have evicted the Palestinian population. The Israeli Authorities have not done anything about it. They had established a number of settlements such as Avraham Avinu, Bet Hadassah, Tel Rumeida, and Bet Romano. The Jewish populations in these areas total about 530. In Kiryat Arba there are about 6000 Jews.

The friction between Jews and Arabs in the areas around Hebron is great. There have been reports of zealous Jewish settlers in these areas being responsible for brutalizing the Palestinian population. There have been abuses of human rights in the occupied territories.

However, in order to add a certain amount of balance to the tragic situation between Palestinians and Jews, there must be dual recognition of both sides to recognize each other’s rights to exist. Hebron is a hotbed of right-wing religious Jewish zealotry and hates for the Arabs. There has been the destruction of Palestinian property by these settlers and this has contributed much to the escalation of hate between the two communities.

On the Palestinian side, the rhetoric of uncompromising hate for Israel continues. Mahmoud Abbas has made it clear that the firing of Qassam rockets on the outskirts of Ashkelon, as he put it, has become Israel’s problem. By making these statements, he denies responsibility and eventually, he will bear the consequences. Time is not on the side of the Palestinian Authority but on the side of the Palestinian extremists such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The former will be participating in the Palestinian elections on 25 January. This means further uncompromising positions by the Palestinians towards Israel and the possibility of continued Qassam attacks on the southern border between Israel and Gaza.

The results of all this will be increased roadblocks and Israeli security checks on Palestinian workers who wish to cross into Israel in order to seek a livelihood. This will create further humiliation for them by the Israeli Security Forces even if they have the required permits for entry into Israel.

What is the position of the Israeli left of centre peace groups? On the one hand, the left supporters of peace will continue to condemn the brutality of the Israeli Border Police towards innocent Palestinians, while on the other hand, the Palestinian suicide bombers will continue to attack Israelis. There is no doubt that the left-wingers are in total disarray because of Palestinian terrorist tactics. Now, there is no viable partner for peace negotiations on the Palestinian side. The Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas is in total disarray amongst themselves. Even the Palestinian Security Force (or is it a farce?) do not communicate with the various levels amongst themselves. The left in Israel has become disillusioned with the situation.

Even if Israel decides to withdraw from all the occupied territories unilaterally, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not be solved, as extremists in the Palestinian camp would view this as a victory. It could also create a situation of further outbreaks of hostilities in the form of terrorist incursions and further firing of Qassam rockets into Israeli towns.

Wednesday, December 21

The Controversial Status of Jerusalem

The status of Jerusalem has been and will remain a subject of debate for a long time. The moment that one talks about dividing Jerusalem, there is an outcry from many Israelis and Diaspora Jewry. The slogan of a “united Jerusalem for all generations” has been a plank in electioneering propaganda of all Zionist political parties from left to right. There is no reason to believe that this will change even in the upcoming election propaganda strategy.

Since Israel occupied Jerusalem after June 1967, the attitude towards relinquishing occupied Jerusalem has become more and more uncompromising. Now after thirty-eight years since the Six Day War, it is appropriate to ask if this attitude is still unquestionable or non-negotiable.

The time has come to debate this subject more openly and objectively. There are environmental facts on the ground in
East Jerusalem, which is more Arabic than Jewish. If one were to examine the area where the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa are situated, it is obvious that Israel (in theory at least) should not have jurisdiction. These Moslem Holy Places could never be part of “United Jerusalem” under Israeli jurisdiction eternally.

Jerusalem – the eternal capital of the Jewish People has become an axiom that has not been open for discussion for many years. Now there seems to be some
cracks in that axiom as far as Eastern Jerusalem is concerned. What is controversial is non-Jewish Jerusalem, which includes the Christian and Moslem Holy Places.

However, facts on the ground make discussion of Jerusalem’s future status as being the capital of two states – Israel and the future Palestine, an almost a non-starter for a number of reasons:

  1. The Palestinian leadership at present is unable to contain Palestinian terror within their midst.

  2. Israel has no partner on the Palestinian side with whom to negotiate a final status settlement on Jerusalem let alone a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace and security. This is dependent on the Palestinian Authority’s ability to rein in the terror.

  3. The presence of uncompromising Palestinian groups who are adamant in their determination never to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

If by some very remote chance, there is unilateral withdrawal from predominantly Arab populated East Jerusalem, there would be total chaos and it would be easier for Palestinian terrorist groups to carry out terror attacks against the Israeli population. A hint of the Palestinian “desire” for peace is occurring since the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Southern Ashkelon is now within the line of Qassam fire from Hamas and company. An Israeli Army base has already been a target of Qassam rocket fire. It seems as if the Palestinian terrorist groups are out to target the electrical installation pylons south of Ashkelon. This could create tremendous damage to Israel’s electric power supply. It would not be surprising if Iran finances these terror attacks. A unilateral withdrawal from Jerusalem with its complex demography and potential for terrorism makes the situation far more complex and dangerous.

The future of any negotiations on Jerusalem’s final status is dependent on the Palestinian’s desire to cease terror and recognize Israel’s right to exist. If these basic ingredients are absent, the idea of the division of Jerusalem between Palestinian East Jerusalem and Israeli West Jerusalem will never be negotiable let alone attainable.

Wednesday, December 7

The Netanya Blast and its Aftermath

The suicide bomber struck again killing five people and injuring scores of passers-by. Unfortunately, for us living in Israel this has become part of our lives. We all live in uncertainty as to when and where the suicide bomber will strike again. We all know that this will not be the last time. My daughter, Ilanit, was in the Netanya Shopping Mall at the time of the blast and escaped injury by shear luck. She managed to phone my wife when it occurred to reassure her that that she was safe but horribly shaken and tearful. The mobile phone network crashed soon afterwards. I was in a state of uncertainty not knowing whether she was injured or not.

I witnessed the arrival of ambulances conveying the injured one after the other to Laniado Hospital. There were many family members of the injured in a state of anxiety and some were hysterical and panicking. The scenario was horrendous!

Once again, the ball is in the court of the Palestinian Authority.
Mahmoud Abbas condemned the bombing because “it does not serve Palestinian interests”. There has been no message of condolences from the Palestinian leadership towards those who lost their lives. It does not take much effort to realize that if the bombing were to serve Palestinian interests then the leadership would not condemn it. This means that violence and bloodshed is an integral part of the Palestinian leadership psyche. Mahmoud Abbas has made the “correct cosmetic noises” in a weak attempt to sell out a sop to Israel that he will do all in his power to arrest those responsible. We are all aware that he will do nothing, as is his wont after every terrorist attack. At the same time, they shiver in their boots at the thought of Israeli retaliation. They made a crying appeal to the world to pressurize Israel not to retaliate. It is logical that the only way to fight terror on the Palestinian side is by disarming and arresting the members of Islamic Jihad and their ilk. Mahmoud Abbas will not do that. He said that if he were to take action against these terror groups there would be civil war, which he wants to avoid. This means that he is a weak leader and ineffectual! He has once again proved his inability to be a true partner for peace negotiations and help to end the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

There is another very serious problem amongst the Moslem clergy. They have not been forthright enough in their condemnation of suicide bombings. Imams of high standing have not issued a fatwa against suicide bombings that is convincing. Does this mean that
Islam condones violence of this nature? I hope that that is not the case! Where are the forthright condemnations coming from Moslem religious leaders? All we seem to hear is rabble-rousing anti-Jewish and anti-Western rhetoric. There is also Al-Qaeda and Iranian provocations to jihad and wiping Israel off the face of the earth.

Israel and Palestine are on the threshold of elections. The suicide bombings will cause many Israelis to vote for a right wing government. This will cause the Israeli side to become less compromising towards the Palestinians in future negotiations. While there was relative calm, the focus was more on social issues such as poverty, economics, health issues and education. Security was becoming less of an issue for the elections. Amir Peretz, the newly elected Labour leader was showing signs of making electoral gains according to the polls. Now, after the suicide bombing in Netanya, the electorate will be returning to security mode rather than seeing the situation in a broader aspect.

People view
Amir Peretz as a potential prime ministerial candidate without any security experience and this could harm his chances of an electoral victory. How many serving prime ministers in democracies have any experience in the military? There are not very many. However, all prime ministers do have their capable military advisors when making defense and security policy decisions. Decent and good government cannot be measured by military capability alone.

When one decides on which party to support, many different factors should be considered before making one’s final decision. The Likud and its offshoot, Kadima, under PM Ariel Sharon have failed the test on clean government. Many have left the Likud for Kadima tainted with criminal charges.
A case in point is the latest addition to Kadima, Tzachi Hanegbi. He is awaiting criminal charges for illegal appointments to the Ministry of Environment when he was Minister of Environment. Even Ariel Sharon’s son, Omri, is about to lose his immunity as a member of the Knesset in order to face charges of illegal financing his father’s electoral campaign in 1999. He should resign until his name is cleared assuming that he is found not guilty.

When an election is run over security issues alone, there is bound to be dissatisfaction afterwards. This does not guarantee good government on other issues already mentioned. Since the intifada years, there has been much neglect. Any future government must address the increases in violence amongst the youth coupled with poverty. The Likud coalition has neglected these issues. Bibi Netanyahu, the finance minister at the time, had introduced draconian salary and pension cuts resulting in increased poverty. Remember that Ariel Sharon was a partner to these cuts as well! Kadima under Ariel Sharon have paid lip service to these issues but it is doubtful if they will address these issues after the elections assuming that his party wins the elections.

It would be very short sighted indeed, if the electorate returns the same leaders into power. They have not proved themselves except in one sphere – corruption - that is rife amongst the members of the ruling government. We deserve better than that! After all, the old motto – new brooms sweep clean – is applicable in the up coming election campaign. We have nothing to lose.