DEFENDING THE BILLBOARDS AGAINST “REASONABLE” DEFENDERS OF ISRAELI POLICY

In April 2009 the Coalition to Stop $30 Billion to Israel erected billboards in Albuquerque, NM with this message: Tell Congress: Stop Killing Children. No More Military Aid to Israel. I was spokesperson of the Coalition. I was also designated to respond to emails and letters that were in reaction to the billboards. One of the letters we received was a brief and seemingly reasonable – even if inaccurate – letter from local Jewish resident Mr. S. I replied to Mr. S. His letter and mine are below. Following my reply, Mr. S. posted on the Jewish Federation of New Mexico blog where he accused me of advocating an Islamic Theocracy in Israel.

I wish the Palestinians a better life: better education, good job opportunities, and a seat at the table of world nations. The path to this goal is through accepting statehood and accepting Israel as its neighbor. This has repeatedly been offered, beginning in 1947. Just say yes. Switch from preaching “death to Israel” to preaching “live peacefully with Israel.” Mr. S.

Dear Mr. S,

Thank you for responding to our billboards, which are meant to raise the public’s consciousness and motivate the public to encourage their congressmen to end U.S. military aid to Israel. You sound like a reasonable and fair-minded man. It is always encouraging when someone shows interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict, which has been the source of so much pain and suffering for so many people. In my opinion, apathy is a deadly state of mind because it ignores the suffering of our fellow humans when action based on unbiased knowledge could end or ameliorate that suffering.

First I want to tell you that I am Jewish. Until two and-a-half years ago I was extremely pro-Israeli. I was a member of AIPAC (the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee) which exercises a great deal of influence over the policy making spheres of government. For example, Dennis Ross, former chief Middle East negotiator under Presidents G. H. W. Bush and Clinton, and Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel are affiliated with AIPAC and approximately 50% of U.S. Congressmen attend their large, annual convention. AIPAC is considered the second most powerful lobby in the U.S. after the gun lobby.

In July 2006 I had a series of encounters with close friends who were angry about Israel’s devastating invasion of Lebanon. During these arguments I rationalized all of Israel’s actions on the basis of self-defense against a pathological society hell-bent on Israel’s destruction and the eradication of world Jewry. I gave the common responses that we often see in the newspapers about the insensitivity and anti-Semitic attitudes of the Muslim world toward Israel and Judaism and I repeated the common arguments that one hears in Jewish society and that young Jewish people grow up with.

After my encounters with my close friends, both of whom I had always considered among the smartest and most compassionate people I had ever met, I was coming to the conclusion that they, like most of the world, were anti-Semitic. However, other events occurred in which I decided to educate myself by investigating the works of contemporary Jewish and Israeli scholars. My purpose was to simultaneously defend Israel from scurrilous attacks and preserve my life-long beliefs (indoctrination). I began to read books by these renowned historians of Israel-Palestine, some of whom were avowed Zionists. What I found was so different than what I had always believed and what the U.S. media publishes that I experienced a complete transformation in thinking. I did not just take the word of the authors I was reading. I checked and double checked their sources as well as many human rights organizations (Israeli NGO’s included), the United Nations and more. I made sure that the sources cited by these authors were the most authentic possible, such as the Israeli State, Central Zionist, David Ben-Gurion (Israel’s founding father and first prime minister), and IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) archives, the Book of the Haganah (the precursor to the IDF), the former heads of the ISA (Shin Beit or Internal Security Agency), Israeli military analysts who had worked with Ariel Sharon and other leaders, etc.

The fact is that not only have the Palestinians been willing to make a fair peace with Israel but it is the Israelis who have always rejected peace with the Palestinians. The Zionist vision as expressed by Ben-Gurion and many others is to take over the entirety of historic Palestine. I imagine you yourself have experienced confusion over “negotiations” for peace between the two nations while noticing that Israel continues to build settlements in the West Bank – the settlements and their infrastructure now represent close to 50% of the 22% of historic Palestine that remains momentarily in the hands of the Palestinian people. Ehud Barak, while allegedly offering a generous peace to the Palestinians, built more settlements than the right-wing Netanyahu government built.

But let me go back to the late 1940s. First, the Arab countries that invaded Palestine/Israel on May 15, 1948 only entered land that was designated by the United Nations’ partition plan for the Palestinians. They did not invade land designated for an Israeli state. In 1949 the Syrian government offered a comprehensive peace with Israel that included diplomatic relations and, most importantly, a permanent home for 300,000 of the 700,000+ Palestinian refugees. As you may know the Palestinian refugee problem is at the core of the Israel-Palestine dilemma. Prime Minister Ben-Gurion ignored all Syrian overtures, despite the prodding of UN Mediator (and future Nobel Peace Prize recipient) Ralph Bunche. Of course, we know from Ben-Gurion’s own diaries that his intention was to start with a small Israel and expand it into a much larger Israel. In the late 50s into the late 60s including after the 1967 war, Egyptian leader Nasser attempted on many occasions to make peace with Israel. He employed the services of Yugoslavia’s Marshal Tito, Quaker emissaries, and members of the British and Maltese governments, but was ignored by PM’s Ben-Gurion, Sharett, Eshkol and Meir. Ben-Gurion repeatedly labeled Nasser the Hitler of the Middle East, a phrase that reverberated throughout Jewish society in Israel and the United States for many years, one that fostered enemy images of Arabs and fear of another holocaust.

In 1971 Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat also tried to make peace. Israel again refused, setting the stage for the 1973 Yom Kippur War in which Israel, over a three week period, lost the equivalent of three times the United States total loss of soldiers in Vietnam over a ten year period. This was a traumatic event for Israel, which realized finally that peace with Egypt was a better solution than permanent conflict. So they made peace with Egypt as embodied in the Camp David accords. These accords also required that Israel come to terms with the Palestinians over a five year period. Obviously Israel ignored that section of the Accords.

Subsequently, the truth is (and I found this hard to believe until I verified it over and over) Israel has never negotiated in good faith with the Palestinians. Israel has never even responded to the Saudi peace offer of full diplomatic relations with all Arab countries in exchange for the return to the Palestinians of the occupied territories, which, I repeat, represent 22% of historic Palestine. For years Hamas has said they would accept a treaty that formally gives Israel the 78% of historic Palestine that was taken from the Palestinian people. The demonization of the Palestinian and Arab worlds is necessary to insure that Israel appear to be a country yearning for peace but thwarted from achieving that peace because of the irrational thinking of Muslims and Arabs.

This is all myth. Whose thinking is irrational? I know of no other people in the world who would passively accept the colonization/occupation of their land, along with attempts to erase their history from the collective memory of mankind, without resisting. Consider this question: what would have happened if in 1967 the Palestinians had said to the Israelis, “you win, you have conquered our land and it is now all yours” — in other words, if the entire West Bank and Gaza had been incorporated into Israel. If Israel maintained its democracy there would have been peace but not a Jewish state due to the demographics. If, on the other hand, Israel had insisted on a Jewish state then the Palestinians would have been second class citizens and apartheid-style institutions would have been established by the Jewish rulers, as is the case today.

Mr. S., my hope is that you begin an investigation yourself into the real history of this conflict. Do not believe me or anyone else. Only by discovering for yourself will you establish an authentic relationship to this history and the suffering of the people involved. I suggest you get as close to the historical sources as possible. Read Israel’s “new historians” – Segev, Morris, Flapan, Pappe, Shlaim, Kimmerling – who have written voluminously about their beloved Israel with documentation from the aforementioned archives. Read Haaretz journalists Levy, Hass, Eldar et al, look at Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, reports from the UN, B’Tselem (the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories). Find out for yourself if the ideas we Americans and Jews have blindly accepted have or have not contributed to immense pain and suffering for generations of Palestinians and whether or not they are at the core of the conflict that exists between Western society and Muslim anger toward the West, as manifested in the extremists of Al Qaeda and others. Find out if the rise of Muslim fundamentalism coincides with policies that engender immense hopelessness and despair for hundred of millions of people. Find out if the treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories by ideological settlers and the Israeli army resembles the treatment of Blacks in South Africa or Jews in Nazi Germany in the late 1930’s. I promise you that what you discover through sincere research will change you forever and awaken you to a deeper understanding of conflict and a more authentic connection to your fellow man, no matter who he is or where he is from.

If I have taken up more of your time than you felt was necessary i apologize. Feel free, however, to contact me in the future. In my opinion, each of us holds the key to peace and harmony and a higher consciousness for all of humanity. The key is clarity and compassion. Richard Forer

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