Wednesday, April 23

Jimmy Carter’s Visit to the Middle East

Source: Al-Bayan, UAE, April 20, 2008

The ex-President of the US, Jimmy Carter, should be judged by his deeds and achievements in making peace in the Middle East and not by his book “Palestine: Peace or Apartheid”. The agreement that he organized between Egypt and Israel was one of his greatest achievements. Memories here are short and we forget that Egypt was the main decision maker when it came to declaring war on Israel.

OK, so he wrote a book (Palestine: Peace not Apartheid) that was “not so nice” from Israel’s point of view. Israel has not kept its word on the agreements and understandings that it signed in the past. Israel's control over Palestinian lands and their confiscation, and especially the continued settlement activity, contravened all promises Israel made and signed with the Palestinians. Israel’s policies in the occupied territories resemble apartheid. There have also been human rights abuses in the occupied territories that gave impetus to the development of Hamas and other groups hostile to Israel’s existence. Carter’s book must be viewed within this context. In the eyes of the Israeli government, Israel is right and the Palestinians are not. Those who criticize Israel’s expansionist policies and behaviour are accused of anti-Semitism! Surely this is indicative of irrelevant Zionists becoming paranoiac whenever Israel is criticized. They seek anti-Semitism under every nook and cranny in order to resuscitate their dying and irrelevant ideology. If they do not find it, they create it!

After all, ex-President Carter had achieved far more for peace in the Middle East than all the presidents of the US. President Bush has done very little and far too late. His policies on Iraq were and still are a total disaster. Jimmy Carter has been snubbed and boycotted by PM Ehud Olmert and his government. He is not deserving of this treatment! All the roads to peace have failed. Surely a man of Jimmy Carter’s stature should be given carte blanche by Israel to try to mediate, even with Hamas. What is so dangerous about him talking to Khalid Mash’al, the Hamas leader in Damascus, Syria? Carter believes that the only way to make peace is to speak to one’s enemies even though their views are poles apart. Carter does view himself as a troubleshooter and he has adopted a different path that has never been tried.

Jimmy Carter’s intentions are genuine. It is questionable whether Israel’s intentions are as well. If their intentions are genuine then they would freeze settlements instead of making cosmetic changes which does not indicate any real change in their illegal settlement policies in the occupied lands.

The history of Israel’s establishment in 1948 from the Palestinian point of view is a total tragedy. Israel must recognize this and empathize with it in the same way that Israel expects the world never to forget the Holocaust and correctly so. Palestinians should not be expected to forget Al Naqba (the catastrophe, as they view Israel’s establishment) in the same context that Israelis would never forget the Holocaust. This is the basis of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. Everything else stems from this fact.

Jimmy Carter, whose energy and motivation to find a way to end the bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians, should have been encouraged and supported. Instead, the US and Israel condemned his efforts at troubleshooting and he was snubbed by the Israeli Government who refused to meet him. Israel does not have anything to lose and may have something to gain. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the US. However, it also has great support from the Palestinians which must be taken into account. Adopting a policy of divide and rule will never isolate Hamas. Negotiations for peace will only succeed if Hamas and Fatah reach an agreement. Gaza and the West Bank must be treated as a single entity for peace negotiations.

According to Maan News report 22nd April 2008, Hamas agrees to the establishment of a Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories which Israel occupied in 1967 if the Palestinian people accept this in a referendum. However, Hamas will not recognize Israel, Khalid Mash'al, chief of Hamas politburo, said on Monday, 21st April 2008.

"We accept a Palestinian state within the borders of June 4 1967 with Jerusalem as its capital, and with real sovereignty free of any Israeli settlements and including the right of return for Palestinian refugees in Diaspora, but without recognizing Israel," Mash'al told a press conference in Damascus.

However, if one were to examine the statements that came out of the Carter-Mash’al meeting one could sense a very small change of heart on the part of Mash’al. Perhaps it is a microscopic hint that there is a desire to reach an understanding with Israel even though at this point it does not necessarily mean recognition of Israel. That will come later when Israel agrees to Hamas’s conditions. It does appear one-sided but one must bear in mind that Israel is the occupier of Palestinian lands and its credibility is poor. Evidence of this is the constant enlargement of settlements in the territories as well as the building of new settlements and claiming that it is legal. Israel has also been building roads for the comfort of settlers while the Palestinians are not allowed to use these roads and are limited in their travel because of road blocks and humiliating army body searches.

According to an Haaretz Report, 23rd April 2008, Mash’al offers a 10 year truce for a Palestinian state beyond the pre-1967 borders. This, in effect, gives Israel implicit recognition by Hamas. Once Israel has received this recognition, it cannot be reversed. Perhaps here lies the key to an eventual solution to the conflict. It does seem rather remote at this stage.

Mesh’al's comments were one of the clearest statements Hamas has given for what it would do if Israel withdrew from the territories it captured in the 1967 Six Day War. He suggested Hamas would accept Israel's existence alongside a Palestinian state on the rest of the lands Israel has held since 1948. However, he did say that Hamas would not formally recognize Israel. However, if one were to examine his statement, informally he would recognize Israel. This in itself is significant. It is illustrating a certain direction that should be watched closely. "We agree to a [Palestinian] state on pre-67 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital with genuine sovereignty without settlements but without recognizing Israel," Meshaal said.

"We have offered a truce if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, a truce of 10 years as a proof of recognition," he said. He said he made the offer to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter during talks Friday and Saturday in the Syrian capital.

This development may not impress the Israeli government who will ignore it in the same way that it ignored Carter’s efforts. Nevertheless, apart from the statements, Mash’al should be judged by his deeds. According to Carter, Hamas is prepared to accept Israel’s right to exist in peace within the pre-1967 borders. Nothing was mentioned about Israel’s total destruction. Surely this does indicate that Hamas is beginning to climb down from the tree of non-recognition of Israel even though its efforts are very tentative and uncertain at this stage. There is also a vague hint at supporting a two-state solution if this is the will of the Palestinian people by referendum.

Naturally there is still a long way to go and it does seem that attempts are being made by Hamas to gain credibility. It is now up to the Arab world to encourage this. The Palestinian people are in a crisis and a period of calm does serve their interests in helping to solve this conflict.

Another interesting development, according to Carter, is Syria’s attitude towards Israel which is showing signs of change.

According to the International Herald Tribune 22nd April 2008, Jimmy Carter said that he had obtained a significant concession from the Palestinian group Hamas regarding Israeli-Palestinian peace and had found the Syrian leadership eager for a full peace treaty with Israel.

Carter, who spoke in Jerusalem after several days of talks in the Syrian capital, Damascus, said he had extracted from Hamas a promise to respect the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip if it were ratified by a referendum of the Palestinian people.

He said further that Syria believed "about 85 percent" of the issues between it and Israel had been resolved in prior negotiations and it wanted a peace deal "as soon as possible."

It is unfortunate that Israel is not enthusiastic about these developments which somehow prove that its interests in finding a way to a true peace and a just solution to the conflict are not as genuine.

However, if Israel carries on the policies of collective punishment by closing off Gaza and the West Bank making it impossible for the Palestinian people to carry on with their normal lives, the hate and extremism against Israel will only intensify and this would result in further bloodshed and violence.

Sunday, April 6

Pesach (Passover) – the Festival of “Freedom”

The season of Pesach (Passover) is round the corner. It is a time for reflection for many people, though by no means all. It is a festival filled with ritual and the usual arguments of “Kosher for Pesach” and the fines for selling “non-Kosher for Pesach” or chametz foods in public places has yet to begin. This festival is the commemoration of the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage.Today it has lost its relevance for many of us.

It is a time when rabbis of all shapes and sizes come out with halakhic rules as to what is “Kosher for Pesach” and what is not. The list is becoming more and more exotic and at the same time more   Those people who live in Israel and do not have deep roots here feel more and more estranged and isolated. This applies to many people who were not born here and have no family. It is a time of depression as many of us do not have any identification for this festival at all. Homes are turned inside out – an added stress searching for leaven (chametz). There is the pressure and stress that culminates in the grand climax of the Seder night when the Haggadah is read relating the story of the Israelites’ bondage in Egypt and their liberation from the Egyptian oppression.

The preparation for this festival is onerous and the family pressures where to spend Seder night is stressful. Those who have nowhere to go are under the most stress. There are families who invite people who have no relatives in Israel to spend Seder night with them. This is considered a mitzvah or good deed that is looked on favorably by God. 

Housewives, who barely exercise, get a spurt of energy to clean every nook and cranny in their homes. This involves climbing ladders and almost acrobatic movements to reach hard-to-get places in the home. Household accidents result as rather overweight housewives miss a step and tumble down from the top of the ladder inevitably landing up in the casualty department of the hospital closest to home with broken limbs. This Pesach-cleansing ritual is a seasonal obsession.

The relevance of Pesach as a festival of freedom is lost for many reasons. It is a festival that conjures up obsessions for the “Kosher for Pesach” foods that result in the annual hair-splitting arguments between the secular and religious. The losers are inevitably the secular who have to kowtow to the whims of the religious who have the law on their side. What is free about that? Religious coercion reaches a climax during the Pesach week.

Another aspect and one that very few people give a thought is the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. Their limited freedom is even further curtailed. Road-blocks, closures and checkpoints are stricter. The reason is always security. However, the difficulties that innocent Palestinians have to endure are further increased by this “Festival of Freedom”. The Israeli soldiers who are on duty in the occupied territories are even more abusive and insensitive to Palestinians to ensure that the “Festival of Freedom” is not “interrupted” by Palestinians.

It is difficult and even hypocritical to celebrate a festival of freedom while denying another people basic human rights. The settlers in the occupied territories show their presence during this “Festival of Freedom” when they trespass on Palestinian lands. At the same time the Israeli government is still expanding settlements on Palestinian land. Racist rabbis continue their anti-Arab diatribes and this does have much influence for the celebration of Pesach.

Several rabbis have used the excuse of "security" in the wake of the Mercaz HaRav shooting to issue racist halakhic (religious) rulings against Arabs. Haaretz reports Rabbi Dov Lior, chairman of the rabbinical council for settlers in "Judea and Samaria" (the West Bank), decreed "It is completely forbidden to employ [Arabs] and rent houses to them in Israel. Their employment is forbidden, not only at yeshivas, but at factories, hotels and everywhere."

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, considered a world-wide Orthodox authority on Jewish law, held "that it is completely forbidden to hire Arabs, especially in yeshivas; there is a concern for endangering lives." Indicating that security might not be the only motivation for this ruling, Kanievsky added that Jews should refrain from hiring any non-Jews, "unless there exists a huge disparity between the costs of the labor," in which case non-Jews could be hired.

While these are recent examples, Mossawa, an Arab civil rights advocacy group in Israel, documented dozens of instances of racist declarations by public figures and thousands of examples of incitement on the Internet in 2007 alone. From
The Jerusalem Fund Information Brief
This article continues. In its 2007 Israeli Democracy Index, the Israel Democracy Institute found that 87 percent of all Israeli citizens rated Jewish-Arab relations in the country as being "poor" or "very poor."28

In addition:
· 78 percent of Israeli Jews opposed having Arab parties or ministers join Israel's government.29
· Just 56 percent of Israeli Jews support full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel and an identical number agreed that "Arabs cannot attain the Jews' level of cultural development."30
· 75 percent of Israeli Jews agreed with the statement that "Arabs are inclined to violent behavior" (as compared with 54 percent of Palestinian citizens of Israel who had an equivalent view of Israeli Jews).31
· 43 percent of Israeli Jews agreed that "Arabs are not intelligent" and 55 percent agreed that "the government should encourage Arab emigration from the country."32
A recent Haifa University survey found that half of Israeli Jews object to Arabs living in their neighborhoods (56 percent of Arabs supported residential integration with Jews).33 Similarly, ACRI reported that 75 percent of Israeli Jews surveyed said they would not agree to live in the same building as Arabs. The same survey found that more than half of Israeli Jews felt that Arabs and Jews should have separate recreational facilities.34
There are two consistent trends among all these surveys: both Palestinian citizens of Israel and Israeli Jews hold some prejudices towards each other, but on almost every measure, Israeli Jewish views of Arabs are more negative and extreme than Arab views of Jews; second, the negative trends have risen markedly in recent years as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has intensified. Between 2005 and 2006, there was a 26 percent rise in racist incidents targeting Arabs, and the number of Israeli Jews reporting they felt "hatred" towards Arabs doubled to 30 %. 5
While many right wing rabbis remain at the helm of decision making in this country, those citizens, who are liberal and tolerant, find it more difficult to view Pesach as the “Festival of Freedom”.