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Who Are You With?

iheartberlin.de

It is my belief—shared, it seems, with a growing number of observers, scholars, and ordinary folks—that the coming midterm elections of November 2018 would be of importance, and of consequences, unparalleled in our lifetime. Certainly in my lifetime as a citizen of this country, pushing thirty years. While this may sound to some of you as an exaggeration, or as something you’ve heard before in regard to an upcoming elections, I’m going to try and make the case that that isn’t so. That this coming elections are, indeed, crucial not only for the survival of this country as a democracy, but to liberal democracy—as opposed to guided, managed democracy—elsewhere in the world, including in Israel.

Lately, I’ve heard some pundits, and also some people with vast experience in military, intelligence and politics, men and women of quality and impressive credentials, stating that if we—i.e. liberal, democrats, progressives, and even like-minded republican-conservatives—won’t go to the polls this November on mass, and change dramatically the political landscape of this country, namely the congress, then it might be the last free election to be held in this country for years to come. And while this assessment and predicament—unleash the ‘Big Blue Wave’ or else—is a bit overblown in my estimation, the essence of it, and the fear that inspires it, are not.

A couple of months ago I was riveted to a Netflix drama, titled ‘Babylon Berlin’. Produced in Germany, it was one of the best shows on TV I’ve seen in years, and I highly recommend it if you have access to Netflix (not for the faint of heart, though). The story takes place in Berlin in 1929 and on into the early thirties, and while the plot is intriguing and the characters engrossing, and the scenery fascinating, what stood out for me above all was the reality of the depiction of Berlin—the center of cultural Europe at the time—and the political forces at play. Mostly: What made it possible for Hitler and his followers to—democratically!—prepare the ground for the ultimate, disastrous takeover of the country and most of Europe.

Yes, it happened ninety years ago or so in Germany. And yes, so many things are different, in culture and government from here in America. But oh boy, how much they’re also very similar. The ‘Golden Führer’ that is currently presiding and ruling over this country, won’t go down without a fight. And as he has proven already, he won’t give a damn if while fighting, he’ll destroy civility, democracy, and the economic, ecological future of this country. It is therefore of the utmost importance that we will rise for the occasion. The ‘Resistance’—as I pointed out in an article right after the 2016 election—need to be just as fierce. This might be our best chance to turn things around, and clear our skies from this menacing dark cloud. Not only for the sake of this country and its people, but the world at large.

And that includes Israel and the Middle East. Because, as things stand now, continuation of the Trump’s rule in America will mean continuation of the rule of Netanyahu in Israel, Sissi in Egypt, Assad’s in Syria. All these dictators (to various degrees and progress, especially in Netanyahu’s case), are in effect threatening the rule of law and free press. You might reproach me and say: “C’mon man, things have never been better in Israel.” The American Embassy is in Jerusalem; Israel is getting all the weapons the IDF needs and then some; America withdrew its support of the nuclear agreement with Iran, and putting tremendous economic pressure on that country; Egypt and Saudi Arabia are joining the Iran fight and support Israel; economically and even culturally Israel is entering the year of 5779 in a very good shape.

And yet, the other side of the coin is: Democracy in Israel has never been in a worse shape, and Israel’s democracy is now ranked lower in the latest ‘Democracy Index’ compiled by the ‘Economist Intelligence Unit’. Both USA (ranked 21) and Israel (ranked 30) were downgraded from “full democracies” to a “flawed democracies,” together with Botswana (ranked 28). The rule of law is teetering, as proved by the fact that the country’s Attorney General is dragging his feet in issuing a verdict on the Police recommendations to charge PM Netanyahu on bribery and fraud; A ‘Shin Bet state’ is in progress where Israeli citizens and American Jews with opposing views are stopped at entry ports to the country for interrogation, warning, and who knows what’s next, maybe torture.

You might ask yourself, so what? Things are good, otherwise. Well, let me tell you what. First, as the Palestinian issue and conflict has proven since Israel’s independence, it’s not going away anywhere. Ever. It is here to stay. Second, with the death of peace comes war. Whether with Hamas, Hezbollah, or Iran. It’s coming. Third, with the death of the Two-State solution, only one solution remains: One-State solution. And with the rule of Trump in America, and Netanyahu in Israel, that means Israel is in serious danger of becoming an ‘Apartheid State.’ Ruling over other people for more than fifty years, and now also issuing laws making the Arabs and Druze second-class citizens of the state. “The authoritarian/messianic clock in Israel is moving closer to midnight,” wrote Aryeh Cohen recently in ‘Tablet’. It’s up to us, even here in an American elections, to try and reverse that clock’s progress.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

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The Battle That Never Ended

Just before dawn on March 21, 1968, our elite reconnaissance unit—the tip of the spear of the Israeli Army Paratroopers Brigade—took off in several helicopters, on our way to cross the Jordan River into Jordanian territory. We were in the air when the IDF began its first major operation against the PLO, who’d established its main base near the Jordanian town of Karameh. I was a young second lieutenant back then, commanding a platoon of soldiers. Our mission was to block the escape route of Palestinian fighters, capture or kill them. As I recall, my platoon happened to be engaged in the fiercest battle our company had encountered that day. We lost four young soldiers on the battlefield, among them an officer, a dear buddy of mine. As for me, after unwisely coming into contact with two flying bullets, I ended up in a Jerusalem hospital.

Though the Palestinian fighters (with considerable help from the Jordanian Armed Forces) suffered far greater casualties, dead and injured, and though this battle—directly or indirectly—brought upon them the disaster of ‘Black September,’ and forced their relocation to Lebanon, according to their legend the ‘Battle of Karameh’ was a great victory. Likewise, Israeli army historians, soldiers and officers, don’t consider ‘Operation Inferno’ a successful operation. The reasons for that, in an operation that came close on the heels of the monumental victory of the Six-Day War—a war in which our unit had participated, both in the Egyptian and the Syrian fronts—are varied. The reason for this piece, however, is not to reminisce, or to analyze the success and failure of that major battle.

The reason is altogether different, and pointing at a much greater failure on Israel’s part. We didn’t know that at the time, but with the passing of the years it became clear that the core idea behind that operation, and many others to follow, was the belief that we Israelis can solve our dispute with the Palestinians by first vanquishing them in the battlefield. If only we’ll be stronger militarily—if not morally—the problem will somehow solve itself. Of course, it never did. Furthermore, back then most Israelis didn’t even know, or acknowledge that there was such a thing as Palestinians. Case in point: we young soldiers. All we knew was that we were fighting terrorists, whose sole aim was to annihilate Israel. When Prime Minister Golda Meir claimed—she was not alone, mind you—that “there were no such thing as Palestinians,” it fell on welcoming ears.

The same cannot be said regarding the Palestinians’ attempts to dispel this notion. Last year, among the many words written about the 50-year anniversary of the 1967 war, a story came to light of how, before the guns were even silenced, a prominent Palestinian lawyer had offered the Israeli government a detailed two-state peace plan with the Palestinians (who played no part in that war), supported by fifty Palestinian dignitaries. I first read this story in Moment Magazine; confirmed later by another, Israeli source. In both versions, the detailed peace plan between Israelis and Palestinians, as put forward by Aziz Shehadeh, was never even discussed by the Israeli government, let alone replied to. A trend that has continued to date; most notably regarding the Arab League’s Peace Initiative of 2002.

Yes, the Oslo Accords were signed. And yes, some of that plan’s directives had been partly achieved. But not the ultimate prize: Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel, in peace and security for all. A young Israeli, religious-extremist of the worst kind, made sure of that. He assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the altar of peace, aiming for the conflict to remain unsolved; for the occupation and settlements to continue; for Israel’s control over the West Bank and Jerusalem to remain eternal. It’s why I consider the Two-State Solution—the best option of solving the conflict—no longer viable. Just as sometimes we hear of people who miraculously, after years in coma, suddenly spring back to life, so we can unreasonably hope that this solution, on its dying bed for some years now, also would.

But I wouldn’t bet on it. True, Israel made some unrequited overtures towards the Palestinians, but those claiming it proves Israel’s sincere wish for peace are missing the point. The point being: Israel had the power and means not to settle the occupied land, to withdraw to acceptable, secure borders, and to maintain military control over the territories until final peace agreement had been reached and had been established on the ground. But Israel’s interest in peace came—still does, unfortunately—second to settling the land and solidify the occupation. Israel could’ve prevented the conundrum looming large now: Binational state. Which either won’t be a Jewish state anymore, or won’t be a democratic state. Israel’s grand illusion that it can achieve both while preventing the Palestinians from having their own legitimate national aspirations realized, is not only a false narrative, but also an affront to Zionism.

* Previously published in Moment Magazine online under the title: “Fifty Years Later, the Battle That Never Ended”

** The “Leave a Comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

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