Thursday, November 13, 2008

Another Response to my "Letter to Obama"

Sent 13.Nov.2008
In response to reading the message I wrote to Obama on his website, a friend wrote me the following comments, and I thought it important to reply. I also thought you too may be interested in our correspondence.
So here it is:

To Aaron
You cannot begin to imagine how toxic the environment is in the Jewish community; anyone from Israel with your views would be booed off a speaker's platform here in San Francisco and elsewhere.

With rare exceptions, and mostly in private, it is impossible in the American Jewish community to express sentiments one used to be able to find on a daily basis in Ha'aretz. The experience following the pullout from Gaza has, unfortunately, provided an extremely strong argument against the efficacy of reaching any kind of accommodation with the Palestinians, one that is not easily refuted. And so, if you have any time, or the inclination, I'd be interested in your response to those who say that the lesson of Gaza is not to yield an inch. My own inadequate response is that increasing the frustrations of an entire people is what got us to this juncture and that pursuit of an expansionist agenda can only lead to disaster.
My attempt at a response:

Hello ------,
Thanks for your comments on the message to Obama and your appraisals of sentiments in our American Jewish community. Yes, I am also aware of the simplistic backlash as a result of the Gaza pullout. A response to that backlash is not simple. Just as destroying something is simpler and quicker than building something. A response to the simplistic backlash needs listeners with patience to listen. We seldom find them.

What you call your “inadequate response” seems to be fairly adequate, but I understand your frustration. I too am frustrated by the fact that we can’t convince our people that what is happening is not right, not good, not moral, and not helping us in the long run. We live in a complex world both macro and micro. We are on the front line of a conflict between Western and Moslem civilizations. We are also a people grappling between an older opportunistic and humanistic Zionism and a newer neo-Zionizm drenched in messianic and jingoistic aspirations. We also have very real enemies (in both macro and micro) who would enjoy seeing us disappear from the Middle East.

Obviously none of us has all the answers and a good bit of where we stand on the issues depends on the chemical composition of our conscience. That’s probably the best we can ever do. Nevertheless, I think there are some conclusions which may help influence (sometimes) the thinking of others.

First some comments on Gaza:
1. The Israeli Left (see: Yosi Beilin) did its best to warn that leaving Gaza unilaterally without coming to an agreement with the Palestinian Authority is a mistake. Unfortunately, no attempt was made by the Sharon Government to reach an agreement. Nevertheless, as Beilin said begrudgingly, Leaving is better than staying.
2. Prior to the withdrawal from Gaza, our Government did its “awful best” to weaken the Fatah led Palestinian Authority, both before and after Arafat’s death. We succeeded immensely, and brought on the Hamas domination of Gaza (and its influential inroads into the West Bank as well).
3. The main obstruction to an agreement with the Palestinians is not the occupation itself. The military occupation (fazing it out) is the carrot we would be able to offer in any negotiation. The main obstructions are the settlements, both illegal and pseudo-legal. Their existence and expansion deny us the ability to use the military occupation (fazing it out) as a carrot.
4. In leaving Gaza we pulled out settlements and military supervision both at the same time. (and, of course, after having done an excellent job of weakening the Fatah led Palestinian Authority.) We did not leave the military in place as a negotiating carrot for a (probably gradual) withdrawal.

But the sins of occupation and the crimes of settlements are much more complex, and their effect on the profile of Israeli society runs much deeper than the localized question of Gaza.

We are a nation of soldiers, and our young soldiers return home marred and scarred from their few years in the army. In our army they learn that they are not there simply for the important task of protecting our country, as was (mainly) the task of soldiers who prepared and fought in ’56 and ’67 and ‘73. Today they learn that they are also in the army to protect settlers and settlements that are grabbing lands from an occupied people, and its O.K. ; Today they learn that in order to patrol an occupied people you also need to degrade and debase and humiliate them, and its O.K. too ; today they learn that shooting at children throwing stones is O.K. if they are Arab, not O.K. if they are Jewish, and that too is O.K. ; Today they learn things we once considered immoral and deeds we remember as criminal and this too is O.K.; after 2 or 3 or more years in the army, our young soldiers bring home a set of norms that set the background for the profile of the new Israel; and this has been going on with ever increasing inertia for a number of decades; and this too is O.K. ??

Our soldiers have spent most of their time during the past 40 years learning to police the occupied territories by forcefully controlling the Palestinian populace while heavily protecting the settlers and settlements. The occupation mixed with land-grabbing settlers have turned our army from soldiers to policemen (including Swat Teams and all). From high ranking officers down to the lowly private we have trained a successful police force. But police forces don’t fight wars and are ill trained to bring a battle into foreign enemy territory. We proved this with the operation and results of the Second Lebanese War in 2006. The future holds for us the danger of wars that threaten our existence infinitely more than a hostile Palestinian entity. For that eventuality we need an army of all soldiers trained for 21st century wars, not an efficient police force trained mainly to subdue and control Palestinians while protecting settlers and their settlements. In the long run, the policy of occupation and settlement remains the greatest threat to our future existence.

In 1967, after 6 days of war, I was exhilarated at the outcome. We won. The Western Wall was ours. Sinai and the West Bank were in our hands. I wondered how long it would be before we’d be able to negotiate a “peace for territories” agreement with our enemy neighbors. I hoped for “soon” but knew that it may also be a long time. We had two choices. Either graciously return conquered lands immediately (as we did in ’56) with the hope that our “generosity” would bring our enemies to decide on a peaceful modus-vivendi with us, or else we would hold on to the conquered territories as hostages in return for eventual peace agreements. I never foresaw the third alternative: holding on to the conquered territories with the desire of keeping them and expanding national boundaries.
When the first settlers landed in the West Bank I saw it as a criminal act that when compounded will bring on the demise of a democratic Jewish homeland. Forty years later, alongside so many Israeli and Palestinian corpses, I find a general apathy to the changed norms that have overtaken and rooted all around us. The plight of a subdued people is taken for granted as are traffic accidents. But also our own streets are more violent, our indifference to others misfortune is greater, we are no longer a united people pulling in fairly similar directions, and so many have no directions at all. No, not everything because of the occupation and settlements, but so much time and energy and money are expended on holding on to the territories and settlements that so much less is left for the tasks of molding a nation that is a “light unto the nations”.

O.K., I think I’ve begun to digress into our wider Israeli scenario, and anyways I doubt there will be many willing to listen to this much. Also, I know that all I’ve written has counter arguments that are delivered forcefully and convincingly. As I said earlier, a good bit of where we stand on the issues depends on the chemical composition of our conscience. That’s probably the best we can ever do.

My best wishes,

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