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Once More, by Popular Demand, Israel’s Grand Illusion

dailysabah.com

The Film ‘The Grand Illusion’ by Jean Renoir, which I’ve been returning to occasionally throughout the years (and wrote about here before), is a 1937 B&W masterpiece that suggests, among other things, that “war is futile, and that mankind’s common experiences should prevail above political division, and its extension: war.” (Wikipedia.) “Renoir’s critique of contemporary politics and ideology celebrates the universal humanity that transcends national and racial boundaries and radical nationalism.”

I wrote about it a year ago, almost, during the latest Israeli-Palestinian flare-up with Hamas in Gaza. And what strikes me the most now—following the latest terrorist attacks, stabbing and shooting by ‘lone-wolf’ Palestinians, which caused the death of fourteen civilians on the Israeli side (and I believe some 28 dead on the Palestinian side, as Israel always about double the number of casualties it inflicts on the Palestinians)—as it did then, is not only the futility of war (it was the fifth such round-of-hostility since Hamas took over power in Gaza in 2007), but the complete collapse of Israel’s belief that the Palestinian issue and conflict has been put to rest.

The notion that—especially during the twelve years of Netanyahu’s rule, but also during this first year of the current government—the Palestinian political struggle for independence and a state of their own is practically all but over. It has been put to rest. Israel has succeeded, the motion goes, in squashing their national aspirations down. They will agree, the Palestinian people—as long as their economy is in good shape, Israel so believes—and get used to living as second, or third-class citizens under Israeli occupation for good. Problem and conflict, solved. Let’s continue with being the start-up nation. Light to the goyim.

Not so, obviously, as not only the latest Palestinian terrorist attacks in Israel so tragically prove, but Israel’s police brutality in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Israeli army in the West Bank during Ramadan as well. This notion, this ‘grand illusion’ that (as Gershom Gorenberg wrote in the Washington Post, April 8), “… ignoring settler attacks on Palestinians, or treating the deaths of Palestinians at soldiers’ hands in the West Bank as noise from distant galaxies, bring us any closer to peace.” Indeed, until it reaches closer, until it blows violently in your face inside Israel ‘proper,’ you drink your ‘upside-down’ coffee peacefully in a Dizengoff café and treat what’s happening in the occupied territories as “noise from distant galaxies.”

It won’t do. It’s not going to work. Deal with it. The ‘it’ being the Palestinians’ right to exist in peace and dignity. To have a state of their own. To be treated as human beings with equal rights under the sun. Not to be evicted at will from their homes in Jerusalem—where it all had started last time, and will end this time—and to end the occupation once and for all. To borrow and paraphrase Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan, it’s “The occupation, stupid.”

Israel’s refusal since the end of the Six-Day War of 1967 to realize that, to accept the consequences, and mostly its failure to stop the expansion of the settlement endeavor is very costly and now—flying in the face of reality once more—almost behind repair. The two-state solution is dead. It was declared so by yours truly here, and elsewhere, before. At best, it’s on its deathbed. Even with Biden in charge in Washington; even with a new Prime Minister in Israel (hard to believe that it’s almost a year to this unusual government); even if Israelis would realize their mistake (the minority do, the majority don’t), I don’t see how it can be reversed. I hope it can, but the facts on the ground, and the political challenges against it, are too immense. It is now a one-state solution. And how it would survive and thrive is anybody’s guess.

Case in point: Arab Israelis. For the first time in Israel’s history an Israeli-Arab Muslim party and its leader, Ra’am and Abbas (respectively), are part of the coalition and its ruling government. And despite all predictions to the contrary, it stayed in it and practically held it together these last ten months. But now, as a result of the eruption of violence in the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during the Muslims Holy month of Ramadan, their participation is on shaky ground. Wisely, so far, Abbas declared that they would just freeze their participation in the government until the storm is over. ‘Freeze,’ that is, not participate and not withdraw. Let’s see how things progress. As it is, this government has only 60 MKs supporting it out of 120 members in the Knesset. How it will survive for long is anybody’s guess.

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A Moral Stain

Mark ThomasEPA-EFEREXShutterstock

“Foes or friends, this must be heard,” wrote Gunter Grass in his poem “This must be said: what a mess!” This brings me to another poem, written by another German, a pastor named Martin Niemoller, titled “First They Came…” While most of you are probably familiar with this poem, it must be heard again:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this short ‘confessional prose’ because of Israel’s—especially Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s—reaction to the devastating, atrocious, brutal invasion of Putin’s Russian forces into the proud, peace-loving country of Ukraine. We are all accustomed by now to the erroneous, overused term Nazis, Hitler this, Hitler that. But if ever there was a justification for it, then it is now. His name is Putin. Though he too uses the Nazi terminology wrongly for his propagandist usage. Of course, in his case, the name of another maniacal murderer, another megalomaniac despot comes first to mind. Stalin.

Whatever you call him, though, his intentions and actions are very clear, and are playing horrifically daily in front of our eyes. And so is the courageous, inspiring resistance of the Ukrainian people and their leader, President Volodymyr Zelensky—the only other Jewish leader of a country in the world—which has inspired the entire world with his resolute strength under such tremendous pressure. Not much less so for President Biden, for his straight, clear-eyed stand for freedom, democracy, and the Ukrainian people against the tyranny and unprovoked war of Putin and the Russians. He has taken a firm stand from the beginning, and was able to unify not only the American Congress and people of this country (to a large, impressive degree), but also Europe and the entire free world as well.

Who was left behind? Why, Israel of course, the very country one would expect to be at the forefront of those marching and speaking in defense of Ukraine. Another overused term/word, the Holocaust, and its crucial lessons, never had a better time to be used meaningfully. Yet the Israeli government fell silent suddenly. Not its people, no: they demonstrated and raised their voices in support of the Ukrainian people. And not all the government. Foreign Minister (who’s supposed to be the next prime minister after two years to this coalition government) Yair Lapid spoke quite forcefully against the Russian invasion. And Israel, after all, voted together with the other 141 countries in the UN Assembly to condemn Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Indeed, as I write this, Israel is planning to establish a field hospital in Lviv, Ukraine. Israel is also, though not problem-free, absorbing many refugees. Some Jews, some not. Among them was a group of Jewish orphaned children. Commendable. Yet PM Bennett, fancying himself Churchill, Kissinger—most likely Chamberlain, however, for his appeasement—had refrained so far from condemning Russia by name or deed. Worse still, the Ukrainian government, hearing the drums of war loud and clear coming from across the border with Russia, had asked America for a supply of the Iron Dome missile defense system, to fight the invading army’s rockets and missiles that were sure to come. Let‘s stop here and think for a moment what a difference to the brave Ukrainian fighters that would’ve made. But no. Though the US administration had agreed, Israel had refused to go ahead with it. Frightened of who and what exactly?

Well… Putin. Our century’s Hitler/Stalin. This goes deep, my friends, to the essence of the creation of Israel and its moral fortitude. I have no doubt that in the days to come Israel would help Ukraine even more. And it will do some good deeds. But in the crucial moment of need, it failed to stand up for the tyrant. Bennett fancied himself a peace negotiator, even broke the Shabbat in order to fly to the dictator’s long table. What for? What did he think? That he will convince him to stop the war? That he can bring peace where there was no wish for peace? He may have confused, when it came to Putin’s treatment of Israel, the snake’s apathy for empathy.

I’m very well aware that Israel has its own needs and calculations. Free air attacks in Syria’s skies on Iran’s forces there, and torpedoing the imminent renewal of The Nuclear Deal with Iran. Which I see, by and by, as Bennett’s real concern and urgent flight to Moscow. His attempt to receive confirmation from the despot that he would cancel his approval of it. Real politics has its demands. But not in that moment of defiance in which the whole world is holding its breath, united (almost) in its worry that a madman, with an immense arsenal of nuclear bombs, will push the trigger and blow this world up.

NO. This was a time for moral strength. For moral clarity—not moral relativity. For everything Israel, the Jewish state is supposed to be about. History was calling. But the call was not returned. Not initially, anyhow. Which the free world—“Foes or friends, this must be heard… This must be said: what a mess!”— will surely remind us of in the next, our own hour of need.

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