excerpted from the book

The Other Israel

Voices of Refusal and Dissent

edited by Roane Cary and Jonathan Shainin

The New Press, 2002, paper

by Baruch Kimmerling
February 1, 2002

I accuse my prime minister, Ariel Sharon, of creating a process that will not only intensify the reciprocal bloodshed, but which may lead to a regional war and the partial or nearly complete ethnic cleansing of Arabs o "Greater Israel."

I accuse every Labor Party minister in the present Israeli government of partnership with the ultra-nationalist right wing in implementing its evil "vision?'

I accuse the Palestinian leadership-and primarily Yasser Arafat-of shortsightedness so extreme that it has become a collaborator in Sharon's plans. If there is a second nakba (Palestinian catastrophe of 1948), this leadership, too, will carry partial responsibility.

I accuse the American government, and especially the administration of President George W. Bush, of complicity in the deaths of both Jews and Palestinians through its complete misunderstanding of the situation in the Middle East expressed by its willingness to give Sharon free rein in implementing a policy of "politicide" against the Palestinians. The United States government, as Israel's patron, bears full responsibility, not only for the recent escalation but for the coming bloodshed as well.

I accuse the military leadership of using its supposed expertise to incite public opinion against the Palestinians. Never before in Israel's history have so many high-ranking officers and members of military intelligence, some of whom cloak themselves as academics, taken part in public brainwashing. When a judicial committee of inquiry is established to investigate the 2002 catastrophe, they will have to be considered responsible along with the civilian leadership.

I accuse the Israeli electronic and print media of being submissive to various military spokespersons by granting them the access needed to exercise almost total control over an increasingly aggressive and bellicose public discourse. The military controls not only Palestinian cities, but Israeli radio and television as well.

I accuse those people, politicians and officers of all ranks, who order the black flag hoisted above them, and those who follow their unlawful orders. The late philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz was right: The occupation has ruined every good part of Israeli society and destroyed the moral and social infrastructures on which it rests. Let's stop this march of fools and build society anew, a society free of militarism, oppression, and the exploitation of other people.

I accuse everyone-mainly the majority of Jewish intellectuals in Israel and the United States-who sees and knows these things of doing nothing to prevent the impending catastrophe. The Sabra and Shatila massacres were nothing compared to what has happened-and what will happen-to us, Jews and Arabs, following this ethnic war ...

by Neve Gordon
May 1, 2002

For Israel, September 11 was a Hanukkah miracle' Ha'aretz's political analyst recently quoted Israeli officials as having said. Thousands of American fatalities are considered-in this cynical world-a godsend because their deaths helped shift international pressure from Israel onto the Palestinians, while allowing the Israeli government to pursue its regional objectives unobstructed. Indeed, ever since September lithe United States has supported Israel's actions. The Sharon-led government has exploited this change of mood in the Bush administration and is determined to wreak havoc on the Palestinian Authority, precluding the possibility that an independent Palestinian state will emerge anytime soon. Recent events suggest that Sharon is interested in unseating Arafat, with the hope of precipitating an intra-Palestinian conflict, perhaps even a civil war. Israel, so the twisted logic goes, can then help set up a puppet government while changing the West Bank's territorial demarcation-the Lebanon debacle revisited.

As the cycle of violence consumes more lives, many an Israeli has lost the ability to think clearly. According to a poll that appeared in the country's largest newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, 74 percent of Israelis are in favor of the government's assassination policy. But when asked if they thought the assassinations were effective, 45 percent claimed that they actually increase Palestinian terrorism, 31 percent stated that they have no effect on terrorism, and only 22 percent averred that assassinations help deter terrorism. Almost half of all Israelis believe that the government's reaction to terrorism is inimical to their own interests, but continue, nonetheless, to support assassinations.

This suggests that a visceral instinct has taken over the national psyche, marginalizing and repressing all forms of political reasoning. In the Republic, Plato warns against the ascendancy of feelings and emotions in the public sphere, claiming that these traits characterize the emergence of despotic rule. Many years from now people may ask (just as we wonder about other times and places) how it was that a whole population did not realize what was happening.

To be sure, what is left of the Israeli peace camp has been trying to mount some kind of viable opposition. Weekly protests in front of the Prime Minister's house and hundreds of Jews and Arab citizens of Israel breaking the military siege by transferring basic foodstuffs to Palestinian villages are just two of the manifestations of political resistance. These activities, however, have not managed to displace the spirit of war.

There are many reasons why the Israeli peaceniks have had little, if any, impact on local politics. While most commentators mention the dramatic decrease in the peace camp's numbers following its disappointment with Arafat, no one has discussed the effect Israel's fascistization has had on the political scene. Indeed, Israel's gravest danger today is not the Palestinian Authority or even Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but the one it faces from within: fascism.

The fascistization of politics takes many forms, some more apparent than others. Perhaps most conspicuous is the dramatic change in the Israeli landscape. A few months following the eruption of the second intifada, thousands of billboards, posters, bumper stickers and graffiti began to appear, with slogans like "No Arabs, No Assaults' "Expel Arafat' "Kahane Was Right:' and "The Criminals of Oslo Should Be Brought to Justice?' * It was shocking, at the time, that slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been criminalized by his own people.

But, as it turned out, this was just the beginning. Stickers stating "No Leftists, No Assaults" were printed to accompany the ones exclaiming "No Arabs, No Assaults:' while little by little a whole new brand of posters directed against Palestinian citizens of Israel appeared on the scene: "Do Not Employ Arabs:' "Enemies Should Not Be Offered a Livelihood:' "We Will Assist Those Who Do Not Provide Work for Arabs." One poster even provided a detailed list of taxi companies that employ Arab citizens and companies that don't; Jewish history, so it seems, has been forgotten.

This kind of blatant racism is now common in Israel; it feeds off the widespread fear of suicide bombings, which have also managed to change the Jerusalem landscape. Downtown streets are almost empty, and most businesses have been seriously hurt because of the dramatic decline in clientele. One poll suggests that 67 percent of Israelis have reduced the number of times they leave their home. The only companies that have been thriving in recent months are security firms. Every supermarket, bank, theater, and café now employs private guards whose duty is to search customers as they enter the building.

One of the effects of this new practice is that profiling has become ubiquitous. Arab-looking residents refrain from using public transportation and from going to Jewish neighborhoods and shopping centers. It is not unusual when driving in the city to see groups of Arab men being searched at gunpoint by Israeli police, their faces against the wall and their hands in the air. Meanwhile, the Israeli secret service routinely intercepts the e-mails of peace groups and often obstructs solidarity meetings or protests in the West Bank by declaring whole regions "closed military zones." Peace activists are "invited" to meetings with the secret service, where they are "warned" about their activities. For over a year, the Gaza Strip has been totally closed off to Israelis from the peace camp-including Knesset Members; only Jewish settlers, journalists, and soldiers can now enter the region. Over one million Palestinians residing in the Strip have been locked up for a year and a half now in what constitutes the world's biggest jail, and no Israeli can visit them.

Torture, which was finally banned in September 1999 after a decade-long struggle in the Supreme Court, has reemerged with a vengeance. According to the Israeli Public Committee Against Torture, the secret service has not only replaced outlawed methods of torture with new ones, but ill-treatment, police brutality, poor prison conditions and the prohibition of legal counsel are now widespread. B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, has documented the torture of Palestinian minors, while the Association for Civil Rights and other organizations have appealed to the Supreme Court against the new practice of holding suspects incommunicado. In the past year, however, the Supreme Court has rejected all human rights appeals that in any way relate to the lives of the Palestinian population in the occupied territories.

Ever since September 2000, much of the Israeli media, which had been well known for its critical edge, has turned into a government organ. For Israeli television viewers, Palestinian suffering is virtually nonexistent, while attacks on Jews are graphically portrayed, replayed time and again, thus rendering victimhood the existential condition of the Israeli Jew. The deeply rooted victim syndrome has been manipulated over the past year in order to rally the public around the flag.

Along the same lines, almost no criticisms of the government's policies make their way into the mainstream media. On the one hand, Jewish opposition leaders and peace groups find it extremely difficult to get their opinions aired. On the other hand, the media is actively assisting the state not only in legitimizing its actions, but also in delegitimizing Israel's Palestinian citizens.

The exclusion of almost a fifth of Israel's citizenry from the demos is accomplished by attacking their leaders. Jewish cabinet ministers and other Knesset Members repeatedly refer to the Arab representatives as Arafat's agents, collaborators, and a fifth column. Joining the fanfare, newspapers, television, and radio have marked them not only as "other" but also as enemies, which serves to justify the harassment they are currently undergoing.

In the past year, six out of ten Arab Knesset Members from opposition parties have undergone police investigation for "anti-Israeli" statements they made during political speeches, while the immunity of one has already been stripped. Simultaneously, Israel's public radio and television have prevented Arab leaders from voicing their claims and grievances by ceasing to interview them and, in this way, have intensified the alienation felt by their constituency.

As the new placards suggest, Arab citizens themselves are also under constant attack, particularly by right wing Jewish politicians who have been exploiting the pervasive fear to foment a form of fervent nationalism informed by racism. Effi Eitam, the new leader of the National Religious Party, who is a minister in Sharon's government, has characterized all Palestinian citizens of Israel as "a cancer' as if they were a tumor that needed to be rooted out. "Arabs' he claims, "will never have political rule in the country-not sovereignty, not an army, not any part, grain, or alleyway of the Land of Israel' which in Eitam's opinion includes the West Bank and Gaza Strip. His views have now been legitimized and have a following within the Jewish population.

It is within this stifling atmosphere that one must understand the slow resurgence of the Israeli peace camp. A number of incidents that have occurred over the past six months suggest, however, that the nationalistic refrain is beginning to be fractured.

First, the issue of "war crimes" was discussed for the first time by the mainstream media following the destruction of more than 50 houses in Rafah on January 10, which rendered at least 500 people homeless overnight in the midst of a cold winter-300 of whom are children. Along the same lines, the April assault on Jenin and the fiasco surrounding the aborted United Nations investigation team has also raised the issue of war crimes, and the possibility that Israeli officers could be arrested if they happen to visit European countries. There was a small rupture in the media, and a number of interviews and articles have appeared suggesting that soldiers should disobey commands that call upon them to commit illegal actions.

The second and probably most significant form of resistance was spurred by fifty combat officers and soldiers, who announced, in an open letter published on January 25 in the Israeli press, that they would no longer serve in the occupied territories. These reserve soldiers, among them many sergeants, lieutenants, captains, and even a few colonels, have organized a new movement called Courage to Refuse, which now comprises almost 500 members. Together with Yesh Gvul ("There Is a Limit"), the old conscientious-objector movement that was established during the Lebanon War, the refusenik community now has over 1,000 members.

Thousands of Israelis have called a telephone hotline to support the soldiers and to donate money to help them publish ads in local papers. A group of women has organized a petition, claiming that reservist men are not the only ones carrying the burdens of occupation, while there are close to 100 twelfth graders who have also announced that they will not serve in the occupied territories following their conscription this coming summer.

The uniqueness and force of the combat soldiers' letter, and the fact that it has created such a stir both inside the military establishment and society at large, has to do with the profile of the people who initiated it. These are not radical leftists but rather young men who are affiliated with Israel's political center; they are members of the social elite who characterize themselves as having been "raised upon the principles of Zionism, sacrifice and giving... who have always served in the front lines, and who were the first to carry out any mission, light or heavy, in order to protect the State of Israel and strengthen it." Moreover, they experienced firsthand the effect of the occupation, and no one can tell them that they don't know what is happening in the territories.

Finally, Israelis experiencing an economic crisis, with an official unemployment rate of close to 10 percent and negative growth expected for the year 2002. While this information has yet to be adequately used in order to criticize the occupation, more and more studies are appearing showing the disproportional amount of funding allocated to Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the detrimental effect of war spending on the economy, particularly the growing number of people who are living under the poverty line due to cuts in welfare benefits. Despite these and other pockets of resistance to Sharon's policies, it seems that darker times are lurking around the corner. The Bush administration has extended its unequivocal support of the Sharon government, thus allowing the Israeli security forces not only to strike the Palestinian Authority but also to silence all opposition from within. The crucial point that many foreigners neglect to notice is that in Israel, democracy is also under attack.

by Aviv Lavie
April 3, 2002

... A journey through the television and radio channels and the pages of the newspapers exposes a huge and embarrassing gap between what is reported to us and what is seen, heard, and read in the world-not only in the commentaries and analytical pieces, but also in the reporting of the dry facts.

Israel looks like an isolated media island, with most of the reporters drafted into the cause of convincing themselves and the reader that the government and army are perfectly justified in whatever they do. Some have actually been drafted-Yediot Ahronot has started running a regular column by its reporter, Guy Leshem, who reports with determination from the heart of the West Bank, straight from his military reserve service. This is another step in erasing the line between the defense framework and the editorial framework that is supposed to report and criticize.

An Israeli citizen interested in a more complex picture of reality has to rely on the remote control and the computer mouse. "I've been here many years but I don't remember such a dark period in the Israeli press' complained one foreign correspondent, who indeed has been here many years. But even if he slightly exaggerated, it's not a totally unrealistic assessment.

... Reporters and commentators get most of their information from the army, and a few also use Palestinian sources whom they regard with great suspicion. Many reporters believed the army was closed off to them for a few days, but as time goes by, they have been proven wrong. Since the journalists aren't on the ground to see firsthand, the soldiers become their eyes, which explains the huge difference between what is reported and broadcast to us, and what the rest of the world sees, particularly the Arab world.

On Arab television stations (though not only them) one could see Israeli soldiers taking over hospitals, breaking equipment, damaging medicines, and locking doctors away from their patients. In one interview, a doctor was whispering on a phone, explaining that he had to lower his voice lest the soldier in the next room cut off the conversation. Foreign television networks all over the world have shown the images of five Palestinians from the national security forces, shot in the head at close range; one was apparently the manager of the Palestinian Authority orchestra. Some of the networks have claimed they were shot in cold blood after they were disarmed.

The entire world has seen wounded people in the streets, heard reports of how the IDF prevents ambulances from reaching the wounded for treatment. The entire world has heard Palestinian residents saying they can't leave their homes because "they shoot anyone in the streets."
The entire world has heard testimony by Palestinian families who have been imprisoned in their homes for seventy-two hours, in some places without electricity or water, and the food is running out. There are also reports of vandalism and looting.

Maybe it's all mendacious propaganda (though in some cases, the pictures speak for themselves), but Israeli journalists have no way to investigate to find out the truth, whether to deflate the stories or confirm them. In the absence of that kind of reporting, instead, over and over, we hear the worn-out mantras about how "the civilian population is not our enemy," and reports on how the army takes such strict care not harm civilians.

... when journalists cease collecting facts and asking questions, and instead turn to beating the war drums ... it's time to say good-bye ... to a free press.

After the war, in a week or two, or a month, or maybe much longer, reporters will have to confront the things they wrote and said. Or maybe they won't. The archives are full of dusty folders full of the articles that appeared before the Yom Kippur War, and those extolling the consensus around the invasion of Lebanon. Nobody has yet really paid for what was written then, and already a new bill is mounting.

by Ilan Pappe'
April 11, 2002

... Very few in Israel seek alternative interpretations of the "war on terrorism." Shocked by the human bombs that have produced a sense of personal insecurity and a rising death toll, the Israeli public in general is unable and unwilling to look through the catastrophic plans of the man they have elected democratically by an unprecedented majority. His posturing also caters to the dormant racist and ethnocentric attitudes of the vast majority of Jews, nurtured over the years by Israel's educational and cultural systems.

A coalition of groups opposing the war is trying to offer an alternative explanation to the bombs exploding in Israel and to the general Israeli policy. This coalition is made up of two blocs. The major one, led by Peace Now, has very little chance of providing a significant alternative. It is genuinely convinced that Barak made the most generous offer possible to the Palestinian side and that Arafat disappointed them. Their most common attitude is that "notwithstanding Arafat's unforgivable conduct, we have no other option but to conclude peace with this awful man." What they have in store is, again, the equation Barak made between Israeli withdrawal and peace. They never clarified to themselves or to the Jewish public what "peace" entails. As far as one can tell, it does not involve a solution to the refugee problem, a change in the status of the one-million-strong Palestinian minority in Israel (on whose vast support Peace Now relies for its demonstrations) or full sovereignty for the future Palestinian state. The evils of occupation are recognized, but mainly as corrupting Jewish society, not as crimes against the local population, and definitely not as a continuous evil that began with the ethnic cleansing of 1948.

Still, this is the only coalition capable of organizing massive demonstrations that elicit outside pressure on Israel to end its military operations, and one should not underestimate the urgency of such a development; but I doubt its ability to produce the change in Jewish public opinion necessary to open the way for peace and reconciliation. This element within the anti-war coalition widens the margins of public debate in Israel at a time when the media have silenced debate or reports that question the government's policies. Even so, these margins remain narrow as far as the attitude to the Palestinians, their plight, and rights are concerned.

The smaller group in this coalition is not even legitimized by the major component. It is centered around non-Zionist Jewish organizations and most of the Israeli-Palestinian parties. It offers a genuine alternative explanation and a way forward. But it is marginalized and fought not only by the establishment but also by the major component in the new peace and anti-war coalition. Its importance lies in its contacts with regional and global organizations that can empower both local and external action against occupation and in support of peace. This small component in the Israeli public space, as long as it is not totally silenced, can underline the wider set of issues that construct the oppressive nature of Zionism and Israel: the apartheid characteristics of policies toward Israel's Palestinian minority, the historical context of Israeli actions against the Palestinians in the occupied territories and Jewish society's need to acknowledge, then reconcile with, the crimes committed from the ethnic cleansing of 1948 until the "Defensive Shield" of today. That name is reminiscent of "Peace in Galilee' Israel's 1982 operation in Lebanon: two euphemisms for two destructive wars.

On a more personal note, I would add another déjà vu. As in 1993, during the heyday of Oslo, today the same despairing frustration about the future seeps in. I argued then, as I argue today, that even Peace Now is part of a single Zionist outlook, which does not allow recognition of past evils or of the need for genuine reconciliation with the Palestinian victims of Zionism and Israel. I am convinced today, as I was convinced then, that a far more fundamental and structural change has to occur in Jewish society for that to happen. Ten years ago, I pointed out apprehensively that we could not afford to let another decade pass, for more tragedies were in store. Now the sense that there is no time for long-term transformation is even more acute. We are running out of time, for the dangers of transfer and even genocide are hovering above us. Strong international intervention and pressure are necessary, so that the Israeli state and Jewish society alike may understand the moral and political price they will have to pay.

People abroad, reading what I-and my friends with similar views-write, think mistakenly that we scribble these analyses and predictions easily. In fact, a very long process of hesitation, deliberation and articulation took place before these positions were formulated Our views place us in a very precarious position in our society. We are treated as insane at best, and at worst as traitors, even by those who claim to uphold the values of free speech and opinion in Israel. I am analyzing such a posture not from the point of view of risk or retribution, but rather from that of effectiveness: How can people like myself, so alienated by their own society and so revolted by what it and its government are doing, be effective in changing local public opinion? It sounds like a quixotic exercise. But then I remember all the Jews who joined the ANC, the civil rights movement in the United States and the anticolonialist movement in France. I remember the brave Italians and Spaniards who did not succumb to the lure of fascism, and I draw courage from all these examples to go on telling my own people, from within, to break the mirror that shows them a superior moral body. They must replace it with one that exposes the crimes they, or on their behalf their various leaders and governments, are committing against humanity and the Palestinian people.

by Yitshak Laor
April 22, 2002

What has the war between us and the Palestinians been about? About the Israeli attempt to slice what's left of Palestine into four cantons, by building "separation roads:' new settlements, and checkpoints. The rest is killing, terror, curfew, house demolitions, and propaganda. Palestinian children live in fear and despair, their parents humiliated in front of them. Palestinian society is being dismantled, and public opinion in the West blames the victims-always the easiest way to face the horror. I know: My father was a German Jew.

Disastrously, the Israel Defense Forces are the country's imago. In the eyes of most Israelis, the IDF is pure, stainless; worse, it is seen as being above any political interest. Yet, like every army, it wants war, at least every once in a while. But whereas in other countries military power is balanced by civil society's institutions or by parts of the state itself (industry, banks, political parties, etc.), we in Israel have no such balance. The IDF has no real rival within the state, not even when the army's policy costs us our own lives (the lives of Palestinians, not to mention their welfare or dignity, are excluded from political discourse). There's no doubt that Israel's assassination policy-its killing of senior politicians (Dr. Thabet Thabet from Tulkarm, Abu Au Mustafa from Ramallah) or of "terrorists" (sometimes labeled as such only after being eliminated)-has poured petrol on the fire. People talk about it, yet no politician from the right, the center, or even from the declining Zionist left has dared speak out against it. And despite critical articles in the press, the army has kept on doing what it wanted to do. Now they have had what they were really aiming for: an all-out attack on the West Bank.

Israelis look to punish anyone who undermines our image of ourselves as victims. Nobody is allowed to take this image from us, especially not in the context of the war with the Palestinians, who are waging a war on "our home"-that is, their "non-home?'

When a cabinet minister from a former socialist republic compared Yasser Arafat to Hitler, he was applauded. Why? Because this is the way the world should see us, rising from the ashes. This is why we love Claude Lanzmann's Shoah (and even more his disgusting film about the IDF) and Schindler's List. Tell us more about ourselves as victims, and how we must be forgiven for every atrocity we commit. As my friend Tanya Reinhart has written, "It seems that what we have internalized [of the memory of the Holocaust] is that any evil whose extent is smaller is acceptable."

But this "evil of the past" has a peculiar way of entering our present life. On January 25, 2002, two months before the IDF got its license to invade the West Bank, Amir Oren, a senior military commentator for Ha'aretz, quoted a senior officer:

In order to prepare properly for the next campaign, one of the Israeli officers in the territories said not long ago that it is justified and in fact essential to learn from every possible source. If the mission is to seize a densely populated refugee camp, or take over the casbah in Nablus, and if the commander's obligation is to try to execute the mission without casualties on either side, then he must first analyze and internalize the lessons of earlier battles-even, however shocking it may sound, even ( how the German Army fought in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Here's the beginning of an answer. As the corpses lay rotting in Jenin and small children were running around looking for food or their missing parents, and the wounded were still bleeding to death, with the IDF preventing any relief or UN officials from entering the camp (what did they have to hide?), the Ministry of Education issued an instruction to all schools that children should bring in parcels for the soldiers. "The most important thing' the teacher of my seven-year-old son said, "is a letter for the soldiers." Hundreds of thousands of children wrote such letters when the war against a civilian population was at its most extreme, under the critical observation of the world media. Imagine the ideological commitment of those children in the future. This is just one / aspect of our oppositionless society.

Gas chambers are not the only way to destroy a nation. It is enough to destroy its social tissue, to starve dozens of villages, to induce high rates of infant mortality. The West Bank is going through a Gaza-ization. Please don't shrug your shoulders. The one thing that might help to destroy the consensus in Israel is pressure from the West, on which the Israeli elite is dependent in many ways.

The Other Israel

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