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Israel: with eyes wide open

17 June 2010 3 Comments

- by Patricia Smith Melton
Founder, Peace X Peace
Editor, Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women

Take your side. Israel is a democracy vs. Israel is a fascist state. Israel is a propaganda machine vs. Palestine is a propaganda machine. Humanitarian ships are a Turkish ploy because Turkey wasn’t accepted into the European Union vs. humanitarian ships are providing desperately needed goods to Gaza. Hamas controls the Gazan people vs. the people of Gaza are turning against Hamas. Gazans are devastated from the blockade vs. Gazans are just fine. (. . . Look at the photos of the markets, after all). Unsuspecting Israeli soldiers were set up and ambushed on the Marmara ship vs. Israeli commandos charged the ship and started shooting even before landing. (. . . And which YouTube video are you watching?)

I hear all these opinions expressed repeatedly with absolute conviction inside Israel by Israelis. What Israel calls its diversity, I’ve sadly come to view as a systemic turning away from examining the truth―which is being strongly challenged by the minority, but re-emerging, leftist voice inside the country. This is my personal opinion, based on being here many times over the past six years and spending equal time on both sides of the Wall, though I have never been to Gaza. I have dear Israeli friends and dear Palestinian friends, and I listen deeply and critically to their diverse opinions as I look at what’s around me, in the news, and on the street. This is the most difficult blog I have ever written.

My figures say that in the past 7 years, 11 Israelis have been killed by missiles launched from Gaza, while in 23 days starting December 27, 2008, more than 1200 Gazans, the majority of them women and children, were killed by Israeli missiles.

My figures say that before the blockage of Gaza several thousand items were allowed through the checkpoints and now the items on the list are under 100.

It is no secret that Israel has a hierarchical social structure reflected in its unequal government services and rights, or lack of, for Israeli Palestinians, Bedouins, gypsies, and even Arab Jews. One person described Israel as an “ethnocracy” rather than a democracy.

What I hear repeatedly is that most Israeli publications self-censor, and while this doesn’t appear to me to be 100% across the board, I do observe it when I compare the same events as reported here and by the international press: by the slanting of headlines, by a lack of corrections of misreporting, by which items are given priority, and by the prominent placement of columnists who can leave me slack-jawed in wonder.

Nora from Argentina

Here’s Israeli Nora Bendersky:

“My sign says, ‘Don’t say we didn’t hear, don’t say we didn’t know. There is discrimination and segregation in Jerusalem.’

That’s a big frustration for me―the choice of so many Israelis not to ask. People stand with the government, they don’t criticize. I can’t understand that, especially after what Jews have gone through everywhere.”

Yes, I understand that the levels of historic and current wounding are beyond my understanding. But truth should then, have a special value, shouldn’t it? It is time for self-examination.

Self-examination is in evidence at the Friday afternoon protests that have been going on for many months in the Sheikh Jarrah garden in East Jerusalem. These nonviolent demonstrations are growing in strength, and are led by Israelis. They stand against the eviction of Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah area and the taking over of those homes by Israeli settlers.

Evicted Mother and Daughter

The legalities of the evictions reveal underlying social dynamics. In simplest form, most Palestinians living in western Jerusalem fled or were forced into eastern Jerusalem during the chaos and violence between Arabs and Jews in 1948. Their homes, often very grand, were appropriated by Israelis in the newly-created Israel. When the Palestinians fled into eastern Jerusalem, they moved into homes left by others who had moved to western Jerusalem.

The Palestinians have lived in these homes for more than 60 years. The Israeli government says these homes are still the property of their previous owners or of the state. Hence, legally, they can evict the Palestinians and settlers can move in. Five homes with extended families have been evicted, and more households have received notices. This demographic change, if allowed to continue, lessens the power of Palestinians to claim East Jerusalem as their future capital. Thus, their concern extends even beyond the plight of the people being evicted; Palestinians see the evictions as a deliberate process used by Israel to ‘secure’ the whole of Jerusalem.

Back to the demonstration:  let me turn it over to the people. Here’s Amit Miller:

Amit Miller

“I’m against settlers in general, and specifically in Jerusalem. These people are extremist right-wing orthodox who want to destroy any possibility of peace. They want to push the Palestinians away.

To the U.S. I say, apply force on Israel in a productive way.  Not too much, not too little.  It’s very delicate.  You need to push Israel to come to its sense and try to kick the settlers off here and everywhere.  I doubt we can do it ourselves.”

. . . .

And Ruth Butler:

“The police have a campaign to stop the protests even though they have been affirmed as legal by the courts.  The tactic is to arrest the activists either at these demonstrations―or they actually went into someone’s home in West Jerusalem, a religious person, on Friday at Shabbat dinner without a warrant and arrested them.

Three weeks ago the police dispersed a nonviolent sit-in in front of the barriers with extreme violence. They broke people’s ribs, people’s arms. And they arrested 14 of the central activists who now have serious charges against them. These 14 join another 100 who have been arrested over time and have charges pending for illegal assembly even though it’s legal, or attacking police officers even though they never did. Fabricated charges.”

. . .

Nili and Emanuel

Here’s Nili Landesman:

“I’m here with my son, who is 14 years old, because he is old enough to care and feel responsible as an Israeli citizen for what goes on around Gaza, and Bil’in, and even in the so-called territory of Israel with regard to the Arab citizens. There are many people here who care, even very young people, which is a comfort because the peace movement was kind of a dead scene.

The new trend is with Israelis and Palestinians together. All the nonviolent acts that are happening are done in solidarity where the Palestinians start the move, and sometimes the Israelis just stand by and watch. I find this eye-witnessing meaningful because you are not only witness to that the army acts against the demonstration but also that you don’t close your eyes. Most of the Israelis would rather shut their eyes and not know.

This protest shows the consensus of the 70 or 80% of the Israeli people who agree that a radical group should not dictate who should live here, but still it happens under the support of the police, under the support of the courts. In this period our government is fascist. Democracy has been a façade for a long time. When I talk to my larger family, they refuse to acknowledge that, but it is known to the minority who have opened their eyes.

The horrible thing is not what happened; it’s when you don’t do anything.”

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3 Comments to “Israel: with eyes wide open”
  1. Mares Hirchert says:

    Thank you for being courageous and writing this column and using the voices of those living the conflict. I’m sending your column on, hoping it will cause some self examination on the part of Americans who contribute 3 billion a year to the current Israeli Gov’t. We as peacemakers need to support peace and human rights advocates if they are beaten, arrested, and killed. We don’t want to live in a militaristic state like Israel is becoming with it’s compulsory military service, separate roads, walls, fear of the other. Let’s get behind the people everywhere who want to share and enjoy this wonderful world.

  2. patricia smith says:

    Thank you, Mares, I have come firmly to believe that the role of the “third party” is vital to bringing peace. Over and over I was told by Israelis (mostly on the left, granted) that Israel will not find a solution with Palestine without the pressure of the U.S., and Europe — but primarily the U.S.

    It is not that we can or should bring pressure, but that we must because otherwise it won’t happen.

    On the other hand, as a settler in the West Bank told me, “Obama’s pressure could bring civil war to Israel,” and I noticed when there were disturbances in Jerusalem this time (and there were some), the wry joke was that Israel was in a civil war.

    Tension is extreme. (This includes between the government and the ultra orthodox Hassadim as the government lessens social privileges they have had, including around education for the girls, and the size of their welfare subsidies, as most Hassadim are not in the workforce.)

    What is needed, I feel, is a Palestinian “gandhi” to galvanize the rising citizens’ nonviolent movements through the West Bank.


  3. irit says:

    Hi dear Patricia,

    Thank you for the article, which I find summarizing the Israeli conflicts (all kinds of) very well.

    It seems that you are very integrated in Israel.

    May I add here that I was glad to meet you in Ipcri workshop last Friday. I had received your book “60 years 60 voices” at the previous workshop, and was happy to find there some of the women I know :) :) Thanks.

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