Tuesday, January 15, 2013

In Awe of Nonviolence

An Israeli in awe of a Palestinian act of non-violence
Bradley Burston
Haaretz (Opinion)
January 15, 2013 - 12:00am

An act of non-violence is a fuse playing the role of a bomb. If the act of non-violence is creative enough, appropriate and resonant and shocking, and, therefore, dangerous enough, it will do what no bomb can: Change things for the better. Persuade. Put the lie to the liar. And cause a man like Benjamin Netanyahu to panic.

On Friday, nearly a hundred men women and children pitched tents on a Palestinian-owned plot of land in the patch of the West Bank called E1, a political and diplomatic minefield which Netanyahu has vowed to build on, and Washington has warned him not to. The place was given a new name - Bab al-Shams, the Gate of the Sun.

The Palestinians who staked down the tents were explicit in calling their rocky hilltop encampment a village. But the manner of its founding made it all too clear to Israelis what it was as well - a ma'ahaz, a settlement outpost, no less and no more illegal than the scores and scores of rogue farms, tent camps, rude shacks and proto-suburbs which Israeli settlers have staked across the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

We know it in our bones, Israelis and Palestinians as one. This is how the settlement movement began. This is how it grows. This is the very engine of occupation. This is the heart and the hand of the beast.

The founding of Bab al-Shams was genius. And no one knew that better than Benjamin Netanyahu. The encampment sent a message that was clear, piercing, and entirely non-violent. The proof: Netanyahu said it had to be destroyed at once.

It needed to be destroyed despite a High Court order that appeared to give the new villagers six days to remain on the site. But in a peculiarly contemporary reinterpretation of the Naqba, the police announced that the injunction only applied to the tents. The people could be taken out. In the dead of night.

So desperate was the need to destroy it quickly, that the head of the Justice Ministry's High Court division was pressed into service at midnight Saturday, to sign a statement to the court declaring "there is an urgent security need to evacuate the area of the people and tents."

The government also sent a sealed note to the court, containing further "security information" – classified Secret, as was the reason for its being kept from the public – as to why it was necessary to give the order immediately for 500 police to move in.

But everyone here already knew the secret.

Bab al-Shams needed to be destroyed because it was fighting facts on the ground with facts on the ground.

It needed to be destroyed for the same reason that a hundred similar, patently illegal Israeli West Bank outposts are coddled, honored by visits from cabinet ministers, and rendered permanent with state-supplied electricity, water, access roads, security protection, and retrofit permits.

Bab al-Shams did not simply touch a nerve. Bab al-Shams had to be destroyed because, where the occupation is concerned, it touched the central nervous system.

On Election Day next week, when I enter the voting booth, I will be taking a small piece of Bab al-Shams with me. My respect and admiration for people who cannot vote in this election, but who each cast an extraordinarily forceful absentee ballot in booths they set up themselves in E1.

They are fighting the Netanyahu government with the one weapon against which this government has no defense - hope. Hope is this government's worst enemy, more threatening by far than Iran.

For years and years we've been taught to believe that the occupation is irreversible, unassailable, so permanent that there is no occupation, there is just this Israel of ours – like its prime minister, sour, anxious, bloated, contradictory ... but Ours. We are told what to believe by settlers and their champions in places like Ra'anana. That there cannot be two states, one for Israelis and one for Palestinians. That we, the Jews, have been here forever and will stay in East Jerusalem in the West Bank forever and ever.

It turns out, though, that other people, on other hilltops, Palestinian people, have something else to teach us. May they succeed.

On Election Day next week, and into whatever future that day propels us, I will be taking a small piece of their hope with me. I will take strength in their words in founding a village, that - like its literary namesake, Elias Khouri's epic novel of Palestinian history - exists at once only in the imagination and also in a profound unassailable reality:

"We the people, without permission from the occupation, without permission from anyone, sit here today because this land is our land, and it is our right to inhabit it."

Let a hundred Bab al-Shams bloom. An outpost for an outpost. A blind eye for a blind eye. A flout for a flout. It's what our people on the hilltops call an appropriate Zionist response.

Monday, January 14, 2013

When Will We Go BEYOND Partition?

Dear Friend,

There is a perceptive article in the Jan. 9 issue of The Christian Century that I'm appending to this message. You should at least scan it.

Also, let me give you a summary of my "Three Visions" three-column grid, still the best summary of the ferment making the pot bubble in I/P today.

The ruling Vision now is #1, maintaining the STATUS QUO, with actions by Likud (the ruling party in Isr) supported by the USA (Isr occupies all the land)

Vision #2 is the stated policy of the Israel, the US and the UN, going back to the 1947 compromise of TWO STATES, equal, living side by side in peace and security (a farce, because the Likud party (and their allies) have no interest in sharing control with the divided Palestinians; indeed they don't trust them in any way, shape or form).

Vision #3 is the contested one, because down REALLY deep in the psyche of both the Israelis and the Palestinians is the profound belief that each has a right to ALL of the LAND and is not willing to share it with THE OTHER party.

So I basically disagree with Gershom Gorenberg. I DON'T THINK the issue is partition. The issue is whether there can be ONE COUNTRY with liberty and justice for all (as in the US ideal). Making room for one another. There are forces at work now that are inexorable, nameless (although we have attached names to Vision #3), and powerful. A "Jewish" State that dehumanizes its Palestinian residents is NOT sustainable.

(Watch the Senate debate later this month on the Chuck Hagel nomination. Is US foreign policy viz a viz the Israelis open for debate? Or must US support for Israel continue into the future as it has done in the past? With no progress in sight?

A land divided

The Christian Century, (Jan 9, 2013 issue)

The internal conflicts of Zionism
Jan 03, 2013 by Gershom Gorenberg

On December 2, the Sunday after the United Nations General Assembly voted to accept Palestine as an observer state, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened his cabinet’s weekly meeting with defiance. Not only did he declare that “the government of Israel rejects the . . . decision,” he equated it with the infamous UN resolution of 1975 that labeled Zionism as racism.

On the surface, this was a gut reaction to superficially similar circumstances: Israel again found itself nearly alone in the UN, and Netanyahu wanted to show that it would not be moved by immutable hostility. In the same mood, he approved steps to build a Jewish neighborhood in the West Bank linking Jerusalem with the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim—a step that even Israel’s closest allies vehemently oppose.

Examined thoughtfully, the content of the two UN decisions could not be more different. The “Zionism is racism” resolution negated the idea on which Israel is built: that Jews, defined as a national group, deserve political independence. The new resolution endorsed “the vision of two states . . . Palestine living side by side in peace and security with Israel.” Prima facie, it reaffirmed the original 1947 UN vote to partition British-ruled Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, the decision that led to Israel’s establishment. So why did Netanyahu, a man concerned with history and ideas, oppose it?

For an answer, look back to the 1947 partition vote. Partition was proposed as the least bad arrangement for two national communities, Jewish and Palestinian Arab, both legitimately claiming the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Arab leaders in Palestine and in neighboring countries rejected the partition plan. The mainstream of the Zionist movement, led by David Ben-Gurion, lobbied for it in the General Assembly. After partition passed, battles broke out between Arabs and Jews in Palestine, followed by war between Arab countries and newly independent Israel.

Ben-Gurion and his pragmatic colleagues believed Jews had a right to the Land of Israel, as Jews traditionally refer to the country between the river and the sea. But they settled for a piece of it. Other Zionists, especially on the radical right, regarded this as a betrayal of the Jewish homeland.

After independence, the first parliamentary motion of no-confidence against Ben-Gurion was submitted by Menachem Begin, leader of the hard-right opposition. His complaint: rather than conquer the West Bank, Ben-Gurion had signed an armistice agreement leaving it under Jordan’s rule.

At the Knesset (legislature) podium, Ben-Gurion answered that Israel could indeed seize the West Bank. “But then what?” he demanded. “We’ll create one state. But that state will want to be democratic, we’ll hold elections—and we [the Jews] will be in the minority. . . . When we faced the question of the whole land without a Jewish state, or a Jewish state without the whole land—we chose a Jewish state without the whole land.”

With these words, Israel’s founding father mapped its deepest ideological divide: between those who see Zionism’s goal as a democratic Israel with a Jewish majority, and those who insist that Zionism requires Jewish rule of the entire homeland.

The issue remained theoretical until the Six Day War of 1967 brought Israel’s unplanned conquest of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and other territory. For a decade after the war, political paralysis reigned in Israel. Successive governments were unable to decide whether to give up at least part of the newly conquered land, but they slipped into the dangerous pattern of establishing Jewish settlements in areas they hoped to keep. In 1977, Begin and his Likud Party took power. Now policy was clearer: Begin, predictably, wanted to keep the whole land under Israeli rule without annexing the West Bank or giving its Palestinian residents the vote.

The 1967 war also created a tension in U.S. policy. On one hand, the Johnson administration’s postwar goal was an Israeli-Arab peace based on the pre-1967 lines. On the other hand, the administration was intensely relieved that Israel had survived the war without a need for American troops. As former national security adviser McGeorge Bundy wrote in a secret memorandum to President Johnson, keeping Israel armed well enough to defend itself was “an interest of ours as well of the Israelis.” The most effective way to pressure Israel—withholding weaponry—created the risk of America getting dragged into a future Arab-Israeli war. Washington might want to influence Israeli policy, but it couldn’t lean too hard. The Bundy conundrum is a legacy passed on to every administration since, and it still applies.

By the 1990s, the question of partition fully reemerged in the Israeli and international arena, renamed as the two-state solution. Israeli advocates of partition present it as a way of achieving peace but also as a way of preserving Israel as a democracy with a Jewish majority. When Ehud Olmert, a lifelong follower of Begin, came out for a two-state solution in 2003, he quoted Ben-Gurion’s 1949 Knesset speech.

For Israeli politicians who explicitly oppose a two-state deal or who say it is unachievable, the inescapable question is how Israel can continue ruling over disenfranchised Palestinians without undermining its own democracy. For those who support a two-state agreement, the first question is whether the Palestinian side is ready to give up its claim to the whole of historic Palestine. Prime Minister Ehud Barak argued after the Camp David summit of 2000 that Yasser Arafat was not prepared to do that. Olmert negotiated with Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s heir as Palestinian Authority president, and has insisted that an agreement was possible.

Abbas arranged for the vote on Palestinian statehood to take place on November 29, the anniversary of the original 1947 partition vote. It’s true that Abbas’s General Assembly speech was harsh rather than conciliatory, and that turning to the United Nations broke the framework of direct negotiations with Israel. Nonetheless, the resolution was as much a belated Palestinian admission of the error of rejecting partition 65 years ago as it was a Palestinian victory.

Yet Netanyahu treated the resolution as a repeat of the UN’s 1975 rejection of Zionism, a response that makes intellectual sense only if one takes the contested position that Jewish rule of the whole land is essential to Zionism. And indeed, his cabinet issued a response stressing that nothing in the UN resolution could detract “from of the State of Israel’s, or the Jewish people’s, rights whatsoever in the Land of Israel.”

For Netanyahu is a loyal heir to Begin’s political tradition. Early in his term, under American pressure, Netanyahu said he would accept a Palestinian state alongside Israel. But in his actions he has aimed at preserving the status quo of Israeli rule. His decision after the General Assembly vote to move ahead on construction in the E-1 area between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim was intended as an unequivocal rejection of partition: building settlements in the E-1 area would create a wall of Israeli settlements cutting nearly across the West Bank, and it is designed to prevent establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

So when Israel forms a new government after its January 22 election, it will face the same question that has accompanied it from its birth: Is dividing the land an affront to Zionism or is it the way to preserve a Jewish and democratic state? The issue is still partition.

There is no PEACE without JUSTICE; there is no justice without LOVE.