Archive for May, 2009

“Israel is an abomination”, say ‘activists’

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

This afternoon I attended the “Free Gaza” presentation at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Fresno, the presentation that I wrote about last week (“Pro-Hamas activists to speak in Fresno“). About 50 people, mostly church members, attended.

Donna and Darlene Wallach

I stood at the door before the event and handed out flyers, which read in part:

The speakers today will tell you that they are fighting for the Palestinian people. But their actual goal is to assist the genocidal Hamas organization.

The Gaza Strip is currently ruled by Hamas (The Islamic Resistance Movement) which took control of the area from the Palestinian Authority in a violent coup in 2007.

Hamas’ reason for being is to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamic state. Its methods are the most violent possible. Since 2000, Hamas has murdered hundreds of Israeli civilians by bombings, shootings and rocket and mortar attacks.

The ‘occupation’ they talk about is the ‘occupation’ that began with Israel’s creation in 1948, not the 1967 war.

The so-called Free Gaza Movement is part of a propaganda apparatus which tries to portray the Iranian-financed proxy war being fought against Israel by Hamas and other extremist groups as a human rights issue. It is not – it is an asymmetric war in which the concept of human rights is cynically used by some of the world’s most intolerant, hateful extremists to try to prevent Israel from defending herself.

What you will hear and see today will be a combination of exaggerations, lies, and – most importantly – partial facts presented without context.

I followed this with some excerpts from the Hamas Covenant, so everyone would know who Hamas is.

The presentation was strange, sort of a throwback to a 1950s anti-communist B-movie. The room was festooned with Palestinian flags, the lectern draped with a keffiya. Donna and Darlene were, if anything, more robotic and humorless than their picture  suggests.

It began with two music videos, one sort of lyrical, praising the courage of the Palestinian people and predicting their ultimate triumph (in nonspecific terms), the other a hip-hop rant:

Israel is a terrorist state!

Free Palestine!

Free Palestine!

Donna and Darlene then proceeded for one hour and 45 minutes to do exactly what I had predicted in my flyer. Mostly they provided partial facts without context. For example, they showed a video of an Israeli patrol boat firing into the water near a Palestinian fishing boat and finally dousing it with a water cannon. Just an example of the sadistic Israelis torturing the poor fishermen, they said.

Clearly the explanation was that the Palestinians were testing the limits, and the Israelis were (non-lethally) enforcing them. But the limits are imposed “in order to deny them a livelihood”, they insist. No, there are limits because otherwise the fishing boats will smuggle weapons, explosives and terrorist operatives into Gaza.

Everything that Israel did was presented as motivated by a desire to torture, starve, humiliate and perpetrate a genocide on the Palestinians — as if there could be no other reason for these actions, no history of Palestinian (and particularly Hamas) terrorism against Israel, no need for security measures.

They took questions.

I asked how they — Jews themselves — came to adopt the Palestinian cause. Donna told me that she had lived some time in Israel and was shocked by the racist attitudes of Jews toward Arabs. Palestinians, she said, were different, they were not racists, not full of hatred, they were reacting in the only way an oppressed people can.

Not racists? Tell it to the ones who yelled itbach al yahud [slaughter the Jews] when they lynched the Israeli reservists who got lost in Ramallah in 2001. Not full of hatred? What else can you call it when you swing an ax at an Israeli child because he is an Israeli (or a Jew)?

A local rabbi spoke for about one minute — while a Palestinian woman tried to shout him down — and asked whether they would have supported the 1947 UN partition resolution. Should there be a Jewish state at all?

“No,” Darlene said. “Israel is an abomination.”

Update [3 Jun 0721 PDT]:

Apparently it is not only in Fresno where Unitarian Universalist churches provide a venue for radical anti-Israel and even antisemitic expression. See this report by BlueTruth about the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists for an even worse example.

Technorati Tags: , ,

The US squeezes Israel — for nothing

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

What’s the big deal about freezing “settlement activity”? Israel is only talking about building within the boundaries of existing settlements, and most of these ‘settlements’ are in East Jerusalem or right on the Green Line. It’s hard to imagine how this can be a practical impediment to a peace agreement.

Yet the Palestinians are insisting that there can be no discussion until such activity stops, and multiple American spokespersons have made it clear that the US also takes this issue very seriously. Why?

From the Palestinian point of view it’s simple. First, it’s a great talking point. They can say “Israel refuses to stop building settlements, so they are not serious about peace”. The distinction between building homes in Gilo (between West Jerusalem and Bethlehem) and colonizing a hilltop in Samaria is lost on the media, but they are more than ready to conclude that Israel is the real obstacle to peace if given an excuse.

Second, if the Americans can be persuaded to go along it could be a weapon against the Netanyahu government:

Abbas and his team fully expect that Netanyahu will never agree to the full settlement freeze — if he did, his center-right coalition would almost certainly collapse. So they plan to sit back and watch while U.S. pressure slowly squeezes the Israeli prime minister from office. “It will take a couple of years,” one official breezily predicted. — Jackson Diehl, Washington Post

Netanyahu was pushed from power in a similar way during his first term as Prime Minister (1996-1999), when American demands  led him to concede control of Hebron and to sign the Wye River Agreement promising further concessions to the Palestinians. The consequent erosion in support from his base was part of the reason he was defeated by Ehud Barak.

But the interesting question is “why are the Americans pushing so hard?” Some possible answers:

  • They also want Netanyahu out. But Obama can’t wait the interminable months for a new Israeli government to be up and running, so I doubt this.
  • They want to put pressure on Netanyahu short of bringing him down. They know he can’t accept a freeze so they can use it as a bargaining point to get something else.
  • They have promised other Arab nations — Saudi Arabia comes to mind — that they will make ‘progress’ on the settlement issue.

What is frustrating to me is the energy being expended by the US over the non-issue of a settlement between Israel and the increasingly irrelevant Palestinian Authority.

The real issues in the Israeli-Arab conflict are the huge military threats from the Hezbollah and Syrian rocket stockpiles, the popularity of Hamas among Palestinians, and of course the ever-spinning Iranian centrifuges.

All of these come down to one: Iran’s project to eliminate the Jewish state.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

No right of return: in principle as well as practice

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Jackson Diehl, Washington Post:

In our meeting Wednesday, Abbas acknowledged that Olmert had shown him a map proposing a Palestinian state on 97 percent of the West Bank — though he complained that the Israeli leader refused to give him a copy of the plan. He confirmed that Olmert “accepted the principle” of the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees — something no previous Israeli prime minister had done — and offered to resettle thousands in Israel. In all, Olmert’s peace offer was more generous to the Palestinians than either that of Bush or Bill Clinton; it’s almost impossible to imagine Obama, or any Israeli government, going further.

Abbas turned it down. “The gaps were wide,” he said.

The idea that Israel could “accept the principle” of  “right of return” but somehow not allow it in practice is a popular one. Proponents say that this would allow Palestinian leaders to save face among their constituency while still agreeing to a deal that Israel will accept.

This is one of those issues — like whether Israel should demand recognition as a Jewish state — that looks to some like a verbal quibble with no practical consequences. Why not agree (assuming that Palestinians would as well) and move forward?

Actually, like the question of the Jewishness of the state it is of supreme importance and Israel must never agree to anything like it.

To “accept the principle” means to accept the following:

  • Israel is responsible for the creation of the refugees — despite the fact that the Palestinian Arabs started (and the Arab nations continued) the war that resulted in the flight of 700,000 refugees.
  • Israel is responsible for the condition of today’s ‘refugees’ — despite the fact that the Arab nations (and to some extent the UN) have turned the original refugees into almost 5 million claimants of refugee status who have not been resettled.
  • Israel was born in injustice, which must be reversed — Other refugees who fled their homes as a result of war (or even persecution or expulsion, like the 850,000 Jews from Arab countries who became refugees beginning in 1948) can be resettled, but Palestinian Arab refugees must ‘return’, because Israel must reverse the Nakba (catastrophe) it visited upon them.

In other words, ‘accepting the principle’ means accepting the entire Arab narrative of the conflict, in which Israel bears all of the guilt. Only after an abject confession will the aggrieved Arabs be prepared to permit her to continue to exist (for a while, anyway).

As a commenter on my previous post mentioned, this is closely related to the Arab refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state. The principle of ‘right of return’ implies that the refugees, not the Jews, are the actual “owners” of the land.  So just as the Palestinians will not compromise on one, they will not compromise on the other. And as I pointed out, if Israel does not belong to the Jewish people, why is there a state of Israel at all?

Technorati Tags: , , ,

The demand for recognition is essential

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Uriel Heilman said,

There is something of the absurd in the recent flurry of activity in Israel to ensure that it is recognized as a Jewish state…

Is Israel so insecure about its identity that it needs others, particularly its adversaries, the Palestinians, to tell it what kind of a country it is? If Israel wants to be a Jewish state, let it be so. It shouldn’t need anyone else to affirm it. Israel should worry more about its own citizens, Arab and haredi, who have a problem with its self-declared identity.

On the contrary, it is not only not absurd, it is absolutely essential.

The Arabs and others who refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state — or, in another formulation, as the state of the Jewish People — do so because they refuse to admit that there is a Jewish people.

Here are some Palestinian comments made last month in response to PM Netanyahu’s  statement that there would be no progress in talks with Palestinians until they recognized Israel as a Jewish state:

Omar al-Ghul, an adviser to PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, said that Netanyahu’s demand was aimed at transferring the Palestinians to another country.

“No Palestinian leader can ever accept this demand even if the whole world recognizes Israel as a Jewish state,” he stressed. “The state of Israel belongs to all its citizens, the Palestinians [sic] owners of the land and the Jews living there.”

Hafez Barghouti, editor of the PA’s daily mouthpiece, Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, said that Netanyahu’s demand was aimed at expelling the Arab citizens of Israel and turning Jerusalem into a Jewish city.

“Netanyahu wants to replace the Palestinian kaffiyeh with a Jewish kippa,” Barghouti said. “This is an irrational and absurd request. No country in the world has ever demanded that it be recognized on the basis of its religion and not political entity.” (my emphasis)

Palestinians have been consistent in their insistence that ‘Jews’ means ‘practitioners of the Jewish religion’ and nothing else. If there were no Jewish People, this would be very convenient for the Palestinians, because it would indeed make no sense for a ‘religion’ to ask for a state. Zionism, which demands self-determination for the Jewish People, would be meaningless. By denying that there is a Jewish people, the Arabs are denying Jewish self-determination.

Unfortunately for the Palestinian Arabs — whose own claim to peoplehood is far more tenuous — there is a history and tradition of the Jewish People over thousands of years.  19th-century Zionists, many of whom (including Herzl) were entirely secular, called for a Jewish state to solve the historical problems facing Jews — religious and secular — living among other peoples. The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate, the UN Partition Resolution and Israel’s Declaration of Independence — not to mention the practical self-defense of Israel since then — all declare that there must be a homeland for the Jewish People.

We need to understand the Palestinian position in the context of all of their demands, including ‘right of return’. Practically speaking, what it means when Palestinians deny a Jewish People is that they see Israel as just another Middle Eastern state, which happens to be under the control of Jewish colonialists. But of course the real ‘owners’ will ultimately repossess it.

As long as they do not accept Israel as a Jewish state — a state of the Jewish People — they continue to claim it, and to assert the right to ‘resist’ its ‘unjust’ occupation.

This is actually the first thing needed for peace: an unambiguous admission that we have a right to be here. The rest would be a matter of details.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

The Scuds of 1991 and Jewish self-defense

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Iraqi Scud explodes in Tel Aviv

Iraqi Scud explodes in Tel Aviv

In January and February of 1991, 38 Iraqi Scud missiles landed in Israel (four others fell short and landed in the West Bank). The bombardment started on January 18, when Tel Aviv and Haifa were hit by 8 Scuds, and continued for several weeks. Six missiles fell in the Negev, apparently aimed at the nuclear reactor in Dimona. All of the Scuds had conventional warheads, although Saddam had previously used Scuds with chemical warheads in his war with Iran. The Scuds were of Soviet design, based on the German V-2 developed for Hitler by Werner von Braun.

Israelis put on gas masks and huddled in sealed rooms during the attacks. Only one Israeli was killed directly (this has been termed ‘miraculous’), but “15 died of heart attacks, suffocation in their gas masks or reaction to a chemical-weapon antidote that some took in a panic” [Time]. There was great fear of chemical attacks, especially since the Scuds’ propulsion system used red fuming nitric acid as an oxidizer, which was extremely irritating when inhaled or on the skin.

The Bush I administration requested (i.e., ordered) Israel not to take any military action against Iraq, because the presence of Israel would damage the anti-Saddam ‘coalition’ that included such countries as Syria, the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, etc. Of course the lion’s share of the actual fighting was done by Western nations, particularly the US.

In other words:

Saddam invaded Kuwait and directly threatened Saudi Arabia. The US and other Western nations, with token ‘participation’ by some Arabs (Saudi Arabia committed the most forces, but was little help) liberated Kuwait and defended Saudi Arabia. Because of Arab sensibilities, Israel was told to hold still and absorb what — but for incredible luck or divine intervention, take your pick — could have been a catastrophic attack.

What’s wrong with this picture? What’s wrong with a situation in which the Jewish state, which was created and maintained at great cost, in part so that the Jewish people would no longer experience pogroms or worse, was prevented from acting in self-defense — because the Arabs’ rejectionist ‘honor’ apparently was more important to Bush I than Jewish lives?

Like the 1930’s when the British chose to restrict Jewish immigration into Palestine and to condemn hundreds of thousands of European Jews that might have been saved rather than annoy the Arabs, we know that our concerns are not the same as those of the great powers. But that’s why we Jews have — or thought we had — a sovereign state.

The US promised to take care of the Scuds for Israel. They deployed highly ineffective Patriot missiles and flew numerous sorties into  Iraq, including intensive B-52 bombing raids, with little or no results. The mobile missile launchers were elusive and could be set up and fired quickly.

Part of the problem was that in the beginning, Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. Army general who ran the war, underestimated the Scud. After all, the crude, 40-ft. Soviet-designed missile, which is in the arsenals of some 25 nations, has a bull’s-eye a mile across. Schwarzkopf called it a “mosquito” that was “clumsy and obsolete.” He resisted sending commandos into Iraq to hunt down the Scuds. — Time

He was probably sorry on February 25, when an army barracks in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, was hit by a Scud, killing 25 Americans and wounding over 100.

The situation today is somewhat parallel. The US is saying to Israel, “Trust us, we’ll take care of Iran”, although it is doubtful that the US has the means to do so diplomatically or the will to do so militarily.  And in no uncertain terms Israel has been told, “there will be big trouble” if it acts unilaterally. Not only that, but by refusing to sell certain weapons and systems to Israel, the US has even damaged Israel’s ability to threaten or deter Iran from attacking Israel, directly or by proxy.

The difference is that today many Arab nations would be happy to see Israel  attack the Iranian nuclear weapons facilities. It is primarily the US and Europe, worried about Iran’s ability to create disturbances in the oil supply, who are obstructing Israel’s right to self-defense.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,