An Unworkable Situation

Hebrew Translation

Dear friends,

The recent period in Israel has been difficult and in some ways different from other periods. I want us to start discharging and discussing it together. It has become increasingly clear that Israel needs more intelligent policies and leadership. We might be able to provide this.

The past weeks have brought to the fore several things that have been true for a while but hidden. The first is that the current situation is completely unworkable and cannot continue for long.

There has been a pretence that the Occupation, including enlarging the West Bank settlements,1 could continue with relatively few Israeli casualties. The idea has been to have the Palestinians accept the bleak existence offered them, with several economic incentives to make possible a Palestinian middle class, based mostly in Ramallah,2 that is comfortable enough to “forget” the brutality of the oppression—or at least not fight full-out against it for fear of losing the small amount of comfort it has gained.

This idea blew up in our faces with the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli young people and, even more so, with the kidnapping and murder of the Palestinian child. During these days, there was also other Israeli violence toward Palestinians, and Palestinian protests followed.

The other thing that can no longer be ignored is how extremist, violent, angry, and scared Israeli society has become in recent years. Racist and violent groups, based mostly in settlement populations, have seen a significant increase in power. This has been supported by the state. There is also widespread support for these groups in Israeli society. Once it was known that the kidnapped Israeli children were killed, an unprecedented amount of rage and violence was unleashed. It included not only the killing of the Palestinian child in Shu’afat3 but also physical and verbal violence toward Arabs throughout Israel. This did not come out of nowhere. The fear, anger, hatred and violence have been systematically installed and have existed under the surface (and sometimes over it) for many years.

I work in the Carmelit, Haifa’s underground.4 I’ve had the opportunity to listen to my colleagues’ rage, racism, and feelings of desire to kill. My sense is that those who feel similarly are not a small group as is often pretended. Rather they are a dominant part of our society.

One can also no longer ignore that Israeli Palestinians are feeling more and more rage and alienation. The hurts of racism, including the gross neglect and denial of resources, cannot continue without having a deep and significant impact.

For several years the Israeli peace movement has been unable to pick itself up from despair over5 the peace process. No group in the Israeli peace movement has been able to state reality clearly and hopefully and offer a vision in which there is room for everyone. Instead, the movement has largely backed itself into a corner in which it blames Israel and therefore is hated by most Israelis. At the same time, the liberal segments of the peace movement have consistently taken unprincipled stands and supported the war effort, which has put them in no position to present any reliable alternative.

The recent peace process is completely void. Israel has not been willing to advance in a direction that would offer a good future for either people. There is no willingness to make the necessary decisions that would bring about such a future. Instead, the Israeli government promotes the settlements and defends the ongoing violence against the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, both by the army and from right-wing6 groups. This policy has been backed7 by the United States. On occasion the United States has come out against it, but only in words and never in any significant manner. The economic interests behind this state of things, unstable as they may be, continue to determine the policies, even though appearances may be otherwise.

I believe the war in Gaza8 is another attempt to gain time—to hurt and discourage the Palestinians so that there will be another round of quiet and giving up. Whether this will be successful or not is hard to tell.9 What is clear is that the situation is escalating. That the rockets have reached Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and even Haifa10 only puts in everyone’s face what we actually have to look at and handle. A war in Gaza every two years cannot continue for long. No side has the power to persist in such a situation.

Can we put forward new and intelligent ideas that will engage the minds of the majority and move us from where we are? What will these ideas be, and how shall we put them into practice? These are the questions that interest me and that we need to think and discharge about together and start to move on.

LATER

It has been a rough and complicated couple of months here. I’ve been using most of my Co-Counseling sessions to work on feelings about the current situation. I have been trying to reach out to friends, both Israelis and Palestinians, and to listen and sometimes share my thinking.

There is a deep rift between what is actually happening and what most Israeli Jews believe to be true. We have been trained to live with a blanket of lies and deceptions. We are blind to what things are really like for the Palestinians and what our government’s policy has actually been.

I am trying to figure out and balance what it means to be Israeli these days. What do the Israeli people need to understand to move forward, and what can wait? Do Israelis need to know that they have been lied to about what Israel has done? Do they need to know the extent to which they have been lied to? Do they need to know the truth about Israel’s refusal to engage in a real peace process? Do they need to look at their own oppressor material11 and their unknowing complicity in it? Could it be enough for them to understand that Palestinians are good human beings, that there is no inherent conflict between our peoples, and that therefore there is a real possibility of resolution? Could they actually figure this out without understanding that their perception of reality is based not only on distress but on lies that have been sitting on top of that distress?

I listen to my coworkers daily as they talk about anti-Semitism, racism toward Palestinians, their thoughts about the solution or lack of solution, their anger, and their fears for their homes and country. Sometimes they come to me on their own with their concerns, without my inviting them. Probably for all of us, a big set of feelings is up and constantly operating, and we are living on top of it.

The backing of Israel by the United States and other Western powers has not yet significantly changed. The recent Kerry12 peace initiative was probably an attempt to reach a status quo more comfortable for a United States that is slowly losing its grip on the Middle East. The United States is not yet ready to let go of its support for Israel, mostly for economic reasons. Losing Israel at this point would probably be too costly for a United States that is in a very fragile position.

I think Israel has been surprised by the power of Hamas13 in Gaza and the non-surrendering approach of its population despite the disastrous effects the war has had on Gazans to date. It is not like the two previous attacks on Gaza (in 2009 and 2012), in which military might was enough to bring Hamas to its knees, to where it asked for very little.

The current unsuccessful ceasefire and negotiation attempts reflect the fact that the rift is still large. Israel is not yet prepared for Gazans to lift their heads and have freedom. A well-grounded Israeli journalist, Amira Hass, has claimed that Israel uses Gaza to try out policies and set an example for the West Bank. Palestinians in the West Bank are made to accept the little they have in order not to end up in a mess like Gaza is in. (Indeed, it is significant that the West Bankers have only briefly risen up against the current assault.) If Gaza achieves significantly more freedom, then it will be clear that more is possible for the Palestinians. Israel is not yet prepared to allow that. Hamas is clearly not prepared to back down without gaining significantly more freedom for the Gazans. This is different than in the two previous wars.

How long will this continue? It is hard to say. Israel is still much stronger militarily and has suffered far less than Gaza. I think change depends on other forces coming into play14: (1) Palestinians in the West Bank, (2) the Arab world, especially popular revolts in the Arab world, and (3) the West deciding to no longer support Israel under current conditions (this is more likely if something erupts in the Arab oil states).

We are seeing changes of attitude in the West, changes that do indeed go down the road15 of anti-Semitism. Israel is set up to be the real “big bad guy,” is blamed for its policies, and the West’s responsibility for the atrocities is ignored. If things keep going down that road, Israel will be forced to choose. Will it bow down to the West in an effort to save itself? Will it continue its desperate attempts to subdue the Palestinians and keep things as they are? It’s hard to say. It is significant that Israel has never before had such a right-wing, militaristic government. Big questions, difficult situation.

We may see sudden changes in the next few days, either in the direction of a permanent ceasefire, which will probably not offer much to the Gazans, or in an escalation in the fighting. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s time yet for any significant changes in understanding or in policy.

Lotahn Raz
Haifa, Israel
Translated by Lotahn Raz
Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion lists for 
leaders of Jews and for RC Community members


1 The West Bank settlements are Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a Palestinian territory occupied by Israel.
2 Ramallah is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank.
3 Shu’afat is a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
4 The Carmelit is an underground railway in Haifa, Israel.
5 “Over” means about.
6 “Right-wing” means politically reactionary.
7 “Backed” means supported.
8 Gaza is a Palestinian territory that has been occupied by Israel since 1967. Israel withdrew its settlements from Gaza in 2005 but has kept it under an economic and civilian siege since Hamas took over control of the Gaza strip in 2006.
9 “Tell” means determine.
10 Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa are cities in Israel.
11 “Material” means distress.
12 John Kerry, the current U.S. Secretary of State
13 Hamas is a Palestinian Islamic organization, with an associated military wing, that has governed the Gaza Strip since 2006.
14 “Coming into play” becoming a factor.
15 “Go down the road” means go in the direction.


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00