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The Silence of The Jews

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Be warned: This is a horror story, a Halloween story. And since Halloween is my birthday (thank you very much), and I’m going away for a week to celebrate a milestone, I’m writing ahead of schedule and attempting something a bit different for the occasion. I don’t know where I’m going with it (usually I have a pretty good idea before I sit down to write), so we’ll find out together where it leads me. Hopefully—if it’s not scary enough, forbidding enough—you will forgive me.

First though, a bit of background. Some of you may know already that I’m the son of Holocaust survivors. My father, who died in the kibbutz he helped build, escaped from three labor camps in Hungary and Czechoslovakia during five years of horrors, spending his last year as a hungry rat in the streets and sewage tunnels of Budapest while the allies rained bombs. MY mother, still alive and residing in Tel Aviv, survived Auschwitz, seeing her parents and older sister—who refused to be separated from her crying baby—taken away into the gas chambers. I grew up without grandparents, therefore, in a place without grandparents.

And yet, I never liked the saying that the Jews of Europe were led to their death like “lambs to the slaughter.” I didn’t like it because it implied that these six million Jews had other options. As if they could fight. As if, unlike lambs, they could rebel. And yes, I know, a few—the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Jewish Partisans, others here and there—tried to fight. But by and large, the Jews of Europe were minding their own business. They exercised their religion and culture, they worked hard and prospered well, they were educated and successful in the arts and sciences. And then the most sophisticated, the most brutal, the most inhumane killing machine ever known to man had hit them suddenly. Just as most of them, when being loaded into the trains—like my mother and her family—didn’t know where they were heading.

They couldn’t fight even if they wanted to. They didn’t know how to fight. They didn’t have any weapons. That’s why the state of Israel was envisioned, established, and built. That never again such a calamity would befall us Jews. That’s why, also, many other survivors and refugees immigrated to America. And what I’m afraid of is that now—here comes the horror—when they have power, and weapons, and army, and money, and political strength, they are not only using it wrongly, but they inflict—even if on a different scale—shame, death, and injustice on other people: The Palestinians.

What the Israeli government and people since the Six-Day War of 1967 are doing, led by the settlers zealots—lately with increased violence, cruelty, and freehand—is not only unbecoming of the people of the book, of the people who survived the Holocaust, but of any decent human being. The continuation of the occupation, colonization, and abuse of basic human rights of the Palestinian people in the West bank might lead to the destruction of the Zionist dream. As an idea, for sure, if not in reality too. The security and prosperity of a safe home, a democratic home for the Jewish people is in grave danger.

Some Jews, not many, do speak out. Lately, Ben & Jerry decided to take a stand and not sell their ice cream to settlers in the West Bank. And yes, American Jews who support J Street and its call for the Two-State solution—dead or comatose, floating in shallow water—do speak out. Americans for Peace Now, New Israel Fund, and Jewish Voice for Peace all speak out. Even yours truly, here in this blog, shout out from time to time. Representative Andy Levin introduced in September the ‘Two-State Solution Act’ in congress. Well done. But mostly, the greater Jewish organizations and religious congregations not only maintain their silence, but enable Israel to continue its occupation and colonization.

There is a debate going on, naturally, whether Israel’s rule over Palestine is de facto an Apartheid already. I believe it is. And the scholars, historians, thinkers I trust most believe it is. But even if it’s not already there, it’s heading there fast. The hottest (not due to her looks) writer in the English language these days, Sally Rooney, had refused her latest book to be translated to Hebrew as a protest against Israel’s occupation and mistreatment of Palestinians. Others are sure to follow. Netflix, the biggest streamer of visual content on the planet, starts streaming some thirty short films, ‘Palestinian Stories,’ by filmmakers living under the occupation. If you’re on Twitter and you try to hashtag Apartheid, the first and most used term that pops out is #IsraeliApartheid.

But Prime Minister Bennett didn’t even mention the Palestinian people or conflict in his first speech in the UN. His right hand in his party, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, said we want to “manage” the conflict, not “solve” it. Netanyahu before them, likewise, had no intention of solving it. Other experts want to “shrink” the conflict. Anything but solving it. There is no—and won’t be any longer—political power in Israel, supported by the people, that can affect a change on this disastrous trajectory.

There are only two powers that, if united, might be able to force Israel’s hand into reversing course. First, the American President and administration. Second, a united American Jewry front standing together with the president. President Biden, sympathetic as he is to the Palestinian cause, won’t be able to do it alone under the current political climate. Just reopening the Palestinian Consulate in Jerusalem, which he’d promised he’d do, he is now hesitating to go ahead with under pressure from Israel. Only a united, strong front of Jewish America and the American President might be able to accomplish it.

But I don’t see it coming any time soon. My horror story ends with it; with the thundering silence of the Jews continuing unabated. Enabling Israel, therefore, to continue with the creation of a One-State Solution, undemocratic, with a ruling class, Jewish, and a plebeian class, Arab.

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The Occupation Myth and Conundrum

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Following the Six-Day War of 1967 my army unit—Sayeret Tzanhanim, the elite reconnaissance unit of the Paratroopers Brigade—patrolled the streets of East Jerusalem and the neighboring villages for a couple of months. Later that year, and throughout 1968—in March of that year we led the ‘Battle of Karameh’*on the hills overlooking the Jordan River—we spent most of our time guarding Jericho and the Jordan River border and valley, what was known then as Eretz Hamirdafim: The “area of pursuit,” referring to the nightly pursuit of terrorists who crossed the Jordan River. In fact, my lieutenant rank was exposed by my commander (Matan Vilnai), in an old Jordanian army base.

Why am I telling you all this? Because at the time our small unit and the Israeli Army as a whole were occupation forces par excellence. There were no settlements yet, and as young soldiers, hardly twenty, we didn’t even know that there was a “Palestinian Entity,’ or “Palestinian People.’ Only after my compulsory army service had ended in 1969 that I began to read and learn of the Palestinian People and their history and legitimate national aspirations and rights. Concurrently, settlement activity had begun in earnest then, step by step. When I returned to Israel in 1977, following my studies in London, I refused to serve in the occupied territories, in particular the West Bank.

Luckily for me, the army solved my personal revolt quietly and intelligently, and reassigned me to a reserve unit guarding the Jordan River in Israel proper, pre-1967 war, and not far from the kibbutz where I was born. It’s hard even for me to believe that since my Shichror—literally ‘liberation,’ in Hebrew—from compulsory service in 1969 I never set foot in the West Bank. Like others in the peace camp (I signed the letter to then Prime Minister Menachem Begin, along with some 350 IDF reserved officers, calling for an immediate peace with Egypt and thus giving birth to the ‘Peace Now’ movement), I considered it occupied territory, and the settlement activity illegal according to international law.**

Since then, like so many others, I’ve used the term ‘occupation’ often to describe Israeli policy, both de facto on the ground and in the political arena, in regard to Israel’s control over the West Bank; i.e. the ‘occupied territories.’ Only lately I concluded that the term ‘occupation,’ while easy on the tongue and on paper, is at best wrong, and at worst misleading. You see, the settlement endeavor began in earnest in 1970. Slow at first, faster later, not only by the settlers themselves but supported and financed by every Israeli government since the war of 1967.

That’s not occupation, is it? That’s colonialism. Or liberation, if you’re a messianic Jewish settler. Back in 67-9, yes, we were an occupying force. We patrolled the West Bank’s streets, dirt roads, and villages, we guarded the border. There were no settlements back then. But once a settlement is built, people move in and live there, raise their children and work the land, the endeavor becomes colonialism. You’re settling the land you conquered in war, after all, in order to stay there permanently. The definitions of occupation and colonialism are varied in different dictionaries, but in essence, as defined by Thought Co: “Colonialism is an act of political and economic domination involving the control of a country and its people by settlers from a foreign power.” ***

cjpmg.org

The short end of it is that occupation is temporary, colonialism is permanent. Now whether you call it liberation or colonialism, or both, depends on your point of view. But either way, you have to give the people living there equal rights under the law. Make them citizens of your country. If you don’t do that, you discriminate against them. They become second-class citizens. The state becomes an Apartheid state. With different rules, different schools, different roads, different political systems, and mainly: this state-of-affairs and the unending situation is enforced by the army that controls the land and its people.

It is, in part, the reason I declared the two-state solution dead in 2012, in speech and here on this blog. Dead, or comatose at best. As long as we were indeed an occupying force, in the first years after the 1967 war, such a solution was still possible. But Israel refused to take this road, and chose instead the road of colonialism (again, I understand, if not accept, that some refer to it as ‘liberation’). There is no going back now. The sooner both sides understand that the better. An acceptable solution might be found then and established.

* Regarding the Battle of Karameh, see my article in this blog, ‘The Battle That Never Ended,’ from March 2018: (Published also online in Moment Magazine.)

** Regarding illegal settlement activity and international law see Haaretz article by Yotam Berger from July 2016: “Secret 1970 Document Confirms First West Bank Settlements Built on a Lie.” “In minutes of meeting in then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan’s office, top Israeli officials discussed how to violate international law in building the settlement of Kiryat Arba, next to Hebron.”

*** “Settler colonialism is a form of colonialism that seeks to replace the original population of the colonized territory with a new society of settlers. As with all forms of colonialism, it is based on exogenous domination, typically organized or supported by an imperial authority. Settler colonialism is enacted by a variety of means ranging from violent depopulation of the previous inhabitants to more subtle, legal means.” Wikipedia

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