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Thieves in the Night



“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night;” Peter iii, King James Bible
“We shake off the old life which has grown rancid on us, and start from the beginning. We don’t want to change and we don’t want to improve, we want to begin from the beginning.” A. D. Gordon, Galilean pioneer.

These two epigraphs set forth the novel “Thieves in the Night,” by Arthur Koestler. He was a renowned Hungarian-British author, most literary regarded for his novel “Darkness at Noon.” He led an adventure-full life, and in 1926 immigrated briefly to then Palestine. For a short period of time he lived in kibbutz Hefzibah, the same kibbutz where I was born 20 years later, the year he also had published this work. As it happened, his application to join the kibbutz was rejected by its members, reason unknown, and that kibbutz is mentioned – sarcastically, I think – a number of times in this novel. The book, which I just read, is dedicated to Vladimir Jabotinsky (he was his secretary for a while), and describes the settlement of a new kibbutz in 1937, and the whole settlement endeavor of the Hebrew people coming to the land of their ancestors from Europe between 1937-39, as well as the struggle against the British rule and the local Arab population.

Here’s a short description from book: “The new settlers found themselves in the center of a landscape of gentle desolation, a barrenness mellowed by age. The rocks had settled down for eternity; the sparse scrubs and olive trees exhaled a silent and contented resignation. A few vultures sailed round the hill-top; the curves they described seemed to paraphrase the smooth curvature of the hills.”

What follows is not a review of the book – though I enjoyed reading it and warmly recommend it to all who are interested in the Zionist endeavor of old – but an introduction to a complicated, conflicted, and most demanding question regarding the settlement of the land back then, and since then. I’m going to challenge myself, and I hope that you’ll join me for the ride, on this treacherous, steep road.

Here it is in a nutshell: What is the difference between the settlement of kibbutzim and moshavim (cooperative agricultural communities) prior to the 1948 war of independence and the 1967 war, and the settlement of outposts, villages and towns in the West Bank – i.e. Judah and Samaria – which followed these wars? Reading this book, where the description of capturing the land – עלייה על הקרקע – is so vivid, including the buying of the lands from the local Arabs, and the fight against them, including their point-of-view of the Hebrew settlers, strike me as so similar to the experience, the endeavor of the current settlers’ movement. Except back then the chalutzim (pioneers) were mostly communists, socialists and idealists, and now they are mostly religious zealots. But if one of them would to ask me, an imaginary settler let’s say, what is the difference, really? What shall I answer? Me – who opposed so much, still do, of what they’ve been doing, and where they’ve been leading Israel since that war of 67, which I fought as a soldier.

First, I would say, back then – again, as described so vividly in this book – the Jewish immigrants, the Olim, were refugees fleeing Europe before the storm of the Second World-War, and later after the Holocaust (like my parents), coming to their ancestors’ land to fulfill the dream, and the ideal, of creating a safe, secure home for the Jewish people. Since they had no such country and home. In contrast, the settlement endeavor that has followed the 67 war, and continuing to this day, is conducted while the Hebrew and Jewish State, i.e. Israel, is already in existence; it is a state amongst the nations. The dream has become a reality. Furthermore, following that 67 war, which was an unequal military victory, the people and their army have proved their strength, securing the country’s prominence, and permanence, in this hostile region.

Second, the settlement movement before the 48 war of independence and the 67 war, was largely legal. Indeed, as describe in details in the above mentioned book. The lands were bought from the local Arab population, who participated silently – most of them, anyway – in this endeavor. The settlers then settled and built their settlements largely on legal basis. The British objected to the flood of Jewish immigrants, and tried to stop it, but though they ruled the land – it was not their land, and they eventually were forced to leave. Following the 67 war, and according to international law, all the settlements in the West bank (and in the Gaza Strip, prior to the evacuation) were/are illegal. Period. The West bank is defined as an occupied land, and Israel as its military occupier. Even more so, the various Israeli governments, following the 67 war, and in accordance with the opinion of their legal experts, have realized that, and therefore designated all the places where settlements were being build – with or without permission of the government – as military outposts. A legal trick that, at least internationally, doesn’t hold any water.

Third, a lot of atrocities – as describe so well in another, newest book about the same topic, the internationally acclaimed nonfiction work by Ari Sahvit, ‘My Promised Land’ – were committed against the Arab population in Palestine prior and during the 48 war of independence. A lot of injustice was done, some inevitably as result of the war, some on purpose. Hence the Palestinian refugees’ problem – not so unlike the Jewish refugees, back then – and their aspirations for a country of their own. Nothing can undo the wrongs of the past; but justice can remedy the situation by creating a Palestinian state. This state can only be created in the West bank, including the Gaza Strip. You cannot achieve that goal if you continue, so I tell that imaginary settler, to settle their land. Even more so, the Zionist endeavor and movement of creating a safe, secure home for the Jewish people, can only be fully achieved and fulfilled, and be internationally justified, by creating, side by side, a Palestinian state.

The settlers since the Six-Day War of 67, and those of today, are also like “Thieves in the Night.” Only now they have a state, a government, and an army behind them. And they endanger, with their endeavor and behavior towards the Palestinians, the whole Zionist dream of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state. Enough is enough – land wise, and otherwise. Living by the sword for eternity is no solution, and ensures and secures no future. We have a state already. It is small – but it is ours. That is the difference. That is the answer.

* Published originally on “The Times of Israel.”
** The “Leave a comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

To Kill a Messenger



No, this is not another critique of Harper Lee’s new/old book “Go Set a Watchman,” and its relation to her classic novel “To kill a Mockingbird.” Though, in a twisted sort of way, there is a connection. So much so for convicting the wrong man. It is more of a rebuttal, albeit a limited one, of another book – “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide,” by Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to America – and the trend it represents. In other words, and according to the many reviews of the book (full disclosure: I had not read it, nor do I intend to), it criticizes, among other things, America, President Obama, and Jewish Americans – talking about throwing a stone into the well you had drunk from – who dare to criticize Israel’s actions and political leaders, and seemed to be calling on us all, from J Street to the New Israel Fund, and other local organizations fighting for peace and understanding; from the op-ed pages of the New York Times to bloggers and blogs – such as Good4Jews – to stop criticizing Israel.

“He complains, for example, that ‘The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, both Jewish-edited, rarely ran nonincriminating reports on Israeli affairs. The odd formulation ‘Jewish-¬edited’ suggests that Oren views everything through the lens of ethnic identity. In addition, Oren hastily dismisses the historian Tony Judt as someone who ‘opposed Israel’s existence.’ If anything, Judt’s apprehensions about Israel’s future seem more cogent than ever.” So writes Jacob Heilbrunn in a scathing review of Oren’s book in the NYT Sunday Book Review. And he poignantly continues: “To criticize Israel is not tantamount to being anti-Israel, a tiresome tactic that too many of the country’s would-be defenders have adopted. Might it not even be pro-Israel, in the sense of pointing out failings that any Israeli government would be prudent to rectify?”

Put another way, the detractors of the well-intentioned criticism say: Don’t criticize Israel if you don’t live here. Come join us, then you can criticize us. There is, of course, nothing new about this hollow argument. I can be the first witness of it. And yet it is foolish nonetheless, while at the same time barking on the wrong tree. But before analyzing the stupidity of this demand, let me step back a bit and demonstrate what at stake here from a different angle altogether. I had lately watched a television program on CNN – “The Hunt with John Walsh” – which I hadn’t watched before. You know, hot, lazy summer days, nothing of substance is on. This particular program dealt with one of those nutcases who proclaimed themselves “Sons of God.” Yet this “New Jesus” was able to control and manipulate a whole congregation of seemly normal people in Washington State. He picked up ten “maidens” from the congregation, girls as young as twelve, who then became his sex slaves. He repeatedly raped and abused them, spreading his venom also to married women of that community. When word began to spread among congregates, they kept mum about it, as one of them said: “We kept it in a ‘lock box’.” Nobody heard, nobody knew what went on inside. When word began to leak to people on the periphery, they either turned their heads the other way, saying this is none of our business, or when one or two complained to the police, they were dismissed and ostracized.

Talking about killing the messenger. Now, I don’t compare Israel’s wrongdoings to the crimes committed by that “New Jesus” guy – who, by the way, got away scot-free – but in essence, and as metaphor, the lesson applies here. Of course, those who aim their “guns-with-silencers” say, we don’t tell you not to criticize Israel, no way will we do that; after all, we’re a civilized people. But please, shut up about it when you are outside the country. Why, exactly? Didn’t your Prime Minister come to the Congress here in the middle of an election campaign back home and criticized our president and his policies in the strongest terms possible? Don’t you now mobilize all forces, resources, and means of public opinion in order to influence Congressmen and Senators against the Iran Nuclear deal, signed already by the P5+1 nations and approved unanimously by the UN Security Council? What set you apart from us in this regard, may I ask?

It increases anti-Semitism, I hear them say. Well, let me tell you something: What increases anti-Semitism, among other things, is Israel’s actions, not the criticism of it. Moreover, if Israel is the homeland of all the Jewish People, then all the Jewish People can praise it, and yes, criticize it as well. It might well be our home one day soon. Why wouldn’t we want it to be a better, more human, and just home? And while at it, some of those who criticize us for criticizing Israel, when something comes along that infuriate them – let say some religious issue in Israel, as it had happened lately – then suddenly all hell breaks loose, letters of complaint to the president of Israel, full of criticism of Israel and its policies regarding this particular religious issue. But when it comes to peace, politics, and security – no way Jose. This is the height of hypocrisy!

Not to mention that their basic demand to come live in Israel first, and only then criticize it, is nonsocial at best. As if in Israel there isn’t a campaign to silence those who criticize its policies and political leaders. As if some major, famous artists had not been violently attacked after the last elections for trying to raise voices of dissent. As if some Israeli politicians had not suggested already to bar, by law, those voices of dissent from voicing their opinions. Some of Israel’s better, more conscientious journalists, do live with this kind of a threat day and night.

So come off it, all you “supposedly” righteous people, Jews and Christens alike. You are just protecting your own policies and points-of-view, that’s all, and are trying to prevent others from doing the same. This fits a totalitarian regime, not a democracy. More importantly, though, it is most definitely good for Israel and its future to have criticism level against it. It can only improve things. Otherwise – it is chaos. It is kept in a “lock box.” Because, you see, the bottom line is, to paraphrase Bill Clinton’s election slogan: It’s the actions, stupid, not the criticism. That’s what mattered most. So change the message, why don’t you, instead of killing the messenger.

* Published originally on “The Times of Israel.”
** The “Leave a comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.


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