We have heard various explanations, including those of a liberal-left media hostile to Israel, ineffective public relations on behalf of Israel, and even a latent anti-Semitism that inspires the intensity of the reaction. Many of us, however, can still remember when Israel was one of the most admired countries in the world, a place young Europeans flocked to because she seemed to be building an egalitarian society and her kibbutzim were regarded as a hopeful social experiment. All that, however, was before Israel’s conquests in 1967, before a settlement movement that established some 400,000 people beyond her borders, before Israel became one of the most unequal societies in the developed world (just behind the U.S.). And it was certainly before Israel formed her current government, which seems to prefer holding the territory of greater Israel to pursuing any prospect of peace with the Palestinians.
Yet, we can all, I hope, understand Israeli frustrations, when the world seems to disregard Israel’s legitimate security concerns. Do Israel’s critics expect her to sit idly by when Iranian rockets and other armaments may be smuggled into neighboring Gaza? The problem is that it’s difficult to distinguish “legitimate security” from Israeli colonialism. Israel’s four-year blockade of Gaza has been far more than a narrow security operation directed against Hamas military strength; it has also been clearly aimed at the Gaza populace, in a failed attempt to undermine the Islamist regime. In that sense, it is seen as part of Israel’s continuing quest to dominate the Palestinian people.
The world cut Israel more slack when, under the leadership of Rabin and Peres, she seemed to be actively pursuing peace. Even after Sharon’s rather dubious withdrawal from Gaza (dubious because it was not negotiated with the Palestinians and was seen by its critics as a means to secure Israel’s hold on the West Bank), Israel could capitalize on this semblance of flexibility.
Today, it is impossible to credit Netanyahu’s government with any desire for peace, as in the past few days we read of the intent to destroy more homes in Arab East Jerusalem, and we heard from his foreign minister that the centrist Kadima Party cannot enter the government unless it accepts the principle of “transfer” – or as it is more commonly known, ethnic cleansing.
Perhaps the day will yet come when Israel is ready once again to pursue peace and negotiate with the Palestinians without, at the same time, conducting further settlement-building. At that point, some of Israel’s critics may be able to understand security arguments that are not entangled with the defence of colonialism. Israel’s real security does not improve with her constant resort to armed force rather than diplomacy or with maintaining her rule over the Palestinians. Yes, Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood and can’t afford to lay down the sword, but she must always carry the olive branch in her other hand, hoping that the Palestinians will grasp it.