Tom Berman is a very old friend, scientist, Prof. Emeritus, shares his thoughts on the recent handling of the Peace Flotilla. Tom’s report from Israel follows. Lilly
For me this has been one of the worst and most depressing weeks in the 58 years since I first came to Israel. The absolutely stupid acts of our government in handling the Peace Flotilla off Gaza, (effectively exploited by some extreme Turkish-Muslim groups) and the subsequent knee-bend response of most (all) of our political and military leaders leave me saddened and disgusted. But the acts of folly specific to this incident and its unfolding aftermath were perhaps just a natural consequence to what has been a continuous (and most sadly, continuing) set of policies which actually began shortly after the Six Day War. Too few Israelis of any influence (although there were some like Lova Eliav, who died last week, and Yeshayahu Leibovitch) realized then the implications of the sea-change of our status, from Victim to increasingly powerful wielder of a decreasingly benign Occupation.
With the rise of Palestinian terrorism (which certainly has not furthered the Palestinian cause either) both sides have been locked in violent, lethal conflict with minor intervals when more rational policies briefly prevailed, e.g. Peace Treaty with Egypt, after the Oslo Agreements, Peace Treaty with Jordan, prior to Rabin’s assassination (by one our home grown fanatics) and the second intifada. Forty three years as an Occupying Power with perhaps justifiable, but certainly often misdirected, preoccupation with the concept of Security has corroded Israeli society from within.
Of course, many other factors are involved: generational change, increasing wealth and materialism, the mass influx of immigrants from the ex-Soviet Union, the growing political power and social influence of the ultra-orthodox parties and the “settlers”, disillusionment and disintegration of the leftist Peace Camp. So, as I wrote to someone the day before the Peace Flotilla fiasco.. “we are not enjoying (to put it mildly) the increasing dominance of a coalition of extreme right-wing, racist, militarist, nationalist, orthodox and ultraorthodox-religious groups who have already perverted so much of what we had hoped to accomplish in this country. In the past months we have witnessed all too many instances of intolerance, bigotry, religious fanaticism, aimed, I might add, not only at Arabs and other minorities, but also at wide sectors of the Jewish population of this country.
So what can a liberal thinking, non-politically active or involved citizen of a (still) democratic Israel do? I am beginning to understand how helpless a liberal thinking German must have felt in the 1930’s. (For those who don’t know, I am a Holocaust survivor thanks to Kindertransport from Czechoslovakia, my parents and almost all my closest relatives did not survive). We do have many wonderful people in this country and we have achieved many amazing, positive things in the 63 year existence of the State of Israel. There are people and organizations like Meretz, Peace Now, IPCRI, Machsom Watch and many others that do try to further a different political discourse. But until we cease to be an Occupying Power, until the Palestinians have their own State we shall remain gridlocked in a no-win situation. And time is not on our side.
The truly tragic part of this is that the broad outlines of a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians are well-known. The so-called Saudi or Arab Peace Proposal, which could provide a reasonable starting point for negotiations, is still on the table. The complexities of the situation are boundless but the objectives are crystal clear; rapid end of the Occupation and founding of a viable Palestinian should be an existential goal for Israel as well as for the Palestinians. Who knows what goes on at the “proximity talks” being held by Mitchell? Is it too much to hope that the Obama administration will use Israel’s recent follies and the international reaction to them as a lever to effectively pressure Israel to change its more indefensible policies? (This also applies to the Palestinian side of course). And somehow Hamas must be brought into the negotiations, more backroom diplomacy, pressure or whatever….they too aspire to the Palestinian State. (It is now up to us to pay the price for Shalit’s release, using the embargo on Gaza as leverage didn’t work and was questionable from the start). And please note, the oft-repeated and widely accepted claim on our side that “There’s no one to talk to, all the Palestinians/Arabs are interested in is the destruction of Israel”, is simply not true.
So what can one do? It is probably too much to hope that some form of agreement “imposed” from outside may save us from ourselves. Our internal political arena doesn’t give one much encouragement. I am left with the question “what can one do to make a difference, effectively?” and have no answer. I must confess that my natural optimism has been sadly eroded over the past few years. But let us hope for better times, maybe the future will surprise us.