The Nightmare in Israel

Let’s start with Baruch Kimmering, a sociologist at Hebrew University. Here’s what he sent to the Jerusalem Weekly Kol Ha’Ir last month, which duly published it:

“I accuse Ariel Sharon of creating a process in which he will not only intensify the reciprocal bloodshed, but is liable to instigate a regional war and partial or nearly complete ethnic cleansing of the Arabs in the “Land of Israel.”

“I accuse every Labor Party minister in this government of cooperating for implementation the right wing’s extremist, fascist ‘vision’ for Israel.

“I accuse the Palestinian leadership, and primarily Yasir Arafat, of shortsightedness so extreme that it has become a collaborator in Sharon’s plans. If there is a second Naqba (Palestinian Holocaust), this leadership, too, will be among the causes.

“I accuse the military leadership, spurred by the national leadership, of inciting public opinion, under a cloak of supposed military professionalism, against the Palestinians. Never before in Israel have so many generals in uniform, former generals, and past members of the military intelligence, sometimes disguised as “academics,” taken part in public brainwashing

“I accuse the administrators of Israel’s electronic media of giving various military spokespeople the access needed for an aggressive, bellicose, almost complete takeover of the public discourse

“I accuse everyone who sees and knows all of this of doing nothing to prevent the emerging catastrophe. Sabra and Shatila events were nothing compared to what has happened and what is going to happen to us. We have to go out not only to the town squares, but also to the checkpoints. We have to speak to the soldiers in the tanks and the troop carriers And I accuse myself of knowing all of this, yet crying little and keeping quiet too often.”

From the press here we learn all the time of the pressure of public opinion on Sharon and his government to bear down even harder on the Palestinians. We just listened to NPR’s Linda Gradstein quoting one “expert” after another in Israel to this effect. But if public opinion here is crucial in pressuring US administrations to some measure of constructive intervention (as opposed to carte blanche for Sharon) then we should be hearing everyday of the passionate opposition to Sharon of people like Kimmering.

There are many others you don’t read about. Take the extraordinarily courageous people in the movement known Ta’ayush. On its site first you’ll see the words “Arab-Jewish Partnership”, and then you’ll be able to scroll through one action after another in which these folk have braved police and army beatings, march to beleagured and often bulldozed Palestinian villages to stand shoulder to shoulder with the victims.

Here’s what Professor Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University wrote March 6: ” As to the situation here, it is getting unbearable by the day We tried to dismantle a roadblock the other day near Hebrew U and were beaten by the police. Three women had their hands broken, one had her head opened. I was beaten while in custody with my hands handcuffed behind my back. Sharon bombed Gaza this morning”

There are plenty of people in Israel who see well enough that repression is not going to work. At the end of last year Ami Ayalon, a former head of Shabak, Israel’s security service, told Le Monde, “We say the Palestinians behave like ‘madmen,’ but it is not madness but a bottomless despair… Yasser Arafat neither prepared nor triggered the Intifada. The explosion was spontaneous, against Israel, as all hope for the end of occupation disappeared, and against the Palestinian authority, its corruption, its impotence.”

“I favor unconditional withdrawal from the Territories — preferably in the context of an agreement, but not necessarily: what needs to be done, urgently, is to withdraw from the Territories. And a true withdrawal. If they proclaim their own state, Israel should be the first to recognize it and to propose state to state negotiations, without conditions.”

There have been other public statements from other Israeli security personnel bearing on the same general theme that the present strategy of extreme repression is doomed to fail and that some form of phased withdrawal is in order.

Is there anything to the Saudi proposal? After all, its suggested bargain of unconditional recognition for Israel from the Arab countries in return for Israel’s unconditional withdrawal to pre-1967 borders is over 30 years old.

The Israeli journalist Meron Benvenisti had the right angle in his Ha’aretz column on February 28: No illusion is more dangerous than the idea being sold that ‘the conflict with the Palestinians is small and incidental. We can solve the conflict with the entire Arab world.’ It was long ago proven that there is no solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict without a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians–and that is what the Saudi initiative is all about.”

The Bush Administration, criminally negligent in its cowardice to engage with this crisis, lets it be known that the Saudi proposal has merit, by which it knows well enough what the standard operating procedure is for such proposals. As summed up by Uri Avneri, head of the peace group Gush Shalom, ” In Israel, every international initiative designed tio put an end to the conflict passes through three stages: (a) denial, (b) misrepresentation, (c) liquidation. That’s how the Sharon-Peres government will deal with this one, too.”

The press here has been as criminally negligent as the Bush administration for decades. No US administration will ever exert itself positively without some popular pressure, and the role of most of the press has been to avert such pressure but suppressing voices of opposition.

Here’s one thing you can do. Right now Jewish Voices Against Occupation is calling for the evacuation of all settlements, a return to pre-1967 borders, the suspension of US military aid till the end of the occupation, the estasblishmdent of an international peraqcekeeping force.

JVAO’s Bluma Goldstein tells me that 450 has signed it and $30,000 raised towards the necessary $37,750. Mail them at JVAO, PO Box 11606, Berkeley, Ca 94712. Their email is Remember Kimmerling’s line, “And I accuse myself of knowing all of this, yet crying little and keeping quiet too often.”

Now read closely this “Call For International Action to END THE OCCUPATION NOW!” issued by Jeff Halper, of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) on March 6:

“This is the moment of decision. The Israeli army today opened its widest campaign against Palestinian ‘targets’ ever non-stop bombardment from the air, sea and land, invasion of large Palestinian areas (especially in Gaza), house demolitions, killings, arrests and the declaring of a virtual halt to Palestinian traffic on all the roads of the Occupied Territories. This is the time when all of us, NGOs, faith-based organizations and citizens, Palestinians, Israelis and members of the international community , must arise and focus our efforts on one goal, and one goal only: To bring an end to the brutal Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza NOW.

“During the seven years of Oslo, Israel pursued a particular vision of ‘peace’, a non-viable and only semi-independent Palestinian mini-state that would relieve Israel of the three million Palestinians residing in the Occupied Territories but would leave it in control. Israel’s ferocious response to the Intifada came from a fear that the Palestinian Street would break the PA out of the Oslo framework and lead it to a true dismantling of the Occupation, to a viable and truly sovereign Palestinian state.

“That is the battle being waged now, between an Israeli-controlled Palestinian bantustan and a viable, sovereign Palestinian state. Couching Palestinian resistance as mere ‘terrorism’ (and thereby cynically exploiting the simplistic ‘anti-terror’ approach of the post-September 11 Bush Administration), Israel is using its entire military arsenal (except its nuclear weapons) to suppress Palestinian aspirations ‘for once and for all’. Sharon, who believes that there can be only one ‘victor’, has declared that the current offensive, escalated daily, will not cease until the Palestinians ‘surrender’.”

The only force preventing the defeat of Palestinian aspirations for independence is the Palestinian Street. This is the force that rose up against an Oslo process that was leading it to apartheid. This is the force that appealed to the international community for support in its struggle against a vastly superior military and political oppressor. But how long the Palestinian people can hang on is a matter of question. People speak bravely of fighting for as long as it takes, but military strikes, invasions of refugee camps, impoverishment, house demolitions, severe restrictions on movement and psychological fatigue all take their toll. Israel’s smooth, well-oiled machine of public relations and diplomacy has succeeded in isolating the Palestinians internationally and delegitimizing Arafat’s leadership.

“This is the time when an international Intifada is called for, when members of the international community must stand up and demand that their governments end the Occupation NOW. This must be the focus of our actions. All else, no matter how well intentioned, has been rendered irrelevant by the events of the past weeks. What must we do?

“International NGOs, faith-based organizations and political groups must join their extensive but scattered and poorly-focused networks into a coherent, adamant Campaign Against the Occupation. Each country must form a campaign team and those teams must develop a working framework of cooperation and joint action. The international and country-based teams should then establish contacts with Palestinian and Israeli organizations for purposes of our immediate concerns and demanding an end to the occupation now; coordination; the development of informational and campaign materials; the dispatching of local delegations (Palestinian, Israeli and joint) for the purposes of lobbying, media work and appearing in public forums abroad. Effective lobbying in the American Congress, the European Parliament and in European capitals is essential.

“I would urge that joint Palestinian-Israeli delegations be sent with a simple, compelling message: we are on the same side, the side that aspires to a just peace that addresses the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people while bringing security, stability and economic development to the entire region; the dispatching of international delegations to Palestine to engage in resistance actions, and to develop with them effective follow-up actions back home.

“We also need more effective means of raising funds for our work, and of focusing our funding on campaigns and actions that bear directly upon the urgent task of ending the Occupation.

“Palestinian organizations must focus their efforts on a Campaign to End the Occupation Now, pulling together the agendas of their many organizations into a coordinated and effective effort. In my opinion, a close working relationship between Palestinian NGOs and those Israeli organizations that share in their agenda of ending the Occupation is essential for effective advocacy.

“Israeli peace and human rights organizations must also develop a more effective framework of action. Besides our scattered protest activities, we must find ways to effectively communicate with the Israeli public, and we must be much more involved in international networking and campaigns, including production of better informational materials. We must also seek ways to support Palestinian organizations. All the pieces are in place. We have the organizations and the world-wide networks. Some of us have the information, others the funding, still others the skills at putting together an international campaign, working with the media, gaining access to decision-makers. Some of us are here, ‘on the ground’ in Palestine/Israel, with all we can contribute; others are abroad, in key positions to influence public opinion in their countries and their governments’ policies. We now all share the responsibility the collective, urgent responsibility of bringing all our resources to bear on the only issue before us: ending the Occupation now.

“People and organizations at the center of international networks have to decide how to proceed. You all know each other. Network, discuss, develop mechanisms of coordination and suggest to us ‘on the ground’ how to link up effectively. Palestinian organizations perhaps through PNGO should declare a common Campaign For Ending the Occupation Now in order to focus their attention and interact effectively with organizations abroad, with all the contact information. Again, I would urge a meeting with partner Israeli organizations to strengthen the cooperation. ICAHD will work to create better forums of cooperation among Israeli organizations, and to augment the present emphasis on activism with effective international advocacy and campaigning. We should not underestimate our power, the power of the international civil society, which is growing in strength and organization. This is the moment in which we must arise and assert our collective will. End the Occupation NOW!”


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.