It is hard to imagine a more disastrous strategy for the future of Israel than that which it has pursued for the past forty years. It has destroyed the Palestinians' social, political and economic structures, it has behaved in a callous and arrogant manner towards a whole people, it has alienated a considerable number of former supporters, and, perhaps worst of all, it has provoked a revitalisation of anti-semitism.
Those of us who have marched the streets in protest at the treatment of Soviet Jewry and who have consistently fought the fascists, despair at Israel's wholly counter productive treatment of the Palestinian people. What is more, we are baffled and grieved by those many Jewish friends who are rational and liberal on every subject except Israel. To push the standard Jewish line on Israel requires a rejection of the political judgement of otherwise trusted colleagues and, for this single issue, a reversal of Liberal beliefs on how security and peace can be achieved. It is plainly disastrous to be the only ones in step. Newton's Third Law applies equally to politics: "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." The history of the past forty years in Palestine is vivid: force breeds force; extremism creates extremism.
To hint, let alone assert, that rejection of Israel's policies stems from some deep anti-semitic sentiment is deeply insulting to those who have stood shoulder to shoulder in innumerable campaigns against the far right. The religious uniqueness of the state of Israel and the grotesque sin of the Holocaust do not provide reasons for setting aside the rights of the Palestinian people or for the illegal treatment and ghettoisation of the West Bank and Gaza. It is a simple fact that there will be no secure and peaceful future for Israel without a secure and peaceful Palestine. Those of us who argue against its present policies are Israel's best friends. It is vital that Israel's Jewish supporters outside the country accept that their support of the state of Israel requires the exercise of the same reason and judgement in relation to its policies as they routinely apply to Iraq and other countries where occupying forces try vainly to impose peace through force.
An objective assessment of the situation in the Middle East draws one inexorably to the conclusion that Israel does not want any just resolution of the Palestinian "problem" ever. From the outset, and particularly since 1967, its permanent policy has been to settle Palestine, to subdue the Palestinian people and to impose a reign of terror with impunity, being aware that no major power will intervene to prevent it. Facts on the ground are all that matter and the Israeli attitude of superiority towards and contempt for the Palestinian people is apparently sufficient justification for their actions. Once a people is demonised and pilloried as one's innate enemy, history shows that it is a very easy progression to communal punishment, deprivation of property, ghettoisation, imprisonment without trial and summary execution - all of which are happening today in Gaza and on the West Bank.
Many parallels are drawn between the situation in the Middle East and elsewhere. Last January, in a well-documented and referenced paper to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, its Special Rapporteur, Professor John Dugard of South Africa, considered the application of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He lists the actions of the Israeli government and of its forces and asks: "Can it seriously be denied that the purpose of such action is to establish and maintain domination by one racial group (Jews) over another racial group (Palestinians) and systematically oppressing them?"
An even more accurate parallel would be the establishment and behaviour of the United States and its genocide of some two million "native Americans". With superior weapons the colonists systematically moved across the continent, settling the good sites and forcing those living there off their tribal lands and into reservations, killing them whenever deemed necessary, usually on the grounds that the natives were threatening their survival. Agreements were made and later reneged on. Eventually, the whole of the USA was under the control of the colonists and the facts on the ground became accepted. How many people today - in or out of the USA - stop to ponder, or are even aware of, how the USA came into existence? The parallels with the Israelis and the Palestinians today are all too clear. It is perhaps significant that it is the USA that provides the major financial and military sustenance of Israel.
I first went to Palestine with a Liberal International delegation in 1988 at the time of the first intifada. We went to Gaza and to many towns and villages in the West Bank, and we spoke to a wide cross section of people. Their conditions were often very difficult, with curfews and road blocks, but they spoke generously of their willingness to share the land on an equal basis. I listened intently as the Palestinians carefully used three different words to differentiate their counterparts: Israeli, Jew and Zionist. Only the last were then regarded as enemies. Today one hears only the one word, "Jew". I recall vividly a dignified elderly man in a Gazan refugee camp who reached up to a shelf to take down a plastic folder in which were the deeds of his house in Haifa in north Israel. And at that time it was still just about possible for Jew and Muslim to visit together the historic tombs of Abraham and Isaac in Hebron, as we also did. Baruch Goldstein ended that when he killed thirty Palestinians at prayer there in 1994.
We had heard of Hamas and we asked about them. In 1998 they did not exist at all in the West Bank and there were no more than a handful of adherents in Gaza. Hamas is a militant organisation that exists as a direct response to Israeli actions which enables them to recruit day by day more and more extremists. If the moderate elected President of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, cannot bring about a Palestinian state, then it is, alas, unsurprising that the voters turn to those who offer very different methods of achieving it. Despite the logistical problems, Palestine is a functioning democracy and its electors voted freely for a Hamas majority. The issue of formal recognition of Israel's right to exist is, curiously, a political totem pole. Israel plainly exists, will exist and no major power will permit it to be destroyed. The issue is post 1967 Palestine.
I went back to Palestine for an extended period ending with the Palestinian elections in January 1996. I was latterly the EU special advisor in Jerusalem. This was in the aftermath of the assassination of Itzhak Rabin by a Jewish fundamentalist and they were days of great hope following the Oslo accords. Palestinian leaders spoke of allowing settlers to remain - if they were prepared to accept Palestinian citizenship. There was an acceptance, however reluctantly, of the reality of the state of Israel. Wherever one went, even in West Jerusalem, or at roadblocks, Israelis smiled and wished us well. But then, just after the elections, the Israeli secret service killed a Hamas extremist in Gaza, nicknamed "the engineer", via his mobile telephone. Hamas retaliated by killing Israelis in Tel Aviv, and the Israeli electorate's reaction was to elect the right wing Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister. Whether Mossad deliberately killed "the engineer" to influence the elections, I know not, but it was certainly effective. I believe that the present situation is the continuing consequence of that one Israeli action. Mossad at least did not want a resolution to the situation.
Professor Dugard's UN report is worth reading in full*. Israel makes much of its withdrawal from Gaza but Dugard points out that (as also in Ehud Barak's proposal in 2000) Israel retained control of Gaza's air space, sea space, external borders and the two key border crossings. Dugard regards the siege of Gaza as a form of collective punishment in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. He states that "[t]he indiscriminate use of military power against civilians and civilian targets has resulted in serious war crimes."
The Wall currently being constructed forces the Palestinians into huge ghettos that can be sealed off. History teaches that those in ghettos never accept their confinement and eventually revolt. Dugard points out that "[e]ighty per cent of the Wall is built within Palestinian territory itself and in order to incorporate the Ariel settlement block, it extends some 22 km into the West Bank. The closed zone includes many of the West Bank's most valuable water resources."
There are currently 260,000 illegal settlers in the West Bank and around a further 200,000 in East Jerusalem. There are some 9,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli gaols charged with or convicted of "security offences" the figure includes some 400 children and over 100 women. In addition there are over 700 individuals held without charge or trial.
One can go on with more and more figures demonstrating the appalling consequences of Israel's occupation of the West Bank but they will be excused and explained by its sympathisers as a necessary response to Palestinian attacks. Unless and until these colleagues ask why the Palestinians have been forced into extremism nothing will change. If Israeli organisations such as B'Tselem, Hamoked and the IDF refuseniks can bravely expose Israeli crimes why cannot our and their Jewish colleagues in the UK do likewise?
* available at : www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/4session/A.HRC.4.17.pdf