"Only a true peace with neighboring peoples can
render possible a common development of this portion of the earth as a vanguard of the awakening of the Near East."

Martin Buber, Speech 1945




On Jewish violence
7 June 2001

For the first time this Pesach, I had difficulty reading some passages that recommend the destruction Israel's enemies. Perhaps it felt wrong because it was too close to reality. Perhaps history was repeating itself. It definately felt too close for comfort.

There is today a real danger that the country will slowly turn into a state of Apartheid. If we really care about Israel's long term future, we need to save Israel from the damage that the settler policy and the prolonged occupation is causing us. Israel is still the state of the Jews, and it is inconceivable that world Jewry would be able to enjoy the respect and tranquillity that they do enjoy in the West today, should Israel slip further down the slope of totalitarian policies.

There are two types of violence that is particularly dangerous in this respect. The first is the institutionalised violence wrecked by a painful and prolonged occupation and suppression of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Very soon, the Israeli occupation of these lands will become the longest running in modern history. It involves systematic breaches of right of movement, travel, expression, meeting, organisation, education, in addition to a number of international laws pertaining to the treatment of populations under occupation by a foreign power. All human rights issues are subject to the capricious and discriminatory treatment at military courts and are not subject to appeals.

The second type of Jewish violence is the aggression perpetrated on behalf of the settlers, particularly in areas of supreme friction, as in Hebron. The repeated torching of shops and attack on people and property is an extremely worrying new development. There is a tacit acceptance of this kind of behaviour on the part of the army, and there does not seem to be issues that trouble the civil administration in Jerusalem and its police forces. Thus settlers have rioted in several locations in the West Bank and the tacit non-involvement of government institutions has been particularly damaging.

Israel is not only a symbol of the Jewish People held up to the nations of the world, especially the West, it also lies at the core of Modern Jewish self-perception. Even Jews who have never visited Israel and who are not in any real sense Zionists, perceive their Jewishness through the prism of the Jewish State. The situation that we are rapidly facing at the moment is one where a young Jewish child in the US or in Europe is faced with condoning Israel's acts opposite the Palestinians, or lose an important part of what connects them to their religion and tradition.

This situation is unprecedented. There has perhaps never been a time in history when young Jews are ashamed of the actions of their own people. It is also not sufficient to argue that Jews should not treat their constituency as a special case. We are not better or worse than others. We also have our share of lunatics and bellicose warmongerers.

Although realistic in its outlook, the view that the Jewish case is no different than any other, is flawed for two reasons. It is problematic because it merely describes a situation that cries out for intervention. It is not enough just to throw our hands up and say, 'Oh well, we cannot be angels'. Furthermore, the argument is flawed because there is no reason why we should not in fact expect the utmost from ourselves. We should expect that our tradition and our history has conditioned us in ways that should protect us from edging into belligerence.

Why on earth would we commit our lives to our honed traditions, from Pesach to Shavouth, from Yom Kippur to Chanukah, from tzedaka to tikkun olam, why would we uphold these traditions in the teeth of a historical intolerance, if we did not believe that these rites conferred some ethical reflexes upon us. Why pay the price of continued Jewish consciousness, if this is not , in some way, supposed to make us stick out from the grey majority. Is this the way Theodore Herzl and the Zionist venture hoped to create normalcy? Through showing the world and ourselves that we also can harbour the basest of impulses and, when pressed, revert to acts that only a generation ago we would associate with Russian pogroms?

This is what should be foremost in our minds as we mull over the range of options that lay before Israel today. We have to keep in our minds that Israeli policies encompass more than the security concerns of its it's citizens. It encompasses that kid in London or Chicago who will decide to say that t The path that Israel is following is no surprise. Countries that seek to maintain by force the occupation over another people will eventually drift toward repressive or even fascistic leadership.

Half-way measures of the sort offered by Barak cannot work. Israel had the choice to end the occupation, dismantle the settlements, and get out of the West Bank, but it chose not to, and in doing so ensured that it would drift to the right until it was inevitably faced with the likes of Ariel Sharon at its helm.

The Taba talks ended in failure because the Israelis offered the Palestinians: 1) No sovereignty of the Temple Mount; 2) 80% of the settlements intact; and 3) No Right of Return (or acceptance of responsibility for creating the refugee problem in the first place). At Taba, Israel offered the return of 1,500-3,000 individuals, and no official declaration of responsibility and required Arafat to sign a declaration of principles, in which he would announce the "end of the conflict";

It should have been foreseen that no Palestinian leader could possibly sign the "end of the conflict" without a solution to the refugee problem. To present this as a overgenerous offer betrays a deep lack of understanding of the issues involved. Israel cannot dictate the terms of an agreement that involves 50 years of dispossession and several millions of individuals. It cannot absolve itself of, at the very least, partial responsibility for creating and maintaining the refugee problem. And it cannot keep vast majority of the settlers with the cantonisation of the territories that this entails.

The problem with the current slide to the right and the totalitarian thinking that seems imminent and mystically unavoidable, is that it hurts the Jewish people. It causes young Jews to deny their connection to Judaism rather than claim an identity aligned with oppressive policies and defined by people who think that power is the paramount value. That, surely, must be the opposite of what the Zionist project is supposed to be about.

Brit Shalom, 2002






2001-2002 Brit Shalom