Monday, September 10

MCC Palestine Update #26

MCC Palestine Update #26

[Note: This was due to be sent out last Wednesday. We delayed sending it out until today. We will send another update out this Wednesday with pieces related to the attacks of September 11.]

With news this past week of plans to declare large stretches of land east of the "Green Line" closed military zones, the Israeli siege on the occupied territories has intensified. More homes in Rafah, probably the Palestinian town hardest hit during this past year, were demolished.

MCC is supporting a project initiatied by the Bethlehem Bible College and Defense for Children International-Palestine Section in which Palestinian schoolchildren will write messages of peace on postcards destined for the White House. Palestinian children will write on one half, children in US churches on the other. MCC in the US will promote this project in Mennonite churches during the Advent season. Participating churches can combine this postcard activity with other MCC materials, such as a packet of worship and advocacy materials or the MCC Middle East Children's Box. If your church would like to participate, contact us, and we'll forward your interest to the relevant people.

Below are three pieces. The first, by the lawyer John Whitbeck, examines how Israel's dream of a peace of "non-belligerency" which does not end the occupation will not work. Uri Avneri of Gush Shalom then looks at the influence of the military class on Israeli politics. Finally, a news piece from Ha'aretz newspaper looks at the growing number of conscientious objectors in Israeli society.

1. Crusader Kingdoms: No to Non-Belligerency – Yes to Peace
John V. Whitbeck
Al-Ahram Weekly, 17-23 May 2001

When, almost ten years ago, Yitzhak Shamir lost his bid for reelection as Israel's prime minister, he gave a remarkably frank interview to the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv. Mr. Shamir stated that, if reelected, he would have dragged out Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for ten years while settling a further half a million Jews in the occupied Palestinian territories. (Actually, he referred to "souls" rather than to "Jews," and to "Judea, Samaria, and Gaza" rather than to the occupied Palestinian territories, but everyone knew what he meant.) He thereby made clear that it was never his intention that the "peace process" launched at the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference should, in fact, lead to peace._
It should now be sadly clear that Mr. Shamir's electoral defeat changed nothing. His spirit lived on in Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. While a full half a million Jews have not settled in the occupied Palestinian territories since the "peace process" began in Madrid, the number of settlers living there has approximately doubled during this period, and all of Mr. Shamir's successors have demonstrated, in deeds if not in words, that their only interest in the "peace process" was in the "process" (intended to keep the rest of the world off their back while they dug in deeper in the occupied Palestinian territories) rather than in "peace."_
Until Ariel Sharon, that is. He at least has the merit of honesty in having formally dropped any pretense of seeking peace with Palestine. He has made clear, with support from his soulmate
and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and to apparent international indifference, that all he is interested in negotiating with the Palestinians is a "long-term non-belligerency agreement."_
What precisely would a "non-belligerency agreement" between an occupying power and an occupied people signify? Non-belligerency may sound like a close cousin of peace, but its essence could not be more different. In the Israeli-Palestinian context, it would signify Palestinian acquiescence in the continuing illegal occupation of the Palestinian lands conquered
in 1967 and Palestinian renunciation of the internationally recognized right to resist occupation. Where will one find the Palestinian who would be interested in even discussing such a
Nevertheless, the near-universal reaction of the international community to the current intifida and the succession of war crimes deployed to repress it continues to be to call for an end to violence (with the emphasis on Palestinian violence) and a return to negotiations. Negotiations about what? What will it take for the international community to recognize that the problem is not the resistance to the occupation but the occupation itself and that the goal must be to end the
occupation, not to end the resistance?_
The Palestinian people have made clear that they are prepared to pay a high price for their freedom, their dignity and their fundamental human rights. For most of them, the conditions of their lives are already so miserable and humiliating that the prospect of death with dignity is not an unattractive option. They have nothing left to lose. What will it take for the international community to start to live up to the principles of international law and basic humanity which it professes to support at least elsewhere?_
One must always expect the worst from the United States and cannot be surprised that it would veto even sending unarmed observers to the occupied Palestinian territories. The United States would probably give unqualified support to Israel even if it pushed three million Palestinians, live, through a meat-grinder. However, one used to expect better from Europe. While obsessing daily over alleged war criminals in the former Yugoslavia, the European Union has greeted Ariel Sharon's assumption of power (and even the inclusion in his cabinet of Rehavam Zeevi, whose entire political career is founded on the advocacy of ethnically cleansing the entire indigenous population of historical Palestine) with apparent equanimity and has reacted to the ongoing and accelerating rape of Palestine with remarkable silence and passivity._
It is particularly disappointing and depressing to see certain Arab governments adopting the Israeli-American analysis and priorities and publicly calling for an end to violence, rather
than for an end to the occupation and solidarity with the Palestinian resistance. _
The primordial requirement for peace must now be to make Ariel Sharon and all he represents appear, in Israeli eyes, even a worse disaster than Ehud Barak, so that the Israeli body politic undergoes a powerful laxative purge which produces a successor willing to get serious about actually achieving peace, not simply keeping a never-ending, so-called "peace process" twitching with faint signs of life, and which could cause Israeli public opinion to finally grasp the fundamental reality and essential truth that complying with international law and relevant UN resolutions and ending the occupation is profoundly in Israel's own self-interest._
Unfortunately, this will require that conditions on the ground get even worse in the short term in order for there to be any hope of their getting better in the long term. During the difficult months ahead, a far greater degree of Arab solidarity with the Palestinian people than has been demonstrated to date--not simply on the rhetorical level but on the practical and financial levels--will be required. The Arab world has the means to summon the world's attention and to force it to take effective action on behalf of a genuine peace if its leaders can only summon the political will to do so._
Israelis love to recite, with a certain smugness, that "the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." If Israel had any true friends in the world, they would now be screaming that Israel is in the process of missing a golden opportunity that may never come again. _
Since the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, almost all Arab and Muslim states (including, most significantly, the State of Palestine) have been offering to accept the permanence of the Jewish State in the 78% of historical Palestine which the Zionist movement conquered in 1948 and which the international community has come to recognize as Israel's sovereign territory, even though this represents substantially more land than the UN proposed for the Jewish minority in its November 1947 partition resolution, in return for Israel's withdrawal to its internationally recognized borders in compliance with international law and relevant UN resolutions. This offer, if accepted, would have constituted an awesome achievement for the Zionist movement._
However, the Israelis wanted--and still want--more. Their spurning of this generous offer and their abuse of the peace process and of the goodwill of their Arab neighbors are changing the assumption of permanence in Arab eyes. The 78% offer may no longer be on the table--at least in the hearts and minds of most of the people of the Arab and Muslim states. It will certainly be off the table if Ariel Sharon's successor is not serious about actually achieving peace._
One thing should be clear to anyone with even a passing familiarity with the history of Palestine: Nothing is permanent except the presence of the Palestinian people. Historically, short-term interlopers have come and gone. The Crusader Kingdom in Palestine lasted for 88 years. So far, the Jewish State has lasted for 53 years. Unless a radical change in Israeli attitudes and direction occurs soon (and it is in everyone's interest that such a change should occur), a prudent person would hesitate to bet on the Jewish State's matching the 88-year lifespan of the Crusader Kingdom._
John V. Whitbeck is an international lawyer who writes frequently on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict._

2. Military Democracy
Uri Avneri
Gush, 8 September 2001

“The Israeli army does not have a state!” Ariel Sharon declared this week, after the Chief-of-Staff tried to create a fait accompli behind his back. I am not sure that Sharon knows where this phrase comes from. It was coined by the Count Honore de Mirabeau, one of the instigators of the French revolution, in his essay about Prussia. After stating that “war is the national industry of Prussia”, Mirabeau said that while in other countries the state has an army, in Prussia the army has a state. It has been said more than once that Israel is the “Prussia of the Middle East”. I have tried to analyze the origins of this similarity.

The Prussian state came into being after a holocaust, before which it was just another small German state, called Brandenburg at the time. In 1618, the Thirty Years War broke out, killing a third of the German people and devastating most of its towns and villages. It left behind a trauma that has not yet entirely disappeared.

In the Thirty Years War almost all the major European armies took part, and all of them fought each other on German soil. Germany is located in the middle of Europe and has no natural boundaries. No sea, no desert and no mountain chain defend it. After the calamity, the leaders of Prussia drew the obvious lesson: if we have no natural barriers to defend us, we must create an artificial barrier in the form of a regular, big and efficient army. That’s how the Prussian army came into being, a force that was designed to defend the fatherland, and in the course of time became the terror of its neighbors, until, in the end, it became the Nazi army ironically called the Wehrmacht – the “defense force”.

Israel is faced with a similar dilemma. Zionism was, in the beginning, a small and weak movement, rejected even by the majority of the Jews. When the first Zionists came to this country, they were surprised to find here a population that did not agree to turn its homeland over to another people. It resisted violently, and the Zionists defended themselves as well as they could.

Then came the Holocaust and annihilated a third of the Jewish people. It gave Zionism a tremendous impetus. The movement was seen as a valiant effort by the Holocaust survivors to redeem themselves. By the same measure, Arab resistance grew. The Zionists needed to create an “Iron Wall” (as Ze’ev Jabotinsky phrased it) against the resistance, a “defense force” strong enough to withstand the onslaught of the entire Arab world. Thus the IDF was born and, in the war of 1948 conquered some 78% of Mandate Palestine, and in the June 1967 war the remaining 22%, as well as great chunks of the neighboring countries. Since then, the “defense force” has become an army of occupation.

In the Second German Reich there was a popular saying, “der Soldate ist der beste Mann in Staate” (The soldier is the best man in the state.) In Israel, the slogan was “The best go to the Air Force”. In the young state, the army attracted the best and the brightest. The attitude towards the senior officers sometimes bordered on idolatry.

From the time the state was established until today, the generals have controlled the media, both by means of strong personal relations with the editors and by a complex network of army spokesmen masquerading as “our military correspondent”, “our Arab affairs correspondent” (generally former army intelligence officers) and “our political correspondent’.

Foreign observers have frequently asked whether a military coup could occur in Israel. That’s a silly question, because a coup is quite unnecessary. Since its early days, the army command has had a decisive influence on national policy, and its members have occupied key positions in the Israeli democracy, in a way unimaginable in any other democratic state.

A few facts may suffice: of the 15 chiefs-of-staff who preceded Mofaz, two became prime ministers (Rabin, Barak), four others became cabinet ministers (Yadin, Bar-Lev, Eytan, Lipkin-Shahak). Two prime ministers were past leaders of the pre-state armed underground organizations (Begin, Shamir), and one a former Director General of the Defense Ministry (Peres). Two generals became Presidents of Israel (Herzog, Weizman). In the present government there are five generals (Sharon, Ze’evi, Vilnai, Sneh, Ben-Eliezer.)

Former generals have always been allotted the key economic positions and have controlled almost all big corporations and state services. Many generals became mayors. The entire political-military-economic-administrative class in Israel is full of generals.

The dispersal of the generals among different political parties does not change anything. This is proved by the fact that many generals, upon leaving the army, were offered leading positions in oth major political parties – Labor and Likud – and chose one or the other according to the price offered. Some wandered from one party to another (Dayan, Weizman, Sharon, Mordecai). At the beginning of the present Knesset, four political parties were headed by generals (Likud by Sharon, Labor by Barak, Merkaz by Modecai, Moledet by Ze’evi). The religious camp has, until now, been bereft of generals, but with the appearance of the far-rightist, Effi Eytam, this will be corrected.

There would have been nothing bad in all this if it would have been only a personal and professional phenomena. But the problem is much more serious, because all the governing generals have a common mentality. All of them believe in the policy of force, annexations and settlements, even if some of them are less extreme than others. The exceptions can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and some would say on one finger (the late Matti Peled).

In this respect, there is no difference between active and retired officers. All of them together have always formed a kind of super-party, directing the political establishment. Not because they are organized and decide together, and not because of their strong social bonds, but because of their uniform way of thinking, which leads them almost automatically to the same conclusions in any given situation – irrespective of their belonging to Likud, Labor, National Union or Merkaz. Not necessarily on every detail, but in the general direction.

One of the results is the neutralization of women in the Israeli political system. Women have no place on the upper echelons of the army and its machoist ethos, which directs all spheres of
Israeli policy. (The only outstanding exceptions, Golda Mair, took pride in being “the only man in the government” and surrounded herself with generals.)

All this is being done quite democratically. In the “Only Democracy in the Middle East”, the army gets its orders from the government and obeys. In Israeli law, the government as such is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. But when the government itself is controlled by former generals, this is meaningless.

That’s how it was in the 50s, when the Chief-of-Staff Moshe Dayan imposed on the government a policy of “retaliatory actions” and had it implemented by Major Ariel Sharon. And that’s how it is today, when the same General Sharon imposes the same policy and has it implemented by general Ben-Eliezer, the Minister of Defense, who happens to belong to the rival party. (In democratic countries, it is extremely rare for a Minister of Defense to be a former general.) Sharon’s predecessor, the former Chief-of-Staff Barak, surrounded himself with a bunch of generals, rejecting all civilians.

Lately a new and dangerous development has taken place. Under the leadership of the Chief-of-Staff, Shaul Mofaz, a man with a far-rightist outlook, the army has started to rebel against the “political directives”. It mobilizes the media against the government and makes it responsible for its abject failure in the war against “terrorism”- reminding one of the Prussian generals after World War I who accused the politicians of “sticking a knife in the back of the army”. When Foreign Minister Peres, with the approval of Sharon, recently started to initiate a meeting with Arafat, a “senior military source” leaked to the media that the army strongly objects to all such meetings.

Things reached a climax this week, when the Chief-of-Staff decided to create across the Green Line (the pre-1967 border) “closed military areas”, with detention camps and military, Kangaroo courts for Palestinians trying to enter. This means de facto annexation, with far-reaching political, international and national implications.

Sharon, who heard about this while on a state visit in Russia, seethed with anger. A game of accusations and counter-accusations began, with the army leaking secret documents to the media. (“I came across a document…” a TV commentator announced.)

If this gives the impression that this is a major fight between the government and the army, it’s an illusion. Sharon himself belongs to the military clique more than anyone else. But he has an old grudge against the General Staff, which at the time prevented him from becoming Chief-of-Staff. On top of that, contrary to civilian politicians, he has no inferiority complex when
dealing with the generals.

This is a fight within the family. There are no real differences of opinions between Sharon and Mofaz. Both believe in the same policy of enlarging the settlements and preventing any compromise with the Palestinian people. Both believe in the maxim “If force doesn’t work, use more force”. Both are moving towards escalation and more escalation.

In the Weimar republic after World Wart I, there was a saying: the Kaiser went, the generals remained”. In Israel, the government changes hands from time to time, but the generals always remain.

3. They also serve who refuse to serve
Joseph Algazy
Haaretz, 6 September 2001

The number of conscientious objectors is growing, but the IDF prefers to ignore the phenomenon.

There are currently six soldiers in the regular army and the reserves who are serving time in three military prisons for refusing to serve in the army or in the territories. Among them are two reserve officers with the rank of captain: Sefi Sendik, who is refusing to serve in the army for
political reasons, and Dan Tamir, who refuses to serve in the occupied territories for reasons of conscience.

In July, six soldiers were jailed, and in August another five. This week, two more regular army soldiers were sentenced to prison terms: a woman soldier and youth leader, Avia Atai, and a male soldier-teacher, Rotem Mor. The Israel Defense Forces Spokesman's Office said that the army has no statistics on the dimensions of the phenomenon of refusal to serve, and it does not intend to comment on the issue.

Most of those who refuse to serve explain that their motives are political -the reason is either pacifism or opposition to government policy toward the Palestinians. Two of the organizations dealing with soldiers who refuse to serve, Yesh Gvul and New Profile, a movement to turn Israel into a civil society, report that the phenomenon of declaring a refusal to serve has grown - including refusals that the IDF accepts. Some of those who refuse are not put on trial by the IDF, and do not go to prison.

Two days ago, Rotem Mor was sent to Prison No. 4, after the IDF had sentenced him to 28 days of prison and 28 days of probation. Mor, who is 20 years old, finished high school in the summer of 1999 and took the matriculation exams. In February 2000, he was drafted. He served for a while in the liaison unit with foreign forces in Eilat, and then took a course for soldier-teachers, which in the past was open only to women. Mor admitted that he was not always a disciplined soldier, but he liked working with teenagers, and was willing to invest his time and talent for their benefit. A few weeks ago, however, he decided that he didn't want to serve in the army any longer. By then he had already served for about a year and a half.

When he made his decision to be a conscientious objector, he removed his uniform and showed up at his military unit in civilian clothing. Even when he came to the IDF Conscientious Objectors Committee, he wore civilian clothes, and in reaction, the committee refused to hear his arguments. Mor told his friends that for him, military service had become "slavery," and that he didn't feel that the IDF was protecting him.

Early hatred

In a political statement that he published shortly before his arrest, Mor wrote: "For a long time, I have had doubts about the honesty of military service. These questions began to arise long before I was drafted. They stemmed from information I had acquired about the Israeli-Arab conflict,
and from discovering the false information about it, to which I was exposed for years. As I learned more, I was increasingly skeptical about the official Israeli version of what happened. This official version is the basis on which most of Israeli youth justifies its military service. I started to understand to what extent fear and hatred had been instilled in me from a very early age. I discovered that I do not believe in the existence of an "enemy," but rather in the existence of people of different cultures, who are frightened and angry, just like me."

In order to conduct his fight, Mor opened a Web site in which he explained his commitment to his own truth. Mor points out that he formulated his pacifist view on his own, with the aid of books.

Love of the land

Avia Atai, 19, a high school graduate and a former youth leader in the Scouts, declared even before she was drafted into the IDF that she would not bear arms or serve in the occupied territories. Before she was drafted, she took a pre-army course given by the Jewish National Fund, which trained her to be a youth leader in the IDF on topics related to JNF projects. When she finished basic training, she served as a soldier-youth leader in the Kennedy Forest near Jerusalem. In this position, she did not bear arms or engage in guard duty, "but in love of the land," her father, Yehuda Atai, explained this week.

Last week, Atai was asked by her superiors to take on another assignment: teaching children and teens in Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood how to defend themselves from bullets, mortar shells and bombs. Atai refused, explaining that she lacked the proper training. If they don't want to endanger the lives of children in streets that are under fire, the safest way is to take them out of there, she suggested. The decision to leave children in the line of fire, she added, is political, and therefore, the job of protecting and defending them should be given to those who were trained to do so.

Avia Atai's father says he read the instruction manual given to the women soldiers sent to Gilo, and it seemed to him "full of absurdities ... it doesn't give a true and proper answer to the dangers threatening the children of Gilo." Because of her refusal to join the woman soldiers sent to Gilo, Atai was sentenced on Monday to 28 days in jail; the same day, she was transferred to Prison 400.

Yehuda Atai is an officer in the paratroops who served in the unit led by Yoni Netanyahu, hero of the 1976 Entebbe rescue operation and late brother of Benjamin Netanyahu. Atai said this week that he totally supports his daughter, who was educated, like all his five children, to love the country. "The ruling system in Israel has collapsed," he said, "and the country is suffering from loss of direction and an identity crisis."

Yishai Menuhin, a major in the reserves, and one of the heads of Yesh Gvul, believes the phenomenon of refusal is growing; the number of regular and reserve soldiers who turn to his organization is on the increase, he says. "We know of many cases where the IDF avoids confrontation with soldiers who refused to serve, and sweeps their problem under the rug. As the problem grows, the IDF is disturbed by it, is not succeeding in dealing with it, and therefore is refusing to pay attention to it."

Public call

This week, Yesh Gvul made a public call to soldiers to refuse "to participate in war crimes," declaring that "shooting unarmed civilians, including children, shelling and bombing of residential neighborhoods, assassinations, destruction of homes, withholding of food and medical care, and destruction of sources of income" are actions "that are defined in international and in Israeli law as war crimes."

Heading the declaration of Yesh Gvul, there is a stanza from a song published by Israeli poet Natan Alterman in 1948, after a massacre:
"Because those who bear arms, including me/ some actively, and some by agreement,
are pushed, with the muttering of `it's essential' and `revenge',/ to the area of war crimes."

This Saturday,(Sept 22) Yesh Gvul will hold a vigil to identify with the imprisoned objectors, next to Prison 7 in Atlit.

Yesh Gvul recently received a message from the Canadian organization Palestinian and Jewish Unity, that they have adopted the imprisoned reserve captain, Dan Tamir "as a man who believes in democracy and Jewish values, and who refuses to take part in military operations whose goal is to perpetuate the Israeli occupation in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip." A letter from the Canadian organization to Tamir says that if there is peace in the Middle East, "it will also be due to the courage of people like you. Know that you have many friends." The organization plans a protest vigil tomorrow opposite the Israeli consulate in Montreal, as a sign of identification with Tamir and the other imprisoned soldiers.

New Profile provides information about those who refuse to serve on its Web site, and calls on the public to protest to the government against their imprisonment. And this week, over 60 high school seniors signed a letter they sent to the prime minister, the defense minister and the chief of staff, in which they declared that they would refuse to take part in the activities of repression against the Palestinian nation. They called on young people their age to do the same.

One of those who signed the letter, Haggai Matar, is to be drafted next July. He has been engaged in a voluminous correspondence with the IDF, and is asking to serve according to his conscience, in an alternative framework, similar to that offered to conscientious objector Yinon Heller, after a decision by the Supreme Court. The IDF was prepared to allow Heller to do his obligatory military service in a hospital, without undergoing basic training, without wearing a uniform, and without bearing arms.

At the beginning of July, Matar was invited to the Conscientious Objectors Committee, composed of representatives of the draft board and of the military legal division. He explained his political views, his activity in Jewish-Arab political contexts, and his friendship with Palestinians from the territories. In response to his request for alternative service, like Heller's, the members of the committee told him that Heller's case is not a precedent. The committee rejected his request to be released from service in the IDF for reasons of conscience. Matar announced this week that he would appeal the decision. When the time comes, "I will refuse to be drafted into the army, for reasons of conscience," he said.

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