The situation in Gaza is bad but to compare it to the Holocaust is grotesque. Yasmin Qureshi is right to have apologised
By Mark Ferguson, re-blogged from Labour List:
As I rule I try to write about the Middle East only when necessary so as to avoid the black hole into which all online commentary about the that subject inevitably falls. But sometimes someone who should know better says something so completely wrong – and they have to be pulled up on it.
Here’s what Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi said in a Westminster Hall debate:
“What has struck me in all this is that the state of Israel was founded because of what happened to the millions and millions of Jews who suffered genocide. Their properties, homes and land – everything – were taken away, and they were deprived of rights. Of course, many millions perished.
“It is quite strange that some of the people who are running the state of Israel seem to be quite complacent and happy to allow the same to happen in Gaza.”
Now it seems very clear to me that the situation in Gaza, and the hardship faced by so many of those who live there, is harsh. The Palestinian people deserve the right to their own state, and have suffered incredibly for many decades. Cameron once called the Gaza Strip a “prison camp” – that seems an accurate description
But to compare the treatment of people in Gaza to the holocaust is grotesque. Qureshi appears to be comparing the situation in Gaza with the mechanised and industrial extermination of an entire people. No-one who has seen the gas chambers and the ovens of Auschwitz could honestly make such a comparison. No-one who has any knowledge of the mechanical way in which Jews were rounded up, shipped off and murdered in the Holocaust could compare any other form of oppression or repression to that cold, calculated and brutal attempt at extermination.
I’m afraid that however strong your feelings are on the undoubted injustices that the people of Gaza have faced, they are not seeing anything comparable to the holocaust.
Yasmin Qureshi should apologise. And she must do it today.
Update: I’ve had a response from the party – and it’s fair to say I’m not impressed. Here’s what they’ve said:
“These remarks were taken completely out of context. Yasmin Qureshi was not equating events in Gaza with the Holocaust. As an MP who has visited Auschwitz and has campaigned all her life against racism and anti-Semitism she would not do so.”
Except it’s clear from reading the full quote of what Qureshi said (see above) and reading the whole Westminster Hall debate – which we’ve linked to – that Qureshi was making a comparison between the impact of the Holocaust and the situation in Gaza, whether that was her intention or not. Instead of trying to get her off the hook, the Labour Party should be telling Qureshi to apologise.
Update: Yasmin Qureshi has released a statement apologising for any offence caused by her remarks:
“The debate was about the plight of the Palestinian people and in no way did I mean to equate events in Gaza with the Holocaust.
“I apologise for any offence caused.
“I am also personally hurt if people thought I meant this.
“As someone who has visited the crematoria and gas chambers of Auschwitz I know the Holocaust was the most brutal act of genocide of the 20th Century and no-one should seek to underestimate its impact.”
Qureshi’s apology should draw a line under this, and rightly so. If there was no intention to cause offence or equate events in Gaza with the Holocaust I am happy to accept that. But it’s also a salutary reminder to MPs from all sides of the house – if you’re talking about hugely emotive topics, be careful with your metaphors, and don’t be sloppy with your language…
* H/t: Roger M
* Related posts at Labour List:
- The Holocaust was not simply a moment in time
- The Holocaust is the clearest warning from history of what happens when we leave prejudice unchecked
- As we focus on the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust in Europe – let us also remember what happened in Rwanda
- Labour and Gaza: Hamas is not Palestine
- Ed Miliband on Gaza: “a full scale ground invasion would be a disaster”
This piece by J.S. Rasfaeli is so good that we’ve lifted it from That Place: not everything they publish is rubbish, and this article is a brilliant reply to the idiotic anti-Israel-fanatic rock “star” Waters. It also deals with a number of widely-held misconceptions about Palestinians (who are indeed, oppressed) in Israel:
Above: anti-Israel fanatic Waters’ pig drone (note Star of David)
Dear Roger Waters,
The other day you posted an open letter to Neil Young and Scarlett Johansson on your Facebook page. This letter was primarily made up of a series of questions regarding the Palestinian employees of SodaStream’s factory in Ma’ale Adumim, addressed to Ms Johansson.
I see that neither Neil Young or Scarlett Johansson has offered you any answers to these questions, so I thought I might have a go.
There are several hundred Palestinians employed at this particular factory, I don’t know each of their particular circumstances, so I have taken my lead from the people interviewed in this recent article, and this video.
Enjoy the answers Roger, I hope they shed some light:
Do they have the right to vote?
Since 1994 Palestinians have voted in Palestinian elections – presidential, parliamentary and municipal. Following disputed elections and violent power struggles in 2005/6 the Palestinian polity has been split: Gaza ruled by Hamas, and the West Bank dominated by Fatah. All the Palestinian workers at SodaStream are from the West Bank.
The last local elections in the West Bank were held in October 2012. The internecine Hamas/Fatah rivalry prevented both local elections in Gaza, as well as new presidential or parliamentary elections for Palestine as a whole, but this has nothing to do with SodaStream.
Do they have access to the roads?
In the article above several Palestinian SodaStream workers are interviewed. Four of them identify where they live: Achmed Nasser and Nabeel Besharat, from Ramallah, Ptiha Abu-Selat from Jericho, and Mohammed Yousef from Jaba.
Ramallah and Jericho are both in Area A of the West Bank, as defined by the Oslo Accords. This area is under full control of the Palestinian Authority, thus they should access to the roads there. There are several towns called Jaba in the West Bank; it is impossible to know which one Mohammed Youssef is referring to, and thus what his road access is like.
In Area C of the West Bank some Israeli-built roads are reserved for the use of Israelis (Arabs as well as Jews) travelling between communities beyond the Green Line, often known as ‘settlements’. This leads to frequent chatter in the West about ‘Jewish only’ roads. This is nonsense. How would this be enforced? Would traffic cops stop drivers and ask them to recite the Torah from memory?
Can they travel to their work place without waiting for hours to pass through the occupying forces control barriers?
SodaStream provides a bus service to take workers to and from the factory – as seen in this video. They pass through one checkpoint. It doesn’t appear too onerous, nor have any complaints been registered around this issue.
Do they have clean drinking water?
Access to water and other resources is of course a contested issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and will be a factor in any peace deal. But, to actually answer your question, the latest figures (from 2011) indicate that 89.4% of homes in the West Bank were connected to the water network, and 70.9% of respondents in a poll rated the water quality as ‘good’.
The West Bank’s agricultural sector, though under pressure from Israeli occupation and mismanagement, is functioning. People are not dying of thirst or water-born diseases in Palestine as they are in so many other places in the MENA.
Do they have sanitation?
The figures above apply to water for sanitation as well as drinking. One suspects that the employees of SodaStream, earning between three and five times the local average are able to afford a better standard of sanitation than their neighbours.
Do they have citizenship?
Interesting question. Until 1988 residents of the West Bank were citizens of Jordan. Jordan then stripped Palestinians of citizenship based on ethnocentric lines. Israel has not done this to its own Arab citizens.
The Palestinian Authority has been issuing its own passports since 1995. The United States recognises these as travel documents, but not as conferring citizenship, as they are not issued by a state the US recognises. However, in 2007 the Japanese government stated, “Given that the Palestinian Authority has improved itself to almost a full-fledged state and issues its own passports, we have decided to accept the Palestinian nationality”.
So the answer is yes and no. The West Bankers who work at SodaStream do however have something considerably closer to citizenship than Palestinians in Lebanon, who are denied both citizenship and residency, despite many families having been there for several generations.
Do they have the right not to have the standard issue kicking in their door in the middle of the night and taking their children away?
According B’tselem, as of the ‘end of December 2013, 4,768 Palestinian security detainees and prisoners were held in Israeli prisons’. This number includes petty criminals, those who have maimed and murdered Israeli civilians, and very likely some poor souls who got scooped up by a crude judicial machine.
Law enforcement in the Occupied Territories is rough. Israel and the Palestinians are in a state of conflict; this does not engender light touch policing. But even its critics say that Israel does maintain the separation of its Legislative and Judicial branches. One hopes that the innocent will be set free – but this has little to do with SodaStream. One would expect the company to support any of its employees who were wrongly incarcerated.
Do they have the right to appeal against arbitrary and indefinite imprisonment?
As far as I am aware there are no categories of prisoner in Israel without the right to appeal.
In cases of Administrative Detention the prisoner may be held for six months without charge. This can be appealed in the Military Court, the District Court and the Supreme Court.
I am not aware of any SodaStream employees having been put into Administrative Detention.
Do they have the right to re-occupy the property and homes they owned before 1948?
Do you actually know whether the workers at SodaStream vacated homes or properties during the 1948 war?
If they did, then the answer is no, at this point they do not have the right to return to those homes (assuming said homes are still standing). However the so-called ‘Right of Return’ is a questionable ‘right’ at best. At the end of the Second World War millions of Germans were forcibly displaced from homes their families had occupied for centuries in Eastern Europe. The same happened to two million Greeks and Turks in the early 1920s, millions of Indians and Pakistanis during the Partition in 1948, and roughly 750,000 Jews from the Arab and Muslim world at roughly the same time as the Palestinian Nakba. Most of these Jewish-Arab refugees ended up in Israel, where they became citizens. None of these groups is said to possess a ‘Right of Return’, none of them have ‘the right to re-occupy the property and homes they owned before’.
The Palestinians are uniquely cursed with this notional ‘Right of Return’, not least because even three of four generations after the fact, the Arab states where the Palestinian refugees ended up have declined to grant them citizenship or equal rights.
Do they have the right to an ordinary, decent human family life?
This is too nebulous a question. I’m not sure anyone can answer it, least of all Scarlett Johansson. From the article and video above, one might draw the conclusion that, inasmuch as the workers at SodaStream have this right, their positions at SodaStream help them to more fully exercise it.
Do they have the right to self-determination?
The workers at SodaStream are all free to leave the factory and find other employment. Thus far it seems none have chosen to do so. Perhaps you should ask yourself why?
Do they have the right to continue to develop a cultural life that is ancient and profound?
Again, a nebulous question – there is a room set aside for use as a mosque in the Sodastream factory (it’s in the video link). Prayer times are not deducted from break times. One of the more touching sections of that video is the part about the workers seeing each other pray, and families starting to celebrate each other’s holidays. In the Middle Eat this is new, and it is very profound.
So Roger, I hope that answers some of the questions you posed to Scarlett Johansson.
Part of me does suspect that you weren’t actually looking for answers to these questions– that you posed them rhetorically. What I would say to you, Roger, is that this part of the world doesn’t need any more rhetoric. Shrill, canting rhetoric is what got the Israelis and the Palestinians into the parlous state in which they find themselves. What is needed is calm, sober analysis, hard-headed realism, a sense of perspective and some good old-fashioned deal making by the politicians. You do no one any favors by adding to the noise, least of all the Palestinians who have chosen to work at SodaStream.
One last thing, Roger. At the end of your open letter, you tell Scarlett Johansson she is ‘cute’ but hasn’t been paying attention. This sails pretty close to what might be called ‘patronizing sexist bullshit’. Johansson is a grown woman who considered the facts and made her choices. You would do well to consider that. If you want to talk politics leave out the 1970s stand-up comic routine.
Cheerio Roger – think on it.
Guest Post by Pink Prosecco
I have recently read an apparently thoughtful and informative piece on Israel’s security barrier by Alan Johnson over at That Place. Although associated with pro-Israel advocacy, Johnson appeared willing to engage with the complexity of the situation in Israel/Palestine, and attend to the Palestinian as well as the Israeli perspective.
“Because the constructive pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace approach we need has three characteristics:
First, it is open to the full force of the sheer bloody complexity of the conflict, and is willing to wrestle with that complexity, not evade it.
Second, it is fully aware of the determining contexts of the conflict, among which is security.
Third, it refuses to demonise either side, working with both parties, seeking co-existence, compromise, mutual recognition and peace.”
Ben White has now written a response to Alan Johnson’s piece. Sneering, smearing and insufferably smug he may be – but does his argument stand up? This seems reasonable:
“Even if that were all true — that the wall was only built as a response to suicide bombings, and that it was solely responsible for a 90 percent reduction in attacks — criticism of the barrier from a human rights and international law perspective remains valid.”
Security and liberty are not always fully compatible and it is appropriate to ask how far, and in what circumstances, it is permissable to curtail liberties in order to enhance security. And you can welcome the part the wall seems to have played in making Israelis feel more safe while criticising the way it has been implemented and acknowledging its impact on Palestinians.
White’s next points don’t really strike me as convincing. Just because some people wanted a physical barrier even before the violence of the second intifada does not prove that security is not its primary purpose. However elements in his concluding analysis – seeking to demonstrate that there is no (or little) correlation between the wall’s construction and the decline in violent attacks – seems worth engaging with. However (as usual) White seems to want to alienate readers who feel any sympathy for the Israeli perspective rather than encourage them to adjust their views in the hope of achieving the goals of mutual recognition, peace and compromise set out by Alan Johnson. White’s habitual lack of empathy for Israelis makes me doubt whether he has researched the issue of the security barrier in a spirit of genuine enquiry. But I’d be interested to know whether Shiraz Socialist readers find his arguments, or those of Alan Johnson, more compelling.
Given the enthusiasm with which the PSC and others push the claim that Israel is an “apartheid” state, and the suggestion that Mandela endorsed that view, the following article by Jeff Weintraub is of considerable importance:
The history of Israel’s relationship with South Africa, before and after the end of the white-supremacist apartheid regime, is a story with many complex, difficult, and deeply troubling aspects. That complexity was highlighted once again by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last-minute decision, on a pretext that looked pretty flimsy, to cancel his scheduled trip to South Africa to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral on December 10—a decision so unwise and unfortunate, even scandalous, on the face of it that I still find it a bit inexplicable (though I’ve seen a range of speculative analyses). President Shimon Peres had a plausible-sounding medical excuse that also kept him away. Whatever one thinks of Netanyahu, he’s smart enough that he must have realized how bad it looked for both of Israel’s top political figures to be absent from Mandela’s funeral, so I can’t help wondering whether there isn’t some complicate behind-the-scenes angle here that we may eventually learn about. At all events, Israel was represented at the funeral by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and five other Israeli legislators (including one African-Israeli Knesset member, Penina Tamanu-Shata, who was born in Ethiopia).
I mention this recent unpleasantness mostly as background to a more important story about Mandela and his relationship to Israel, reported (below) by Alan Johnson, editor of Fathom. It confirms for me something about Mandela’s record of which I was only partly aware, and gives me new reasons to admire Mandela’s historic role and greatness of spirit.
Here is a statement that Mandela made as President of the African National Congress in 1993, the year before he was elected President of South Africa. (If you’re skeptical about whether the quotation is accurate, you can also find it on the ANC website.):
As a movement, we recognise the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognise the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism. We insist on the right of the state of Israel to exist within secure borders but with equal vigour support the Palestinian right to national self-determination.
This formulation is clear, straightforward, and important. And as far as I can tell, it was Mandela’s consistent position through the end of his life.
Mandela and the ANC were, of course, thoroughly committed to the Palestinian cause and regarded the PLO as a fellow liberation movement. So it’s unsurprising, as well as entirely proper, that Mandela would have endorsed the legitimacy of the Palestinians’ struggle for liberation and national self-determination. What is more striking, in this context, is that Mandela explicitly and unambiguously supported Israel‘s right to exist. That is, he didn’t just indicate a willingness to accept Israel’s existence as an unavoidable (though perhaps unwelcome) fact of life, but asserted that Israel has a right to exist. And he supported Israel’s right to exist, explicitly and unambiguously, on the grounds that Jews have the same right to national self-determination as any other people. That cuts to the heart of what is as stake in the whole controversy. Everything else is details—though the details are obviously very important.
(Lest anyone think that I am overdoing the significance of Mandela’s position on these issues, it is worth noting that, to this day, almost no one in the entire Arab world has publicly accepted that Israel has a moral right to exist or that Zionism is a legitimate national movement—even people who, over time, have grudgingly come to accept the idea of making peace with Israel for reasons of prudence, realpolitik, or simple exhaustion. I can think of a few exceptions, but they can be counted on my fingers. As the New York Times journalist Ethan Bronner, who spent years covering the Middle East, wrote in 2003:
I once asked King Hussein of Jordan whether he considered Zionism legitimate. Did he accept that there was any historical basis to the Jews’ claim to a portion of Palestine as their homeland? He looked at me as if I were from Mars and ducked the question. Later, he told a Jordanian colleague that only a Jew could have posed such a strange question. Perhaps by the time of his death in 1999 he had softened his view. But his reaction still exemplifies that of the vast majority of Arabs today. Even the many who favor peace with Israel under certain conditions accept its reality but not its legitimacy. [....]
(“On the Israeli side,” Bronner added, “there are similar denials” regarding the legitimacy and moral claims of Palestinian nationalism—though nowadays significant numbers of Israelis, and certainly a major proportion of Israel’s supporters world-wide, do accept, at least in principle, that Palestinians have a right to national self-determination.) And I know people here in the US who have no desire to see Israel destroyed but who reject, or at least are uneasy about, recognizing the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish nation-state, though they have no trouble accepting the legitimacy of an Irish or Greek or Turkish or Egyptian or Palestinian nation-state—which means, whether or not they’re fully aware of it, that they don’t really accept that Jews have the same rights to political self-determination as other peoples.
In short, Mandela explicitly and unambiguously supported the principle that can be summed up with the formula “two states for two peoples“. Like it or not, that fundamental principle continues to be the only possible basis for a just, durable, and non-catastrophic resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—which, in turn, can work only in the context of a more general Arab-Israeli peace settlement that includes genuine Arab acceptance of Israel’s existence and security. That outcome is by no means inevitable, and in fact there are many good reasons for feeling pessimistic about whether it will actually happen. But all the realistically conceivable alternatives lead to catastrophe. So it’s a good idea to take Mandela seriously on this matter, as on many others.
P.S. And speaking of the details … here are a few of Mandela’s statements to reporters during his visit to Israel in 1999, after retiring as President of South Africa. On the one hand: “My view is that talk of peace remains hollow if Israel continues to occupy Arab lands.” But on the other hand: “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israel, within secure borders.”
Mandela made these statements toward the tail-end of the Oslo era, before the dramatic collapse of the supposed “peace process” in 2000. But they still sound like a good basis for a package deal. Some tendencies in the Arab world have been inching in that direction over the years (and the broad outlines of an Arab-Israeli peace settlement along these lines were put forward, albeit with significant gaps and ambiguities, in the Saudi-inspired Arab League Peace Initiative of 2002—which, so far, has not been followed up from either the Arab or the Israel side). Other tendencies have been moving even further away from it. All the available evidence suggests that a solid majority of Israelis are willing, in principle, to agree to a peace deal on this basis—but most of them have no confidence that it’s actually a realistically available option. What will happen in the future remains to be seen … though, again, excessive optimism would be foolish.
[Update 12/16/2013: I've been reminded that there is a a quotation from Mandela floating around the internet in which he accuses Israel of pursuing "apartheid policies" like the old South Africa. This quotation is often cited by people hostile to Israel. But it happens to be a fake. To be fair, it appears that the person who originally wrote that statement didn't pretend that it was an actual quotation, but instead meant it to suggest what Mandela would say if he were really expressing his innermost thoughts. But it now gets quoted and re-quoted as something Mandela actually said—which he didn't.]
I have been unable to ascertain the date of this interview (first published in The Progressive), but clearly it took place sometime between 2001 and 2006.
Sharon: aimed to prevent a Palestinian state
Uri Avnery: I joined the Irgun when I was just fifteen years old, and I left when I was nineteen years old. I joined because I wanted to fight for our freedom and a state of our own against the British colonial administration of Palestine. I left it because I did not approve of the methods and the aims of the Irgun.I have always been conscious of the importance and the strength of nationalism, and this has led me straight to the acknowledgment of the nationalism of the Palestinian people. I believe there is no way around this: We have to have a solution based on two national states, which will hopefully live and grow together and establish a relationship between them in something like a European Union.
Q: Can you discuss your 1945 essay, “Terrorism: The infantile disease of the Hebrew revolution”? And how does it relate to current Palestinian terrorism?
Avnery: When we in the Irgun put bombs in the Arab markets of Jaffa and Jerusalem and Haifa and killed scores of people–men, women, and children–in retaliation for similar acts by the Arabs, I didn’t back this. But it left me with a lasting understanding of what gets people to join such organizations, and I understand the Palestinians who join these organizations.I am against violence on both sides. But I understand people who believe that without violence they will not achieve anything at all. It is our responsibility as the stronger party, as the occupying power, to convince the Palestinians that they can achieve their basic national aims, their just national aspirations, without violence. Unfortunately, the behavior of the Sharon administration, and before this of the Barak administration, has shown the Palestinians the opposite: namely, that they will achieve nothing without violence.
Q: According to the United States and Israel, it is the Palestinians–more specifically, Arafat–who must take the initiative in ending the “cycle of violence.” Edward Said once said: “Since when does a militarily occupied people have responsibility for a peace movement?” Is it the responsibility of the Palestinians to end the violence?
Avnery: Violence is part of the resistance to occupation. The basic fact is not the violence; the basic fact is the occupation. Violence is a symptom; the occupation is the disease–a mortal disease for everybody concerned, the occupied and the occupiers. Therefore, the first responsibility is to put an end to the occupation. And in order to put an end to the occupation, you must make peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people. This is the real aim, this is the real task.
Q: Can you describe the impact of the wall on the peace process?
Avnery: One of the main aims of Sharon is to prevent a Palestinian state–a real, viable, sovereign, free Palestinian state. It has been the major task of his life for the last forty years. What Sharon wants to do is “shorten the lines,” in military slang. He wants to give up some positions which are untenable, or which cost too much to keep, and to withdraw to where he wants Israel to be.The route of the wall is not a straight line. It is a kind of checkerboard leaving the Palestinians 45 percent of the West Bank. It is six, eight, maybe twelve, Palestinian enclaves, big and small, each of them surrounded by Israeli territory. Israel will keep all the highways and all the settlements–except a few isolated ones. Israel will cut through the West Bank, east and west, north and south, in three or four ribbons or strips. One has to see the map to believe it.
The wall is being built for this purpose. The route looks completely surreal. It snakes through the landscape around and around and around, cutting off several Palestinian towns and villages, surrounding them completely, leaving one little gate for them to come and go.
This is all part of the picture in the mind of Sharon. His so-called two-state solution will be, let’s say, twelve Palestinian enclaves, which will be called a Palestinian state. It will be connected by, perhaps, a series of bridges, tunnels, and highways, which can be cut off at any moment at the whim of the Israeli government or Israeli army.
All the other territory–55 percent–will be annexed to Israel. To an American reader, these numbers may be without meaning. In 1949, the country of Palestine was partitioned after the war in such a way that the State of Israel-proper consisted of 78 percent of this country of Palestine. What was left to the Arabs was 22 percent, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
When Sharon wants to annex 55 percent of this, it means that what will be left to the Palestinians will be about 10 percent of the small country which used to be called Palestine. This 10 percent will be cut up into five, ten, maybe, twelve enclaves and this will be called the state of Palestine. This is a joke, this is a farce. It is a continuation of the war by other means.
You will not find one single Palestinian leader who would agree to this. This is not a plan for peace, it is a plan for war. It guarantees that the war between us and the Palestinians will go on forever. If President Bush and the government of the United States give Ariel Sharon the OK for this plan, it means that President Bush is opting for war.
Palestinians want a state of their own. They want to live in freedom. They want to get rid of the terrible misery in which they are living. They are ready after fifty years to accept a state of their own in 22 percent of what used to be the country of Palestine. I think it is the height of stupidity on our part if we don’t grasp this opportunity.
Q: Sharon has said that he will evacuate settlements in the Gaza Strip. Can you describe how this might play out?
Avnery: Contrary to the impression that has been created in Israel and all over the world–that Sharon is zigzagging, that he doesn’t know what to do, that he has no plan–he does have a very clear plan.
What he wants to do in the Gaza Strip is to evacuate most of the settlements. The Gaza Strip is not really a part of the settlement scheme of Ariel Sharon. He does not need these settlements. They are quite superfluous. They cost a lot of money. There are altogether about 7,000 settlers in all of the Gaza Strip in the middle of a million and a quarter Palestinians.
The army is investing huge resources to defend these people. There is a whole military division employed just for the Gaza Strip. To give them up is really a great benefit to the state, because these resources will now be employed in order to keep the settlements in the West Bank.
To turn the settlements over to the Palestinians would be, politically, a very difficult decision to make. It will mean that Sharon will see on his television screen the next day the Palestinians taking over Israeli settlements. In order to avoid this in the Sinai, Sharon destroyed the whole town of Yameed, which was the pride of Israel. I saw it after. It was surrealistic. The whole town was lying on the ground, roof next to roof next to roof. Sharon did this because he could not stand the idea that the Egyptians would take hold of this beautiful settlement.
It is a very complicated thing, complicated politically, militarily, economically. You can declare we should leave, but between this declaration and its implementation there is a huge gap.
Q: Perhaps you can describe some of the motivations Israelis have for living in a fortified Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip.
Avnery: There are Israeli institutions whose raison d’etre is to create settlements. There is the Jewish Agency, which gets a lot of money from the United States, from American Jews, whose sole job it is to create settlements. It enlists people all over the world–especially in Russia, and in the United States, by the way–to come and settle in the Occupied Territories as a kind of religious statement, a kind of nationalist statement: “This is a country given to us by God.” A lot of Israelis who do not believe in God believe that God has given us this country.
Individually, it is a beautiful thing to be there. Because, if you are a Jewish Israeli, you go to Gaza, you get the villa of your life, the villa which you did not dream of ever getting in Israel, a beautiful two-story villa with green meadows and so on, practically for nothing. Then you put up hothouses of tomatoes or flowers; you take the very Arabs from whom you grabbed this land and employ them as laborers in your hothouses. Israeli law does not apply in Gaza: There is no minimum wage, no annual vacation, no compensation for dismissal–so you get the work very, very cheap. It is a wonderful setup economically.
Q: Do you see any signs of hope?
Avnery: There are lots of grounds for hope in Israeli society. We are seeing Israelis getting fed up with war, looking for solutions. The youngest soldiers are refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories. Some are volunteering for army combat units but are refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories. We have the elite of the Israeli army, the air force pilots, some of them refusing orders which they consider illegal. We have a movement of people who support the so-called Geneva Accords, a draft peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. We have lots of people come out to Gush Shalom demonstrations against this terrible wall. There are lots of signs that average Israelis want peace. But after such a long war–this conflict has been going on now for 120 years–you have a fifth generation being born into it on both sides. Such a conflict creates hatred, fears, stereotypes, and demonizations of the other. It would be an illusion to believe you can put an end to this overnight. You have to fight for the soul of your people, you have to fight for the souls of millions of people on both sides, to overcome the legacy of this struggle and create a readiness for peace.
You must get Israelis to understand the feelings and the hopes and the traumas of the Palestinians. You have to get the Palestinians to understand why Israel is behaving the way it does: What is the legacy of the Holocaust, what are the fears of average Jewish people? It is a big job, and we are committed to this job, and we will win in the end. I am quite sure, because there is no other alternative. What is the alternative to peace? A catastrophe for both peoples.
Q: What about the Palestinian right of return?
Avnery: The Palestinian right of return has many different aspects. There is the moral aspect, the political aspect, and the practical aspect. I believe that Israel must concede to the Palestinian right of return in principle. Israel must, first of all, assume its responsibility for what happened in 1948, as far as we are to blame–and we are to blame for a great part of it, if not for all–and we must recognize in principle the right of refugees to return.
In practice, we have to find a complex solution to a very complex problem. It is manifestly idiotic to believe that Israel, with five million Jewish citizens and one million Arab citizens, will concede to the return of four million refugees. It will not happen. We can wish it, we can think it’s just, that it’s moral–it will not happen. No country commits suicide.
Now the question is: How do we solve the problem by allowing a number of refugees to return to Israel, allowing a number of refugees to return to the Palestinian state, and allowing a number of refugees to settle, with general compensation, where they want to settle? It is not an abstract problem. It involves four million human beings, and more than fifty years of various sorts of misery. But it is not an insolvable problem. It involves some good will, and a readiness to give up historic myths on both sides.
Q: So what’s the solution?
Avnery: The solution is perfectly clear. All parts of the conflict have been amply debated and discussed. Many plans have been put on the table–hundreds. And everybody knows by now exactly the parameters of a peace solution. We at Gush Shalom have published a draft text of a peace agreement, and I am fairly certain that when peace comes about, it will be more or less on these lines.
The solution is this: There will be a state of Palestine in all of the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Green Line, the border that existed before 1967, will come into being again. Jerusalem will be the shared capital–East Jerusalem will be the capital of Palestine, West Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel. All settlements must be evacuated. The security must be arranged for both people, and there must be a moral solution and a practical solution.
On these lines, there will be peace. And if you ask me, they could make peace in one week. The trouble is that both people find it very difficult to come to this point. And when I say both people, I don’t want to establish a symmetrical situation. There is no symmetry here; there are occupiers, and the occupied. And as the occupier, we have the responsibility to lead this process. This is what I, as an Israeli patriot, tell my own people.
– Jon Elmer is a freelance photojournalist who reported from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He is the creator and editor of the online journal FromOccupiedPalestine.org.
By Eric Lee
In early November, Ofer Eini announced the end of his 8-year stint as the head of Israel’s national trade union center, the Histadrut.
The end of the “Eini era” is a good moment to reflect upon some of the extraordinary successes the Histadrut has had in the last couple of years, particularly in organizing workers previously thought of as “unorganizable”.
That these successes are largely unknown outside of Israel is due to the blind hostility shown by some trade unionists to the Jewish state – a hostility that extends to the Israeli trade union movement.
The Histadrut has made extraordinary progress in its organizing campaigns recently by using audacious tactics in the workplace, getting labour laws changed, and using new technology effectively.
The result has been that unlike unions in many other industrialized countries, the Israeli labour movement is growing.
They began the year with union recognition at the mobile phone carrier Pelephone. This victory followed four months of struggle that culminated in a historic decision by Israel’s national labour court which ruled that an employer cannot intervene in the right of its employees to form a union.
They repeated this success in April with Cellcom, another large mobile phone carrier. Hundreds of new members were signed up, initially in a secret campaign and then openly.
Cellular telephone companies have been very difficult targets for unions in some other countries, as evidenced by the campaigns being waged by American unions to organize German-owned T-Mobile, or the struggle Britain’s unions have had with Virgin Media.
The Histadrut’s successes were not confined to the high-tech sector.
In June, the Histadrut’s youth arm announced that it recruited over 7,000 young workers at McDonald’s. In most countries, unions struggle to successfully organize McDonald’s workers – or workers in any other fast food chain.
In late October, the Histadrut announced a “lightning campaign” to sign up one third of the employees of Migdal Insurance on a single day. The campaign followed on the successful unionization earlier this year of Clal insurance. One reporter said the organizing drive “began to acquire the form of a full-scale military campaign.”
“There is no place where we are not active. We came organized and with the goal of winning,” a Histadrut source said. “D-Day was set for today, and all Migdal employees received an SMS and link to a website to join the Histadrut digitally … Activists from the union and employees are distributing brochures as we speak, calling on the employees to enter the special Facebook page set up for the unionization.”
At the same time, the Histadrut launched a 6.5 million shekel (1.36 million Euro) television ad campaign to promote union membership.
The Manufacturers’ Association condemned the planned ad campaign as “wretched timing” — not specifying when precisely was a good time, in their view, to promote union membership.
But Ofer Eini defended the plan: “It is precisely at this time that unionization of employees is needed, especially at a time of vilification of organized labor.”
Few unions outside of Israel will be aware of any of these successes in part because of the reluctance to engage with the Jewish state.
But another problem is that the Histadrut itself makes almost no effort to share its successes with the outside world, and instead focusses its very limited international activity at attempting to block anti-Israel resolutions at union congresses.
It’s very rare for a Histadrut representative at international trade union events to speak about anything other than the conflict with the Palestinians. But when they do – as happened at a global food workers congress in 2011 – they may find themselves facing an audience that is far less hostile.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Above: Lib Dem idiot David Ward
Early Day Motion 739 is a call for the freedom of movement of Palestinian journalists. Its primary sponsor is Jeremy Corbyn, who once invited Raed Salah, a promoter of the blood libel, to Parliament, and it is being supported by many other usual suspects: George Galloway, who refused to debate with a student at Oxford once he realized he was Israeli, David Ward, who bemoaned the fact Jews hadn’t learned more of a lesson from the Holocaust and Bob Russell, who has drawn a false equivalence between the Holocaust and the suffering of the Palestinians.
However those of us who are inclined to defend Israel from disproportionate scrutiny and exaggerated, even racist, criticism will sometimes find ourselves on the same ‘side’ as people with views just as deplorable – eg: Israel supporters who deny the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, and assert that they are a “made up people” with only themselves to blame. So it doesn’t seem rational to dismiss this EDM just because supporting it will put one in some unwelcome company. Here is the full text.
That this House notes that, on a daily basis, Israeli authorities restrict journalists’ movements and there are hundreds of military checkpoints that constrain or forbid journalists’ movements; further notes that despite the long standing campaigning by journalists and civil rights organisations, the Israeli authorities continue to reject identity cards, accreditation and press cards, including the International Federation of Journalists press card, when carried by Palestinian journalists; condemns the continuous attacks by Israeli soldiers on Palestinian news gatherers, in particular photographers and camera crews, the level of attacks has increased during the first half of 2013, in 2012 the attacks involved rubber coated steel bullets, tear grenades and stun grenades; and reaffirms that freedom of movement is a central tenet of independent professional journalism and, in restricting such a right, Israeli authorities are in breach of international covenants and the right to report.
There would seem to be two possible objections to the EDM. First, the claims may be exaggerated; secondly, even someone who is, or seems to be, a journalist may still pose a threat. Here’s a link to a story about a clearcut example of this, a newsreader who dropped off a terrorist before going to work to report on the bombing: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/27/arts/television/27genz.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1386088156-piyAlCJHUvKKlpjcZCsThg
Yet security concerns don’t justify the apparently brutal treatment some Palestinian journalists have experienced, as documented here:
Trying to establish whether the EDM is reasonable or not, like most lines of enquiry relating to Israel/Palestine, has the same bewildering effect as looking at this ambiguous picture:
Is the journalist featured in this story (link below), Mohamed Jamal Abu Khdeir, a victim of Israeli heavy handedness or a real security threat?
While looking up recent news stories about Palestinian journalists I found an example of one unfortunate man, George Canawati, who had been beaten up for mere “slander and abuse” - making derogatory remarks about a police officer. However in this case the violence was carried out, not by Israeli forces, but by the Palestinian Authority:
However, even though one might wryly note that some sections of the media won’t be so quick to report on this attack on press freedom as on Israel’s shortcomings, that doesn’t mean those shortcomings aren’t real. The monitoring organisation Reporters without Borders doesn’t have the kind of profile one would associate with reflexive Israel-bashing, yet it seems increasingly critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinian journalists:
So, whether or not one goes along with every element of the EDM, it certainly seems to highlight a genuine cause for concern in a year which has seen Israel’s press freedom ranking fall sharply:
Review by Martin Thomas, Workers Liberty
Ed Miliband’s father Ralph Miliband, a Marxist writer denounced by the Daily Mail as “the man who hated Britain”, left behind him two well-known books, Parliamentary Socialism and The State In Capitalist Society.
Less-known, but also valuable today, is a thin volume of letters in 1967 about Israel-Palestine between Ralph Miliband and his friend Marcel Liebman, who was then a contributor to the semi-Trotskyist Belgian weekly La Gauche.
The letters were translated from French by Peter Drucker and published in 2006 with an introduction by the Lebanese-French Marxist writer Gilbert Achcar.
Partly the letters are valuable in the same way that a view on any issue from a divergent and unfamiliar angle can be. In 1967, many assumptions on Israel-Palestine which currently go almost unquestioned on the left (in Britain, at least) were not assumed at all. And partly the letters are valuable because in them Miliband is exceptionally lucid.
The correspondence spans a few weeks around the June 1967 war between Israel and the Arab states.
The temper of the left on the Israel-Palestine question then was different from now. No-one on the left advocated wiping Israel off the map. Arab governments, and the leaders at the time of the PLO (then an annexe of the Egyptian government, without the autonomy it gained after 1968-9), openly advocate wiping Israel off the map, and everyone on the left dissented.
Inside IS (forerunner of the SWP), a small but substantial minority opposed SWP leader Tony Cliff’s line in June 1967 of backing the Arab states. There was a debate inconceivable today in the SWP or the SWP diaspora. (For the record: the forerunners of AWL backed Cliff’s line in 1967. We have learned since).
At the beginning of the debate recorded in the volume, Liebman is about as anti-Israeli as any socialist got those days. He expresses disgust that “the whole French left is basically for Israel… from [Jean-Paul] Sartre to [Socialist Party leader] Guy Mollet”, and says he wants to move to England where anti-Israeli sentiment is stronger.
In the first letter he denounces Miliband as “pro-Israeli” and “reacting as a European and a Jew rather than as a socialist”.
Miliband actually has a slightly rose-tinted picture of Israeli policy. He considers it “nonsense” to suppose there are “serious Israeli plans to conquer and subjugate Arab people outside its territory”.
Miliband is remonstrating with an indignant Liebman who suggests that Israel is about to invade and conquer Syria. He is right to do so: but in fact Israel would “conquer and subjugate Arab people outside its territory” in the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: Zion Karasanti, Yitzhak Yifat and Haim Oshri, IDF paratroopers at Jerusalem’s Western Wall shortly after its capture. (David Rubinger / Knesset website)
Shortly after 9:15 a.m. on June 7, 1967, reservists of the Israel Defense Forces 55th Paratroopers Reserve Brigade became the first soldiers of a sovereign Jewish state to enter the Old City of Jerusalem, the historic and Biblical capital of the Jewish people, in nearly 20 centuries. The ceasefire that ended Israel’s 1948 War of Independence had left Jerusalem’s Old City under the Jordanian army’s control, and many religious Jews with strong feelings that the promise of redemption had not yet been fulfilled.
The night before, the unit had sustained high casualties in hand-to-hand fighting against Jordanian Army infantry in the surrounding hillsides. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan questioned whether modern Israel even needed what he dismissively called “this Vatican,” but ultimately relented to the pressure of Israel’s Chief Rabbi and the political Right. However, the conquest was easier than anticipated: Unknown to the IDF, Jordanian forces had slipped away under cover of night, so when approval came that Wednesday morning to take the Old City, soldiers of the 55th broke through the Lion’s Gate and reached the Temple Mount and Western Wall in short order. In a scene eerily foreshadowing the triumphal image 36 years later of an American soldier draping the stars and stripes across a statue of Saddam Hussein, someone fastened an Israeli flag atop the Dome of the Rock—Islam’s third holiest site—prompting an appalled Dayan to order it taken down immediately.
Over the course what became known as the Six Day War, the territory under Israeli control tripled, its borders expanded to the banks of the River Jordan, the Suez Canal and the heights of Golan, encompassing not only all of Jerusalem, but the holy historical sites of Hebron, Jericho and Bethlehem. What had begun as a defensive war for national existence had ended in an occupation of conquest.
The consequences of that transformation over the next five decades are vividly, and at times heartbreakingly, recounted in American-born Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi’s excellent and exquisitely written new book, Like Dreamers: The Story of The Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation. Through the intertwining personal histories of seven reservists of the 55th Brigade— who range from pork-eating, Yom Kippur-breaking kibbutzniks to kashrus-observing, kippot-wearing seminarians—Halevi provides a comprehensive, insightful and richly accessible portrayal of the competing utopian visions of modern Zionism: one secular, the other messianic. Understanding these competing visions is central to finding a just and enduring resolution to the competing claims dividing what both Arabs and Jews call the Holy Land.
To kibbutzniks, the founding elite of the modern Jewish state, Stalin-era Red Army songs came more easily than the most elementary Hebraic prayers. They believed the aim of Zionism was to build a democratic socialist country in the ancient Jewish homeland that would claim its place among the other sovereign secular democracies of the world, a nation among nations.
Religious Zionists, not interested in building what Halevi characterizes as “another Belgium,” sought to create a Jewish state that remained true to Biblical prophecy and borders, included the holy sites of Jerusalem, Jericho and Hebron, observed Jehovah’s rituals and commandments, and served as a beacon and moral example to all the nations. Halevi quotes a 21-year-old seminarian and corporal exclaiming at the liberation of the Temple Mount, “Two thousand years of exile are over.” Another tells an officer, “We are writing the next chapter of the Bible.”
But with unfolding of events—the Yom Kippur War; the founding, expansion, and dismantling of settlements; the incursion into Lebanon; the Camp David and Oslo Accords; the Rabin assassination; the massacre at the Mosque of Abraham; successive intifadas and failure to reach agreement at the second Camp David meeting in 2000—worldviews change, as did the former paratroopers who held them. In following the stories of these paratroopers and their comrades, Halevi masterfully demonstrates the fluidity, complexities, inconsistencies and contradictions that propel national, cultural and geopolitical, as well as personal, history. Of the seven paratroopers:
Two kibbutzniks—Meir Ariel, who becomes a rock musician and Avital Geva, who earns international acclaim as a conceptual artist—were involved in founding of Peace Now, the political movement dedicated to ending the occupation and reaching a just two-state solution with the Palestinians. Brought up in secular socialist kibbutzim where the kitchens weren’t kosher and the Sabbath was just another work day, Ariel and Geva in middle age separately come to embrace ritual prayer and the Study of Torah.
Arik Achmon, the brigade’s intelligence officer and the son-in-law of the founder of the leading left-wing kibbutz movement becomes a corporate executive, union buster and influential proponent of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, while at the same time favoring construction of a security barrier separating most of the West Bank and Gaza from Israel proper, concluding that for Israel, ending the occupation is a more urgent priority than making peace.
Yoel Bin-Nun, former seminarian and corporal in the paratroopers, who becomes a rabbi, teacher, and founder of two settlements beyond Israel’s 1967 borders, similarly concludes when “confronted with the unbearable choice between preserving the intactness of the people of Israel and the intactness of the land of Israel,” the Jewish hierarchy of values places people first, then Torah and then land. Anguished by the religious Right’s growing participation in, and tolerance for, violence against other Israelis and Israeli institutions, he quits the settlement he founded, and at the age of 58, votes Labor for the first time in his life.
Yisrael Harel, the only non-sabra of the seven, is a child refugee of the Shoah who, as a leader and top organizer of the settler movement, goes on to meet clandestinely with PLO representatives in an effort to find a framework for agreement on Palestinian sovereignty that preserves established Jewish settlements. Harel’s colleague Hanan Porat, also a former seminarian, becomes the first West Bank settler to win election to the Knesset as a strong proponent of expanded settlement by both legal and extralegal means. When during the elections of 1992 hard Right parties attack Labor Prime Minister candidate Yitzhak Rabin for suffering an emotional breakdown on the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur war, Hanan Porat publically comes to the defense of his former commander.
Former kibbutznik and paratrooper Udi Adiv becomes increasingly estranged from what he comes to see as “Zionist imperialism” and “the fiction of progressive Zionism.” While a left-wing radical at the University of Haifa, he asks an Israeli Palestinian to put him in touch with the PLO. Ultimately, Adiv becomes involved with a Syrian sponsored anti-Zionist terror network. Arrested in Israel three months following the massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich, he is convicted of espionage and sentenced to 17 years in prison. While imprisoned Adiv asks to be confined with the Arab prisoners, but grows disillusioned when they exhibit more solidarity with nationhood and Islam than with class. He is returned by request to the general prison population, comprised mostly of Sephardic poor and working-class Jews. Released after serving 12 years, he tours the destroyed Arab village on whose land his own kibbutz expanded and thinks, “Every nation carries its legacy of injustice… . To correct the injustices of the past meant imposing new injustices.” Nearly two decades following his arrest, one of his former interrogators casually tells him during a chance encounter that “all of us”—meaning the intelligence service— “are in favor of an agreement with the Palestinians.” The kibbutznik takes it as a vindication of sorts.
None of these lives played out neatly. Some bent toward behavior and ideologies they never would have imagined, others experimented with various philosophies and careers, while others pressed the limits of messianic certainty. In them, we see that progress marches not so much in a straight dialectic as rambles in gradual zigs, abrupt zags, and occasional reverses—something Hegel and Marx and Yeats never quite got.
Halevi’s narrative includes a number of tactical and strategic lessons for contemporary progressives seeking justice for Palestinians. Boycott, Divesture and Sanctions proponents might remember that the most powerful consequence of the 1975 United Nations “Zionism is racism” resolution, was to incense Israelis and sway Israeli public opinion to support—or at least not oppose—the expansion of settlements in Judea and Samaria. Arafat’s last minute hardening of position and retreat from an agreement at the 2000 Camp David talks, under which Israel would have withdrawn from more than 90 percent of the West Bank and would have established a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, led to the resumption of the intifada and the surprise election months later of hardliner Ariel Sharon as prime minister, thereby prolonging the misery of occupation and postponing indefinitely the prospects for establishing a two-state solution and the redress of Palestinian grievances.
Yossi Klein Halevi’s eye for detail and character, and ear for complexity and nuance, create an authoritative narrative with the intensity and sweep of an epic novel. From now on, no understanding of the history and currents shaping the prospects for a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians will be complete without Halevi’s remarkable and compelling book.
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Louis Nayman is a longtime union organizer. The views expressed are his own.
H/t: Roger McCarthy
Exactly 40 years ago, the Syrian and Egyptian ruling classes launched the third Arab war against Israel (I include in that, the 1967 defensive pre-emptive strike by Israel). Initially, Egypt and Syria had some success, but, eventually, Israel with considerable US support, beat them back. There is no doubt that Syria and Egypt were the aggressors, but Uri Avnery (below) adds some background and context:
Above: Moshe Dayan with Golda Meir at the Front
I AM sitting here writing this article 39 years to the minute from that moment when the sirens started screaming, announcing the beginning of the war.
A minute before, total quiet reigned, as it does now. No traffic, no activity in the street, except a few children riding bicycles. Yom Kippur, the holiest day for Jews, reigned supreme. And then…
Inevitably, the memory starts to work.
THIS YEAR, many new documents were released for publication. Critical books and articles are abundant.
The universal culprits are Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan.
They have been blamed before, right from the day after the war, but only for superficial military offences, known as The Default. The default was failing to mobilize the reserves, and not moving the tanks to the front in time, in spite of the many signs that Egypt and Syria were about to attack.
Now, for the first time, the real Grand Default is being explored: the political background of the war. The findings have a direct bearing on what is happening now.
IT TRANSPIRES that in February 1973, eight months before the war, Anwar Sadat sent his trusted aide, Hafez Ismail, to the almighty US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.
Above: Uri (left) talks to Sadat
He offered the immediate start of peace negotiations with Israel. There was one condition and one date: all of Sinai, up to the international border, had to be returned to Egypt without any Israeli settlements, and the agreement had to be achieved by September, at the latest.
Kissinger liked the proposal and transmitted it at once to the Israeli ambassador, Yitzhak Rabin, who was just about to finish his term in office. Rabin, of course, immediately informed the Prime Minister, Golda Meir.
She rejected the offer out of hand. There ensued a heated conversation between the ambassador and the Prime Minister. Rabin, who was very close to Kissinger, was in favor of accepting the offer.
Golda treated the whole initiative as just another Arab trick to induce her to give up the Sinai Peninsula and remove the settlements built on Egyptian territory.
After all, the real purpose of these settlements – including the shining white new town, Yamit – was precisely to prevent the return of the entire peninsula to Egypt. Neither she nor Dayan dreamed of giving up Sinai. Dayan had already made the infamous statement that he preferred “Sharm al-Sheik without peace to peace without Sharm al-Sheik”.
Sharm al-Sheik, which had already been re-baptised with the Hebrew name Ophira, is located near the southern tip of the peninsula, not far from the oil wells, which Dayan was also loath to give up.
Even before the new disclosures, the fact that Sadat had made several peace overtures was no secret. Sadat had indicated his willingness to reach an agreement in his dealings with the UN mediator Dr. Gunnar Jarring, whose endeavors had already become a joke in Israel.
Before that, the previous Egyptian President, Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, had invited Nahum Goldman, the President of the World Jewish Congress (and for a time President of the World Zionist Organization) to meet him in Cairo.
Golda had prevented that meeting, and when the fact became known there was a storm of protest in Israel, including a famous letter from a group of 12th-graders saying that it would be hard for them to serve in the army.
All these Egyptian initiatives could be waved aside as political maneuvers. But an official message by Sadat to the Secretary of State could not. So, remembering the lesson of the Goldman incident, Golda decided to keep the whole thing secret.
THUS AN incredible situation was created. This fateful initiative, which could have effected an historic turning point, was brought to the knowledge of two people only: Moshe Dayan and Israel Galili.
The role of the latter needs explanation. Galili was the eminence grise of Golda, as well as of her predecessor, Levy Eshkol. I knew Galili quite well, and never understood where his renown as a brilliant strategist came from.
Already before the founding of the state, he was the leading light of the illegal Haganah military organization. As a member of a kibbutz, he was officially a socialist but in reality a hardline nationalist. It was he who had the brilliant idea of putting the settlements on Egyptian soil, in order to make the return of northern Sinai impossible.
So the Sadat initiative was known only to Golda, Dayan, Galili and Rabin and Rabin’s successor in Washington, Simcha Dinitz, a nobody who was Golda’s lackey.
Incredible as it may sound, the Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, Rabin’s direct boss, was not informed. Nor were all the other ministers, the Chief of Staff and the other leaders of the armed forces, including the Chiefs of Army Intelligence, as well as the chiefs of the Shin Bet and the Mossad. It was a state secret.
There was no debate about it – neither public nor secret. September came and passed, and on October 6th Sadat’s troops struck across the canal and achieved a world-shaking surprise success (as did the Syrians on the Golan Heights.)
As a direct result of Golda’s Grand Default 2693 Israeli soldiers died, 7251 were wounded and 314 were taken prisoner (along with the tens of thousands of Egyptian and Syrian casualties).
THIS WEEK, several Israeli commentators bemoaned the total silence of the media and the politicians at the time.
Well, not quite total. Several months before the war, in a speech in the Knesset, I warned Golda Meir that if the Sinai was not returned very soon, Sadat would start a war to break the impasse.
I knew what I was talking about. I had, of course, no idea about the Ismail mission, but in May 1973 I took part in a peace conference in Bologna. The Egyptian delegation was led by Khalid Muhyi al-Din, a member of the original group of Free Officers who made the 1952 revolution.
During the conference, he took me aside and told me in confidence that if the Sinai was not returned by September, Sadat would start a war. Sadat had no illusions of victory, he said, but hoped that a war would compel the US and Israel to start negotiations for the return of Sinai.
My warning was completely ignored by the media. They, like Golda, held the Egyptian army in abysmal contempt and considered Sadat a nincompoop. The idea that the Egyptians would dare to attack the invincible Israeli army seemed ridiculous.
The media adored Golda. So did the whole world, especially feminists. A famous poster showed her face with the inscription: “But can she type?” In reality, Golda was a very primitive person, ignorant and obstinate.
My magazine, Haolam Hazeh, attacked her practically every week, and so did I in the Knesset. She paid me the unique compliment of publicly declaring that she was ready to “mount the barricades” to get me out of the Knesset.
Ours was a voice crying in the wilderness, but at least we fulfilled one function: In her ‘March of Folly”, Barbara Tuchman stipulated that a policy could be branded as folly only if there had been at least one voice warning against it in real time.
Perhaps even Golda would have reconsidered if she had not been surrounded by journalists and politicians singing her praises, celebrating her wisdom and courage and applauding every one of her stupid pronouncements.
THE SAME type of people, even some of the very same people, are now doing the same with Binyamin Netanyahu.
Again, we are staring the same Grand Default in the face.
Again, a group of two or three are deciding the fate of the nation. Netanyahu and Ehud Barak alone make all the decisions, “keeping their cards close to their chest”. Attack Iran or not? Politicians and generals are kept in the dark. Bibi and Ehud know best. No need for any other input.
But more revealing than the blood-curdling threats on Iran is the total silence about Palestine. Palestinian peace offers are ignored, as were those of Sadat in those days. The ten-year old Arab Peace Initiative, supported by all the Arab and all the Muslim states, does not exist.
Again, settlements are put up and expanded, in order to make the return of the occupied territories impossible. Let’s remember all those who claimed, in those days, that the occupation of Sinai was “irreversible”. Who would dare to remove Yamit?
Again, multitudes of flatterers, media stars and politicians compete with each other in adulation of “Bibi, King of Israel”. How smoothly he can talk in American English! How convincing his speeches in the UN and the US Senate!
Well, Golda, with her 200 words of bad Hebrew and primitive American, was much more convincing, and she enjoyed the adulation of the whole Western world.
And at least she had the sense not to challenge the incumbent American president (Richard Nixon) during an election campaign.
IN THOSE days, I called our government “the ship of fools”. Our current government is worse, much worse.
Golda and Dayan led us to disaster. After the war, their war, they were kicked out – not by elections, not by any committee of inquiry, but by the grassroots mass protests that racked the country.
Bibi and Ehud are leading us to another, far worse, disaster. Some day, they will be kicked out by the same people who adore them now – if they survive.