Posted: 05 Jul 2010
[Uri Avnery has now written on the same theme in Two Sit-Ins, 10 July 2010]
Note to readers: I wrote this late last night, and then I woke up and saw that Israeli novelist David Grossman, in a front page “over the headline” article in Haaretz, has called Israel to change its attitude towards Hamas, to move beyond the “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” crap that it has been dishing out for umpteen years, in fact, to make the switch that it made with the PLO. Grossman certainly is not a fan of Hamas (neither am I) but he is a fan of dealing with bona fide representatives of the Palestinians and getting out of the deep freeze. When it is translated into English, I will give you the link. [English translation here]
There should have been a prisoner exchange a long time ago for Gilad Shalit. In fact, it would have been better had Israel freed Palestinian prisoners as part of a general amnesty in order to improve the chances for a comprehensive settlement. I say this because, as Gideon Levy points out here, even if all Palestinian prisoners are freed, Hamas will do its best to kidnap more Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining chips, as Israel has kidnapped Lebanese civilians to use as bargaining chips. Let us face it; the only difference between Shalit and many of the Palestinians languishing in Israeli jails is that the latter have better prison conditions than the former. Both Israel and Hamas are guilty of throwing people into jail who should not be there, although only Israel is guilty of jailing an entire population. Until there is a settlement between Israelis and Palestinians the sides will be throwing each other in the clink to pressure the other side.
The reason why Bibi does not do a prisoner exchange with Hamas has nothing to do with the fear that Jews will die as a result – that is the line that he says to play to his base — but because he wants to do everything he can to demonize Hamas, so that it help keep the Palestinians divided and makes it easier to control Gaza (and concentrate on the West Bank) A prisoner exchange will be viewed as a victory for Hamas, and while Bibi seems to like giving them victories (witness the gradual easing of the blockade), it is the sort of victory that will make them look like reasonable partners and not al-Qaeda terrorists.
What is interesting, though not surprising, is the number of Israelis who are opposed to the exchange of prisoners, despite the fact that Israel can always “round up twice the usual suspects” and has done so many times in the past. Haaretz published a very interesting article last Shabbat in which it was suggested that a sharp rise in the number of youths arrested for throwing rocks in the Hebron area can be correlated to the introduction of police software that rewards the police for taking the initiative to make arrests. (I will be grateful to the reader who provides a link to the article.) Some of the youths arrested are beaten and abused, according to their testimony, the testimony of human rights groups, and of sources within the police themselves. Yet, as is the case in totalitarian societies, investigations, when conducted, invariably support the versions of the police. Naturally, most Israelis don’t care about any of the Palestinians beaten. But a hardened heart is a hardened heart. And so it is not surprising to hear how many don’t care about the death of Gilad Shalit – for failure to release him will almost certainly doom him — because they have convinced themselves that letting Palestinian prisoners go will encourage more kidnappings – as if Hamas hasn’t tried to kidnap soldiers throughout this whole period, or as if Israel didn’t itself effectively kidnap Palestinians – fingered by sometimes unwilling collaborators, always appearing before a military court.
What should be done? Well, without any relation to the Shalit business, Israel should a) recognize Hamas as the elected representatives of the Palestinian people and b) free their politicians and legislators from Israeli jails and let them take their rightful positions. Of course, Israel may want to get something in return for this, but the important thing is to take two steps. And, most important, Israel should express a willingness to sit down and talk with the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people, whoever they may be. All of these measures will be partial until a final settlement.
The Hamas leader Abu Tir is being expelled from Israel after having served time in jail. And what was his crime? He won an election that Israel authorized. It is not because he is a member of Hamas that he was jailed and will be expelled, because he was a member of Hamas before the election, and Israel did not do anything about him. He won, so he is jailed and expelled.
Now what will motivate Hamas more to kidnap IDF soldiers? A prisoner release? Or Israel expelling Palestinian elected officials like Abu Tir?
Instead of focusing on just a prisoner exchange deal, Israel should seek to reach a broader understanding with Hamas.
David Grossman, 6 July 2010
Instead of insisting for years on the number and identity of the Hamas prisoners who will go free in exchange for the release of Gilad Shalit − prisoners whom Israel will release in the end in any case, in one agreement or another − perhaps Israel should now turn to Hamas with a far broader and more daring offer. An offer of a memorandum of understanding that will include a total cease-fire, an end to all terror activities from Gaza and a lifting of the siege. An agreement in which the issue of Gilad Shalit and the Hamas prisoners will only be one clause among many, one that will be implemented first, immediately upon the start of negotiations.
It is clear that in the familiar situation − in other words, the situation as we are accustomed to seeing it − such an idea sounds unrealistic, but is it really so unrealistic? With the help of foreign mediators, are the State of Israel and the Hamas government really incapable of reaching a partial but effective agreement of this type? Would such an agreement be “legitimizing a terror organization,” as the opponents of any contact with Hamas claim, or would it actually be the realistic act of a country that tries with daring and flexibility to improve its difficult situation? In any event, aren’t the negotiations now being conducted with Hamas “legitimizing a terror organization” in a way?
And why make do only with the (greatly desired) release of Gilad Shalit, when it’s possible − at a price that in the end will not be much higher than what Israel will eventually pay − to create a situation in which the advantages and achievements for Israel will be far greater?
Israel will not be able to achieve a full and genuine peace with Hamas in the foreseeable future, and who knows if it will be achieved in the distant future either. Hamas does not recognize Israel and conditions a peace agreement with it on an acceptance of the principle of the “right of return” and full withdrawal to the 1967 lines. There is no chance Israel will agree to these conditions. But why shouldn’t Israel try to achieve at least what it is possible to achieve at this stage, in the difficult situation between it and Hamas? Maybe it will turn out that even Hamas is ripe − and even longs for − some movement within the straitjacket with which it has cloaked itself in its inflexible refusal?
It is embarrassing to observe the behavior pattern to which Israel is repeatedly doomed, like the total rejection for decades of the Palestine Liberation Organization as an interlocutor, the evacuation of the settlements from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and the hasty withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, and the flotilla affair, which led to the lifting of the siege on Gaza. For years Israel has presented an inflexible, tightfisted and unilateral position. It has increasingly flexed its muscles and declared that it will not concede an inch until suddenly, sometimes within a day, the situation is completely reversed. The ground − or the sea − shifts under its feet, and Israel is forced to concede totally, far more than it would have conceded in negotiations (and of course then it also receives a smaller return for its concessions).
And even in the painful and frustrating issue of Gilad Shalit it looks as though things are heading that way. But maybe this time, with both sides trapped in their positions and no solution on the horizon, we will dare to expand our point of view, to release ourselves from the usual conditions and determine the momentum and its scale on our own initiative (ha, a forgotten word!).
Hamas won’t agree? It’s possible. Let’s challenge it, maybe we’ll be surprised? Hamas really is a fanatic government that often works in abominable and inhuman ways, even vis-a-vis the Palestinians themselves. But can that be a justification for the total Israeli paralysis when confronting it? This paralysis, actually, is not a paralysis at all, because in the end it includes a process in which Israel is increasingly being forced to withdraw from its positions without receiving anything in return, as in the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and in the flotilla affair.
Nobody is trying to move anything in the ossified situation; to bring about a process that is likely to force Hamas to make some change in its method of operation − I’m not talking about its attitude − vis-a-vis Israel. Nobody is doing anything to improve Israel’s situation. Saying “no” is not a policy, it’s a mental fixation. In the end it’s a rejection of our own freedom of action.
The familiar arguments that are presented to the Israeli public as a sacred axiom − that negotiations with Hamas will undermine the more moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank − must also undergo a reexamination. Perhaps here too − as in the siege of Gaza − it will turn out that for years we have been fed cliches that do not conform to all the nuances and possibilities of the situation. And perhaps it will turn out that negotiations with Hamas toward some kind of agreement will actually spur the leaders of the Palestinian Authority to hasten the peace process with Israel. And perhaps there will be a dynamic that will set into motion a process of reconciliation between the two mutually hostile parts of the Palestinian people, a process without which no stable peace agreement will be achieved, not even with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his people.
It is not unrealistic to assume that the most effective way to reduce the power and influence of Hamas in Gaza and to gradually restore it to its natural dimensions will be to create conditions of peace, prosperity and nation-building among the Palestinians in the West Bank. If even some Gazans will have some hope about their future, the attraction of fundamentalism and religious and nationalist fanaticism will decline on its own. We can go further and sketch a situation in which even the return to Gaza of all the Hamas prisoners, up to the last one, would not immediately and unavoidably create a situation in which they would all resume their involvement in terror. And there is even a chance that in the new situation that will be created, terror and violence will not be their default choice.
All these are thoughts that one can agree with or dismiss, or simply close one’s eyes. More than the suggestions themselves, I would like to direct attention to what motivates them: the sense that for several years Israel has been trapped in a paralysis that is gradually slowing it down, to the point where anyone with eyes in his head identifies apathy and helplessness and even a dwindling of the healthy life instinct. That is the real danger to Israel, and it is far more destructive than all the dangers of Hamas.
Israel’s prime minister should long ago have taken the fixed and ossified mosaic of the conflict in his hands to try to create a new picture from those same familiar pieces, depressing as they may be. After all, that is precisely the role of a leader. It is hard to understand why Israel − the strongest country in the region − does not try to take control of its fate once again by setting processes into motion instead of leaving its future time after time in the hands of others. Why does it insist on bargaining for decades over petty details that are important but not crucial, instead of trying to bring about a fundamental change in the big picture?
In the end, the traditional tendency of Israeli leaders to find reasons and excuses for inactivity and their inability to distinguish between real and imagined problems and real and imagined dangers cause Israel to say an absolute and sweeping “no” to all of reality, and to the very small opportunities that crop up occasionally. This stubborn refusal is already beyond our means. In simple terms of survival we cannot afford it. And what else has to happen to shake us up and lift the siege that we have been imposing on ourselves for so many years?
Uri Avnery, 10 July 2010
AT THIS moment, two sit-ins are taking place in Jerusalem, two kilometers apart. In West Jerusalem, the Shalit family is sitting in a protest tent in front of the Prime Minister’s residence, swearing to remain there until the return of their son. In East Jerusalem, three members of the Palestinian parliament are holed up in the building of the International Red Cross.
The word that connects the two is: Hamas.
The Shalit family is demanding the release of their son, Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit, after four years in captivity. For that purpose they have marched, under the beating sun, 200 kilometers from their home in Galilee to Jerusalem, at the head of tens of thousands. This is a popular movement almost without precedent in Israel: people of the Left and the Right marched together with ordinary people who were touched and united by their concern for the young man. The common demand was for the Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to agree to the proposed prisoner exchange with Hamas.
The three Palestinian Members of Parliament are protesting against the order to leave the city, in which their forefathers have lived for centuries – perhaps for millennia. Their sin is that they were elected as Hamas candidates to the Palestinian parliament, in democratic elections whose fairness was certified by ex-President Jimmy Carter and his team.
East Jerusalem was indeed formally “annexed” by Israel, but according to the Oslo agreements, its inhabitants have the right to take part in elections to the Palestinian “legislative council”. Hamas won the last elections.
The four Jerusalemite Members of Parliament from Hamas were arrested immediately after the capture of Gilad Shalit, in order to serve as “negotiation chips” – a reprehensible practice in itself. They were sentenced to four years in prison by a military court. (It has been said that “a military court is to justice what a military march is to music”.) A few weeks ago they were released, after serving their full sentence, only to be informed that their residence status in Jerusalem had been cancelled and that they have to leave the city and move to the West Bank or Gaza within 40 days.
The four refused, of course. The best known among them, Muhammad Abu Ter (also written Abu Tir), was arrested again and is now in prison. The other three avoided arrest by taking refuge in the IRC building in the Sheikh Jarrah quarter. The building does not enjoy extra-territorial immunity, but its invasion by Israeli police could arouse a wave of international protests, and has been avoided, therefore, until now.
I DECIDED to visit both sit-in sites in order to express my solidarity with both protests.
First of all I visited the members of parliament in the Red Cross building. That was not our first meeting: four years ago I visited Muhammad Abu Ter at his home in the Tsur Baher neighborhood. We were joined by Ahmad Attoun, one of the three (the other two are Muhammad Totah and Khaled Abu Arafa.)
On that occasion, I was also a member of a Gush Shalom delegation. The conversation was friendly, but entirely political in character. Our aim was to explore the possibilities for an Israel-Hamas dialogue, as part of the effort for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Abu Ter, a friendly person by nature, is well known in Israel. Everyone can identify him easily because of his beard, which is dyed a flaming red color, following the habit of the prophet, Muhammad, who also dyed his beard with henna.
We gained the clear impression that it is possible to talk with Hamas, and that their positions are far less extreme than they may seem.
Immediately after, all four were arrested. During their “trial” we demonstrated outside the military camp where it took place.
AT THIS week’s meeting with the three threatened with expulsion, I voiced the evident: that there is no legal or moral right to expel a person from his home and his town, especially not for his political opinions. East Jerusalem is occupied territory, and the expulsion of people from occupied territories is expressly prohibited by international law.
I could not help remembering the words of the German Martin Niemoeller. a World War I submarine captain who later became a priest and landed in a Nazi concentration camp. “When they took the Jews, I kept silent. After all, I was not a Jew. When they took the communists, I kept silent. After all, I was not a communist. When they took the social democrats, I kept silent. After all, I was not a social democrat. When they came for me, there was no one left to protest.”
“Now,” I said, “they expel Hamas members. Then they will expel the Fatah people. Then they will expel all the Arabs from East Jerusalem. Then they will cancel the citizenship of Israeli peace activists and expel us, too. This must be a joint struggle of all of us – Israelis and Palestinians, Fatah and Hamas and the Israeli peace camp.”
THE ATTEMPT to expel the Hamas members from East Jerusalem is, of course, part of the massive campaign to “Judaize” the East of the city in a thousand and one ways. This campaign is headed by the mayor, Nir Barkat, who wraps himself in the flag of “love for Jerusalem”.
Love for Jerusalem is like love for children. Everybody loves children – but not always in the same way.
A father loves his children. A teacher loves the pupils. A paedophile loves the objects of his lust. A cannibal loves them fried.
I love Jerusalem. Nir Barkat loves Jerusalem. But our love is different.
I am a Tel Avivian. It’s my home. But Jerusalem I loved. Loved – in the past tense.
During the ten years I served as a member of the Knesset, I spent half of each week in Jerusalem – both before and after the Six-day War.
Every time I came to Jerusalem, I breathed deeply. I loved the city almost physically – its stone houses, the mountains around it, its dry air. And every week, when I went down to Tel-Aviv, I grumbled about its humidity.
After the Six-day War, I came to love Jerusalem even more. The Eastern part of the town added to it what was missing before – the Oriental ambiance, the beautiful mosques, the wonderful wall, Damascus gate, the noisy bazaar, the incredible mixture of languages, types, human beings.
I got to know fascinating people and made new friends – Feisal al-Husseini, Anwar Nusseibeh and his son, Sari Nusseibeh, and many others. For some weeks, it seemed as if Jerusalem was indeed united and returning to its former glory.
And then the process started that destroyed everything – the city, its human fabric, the unique beauty of its manifoldness.
The seven veils of unity began to fall, one after another, and what remained was the ugly reality of occupation. The occupation of East Jerusalem by West Jerusalem, a story of annexation, oppression, expropriation, neglect and creeping ethnic cleansing.
The person who symbolizes this reality more than anyone else is Nir Barkat, the man who never misses an opportunity to provoke a quarrel, to start a fire, to demolish and expel. He reminds me of a pyromaniac who throws burning matches into a gas station.
How did such a person become mayor? The Jerusalemites voted for him for one sole reason: he is secular. Any secular candidate seemed to them preferable to an orthodox one. The orthodox are conquering the city, slowly but surely, street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood. The secular public is afraid, rightly afraid. Out of fear, they voted for the only secular person on the stage – though this one is far more dangerous for the future of their city than the most frightening orthodox.
There was no secular, liberal, peace-loving candidate. The choice was only between an aggressive orthodox and an extreme nationalist. The voters (all of them Jews, the Arabs stayed away) did not understand in time that an extreme nationalist can easily embrace the extreme religious – after all, both have their roots in the cult of the “chosen people” and the hatred of strangers.
The ideology of Barkat pushes him forward, without inhibitions or brakes, until he succeeds in destroying the human fabric of the city, its cultural richness and beauty – see the monstrous buildings – and nothing is left but one monotonous hue, the Jewish-orthodox black.
Barkat is not the first and not the only one who went out to Judaize East Jerusalem. To Judaize means to eradicate all other colors, to demolish the layers left by many generations of lovers, to eliminate thousands of years of history and cultural creation.
He was preceded by Teddy Kollek. But Kollek was a genius. He eradicated the Mugrabi quarter near the Western Wall, expropriated and built new Jewish neighborhoods at a frantic pace, and at the same time collected peace prizes all over the world. If he had lived on, he would surely have received the Nobel Peace Prize, too. Compared to him, Barkat is a primitive, transparent oaf who attracts world-wide loathing. Sheikh-Jarrah, Silwan, Ramat Shlomo, Pisgat Ze’ev – these names have become symbols everywhere.
The myth of “The City That Is Compact Together” (Psalms 122) is being exploded every day. The city has not come together. The two parts are united as a lion is united with the sheep it has swallowed. Barkat is the mayor of West Jerusalem and the military governor of East Jerusalem. He and his accomplice in the holy work, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, do everything possible to push the non-Jewish population out.
But they do not succeed. Barkat & Co are experiencing with the Arabs what Pharaoh experienced with the Children of Israel: “But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew” (Exodus 1:12). In spite of the demolition and new building, the demographic balance in Jerusalem has hardly changed – and if at all, in favor of the Arabs.
I told the members of parliament that in the end, what will be realized will be the vision of two states, because the only alternative is an apartheid state in which the Arabs will be an oppressed majority and the Jews an oppressive minority – until the whole edifice inevitably comes crashing down. Two states mean: two capitals in Jerusalem, the Palestinian in the East and the Israeli in the West. “I hope that we shall all agree on Jerusalem being united on the communal level, under a joint municipality, which will safeguard the rich and unique fabric of its population.”
In spite of Binyamin Netanyahu, Nir Barkat and their colleagues, the destroyers of Jerusalem.
(A shorter version of this article was published in the July 9 Jerusalem supplement of Ma’ariv.)