1. J Street Mission to Israel, October 11-18, 2018

 

J Street is a ten-year organization that now has thousands of members, including a good number of rabbis, cantors and Jewish educators and leaders and congressmen and congresswomen. It was formed as a more progressive alternative to AIPAC.  It I a strongly Zionist organization that just as strongly believes in a two-state solution and a progressive Israel that deals with the area’s Palestinian population on an equitable basis. Unlike AIPAC, J Street believes that it is perfectly permittable, even necessary for those who believe that Israel is pursuing the wrong path and betraying the Zionist ideals of Israel’s founders, to make their voice heard. What this amounts to is that J Street is highly critical of the policies of the Israeli right led by Benjamin Netanyahu and Naphtali Bennet. The large point is that it believes that it is perfectly acceptable for American Jews to both support Israel and to sharply condemn policies of a particular Israeli government that it believes, is leading the state into a perilous relationship with its Palestinian citizens and those in the land that it occupies in the West Bank. Americans freely criticize the politics of those nations such as China and Russia and they in turn criticize us. The same applies to Israel. A recent poll showed that nearly three fourths of American Jews oppose the policies of the current government led by Netanyahu. 

 

J Street was founded to give a voice to those Jews and it has been growing rapidly each year.  It now has offices throughout the c country and in Israel and sends leadership missions to Israel every six weeks or so. It is well known in Israel and gives support to the parties that support its goals. 

On this trip we talked to many important figures, including seven members of the Knesset, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, for the IDF, for the settlers, for the Palestinians (we had an opportunity to speak to the PA leader Abbas, but I had food poisoning and missed it.) We spoke to many ordinary Israelis. We spoke with the head of the New York Times Jerusalem office, we met with statisticians and activists and retired generals. We often spent eleven-hour days in these meetings. We traveled, throughout the West Bank, around Gaza and elsewhere.  I intend to give those who are interested insights into some of the many people we talked with.

As we begin I would ask those who want to take this trip to look at the attached PowerPoint, “Israeli-Palestinian Conflict 101.”  The first section, Geography, uses maps to show the situation of Palestine prior to 1947 as it went from part of the Ottoman Empire to a British mandate following World War I.  It also shows Israel’s changing borders from the UN partition plan, the borders after the war of Independence and then after the Six Days War. The next maps reveal the West Bank area taken in the Six Day War in detail including the settlements that have been made in the las fifty years. As well as the Geneva Acord Map, an attempt to find a map that all sides can accept. Following that  is a time line of events; there is also vital information about the population of Israel today and over time Notice that the population of Israel today Is about 75% Jewish if the West Bank is excluded but including the West Bank and Gaza it is 50%. P. 18 gives a broad view of the population of Israeli citizenry, roughly 75% Jewish, 21% Arab and 4.6% all others.

The next section on Jerusalem is very instructive. Notice how the borders have been greatly expanded, around 50%. Over 200,000 Jews live in today’s expanded Jerusalem that was part of Jordan before 67, joining 327,00 Arabs.  If you study the map on p. 25 you can see via the blue line how the municipality has been expanded to take in both Israeli settlements and Arab villages and the route of the wall that goes along it. Also, the controversial E-1 area that is contested as it is the only route to a continuous Palestinian state should one be established.  The blue areas are the areas that the Israelis have established since the Six Days War.

The data on the population of the Jewish citizens of Israel and their religious affiliation are significant; note that 69% are non-religious.  Also, the composition of the first grade sees a rise in the religious.

 

       2. A Prophetic Moment: Lunch with Amos Oz’s Daughter, Professor Fania Oz Salzberger

 

We were fortunate enough to have lunch with Dr. Fania Oz Salzberger, the well-known daughter of the Israeli novelist, Amos Oz.  She is a historian and public intellectual. Her position is Professor of History at the University of Haifa where she specializes in European political thought.  She has been invited for residencies at Oxford, Princeton and Berlin among her many honors.

 

We had a long discussion of the issues facing Israel.  Her remarks made the following points:

There is a need to revitalize Jewish institutions to fit the values of the 21st century 

Our age demands a new narrative for spiritual and Jewish content 

In her book written with her father, they "suggest that Jewish continuity, even Jewish uniqueness, depends not on central places, monuments, heroic personalities, or rituals but rather on written words and an ongoing debate between the generations."

More energy must be spent maintaining the link between the diaspora and Israel; to do so, Israel must change course and American Jewry needs to redefine itself

Israel needs to address its shameful lack of recognition of non-orthodox Jews

Some potential actions suggested by Oz-Salzberger:

1. creating a literal and figurative common language - budget for teaching Hebrew all over the world;

2. A new Jewish dialogue between the orthodox and non-orthodox and between Israel and the diaspora

 

We all came away inspired by her intelligence and thoughtfulness and perspicacity in understanding the challenges facing Israel and all Jewry today.

 

Just a few months later her father, Amos Oz, died. He was a very strong supporter of J Street and the two-state solution and an opponent of Benjamin Netanyahu. The New York Times columnist Richard Cohen, a friend of Oz, recently summed up his political thought.  It bears listening to again and again:  (NYT, January 5, 2019)

 

Oz was clear eyed about the insidious corruption of Israel through more than a half-century of the occupation of the West Bank. How it has gradually blinded Israelis to the humanity of millions of Palestinians. How it has made the oppression and humiliation of another people somehow acceptable. How it has ingrained habits of arrogance. How it has fed the rightward lurch that has buried in messianic nationalism the dream of a two-state peace and ensconced a leader, Netanyahu, who made it his foul business to bury Yitzhak Rabin’s push for that peace. 

Oz told me Netanyahu was a “coward,” the anti-Rabin in his inability to have a big or generous thought.

 

“Building settlements in occupied territories was the single most grave error and sin in the history of modern Zionism, because it was based on a refusal to accept the simple fact that we are not alone in this country,” Oz told me.

I once summed up Oz’s political credo this way, “Two states, absolutely, are the only answer. Palestinians and other Arabs once treated Israel like a passing infection: If they scratched themselves hard enough it would go away. Israel treated Palestine as no more than “the vicious invention of a Pan-Arabic propaganda machine.” These illusions have passed. Reality now compels a compromise — ‘and compromises are unhappy; there is no such thing as a happy compromise.’”

 

 Note: My notes from the luncheon meeting with Dr. Oz-Salzberger were lost. Fortunately, one of our J Street guides, Adina Vogel-Ayalon, loaned me hers and my recall of the discussion is based on her notes.

 

 

2.  A Moment of Great Consequence: Israeli Politics today

 

 [There will be much discussion in coming segments about the newly passed Nation State or Nationality Law. For details see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_Law:_Israel_as_the_Nation-State_of_the_Jewish_People.  This law was supported by the government and opposed by the left-center parties and the Arab parties as well as Druze members of Likud. Basically, it emphasizes that Israel is a Jewish State, with only one official language; Arabic has a “special status.” It specifically promotes Jewish settlements without mention of geography. It has been praised by its supporters for decidedly emphasizing the nature of a Jewish state and opposed by its detractors by leaving no concern for the standing of non-Jewish citizens as well as its blanket approval of settlements.  There have been many very heated debates about what it means for Israel’s future as a democracy.]

Our delegation had a political briefing with Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin, a respected American statistician who has made Aliyah and now focuses on Israeli politics. 

The attached power point shows the steady movement to the right of the Israeli voting public aside from its Arab citizens.  Twenty years ago leftist parties commanded 39% of the vote, center parties 23% and right-wing parties 24%. As you can see from the chart, the trend has slowly reversed and now the right commands 54% and the left 15%.  This trend stems from the failure of prior peace talks and the bloody second intifada with its suicide bombers and burnt out buses. 

Of today’s Israeli society, 46% identify with the right, 24% with the center and 18% with the left. Religiosity has a lot to do with it, as 59% of the secular Jews identify with the center/left, while that is reversed and more with the religious.  Polls taken in the Fall indicate that elections to be held this April will not bring any significant change in the political alignment. The pending indictment of PM Netanyahu of Likud has so far not shown any less support for the Likud, the leading party. 

With regard to peace negotiations most Israelis support negotiations but do not believe that they will bring about peace. Support for a two-state solution has decreased among both Jews and Palestinians.  78% of the left supports a two-state solution, down from 97%. The center’s support has remained in the mid-sixties. Support on the right never rises above 25%. Israeli Arabs (those who are citizens and live in the area controlled by Israel before 1967) strongly support it.  A third of West Bank settlers support a two-state solution. 

Support for annexation of the West Bank varies. Only 18% would annex the West Bank and give the Palestinians living there the vote. 43% would annex the West Bank but allow the Palestinians no vote.  Some would like to annex only Area C (the area with the most settlements and most of the unoccupied West Bank), with almost half giving Palestinians residents there (50,00) the vote. 

Scheindlin pointed out that while domestically most Israelis may sound like the radical left, they have become very conservative over security issues and security issues trump domestic concerns, divisive as they are. Scheindlin also stated that those in the center are open to change and under the right conditions are persuadable to joining a left-center government. She also stated that to Israelis many things were moving in the wrong direction, including housing prices and the cost of living, the deterioration of democracy, the rise of racism and discrimination, the problems caused by the lack of separation between church and state, corruption of high officials  and of course security, all of which generates both anger and fear The strongest issues that the left-center has going for it are gender equality, opposing racism, the environment, toleration and fighting corruption.

Overall corruption is not now a game changer, especially if there are major security concerns. The growth of Hezbollah and he problems with Hamas prevent any lessening of these fears. 

Even though the center-left offers a great deal that the public desires, until they have a leader who they trust for security, it is unlikely that they will come to power. At this point, even though he may be under indictment, Netanyahu is a strong favorite in the coming elections.

 

A second political beefing was given by Tal Shalev, the chief political and diplomatic correspondent for Wallah News, a 24-hour Israeli news website. She has been in journalism for a decade and worked for Haaretz as news editor.

Tal saw this time as a confused yet definitive moment. There have been two major developments since Trump was elected: the move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem and the withdrawal of the United States from the Iran agreement. This has made Netanyahu more popular, but he is also in survival mode given the likelihood that he will soon face several serious indictments charging him with corruption and bribery. Netanyahu’s mode of defense to the judicial charges is to attack the media and the police. 

His relationship with Trump has emboldened Netanyahu; Obama had kept him on the defensive. His mantra is that no one can be more right-wing than him. He does not want Naftali Bennett to be perceived as more to the right. He focuses on his base: Sephardic and Russian Jews, many religious Jews and, of course, the settlers. 

Because he does not want to be outflanked on the right, he supports bills that he may not really want including a land appropriation bill and parts of the Nationality Law. Netanyahu has also been emboldened by and sees himself as part of the growing authoritarian movement in the world. He has invited P.M. Orban of Hungary to Israel despite overt anti-Semitism. [a later development: he went to the inauguration of the far-right authoritarian President of Brazil, Jair Bolsinaro.] He is close to Putin. He is not that committed to the idea of a liberal democracy like the governments of the United States and Western Europe.

The center left is currently divided into several parties. This includes Yesh Atid, The Zionist Union (Labor), Meretz (full left) Kulanu and others. Shalev wondered if there be a coalition between the Arab parties and the left and center-left? Could there be a new Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) party of those Haredim who have entered the workplace? If the Labor Party were to die, could a new patty on the center left emerge that would carry significant voters

The BDS movement (boycott, disinvestment, sanction) movement in America and Europe has been turned into a monster by the right in Israel, causing them even to not admit opponents of the government into Israel.  They have what could be termed a siege mentality and sometimes depict the EU as comparable to Nazi Germany.

Finally she noted that the public’s view of the media is at an all-time low, especially after Netanyahu’s constant criticism. 

 

3.    A Moment of Great Consequence: Israeli Politics today

 

 [There will be much discussion in coming segments about the newly passed Nation State or Nationality Law. For details see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_Law:_Israel_as_the_Nation-State_of_the_Jewish_People.  This law was supported by the government and opposed by the left-center parties and the Arab parties as well as Druze members of Likud. Basically, it emphasizes that Israel is a Jewish State, with only one official language; Arabic has a “special status.” It specifically promotes Jewish settlements without mention of geography. It has been praised by its supporters for decidedly emphasizing the nature of a Jewish state and opposed by its detractors by leaving no concern for the standing of non-Jewish citizens as well as its blanket approval of settlements.  There have been many very heated debates about what it means for Israel’s future as a democracy.]

Our delegation had a political briefing with Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin, a respected American statistician who has made Aliyah and now focuses on Israeli politics. 

The attached power point shows the steady movement to the right of the Israeli voting public aside from its Arab citizens.  Twenty years ago leftist parties commanded 39% of the vote, center parties 23% and right-wing parties 24%. As you can see from the chart, the trend has slowly reversed and now the right commands 54% and the left 15%.  This trend stems from the failure of prior peace talks and the bloody second intifada with its suicide bombers and burnt out buses. 

Of today’s Israeli society, 46% identify with the right, 24% with the center and 18% with the left. Religiosity has a lot to do with it, as 59% of the secular Jews identify with the center/left, while that is reversed and more with the religious.  Polls taken in the Fall indicate that elections to be held this April will not bring any significant change in the political alignment. The pending indictment of PM Netanyahu of Likud has so far not shown any less support for the Likud, the leading party. 

With regard to peace negotiations most Israelis support negotiations but do not believe that they will bring about peace. Support for a two-state solution has decreased among both Jews and Palestinians.  78% of the left supports a two-state solution, down from 97%. The center’s support has remained in the mid-sixties. Support on the right never rises above 25%. Israeli Arabs (those who are citizens and live in the area controlled by Israel before 1967) strongly support it.  A third of West Bank settlers support a two-state solution. 

Support for annexation of the West Bank varies. Only 18% would annex the West Bank and give the Palestinians living there the vote. 43% would annex the West Bank but allow the Palestinians no vote.  Some would like to annex only Area C (the area with the most settlements and most of the unoccupied West Bank), with almost half giving Palestinians residents there (50,00) the vote. 

Scheindlin pointed out that while domestically most Israelis may sound like the radical left, they have become very conservative over security issues and security issues trump domestic concerns, divisive as they are. Scheindlin also stated that those in the center are open to change and under the right conditions are persuadable to joining a left-center government. She also stated that to Israelis many things were moving in the wrong direction, including housing prices and the cost of living, the deterioration of democracy, the rise of racism and discrimination, the problems caused by the lack of separation between church and state, corruption of high officials  and of course security, all of which generates both anger and fear The strongest issues that the left-center has going for it are gender equality, opposing racism, the environment, toleration and fighting corruption.

Overall corruption is not now a game changer, especially if there are major security concerns. The growth of Hezbollah and he problems with Hamas prevent any lessening of these fears. 

Even though the center-left offers a great deal that the public desires, until they have a leader who they trust for security, it is unlikely that they will come to power. At this point, even though he may be under indictment, Netanyahu is a strong favorite in the coming elections.

 

A second political beefing was given by Tal Shalev, the chief political and diplomatic correspondent for Wallah News, a 24-hour Israeli news website. She has been in journalism for a decade and worked for Haaretz as news editor.

Tal saw this time as a confused yet definitive moment. There have been two major developments since Trump was elected: the move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem and the withdrawal of the United States from the Iran agreement. This has made Netanyahu more popular, but he is also in survival mode given the likelihood that he will soon face several serious indictments charging him with corruption and bribery. Netanyahu’s mode of defense to the judicial charges is to attack the media and the police. 

His relationship with Trump has emboldened Netanyahu; Obama had kept him on the defensive. His mantra is that no one can be more right-wing than him. He does not want Naftali Bennett to be perceived as more to the right. He focuses on his base: Sephardic and Russian Jews, many religious Jews and, of course, the settlers. 

Because he does not want to be outflanked on the right, he supports bills that he may not really want including a land appropriation bill and parts of the Nationality Law. Netanyahu has also been emboldened by and sees himself as part of the growing authoritarian movement in the world. He has invited P.M. Orban of Hungary to Israel despite overt anti-Semitism. [a later development: he went to the inauguration of the far-right authoritarian President of Brazil, Jair Bolsinaro.] He is close to Putin. He is not that committed to the idea of a liberal democracy like the governments of the United States and Western Europe.

The center left is currently divided into several parties. This includes Yesh Atid, The Zionist Union (Labor), Meretz (full left) Kulanu and others. Shalev wondered if there be a coalition between the Arab parties and the left and center-left? Could there be a new Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) party of those Haredim who have entered the workplace? If the Labor Party were to die, could a new patty on the center left emerge that would carry significant voters

The BDS movement (boycott, disinvestment, sanction) movement in America and Europe has been turned into a monster by the right in Israel, causing them even to not admit opponents of the government into Israel.  They have what could be termed a siege mentality and sometimes depict the EU as comparable to Nazi Germany.

Finally she noted that the public’s view of the media is at an all-time low, especially after Netanyahu’s constant criticism. 

 

J Street IV: A Tragic Dilemma:  A Trip around the Gaza envelope

 

Before setting out on an all-day trip around Gaza we heard a lecture form Tanya Hary executive director of GISHA an acronym for the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. She has a BA from UC Santa Cruz and an MA in International Affairs form the New School and has worked on human rights in Iran and Argentina and has published in several venues.

In her talk she described the difficulty of movement for residents of Gaza. Aside from medical emergencies and funerals it is very difficult to leave.  Gaza has 125 square miles of land; 53% of the population is under 18. 70% of the population are refugees or descendants of refuges. The poverty rate is 50% and the unemployment rate is equally high. Hamas took over control of Gaza in 2007. Electricity is intermittent and the water is increasingly contaminated.

The situation in Gaza was dire in October. The water situation was worsening daily. Supplies entering are limited. There are two entry points to Gaza, one at the North for pedestrian traffic and one at the southern end for truck movement. Otherwise it is tightly enclosed. (There is an Egyptian entry point, but it is seldom open and leads into the Sinai desert.)

Israel would prefer that Gaza become part of Egypt. However, the population feels that they are and have always been Palestinian.  Hary estimates that about 30% of the population supports Hamas. 30% the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the rest have no clear political allegiance. There is a sense of desperation in Gaza which appears to help Hamas. Israel is negotiating a possible long-term truce with Hamas, which would bring relief. Some analysts believe that Israel hopes that by working with Hamas there will be less pressure to work with the PA in the West Bank. This is because Israelis have no desire to occupy or possess the land of Gaza, but many on the right strongly want to annex large sectors of the West bank. A peace with Hamas would also lessen the demographic crisis by dividing the PA and Hamas. The relations between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are very poor and very tense.

We drove around Hamas, seeing the buildings of Gaza City from a distance, as well as the large enclosure walls. They looked like a modern Mediterranean city from afar. We looked at the entry way for trucks and we talked with local Israeli residents including one woman who was seeking to establish relations with Palestinian women in Gaza to see if they shared common concerns.

In many ways Gaza is like a large prison. Those inside cannot get out except in extreme circumstances. There is also a lot of fear from surrounding Israeli residents of bombs and fires from Gaza and the refusal of Hamas to recognize Israel’s legitimacy and their tunneling and infiltration. It has been an unstable situation for years with several major conflicts. Lately Qatar has sent in funds and more trucks have been allowed in allowing for payment of officials, though this movement almost came to an end when an Israeli commando unit was caught trying to establish communications systems in Gaza. They escaped with one casualty but left behind seven Palestinians dead. But ultimately peace talks, or truce talks, continued, brokered by the UN and Egypt. This led to the resignation of the Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman while we were there. He was dismayed with Netanyahu for not conducting a punitive attack.

The situation is Gaza appears untenable with its dire conditions, especially for the youth who are trapped. GISHA is trying for more movement believing that that will allow Gazans a greater understanding of the world and world views beyond Hamas. There is no easy solution. Can there be a peace without Gaza and the West Bank united? Possibly. Can there ever be a more moderate PA-like government in Gaza – though some argue the PA is not moderate? That does not seem likely at the moment-- meanwhile life in the prison continues to fester. The money from Qatar has increased the amount of electricity which gives some relief. Will it continue? Will there be a new outbreak of hostilities?  Israeli security demands that there be strict controls as long as Hama is in charge but do they have to be as draconian as they are now? Is there room for a different approach? AS of January, the peace has basically held, though there have been some minor incidents followed by limited Israeli airstrikes. But the situation remains fraught. It takes little to set off a firestorm.

This is a complex situation. Meanwhile the residents carry on a miserable hardscrabble existence.

 

 

5. “Twilight of the Intellectuals”: Meeting Israeli Luminaries

 

Saturday evening October 13th we had dinner with a distinguished group of major Israeli figures in government, the military and journalism, all but one of whom were in their sixties or seventies. They spoke of their take of the current situation in Israel, particularly the political situation. They were asked to be optimistic but had difficulty in being so. Here are some of their comments:

 

Amir Oren, one of Israel’s most distinguished journalists, still writes about national defense and foreign policy. A reporter for Haaretz, he was based in Washington for three years in the 1980s. Amir had little hope that the coming election would be competitive as he saw a complacent populace. His only hope was for a major upheaval of some kind or a major investigation. He stated that in the Middle East it takes three to tango; there must be an American mediator. With no American support for a realistic solution, the chances for a real solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians have sunk to rock bottom.

 

Isreala Oren, an analyst and commentator on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is a retired general (former commander of the IDF’s Women’s Corps) and a former member of Israel’s National Security Council. Currently she is on the board of the Geneva Accord and the Commanders for Israel’s Security.  General Oren argued that the army was the best advocate for peace. Many former commanders and the chief of staff are for a negotiated two-state solution. Progressive measures in Gaza and on the West Bank would do more for security than any military action. A workable peace plan from America is necessary but virtually impossible under the Trump administration.  Jeremy Ben Ami, the head of J Street, added that it was beyond the comprehension of J Street that Trump could produce a serious peace plan.

 

Amram Mitznah, also a retired General is a member of the Knesset under the centrist party Hatnuah.  He has also been mayor of Haifa and military commander on the West Bank. Most Israelis, he maintained, are satisfied with the status quo; but in fact the status quo is a disastrous path. The only way to peace was through a two-state solution. He thought that Israeli politics was fluid and that new arrangements were possible within a few years. Amram declared that if one says that there are no partners for peace then there will be no partners for peace.   Even in these hard times, he was optimistic that the arc will turn. He rejected a single bi-national state as not Zionist; the only truly Zionist position is a two-state solution. He advised Americans and Israelis who thought this way not to despair, not to give up hope.  As PA (Palestinian Authority) leader Abbas had basically conceded the necessary points, the real problem was the politicians in power, and that can be changed. In America today, liberals are fortunately in the majority in the Jewish community; in Israel liberal Israelis feel isolated. 

 

Gabriela Shalev is a widely respected member of the Faculty of Law of the Hebrew University and has served as Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations She declared that despite it all, including the current illiberal Israeli and American governments, she remained hopeful; there was really no alternative to optimism. The current American government is ignorant about what is happening in Israel; Israel strongly needs the liberal Jewish Zionist voice of American Jews as a balance to the reactionary policies now in place in Washington and Jerusalem.

 

Boaz Rakoz, founder of The Whistle (and not an elder), directs an on-line nonpartisan forum that sees itself as laying the foundation for a fact-based political culture. He maintained that at the current moment there is no hope for progressive policies. However, he had faith that continuous whistle blowing and the exposure of the government’s policies together with its incompetence and internal divisions provides a basis for hope and change.

 

Most of these figures that had once been in the leadership cadre of Israel are deeply depressed about the current situation -- though they made a strong effort to provide hope. Overall, they described a bleak situation when it comes to Israeli-Palestinian relations, the direction of Israeli political society and the rise of the right in Israel. They believe that the government’s policies constitute a rejection of basic Zionist ideals and are leading Israel to forsake its fundamental heritage.

 

 

                  6.  A Troubling Visit, Nazareth, 2018


A brief background history:

Nazareth is the capital and the largest city in the Northern District of Israel. Nazareth is known as "the Arab capital of Israel".[2] In 2017 its population was 76,551. The inhabitants are predominantly Arab citizens of Israel, of whom 69% are Muslim and 30.9% Christian.[5] Nazareth Illit (lit. "Upper Nazareth"), declared a separate city in June 1974, is built alongside old Nazareth, and had a Jewish population of 40,312 in 2014.

1948

The surrender of Nazareth was formalized in a written agreement, whereby the town's leaders agreed to cease hostilities in return for promises from the Israeli officers, including brigade commander Ben Dunkelman (the leader of the operation), that no harm would come to the civilians of the town. Soon after the signing of the agreement, Dunkelman received an order from the Israeli General Chaim Laskov to forcibly evacuate the city's Arabs. He refused, remarking that he was ‘shocked and horrified’ that he would be commanded to renege on the agreement he, and also Chaim Laskov, had just signed. Twelve hours after defying his superior, he was relieved of his post, but not before obtaining assurances that the security of Nazareth's population would be guaranteed. David Ben-Gurion backed his judgement up, fearing that expelling Christian Arabs might provoke an outcry throughout the Christian world.[84] By the end of the war, Nazareth's population saw a large influx of refugees from major urban centers and rural villages in the Galilee.[80]

1949-1966

In the first few years of its incorporation into Israel, Nazareth's affairs were dominated by the issues of land confiscation, internally displaced refugees and the hardships of martial law, which included curfews and travel restrictions. Efforts to resolve these issues were largely unsuccessful and led to frustration among the inhabitants, which in turn contributed to political agitation in the city.[85] As the largest Arab town in Israel, Nazareth became a center of Arab and Palestinian nationalism, and because the Communist Party was the sole legal political group that took up many of the local Arab causes, it gained popularity in Nazareth.[86] Arab political organization within Nazareth and Israel was largely stymied by the state until recent decades.[87] Arab and Palestinian nationalist sentiment continue to influence Nazareth's political life.

To the present

As the political center of Israel's Arab citizens, Nazareth is the scene of annual rallies held by the community including Land Day since March 1975 and May Day.[94] There are also frequent demonstrations in support of the Palestinian cause.[95] During the First Intifada (1987–1993), May Day marchers vocally supported the Palestinian uprising. On 22 December 1987, riots broke out during a strike held in solidarity with the Intifada. On 24 January 1988, a mass demonstration attracted between 20,000–50,000 participants from Nazareth and other Arab towns.[96]On 13 May, during a football match in Nahariya, a riot broke out between Arab and Jewish fans, resulting in a Jewish man being stabbed and 54 people, mostly Arabs, being arrested. A rally in Nazareth on 19 May followed, in which thousands of Arabs protested against "racist attacks" against the Arab fans and discriminatory policies against Arabs in general. ( From Wikipedia)

 

J Street Trip

After a trip that took us from the coastal plain to the historic Galilee in a few hours, we visited Nazareth, the unofficial capital city of Israeli Arabs. A short time, but Tel Aviv and Nazareth are worlds apart. It is not in very good shape, we were told, with high unemployment and too much crime and gang violence. However, from the outside it seems to be a bustling small metropolis with lots of stores, restaurants and hotels and many buses plying their routes through the city. 

We had lunch with MK Aida Touma-Sliman, (fifth on the joint Arab) list. A former newspaper editor, a prominent feminist in the Arab community, and one of the leading activists in the fight against violence toward women in the Arab community, she was among the group of women who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

Toulma-Sliman deplored the violence in Nazareth, noting that there was too much violence within the Israeli Palestinian world; 2100 murdered last year. Organized crime had become a problem along with a lack of confidence in the local police.

She declared that Palestinians were in danger. The severe shift to the right by the Israeli government, particularly the passage of the Nationality Law that declared Israel a Jewish state and Arabic not a national language, divided Palestinians and Jews -- and this, she emphasized. includes Jews in the Diaspora -- for the law includes Jews born all over the world. She asked what heritage it would protect. Is it pushing a single religion? 

Already, she argued, many anti-democratic, anti-Palestinian laws are in place, laws that legalize settlements and criminalize actions of the Palestinians, laws that are not used against Jews. Was it right that the laws within the green line (pre-1967 Israel) apply to settlers but not to Palestinians?  There has for long been two de-facto types of citizenship, not equality, both within the 1967 borders and without. The nationality law legalizes what has really been the actual situation.  The seventh section states that it is the intent of the government to develop and strengthen Jewish settlements; there are already hundreds of new settlements since 1948, all Jewish.  And they cannot be challenged in court. Equality is not in the basic laws, a problem for both Arabs and women. Now it is not possible to sue over discrimination such as unequal funding or the lowering of the standing of the Arab language.

She discussed partnering with different groups. She noted that ultra-orthodox Haredi women had met with Arab women in Nazareth. She hoped for coalitions of Arabs and Jews on issues of common interest such as discrimination and opposition to the Nationality Law.  She condemned current attacks on free speech, on NGO groups and others who oppose Israeli government’s policies. In sum, she claimed that the current path pointed to the de-legitimization of the Arab population.

 

Following lunch, we visited an Arab start up in Nazareth called NGT3 (New generation Technology). Run by two Israelis, Tamar Kedar Harris (MBA University of Haifa) and Amir Toren (PhD in biochemistry and experience in the American and Israeli pharmaceutical industry, they are supporting several Arab startups in Nazareth, often with graduates of the University of Haifa. The government, after giving seed money to many Jewish startups was persuaded to fund this venture. We viewed men and women involved in blood analysis and other ventures.  It was a hopeful scene in an industrial building with various cubicles and offices, each with a young scientist or engineer, sometimes more than one, working together. 

 

Note: non-Jewish residents of the West Bank are known as Palestinians. Many Arab citizens of Israel identity as well as Palestinian.

 

7. Optimistic Voices: Meeting with Young Israeli Entrepreneurs and Activists

 

Following our trip to Nazareth we met with several young Israeli entrepreneurs who are working with Palestinians. Our first speaker was Mikhael Manekin, the Director of the Alliance for Israel’s Future, a consortium of donors and organizations focused on building new progressive political leadership in Israel.  A former CEO of a progressive think tank and an activist in the Labor party, he is also the manager of Israel Tomorrow, a strategic communications company. Manekin pointed out that of the 15% of those who identify with the Israeli left, half are Arab citizen. In the two elections won by progressives of the center and left, the margin of victory was due to Arab votes. Yet very little is being done, to build on this coalition, there is no strategy to work together in the future. Of the eight up and coming politicians in the progressive wing, only one is a Palestinian (Israeli Arab citizen).

 

The next entrepreneur to speak was Nisreen Shehada.  She is a chemical engineer with a doctorate from the Technion and publications in leading journals. She recently headed the Networking and Outreach coordinator of Standing Together, seeking to build cooperation between the world of politics and communities of struggle, of marginalized groups. She lamented that there are no real binational parties in Israel. Her organization concentrates on ending the occupation in the West Bank and on creating greater social justice. She said that though this is a very troubled time with the passage of what she considers as racist legislation (Nationality Law) that might lead many to pessimism, she remains optimistic. The progressive movement must build its numbers.

 

Ameer Fakoury is a lawyer and political activist earning a doctorate at the University of Haifa in political sociology.  His special interest is in writing constitutions for divided societies.  Ameer said that the Nationality Law was deadly to the concept of a democratic state of Israel. It implies that Israeli nationality is only for Jewish identity.  While Israelis and Palestinians share the same place and both work in a variety of jobs, ethnic identity will always trump class identity. The key is to find a way to craft effective alliances that will bring peace.  This requires mutual respect and identification of rights. It is a difficult journey.

 

Ron Gerlitz is a leader of Sikkuy: The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality. He has worked in Silicon Valley and in Israel on hi-tech, developing software and algorithms. As a project manager of the Israeli Venture Network, he took part in developing strategies and implementing projects advancing local economic development in the periphery, both in the Jewish and Arab sectors. He pointed out that twenty percent of the population is Arab and that the only way to peace is to form a working coalition, political and otherwise.

 

What we saw in these men and women and the organizations they are part of was a great willingness among young entrepreneurs and activists to diligently for peace and coalition. Unlike the elderly spokesmen, they are more optimistic about a future, a future that will be shared by both Jews and Arabs/Palestinians. They are all working in their own way to find means of developing coalitions, both in business and in politics They are a minority, of course, and often under the screen, invisible to almost all non-Israelis and many Israelis, often ignored, if not scorned, by their opponents. But they are well educated and experienced and dedicated. Only time will tell if they area tilting at windmills or represent a new vision that will grow much stronger in years to come.

 

 

7. The Best Defense?  Meeting with the IDF and Commanders for Israel’s Security

 

Before leaving for Jerusalem we met with Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, chief spokesman for the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), a twenty-year veteran, and with Rolly Gueron of Commanders of Israel’s Security.

 

The greatest concern of the IDF at this moment (mid-October) was the Iranian presence in Syria and Iran’s projection of its power in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.  Israel, General Conricus warned, would not allow the close placement of Iranian offensive weapons or accurate Syrian weapons, as both could soon constitute a severe military threat. 

 

Gaza: Lt. Col. Conricus described the Gazan demonstrators as dangerous., using wire cutters to approach and cut through the separation fence. Hamas itself has limited support; its leadership has been ejected from the gulf states and Syria.  There have been as many as 18,000 Gazans near the fences during the Friday demonstrations. [The demonstrations were very strong when we visited, front pages news daily, with sharp differences in how to respond between Netanyahu and his Defense Minister who resigned; a new war seemed possible. Today that threat and the demonstrations have lessened. For how long we do not know.]

Regarding the West Bank, Conricus stated that the wall has largely ended the threat of suicide bombers, saving many lives. He emphasized that that is a fact.  Lethal force is used very selectively. Night raids against Hamas are often carried out with assistance of the Palestinian Authority.

 

Commanders for Israel’s Security is an organization of over 285 former generals and intelligence officers.  Its main mission is to promote a two-state solution. 

Gueron, who worked for years with the Mossad, one of the two Israelis intelligence agencies, stated that today most people in Israel do not care about the Palestinians on the West Bank. Behind this decision to ignore what is going on, a lot is happening, most notably creeping annexation,  the most dangerous development in Israel. From a security viewpoint the threats in the North and in Gaza area not existential threats to the state. They can be handled by the IDF. Israel is the strongest military power in the Middle East by a large margin. It is one of the top ten military powers in the world.

A one-state solution would be no solution it would mean the end of the Jewish state if demographics is considered and if Israel remains a democratic state.

Gueron detailed some of the developments: there are 300,000 Israelis in Jerusalem along with 400,000 Arabs; there are 430,000 Israelis in the West Bank, 280,000 of them in settlement blocs.  The continuing annexation and settlement of Area C (Israeli controlled areas) will soon create a turning point: there will be no possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state. This will lead to violence, a breakdown of cooperation with PA security, the need to build more interior walls in the West Bank, problems with Jordan and ultimately a permanent occupation of 2.6m Palestinians. This is unacceptable and fatal to a democratic Jewish state. The financial cost will be tremendous as will the cost in lives and the deterioration of Israel’s place in the Middle East and the world. The process is already well established as Palestinian controlled areas are isolated and travel between them often requires travel in area C under Israeli control. This leads to checkpoints, delay and humiliation.

If and when annexation reaches a point of no return it will fatally damage the PA’s legitimacy and heighten its risk of collapse.  Coordination between the Palestinian security agencies and Israeli security will diminish and end and, in its absence, it is likely that a wave of violence will sweep the West Bank, touching Israel proper and spread to Gaza.

Annexation would have portentous ramifications.  Israel’s security cooperation with neighboring countries will be jeopardized.  If there is annexation, it could lead to a Civil War with those unwillingly annexed.  Israeli allies will downgrade security ties with Israel.  The overall diplomatic reaction will isolate Israel. Ultimately Israel will be in danger of falling to a pariah status internationally. The military budget will have to be greatly increased, putting money that could have gone into development into security.  It would mean a 12.5% increase in the defense budget, or $559m. The total additional annual cost to the government, including health, education, etc., would be $14.9b.These are only some of the consequences that he predicted from a one-state annexation solution.

The only possible way towards peace and a prosperous Israel is the two-state solution.

While the present situation is untenable, most Israelis do not spend time in the West Bank and so do not see it as a great problem. Moreover, the Israeli public has moved to the right, a tectonic political change. This could lead to a serious rift between the Democratic Party in America and Israel and the possibility that a new American government will be less sympathetic to Israel.

But, he concluded, this need not happen. There are alternatives. 

 

8.   The Heart of Power: A Visit to the Knesset

 

Following our meeting with Commanders of Israel’s Security we drove to Jerusalem for meetings at the Knesset. Security was high as it was the opening of the Knesset session. Demonstrator on the street held up signs protesting Netanyahu with such slogans ass “Crime Minister,” referring to the corruption charges that are making their way to a possible indictment.

The first MK we met with was Ksenia Svetlova, serving as a member of the Zionist Union (Labor). She is working on a doctorate at Hebrew University. A former journalist with the Jerusalem Post, the BBC and Kommersant (Russia) she has traveled widely in the Middle East. She is a Sephardic Jew and actively works to preserve their culture. A member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, she is also active in caucuses on the Freedom of the Press and establishing relations with the Kurdish people.

MK Svetlova began by saying that “no one knows where we are going.” Will there be early elections?    That was the talk filling the corridors.  [Of course, we know now that there will be early elections in April.] This last year, she laments, has been terrible from the legislative side with the passage of backward-looking laws. There has been purposeful incitement, non-funding of needed projects and then the Nationality Bill which was passed as part of an internal battle between the extreme right wing (Bennett) Home party and Likud.  She supports a Declaration of Independence bill, that would put into Israel’s basic laws the Israeli Declaration of Independence which calls for equal rights for all citizens. 

Claiming that the government has no strategy, she is uncertain of Israel’s security posture. What to do? First the opposition must fight anti-democratic legislation.  It is unfortunately very difficult, virtually impossible, to pass the opposition’s legislation. 

She decried the splits in the center left parties and saw no prospect of a unity party.  She also lamented that the left in Israel is called unpatriotic, a despicable slander.

Regarding Gaza, because there is no solution, no demand for real negotiation, and there may be war. As to the Joint list (Arab coalition), it is doubtful that they will join the center-left coalition. Cooperation is possible with some of the groups in the Arab coalition but not with all.

 

The second Knesset member we spoke to was Akram Hasson of the Kulanu Party that is part of the ruling coalition. A Druze and former member of the Kadima Party, Hasson is an activist in the Druze community.

He fiercely opposed the Nationality Law and hoped that the Supreme Court will strike it down.   

Although a member of the governing coalition, Hasson declared that he was a supporter of the two-state solution.  He supports the peace process and complained of ego problems that caused difficulties between PA leader Abbas and Netanyahu. He considers Abbas is a good man and that gives him hope for the future. He has remained in the coalition in hope of economic support for his development projects in the Druze community. He has, nevertheless, voted against the coalition fourteen times.  Netanyahu, he said, has commented that he belonged to the left. Nobody, unfortunately, today speaks about peace with the Palestinians. If there were to be peace with the Palestinians he believed that Israel would soon have peace with 53 other Arab nations. 

Hasson bemoaned that there were no great leaders today. Finally, he stated that despite his strong disagreements with many of the far-right members of the coalition he remains in it is because he believes he can make a difference. Moreover, the opposition is very divided. 

 

We spoke next to MK Yehuda Glick of the Likud Party. Born in NY he made Aliyah and received a B.Ed. in Bible studies form Jerusalem College.  He is a licensed tour guide. He began his government career in the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption, and then resigned in protest over the disengagement in Gaza. He founded the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation to encourage Jewish visits to the Temple Mount. In 2014 he was shot by an Arab resident of Abu-Tor but after nearly dying has recovered fully.

He tended to speak in religious terms, even apocalyptic language. He defended the nationality law stating that no one would lose any rights under it, rather it would state who we (Israelis)are.

The diaspora, he stated was part of Israel and must help, though there will be friction.

He opposed the two-state solution believing it would lead to many Sderots. (Sderot is a city near Gaza that has been bombarded many times when there is tension on the border.) A Palestinian State, he warned, would overflow with Palestinians, making it unworkable.  There are a half million Jews in the West Bank.  They cannot be uprooted. 

 

He believed in a federation solution of thirty states; every state would have its own parliament and security. 

God is behind the state of Israel and is writing a new chapter in the Bible.

 

Our final MK discussion was with Omer Barlev of the Zionist Union, once a top commander in the IDF, a veteran of the raid on Entebbe. He has sought to galvanize the government toward a peace process and to empower marginalized youth and educate them in both Zionism and democracy.  In 2013 he published “In Our Hands,” an initiative for both bilateral and independent moves that Israel could take to maintain its democratic and Jewish character.

In his comments to us he castigated Netanyahu for his inability to make decisions for fear of the risk involved. He emphasized the need for a two-state solution if a Zionist state is going to survive. Regarding Iran, he stated that sanctions could have been put on its ballistic missiles, but it was unwise to pull out of the treaty.

Each Knesset member has his or her own views, there is a growing political polarization in Israel, as there is in the United States. There is considerable tension between the governing parties and those of the center left, not to mention the Israeli Arab parties. In this Knesset the parties of the right have been ascendant and have passed legislation that has furthered division and distrust. It has been the assumption by most commentators on both the left and the right that there was little likelihood of change in the coming election. However the emergence of General Benny Gantz and the possible indictment of PM Netanyahu has shaken this assumption, though how much remains to be seen. 

 

9.  An Unhappy People:  Meeting with Palestinian Business and Civil Society Leaders in East Jerusalem

 

Dalal Erekat, Professor of Communications at a West Bank University is a forceful figure, wondered why it was taking so long to reach a two-state solution.  She reminisced that she used to play with Jewish friends. She said the problem was not a religious problem but racism, apartheid.  Why must she apply a week in advance if she wants to visit Jerusalem, and endure many checkpoints to come to Jerusalem.  And her movement is limited.

  Trump’s move of the American embassy was a failure. But it was a violation of the role of the United States as a fair broker.  What, after all, is left to negotiate? The Geneva Accords, resolutions of the Security Council seem worthless.  What is happening is nothing less than apartheid.   If we care about Jews having their state, recognize it and the Palestinian aspirations. She lamented that area C, under Israeli control, is more than 60% of the West Bank, or 20% of all Palestine. And Israel is seizing more land; forty five Arab communities are now threatened by Israeli expansion. The E-1 plan to settle land around Jerusalem would isolate the West Bank North and South with no connection possible.

If the two-state solution fails the alternative is one state, like other countries.  What in the end does she and the Palestinians want: to live with dignity.

 

 Businessman Fayez Hassan spoke next. He also spoke of dignity referring to treatment of the residents of Hebron.  He lamented the poor treatment of PA leader Abbas.  Americans had to look and see where their vital compass points. If they are not sympathetic to the Palestinians they should return the Statue of Liberty.

 

Rolla Sagariv, a developer in the West Bank said he had returned to the West Bank from living in the United States.  What could the Jewish state do to help? Trump has ruined the peace process. The Palestinians used to look at the United States as an honest broker. Without a two state situation where are we? In ghettoes’, towns surrounded by settlements, no contiguous state.  We are an indigenous people and there is no denying our rights.  Losing the PA office in Washington, D.C. was a terrible move, it denied the recognition of Palestinians by the United States. 

 

 The last speaker was quite depressed.  He said that the Trump administration believes that all we want is our jobs and livelihood.  Right now the PLO is only trying to buy time. What is needed is a multi-lateral approach.  People in the West Bank are distressed and depressed. There is no normalcy and no faith in our own government (PA).

 

Overall it was a very depressing meeting. If these business leaders represent the eight of the West Bank, there is a lot of work to do if there is ever to be peace.

 

 

10.  The Heart of the Matter: On the West Bank

 

We spent two days visiting the West Bank (mid-October, 2018). The first day we drove around the expanded City of Jerusalem seeing both the Arab villages and new Israeli settlements. We drove through an Israeli settlement with attractive houses, stores and meeting places, like a small city in pre-1967 Israel. We then drove to Hebron. At that point our guide was a member of the group “Breaking the Silence.” This organization is particularly unpopular with the Netanyahu government as it has persuaded soldiers that have served in the West Bank to tell their stories, stories that detailed incidents of humiliation, disregard of due process and worse. They have spoken out because of either guilt or a personal decision that the occupation is harmful both to the Peace Process but also to the moral health of Israelis. 

 

Hebron is an ancient city with great meaning to both Arabs and Jews. It has also been a center of violence since the early twentieth century. There are only about 800 settlers in the city, guarded by over 400 Israeli soldiers.  There were over 200,000 Palestinians living there as late as 2016, when it was the second largest city in the West Bank. It is smaller now, likely less than 100,000 inhabitants who mostly live in the heights above the city center. Israelis are not permitted there. One of the main reasons for the population decline is that the central marketplace of the city is off limits to Palestinian vehicles. They may enter as pedestrians, but if the day we visited is typical, very few do. In fact, the center, once a bustling marketplace, is nearly deserted with numerous boarded shops and stalls. It is a very depressing site. 

The settlers live near the center of the city which is also near a large settlement, Kiryat Arbah. Hebron is a sacred city for religious Jews. It houses the Machpelah or Tomb of the Patriarchs. According to the Torah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca and Jacob are buried there. This may account for the militancy of these settlers.

Nearby In Kiryat Arbah is Meir Kahane Park, named for a right wing militant American rabbi who had formed the Jewish Defense League in New York before moving to Israel. There he led extremist groups and was forbidden to run in parliamentary elections. Within the park, prominently displayed, almost as a shrine, is the burial site of Baruch Goldstein who murdered, at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, 29 Palestinians, while wounding an additional 125.  (The Machpelah is also a sacred Islamic site.) Many rocks covered the grave, a sign of respect and admiration for the deceased.

We had to wait twenty minutes to even walk through the central city because the soldiers on duty would not let us enter because of our guide. We were finally allowed in, surrounded by soldiers. It was eerie. We asked to visit the Machpelah, but we were not permitted because our guide was a “provocateur.”  This was absurd, of course. We, a group of middle-class American Zionists, had every right to enter, of course. A chance to visit this sacred site does not come often. For us it was not just disappointing but a sad moment for Israeli democracy. It was a terribly disturbing visit.

 

We also visited the home of the Palestinian Non-Violence Movement, a group whose intent is to address community social development needs and to build a non-violent resistance to the occupation. It is led by Ali Abu Awad who spent seven years in prison from 2002-2009 and was freed by the Oslo Accords. He talked of his work and introduced us to three women from a nearby village. These women had broken through the unwritten law that Arab women must defer to their husbands and maintain a silent domestic existence and had become outspoken in support of their villages’ needs for electricity and other amenities. At first, they talked quietly but once started you could see the fire in their eyes as they spoke of their increasingly prominent role.

 

The next morning, we stopped for a meeting with settlers at Psagot, which is both a settlement and a winery that caters to tourists and that has a large visitor center.  The settlement had asked Sara Haetzni–Cohen to speak to us on behalf of the settlers. Sara is the granddaughter of Elyakim Haetzni, a member of the ultranationalist Tehiya movement, a leader in the original West Bank settler movement. She is secular though married to a religious man, and grew up in Kiryat Arbah, next to Hebron. She heads My Israel, a web-based organization established by Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Israel Home party.   She has no interest in the left as she contends that they have only proposed programs that are ruinous in terms of identity and security.  But she said that the right, to which she belongs, must come up with a program in answer to the two-state solution.

While there is no final plan on the Right, leaders on the Right agree that they must topple, must eliminate, the PA which is an “absolute evil.” Aside from the removal of any overall Palestinian governing agency that currently exists, the groups under or affiliated with Haetzni, while skeptical of previously proposed solutions to the conflict, have looked for resolutions. She is presently closest to the Bennett plan which would annex area C and grant Israeli citizenship to those living there and give autonomy for local issues but not citizenship to the Palestinians living in Areas B and A -- and with no contiguity so that a contiguous state would be impossible. Palestinians could accept Jordanian citizenship or even that of some a new Palestinian Authority that would give them the citizenship of a state composed of isolated cities. Bennett would then have a Marshall plan for Palestinian-Israeli industries/infrastructure projects. This overlaps with Netanyahu’s strategy of delay and stretching out the current situation for fifty or five hundred years without ceding any land. Time will eventually diminish Palestinian nationalism. 

Her personal plan involves three stages: 1) establishing Israel’s sovereignty by legal means to areas of consensus such as the Etzion bloc (areas that would remain Israel even in a two-state solution) 2) creating dialogue with an alternative Palestinian leadership; 3) international effort to change discourse form two-state solution to gradual Israeli sovereignty. 

 

Other plans by Haetzni’s allies include annexing area C and a demilitarized noncontiguous state in Areas A and B, or gradual annexation of the entire West Bank and giving the Palestinians a blue (Israeli) ID card and the right to vote -- except for terrorists and those who belonged to the apparatus of the PA. The latter would have to undergo “denazification.” Another plan of the right would annex 30% of the West Bank, giving citizenship to those Arabs living there and allot Palestinians 40% of West Bank with a choice of either a demilitarized state or an expanded autonomy regime. The fate of the last 20% of West Bank, a “controversial region,” to be determined later. Another plan is for city states in the West Bank cities and immediate surroundings. They would cooperate in water, aviation, etc. and could cross into other states with visas. The PA would melt away. A final plan calls for full annexation with three options, emigration, partial residency status or citizenship if the Palestinians can prove their intention to link their fate to the State of Israel.

For much more on Sara Haetzni and the ideas of the Israeli right see:

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium.MAGAZINE-the-israeli-right-s-visions-for-managing-the-conflict-1.5434407 

 

Before hearing from Haetzni-Cohen we heard from a member of the settlement who quoted the Bible, indicating the longstanding birthright religious claim of Jews to the land. She talked of how well the settlers got along with the Palestinians, mixing with them harmoniously at such places as supermarkets. She said that they often complained of taxes by the PA among the grievances that they carried against the Palestinian Authority.

 

In sum our time on the West Bank was troubling. It has been relatively quiet for years, but there is enormous mistrust at best. At worst there is racism, anti-Semitism and no recognition of the rights of either party. I think that it is impossible to predict how it goes from here.  There are many paths, but only a few that lead to a mutually satisfying democratic solution.

 

11.  A Visit to Ramallah

 

We visited Ramallah, capital of the Palestinian Authority,  to speak with Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator of the Palestinian Authority and with Mohammed Abbas the president of the PA. Before that we visited the new city of Nabataea built under the auspices of the PA.  

 

I unfortunately never made it to Ramallah. I as struck with food poisoning. At first I thought I could still go, but after feeling nauseous, I began to rapidly dehydrate. Suddenly almost all of my energy rapidly disappeared. It was frightening. For a few minutes I felt like I was fading away. Fortunately we found a Palestinian doctor who was able to rehydrate my body with a saline solution. I was then sent back to Jerusalem to recover. It was difficult to fill my prescription as no Israeli drugstore would or could do it; it had to be filled by an Arab drugstore in the old city. 

The trip to Ramallah was a major point in our trip.  (We of course would have loved to meet with Netanyahu or his cabinet but they were not willing.)

 

While I have no notes from the meeting I am substituting the notes and memories of Adina Vogel-Ayalon, who works for J Street in Israel. There are as follows (with my editing):

Meeting with Dr. Saeb Erekat:
1. No one will benefit from peace more than Israelis and Palestinians and no one will be hurt more by its absence than Israelis and Palestinians.

2.  Ideas cannot be killed by bullets nor prevented from traveling by visas. You don't fight radicalism and ISIS by bullets; you fight with democracy. 

3. The demography of the region necessitates peace. {I believe he was referring to the large Palestinian population on the West Bank, and possibly Gaza, which is close to the Jewish population.]

4. Anyone who says Arab world isn't ready for democracy is a racist.

5. The only option for peace is two states.

6.  Netanyahu cannot bring him myself to say two states. Not even privately. I've known him for more than 31 years. He believes that Palestinians should be grateful for what they have achieved under Israeli occupation. Among the Arab world, Palestinians are the most highly educated population

7. Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem without a peace treaty disqualifies the U.S. as a negotiator

8. With no regard to the changes over the years, the  PLO is still classified in the U.S. as a terrorist organization.

9.  A number of Palestinians are asking me shut up about two states already - they would prefer a rights based focus of a one sate solution. [Similar to many on the Israeli right.]

 

Memories of the meeting with President Abbas:

1. He reiterated his commitment to the two-state solution, to Israeli- Palestinian security cooperation 

2. He is disappointed and offended by the US administration

3.  The relationship with American Jews and Israelis is important to him 

4. He appreciates the work that J Street carries on with the U.S. Congress.

The Times of Israel reported on the meeting and quoted Abbas as saying that despite the tense relations with Washington “We distinguish between America and the current American administration that has brought the peace process to a dead end.”

The dinner was about Israeli-Arab political and social alliances. The following article from one of our earlier dinner speakers, Ron Gerlitz, published in 2015, summarizes the sentiments expressed at the dinner with Abbas.  It is well worth reading.

 

 https://972mag.com/rabins-legacy-a-government-inclusive-of-all-citizens-not-only-jews/113375/?fbclid=IwAR32XIPiTFjHwdSxVn9SlD1x1KblTDT9FISPPJXkd4zRK2-AG3r-DZKenes

 

12. Power and Diplomacy: The United Nations and the Foreign Ministry

 

On the final day of our mission we visited UN headquarters in Jerusalem and the Israeli Foreign Ministry.  (We also met with the bureau chief of the New York Times and staff of the American consulate, now the American embassy. That will be covered in the next installment.)

The headquarters of the United Nations in Jerusalem stands in a restored mansion on a summit overlooking the city. It had been the headquarters of the British Government during the Palestinian Mandate from 1919-1948. When I lived in Jerusalem in 1964 the UN was a very visible presence.  You could see its jeeps traversing the city’s streets and it was often in the news attempting to maintain peace in a divided city. Its presence in modern Israel is much reduced. They are still present at the borders with Lebanon and Egypt as buffers if needed. More important is their diplomatic role. While we were there they were intensely involved with negotiations with Israel and Egypt over a truce in Gaza.  These had been long going negotiations and seemed to be reading a successful conclusion (if you define success as a cessation of overt hostility) that would allow the entry of greater humanitarian and other supplies in exchange for a cessation of violent demonstrations and rockets and fire kites. These negotiations seemed on the brink of success and then suddenly on failure when an Israeli commando team was caught in Gaza, but it finally went into place and has mostly held for the last three or four months.  The UN had a considerable role in this process.

The UN representatives that we talked with included JONATHAN ESHPAR who has worked since 2014 as a Political Affairs Officer at the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO). Previously he was the director of the public department of the Israeli human rights organization Gisha, and a senior project director at the Economic Cooperation Foundation (ECF), dealing with humanitarian, economic and political issues related to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. It also included NADAV GREENBERG,  a Political Affairs Officer in the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. Before joining the UN, Nadav worked at the Brookings Institution as a researcher in the office of Executive Vice President Martin S. Indyk, focusing on the history of U.S. mediation efforts in the Middle East. 

From these biographies it is clear that the United Nations employs men and women who have a great deal of experience in the Middle East, especially with Israel.  They are not ideological, but very committed to a peace process.  (This should not be confused with the angry debates in the General Assembly and Security Council.  This is the staff of the United Nations dedicated to the UN’s founding ideals.)

 

Following our trip to UN headquarters we travelled to the Israeli foreign ministry and spoke with AMB. DAVID ROET. He is the Head of the North American Bureau and Deputy head of the North America Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel.  Ambassador Roet served as Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative at Israel’s Mission to the United Nations in New York from 2013-2017.  Previously, he served as the Head of the Bureau for Personnel Training in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2010 to 2013. From 2004 to 2010 he served as the Director of the US Consulate Department in the North American Affairs Division. 

We had frank and forthright exchanges with Ambassador Roet. He began by stating that the chief concern of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was American-Israeli relations.  He was proud that America had stood in the trenches with Israel under President Obama and continues to do so under President Trump.  He had only words of praise for President Obama, first for $38b in military aid and second in stopping anti-Israel resolutions in the UN. (He did not mention the last resolution regarding West Bank settlements in which the United States abstained.)  He noted that Israel was far and away the strongest military power in the Middle East and indeed is one of the world’s strongest military powers.

He was very concerned about political hostility to Israel in the United States. In this regard he emphasized that Israel is a democratic, a republican state. It is a flawed democracy as all democracies are, but it is still a democracy. He did concede that Israel politically is moving to the right and that the current government is more in align with the Republican Parity in America. 

We discussed PM Netanyahu at some length. I asked him to explain how an Israeli PM could so interfere in American partisan politics as to come to America at the invitation of one party and give a talk to the joint session of the Congress and openly oppose the foreign policy of a sitting President. Would an American President possibly do so in the Knesset? He responded that Netanyahu was deeply concerned about the threat of Iran and believed that the nuclear agreement was badly flawed and that it was his duty to oppose it.  He admitted that this has caused a great deal of tension with Democrats and with American Jewry, 75% of whom oppose Netanyahu’s policies, at least regarding the Palestinians.

We asked him if Netanyahu would similarly stand up against Trump. I did not write his response down, but I assume it would be yes. We also discussed BDS which the Israeli government (and J Street) deeply opposes. I my mind their strident opposition serves only to make it stronger, but the Israeli government feels it must intervene.  Three was considerable debate in Israel while we were there about the government’s policy about not admitting those in that movement and others who have criticized Israel into the country.  We never had any problems in that regard.

 

13.  The Trip Concludes: The New York Times and the American Embassy

 

The final events of our mission were meetings with the head of the New York Times Jerusalem Bureau, David Halbfinger, and with members of the U. S. Embassy.

DAVID HALBFINGER is the Jerusalem bureau chief of The New York Times. He covers Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and the Middle East. Before taking up his post in 2017, Mr. Halbfinger spent four years as metro political editor, deputy metro editor, presidential campaign editor and then deputy national editor, managing the political reporters covering the 2016 presidential campaign. He also covered the 2004 presidential campaign of John Kerry. 

Halbfinger answered a wide variety of questions.  He noted that  young Israelis are by and large on the political right, often asking the question, “Why give anything away, we will only get bombarded?” He wondered how significant the Israelis activists we met were in the overall picture. How do you measure support? 

He did not see much possibility of a change in the political scene without a major crisis that put the current government in a bad light. [One can wonder if in the last four months that has taken place or not.  Today’s article by him in the Times seems to indicate it may be.  You can read the article at the end of this report. I recommend it. ]He discussed similarities between Likud and the Republican Party in America.  

He noted the rise of authoritarianism in a number of significant countries in Europe and the world.  This is unsettling at best.  An aware citizen cannot take anything for granted.

He was aware of the polls that I have referenced about American Jews showing that 90% were pro-Israel but two thirds opposed Netanyahu’s policies and the annulment of the Iranian nuclear agreement.  He wondered about the dilemma of Jewish congressmen balancing support of Israel within a fractured American Jewish community.

When asked about the constant right-wing criticism of the Time’s coverage of Israel, he wondered what the Times could do, The Right hangs on every word that is published, ready to jump on anything that they think is anti-Israel bias.  He noted that he is incredibly over worked in that there are only two members of the bureau (aside from stringers) and that it is difficult just to keep up with current developments. There are stories that he wants to write but he keeps putting them off because of the constant urgency of daily events.

I do not think that anyone could, after having a conversation with Halbfinger, give credibility to the charges that the Times is biased. His observations are no different than most Israelis commentators on the right and the left. He was one of the most unbiased journalists I have met. He seemed to take no strong personal opinions, or let them affect his judgment. I have observed that almost all the criticism is politically biased. The coverage may not agree with the position of the right or left and so they attack it.  These reporters are just trying to tell the story as they see it and to be as non-judgmental as possible.  The bias, I believe, most often comes from the biases of the critics and not the Times. I am sure there are problems with stories from time to time, but in my opinion it is wrong, sometimes even a lie, to accuse the Times of systematic bias.

 

After lunch with David Halbfinger we met with two officers of the American embassy who had previously been part of the American consulate in Jerusalem.  (Prior to the move of the embassy to Jerusalem the Americans had dealt with the Israelis through the embassy in Tel Aviv and maintained contacts with the Arab communities through the Jerusalem consulate.) 

 

CURTIS RIED has been a member of the U.S. Foreign Service since 2003, and served most recently at the White House where he was Senior Advisor to National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Prior to that role, he held the position of Director for Multilateral Affairs at the National Security Council where he coordinated the U.S. Government's engagement with the United Nations.  JONATHAN BERGER currently serves as Senior Outreach Advisor-Jerusalem in the Public Diplomacy Section for the U.S. Embassy in Israel. From 2013-16 he was a political officer in the same Embassy responsible for monitoring and tracking peace process issues, Palestinian affairs, domestic politics, and political-military issues.

When we talked in Mid-October there was expectation that a Trump plan for settling the Palestinian-Israeli disputes would be released imminently.  [As of late February it has not been released. However, an article in today’s Haaretz states that it will be released after the Israeli elections and envisions a unified plan including Gaza, the West Bank and the overall region with freer borders, freer movement of goods. No further details.] They thought it likely that the plan would find more favor with Netanyahu than with the Palestinians.  There was hope that the plan might be endorsed by regional Arab powers.  Till now (Mid October) the Palestinians had not been willing to negotiate with the United States because of the move of the embassy to Jerusalem.  Perhaps this could be an opening bid that would stimulate new negotiations.

Talking about negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, they noted that Abbas , head of the Palestinian Authority, had said that East Jerusalem’s status must be negotiated, including whether or not it would be the Palestinian capital. Abbas has a plan, the 1967 borders plus some land swaps that would allow the major settlements to remain, but believes that he has no reliable partner to talk with. Netanyahu rejects this plan and offers far lesser land.  The Palestinian Authority is very clear about the ’67 lines and their importance. The PA is also wary about being cut out of negotiations with Gaza, of a separate deal with Gaza and Hamas.

They stated that there is no longer any tension between the current Israeli and American governments.

The two are hardworking diplomats who have worked for different administrations.  It is clear that the decisions are made at much higher levels. The current ambassador, David Friedman, who has spoken harshly of J Street, has been a strong supporter of settlements and was instrumental in the move of the Embassy and the downgrading of the consulate’s work.  He is the first ambassador to publicly visit a settlement.

 

See one of David Halbfinger’s latest NYT articles:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/24/world/middleeast/benjamin-netanyahu-otzma-yehudit-jewish-power.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

 

 

14.  Reflections

This is my last J Street Report – though I will continue to send election updates, and it is my personal reflections.  I do not know how many people have read these reports. I hope at least a few.  I would be greatly interested to know your response and to hear from anyone who has been reading them.

HR

 

For an American Jew who proudly identifies as a Jew and has a decent knowledge of his or her Jewish background and heritage, arrival at Ben Gurion Airport is a wondrous experience. Suddenly, from an identity as a minority, often a small minority, he or she is part of the majority. You look around and nearly everyone is Jewish. It is hard to believe. But it is not just the sudden transition from a minority to a majority that is stunning. It is to hear everyone speaking Hebrew, a language you may have studied for your Bar or Bat Mitzvah, but have in many cases mostly forgotten.  It is the Sabbath being the Jewish Sabbath, as buses stop running on Friday evening and resume on Saturday evening. It is to walk through Jerusalem, both the modern and the old city and relive ancient history – along with many other sites in the former land of Palestine that you have read about countless times. It is to celebrate only holidays that are Jewish holidays.  Christmas is an ordinary weekday. 

For anyone who has been to Israel before the Six Day War, it is to gaze at breathtaking economic development.  It is to admire the high rise buildings, the attractive homes in Nahariya, Netanya and north Tel Aviv, to explore the countless bustling modern shops, to see the universal addiction to cell phones, and to marvel at the hundreds of startups, second in number only to the United States The growth, the increased wealth, the modernity amidst antiquity is almost miraculous.  To read its world-class literature, as people all over the world do, or to see some of its many path breaking movies – in a country of around six million Jews – is spellbinding. The presence of so many distinguished universities in a state only seventy-one years old is remarkable. It represents the best of the Jewish experience, the result of thousands of years of dedication to ethical and moral values, to first survival and then success in the market place, and to the love of learning above all else.  And this is just a fraction of what will overwhelm a first time Jewish visitor.

Unfortunately there is an elephant in the room, an elephant that is more than a century old. While most Israelis in times of peace, unless they are in the army or live on the West Bank, can and often do ignore the elephant, it is still there. I am speaking primarily about the large Palestinian population in Gaza and the West Bank. The large number of Israeli Arabs, 20% of Israel’s population, have many achievements and are somewhat integrated into Israeli society including its universities, often as part of the labor force, but see themselves, and are often seen, as second-class citizens.)   For the Palestinians on the West Bank  (we were unable to enter Gaza  -- I hope to discuss it later) it is to live either in small city states under Palestinian authority (only 18% of the West Bank), or be subject to the harshness of an unfriendly, sometimes contemptuous and discourteous army, and a hostile Civilian Authority.  It is the need for permits to enter Jerusalem to see one’s relatives, to be subject to countless checkpoints, to be unable to get a building permit, to have your land taken from you by illegal hilltop settlers.  Life is more difficult in places like Hebron and in the rural area ore than in Jericho and Ramallah, but it is not easy anywhere to be stateless, to be unable to vote in national elections. (Imagine if you couldn’t vote in 2020.  (West Bank Palestinians can vote in Palestinian Authority elections – which almost never happen -- but the PA has no real state to go with its authority.)

In June, 1980 three members of an offshoot of a right wing Israeli settler movement, all West Bank settlers, put bombs under the cars of three West Bank mayors; one lost both his legs, another his foot.  The three were convicted after another attack killing three Palestinian students. While sentenced to life imprisonment they were released after six years to the cheers of settlers. One now lives in his winery near Hebron. Such an outcome is not uncommon and is telling. 

 

David Shulman, the Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies at Hebrew University, winner of a MacArthur genius award, renowned Israeli scholar of South Asian languages and literature with over twenty books, has also written articles for the New York Review of Books and a number of powerful books on Israel and the Palestinians. His latest, Freedom and Despair: Notes From the South Hebron Hills, is painful to read. A member of the group Ta’ayush, the Arabic word for coexistence, he regularly travels to the southern West Bank, near Hebron, to assist Palestinians whose legal property is constantly endangered by settler groups. The settlers are helped by both the army, who show only contempt for the Palestinian sheep herders and farmers and the Civil Administration who under the current government have little or no interest in the Palestinian plight. Their only recourse is the courts, but getting their edicts enforced is often impossible. The administration there does not care. When there is a demonstrations the army often arbitrarily declares a Closed Military Zone” and arrests the non-violent demonstrators.

Reading Shulman’s books it is impossible to wonder what has happened to the Zionist ideals after the occupation of the West Bank -- an occupation that Ben Gurion warned harshly against.  Many settlers, especially near Hebron, believe that God is on their side; they are carrying out His mission and so have little concern for Palestinians in their way.  (Not that there are not many humane settlers in some of the more settled areas who want to live a life of peaceful consistence – but only on their own terms with no Palestinian state and no Israeli citizenship for most Palestinians.)  The point is that for many living on the West Bank, life, aside from Area A which, as noted, is only 18% of what is already a small slice of land, much of it nearly inarable,  is one of humiliation and statelessness, constant fear of the government and the army. Inhospitality, different laws (civil for the settlers, military for the Palestinians), different roads, different rights make it that much worse.  

 

My final thought is that if, on the one hand, events turn toward serious negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, which would mean ultimately a two-state solution the, entire Arab world with the exceptions of Iran, Lebanon and perhaps Iraq, would quickly have full diplomatic relations with Israel. Secret meetings would be unnecessary. Israel would be an accepted nation of the Middle East by its neighbors. The growing and deeply unsettling tide of anti-Israeli sentiment on some prominent colleges and universities would lose its momentum. No Arab country could use the Palestinians as an excuse to cover up its repressive behavior. The growing rift between American and Israeli Jews will take a giant step toward healing. The economic development of Israel, already strong, would grow even stronger and, most importantly, the struggling economy of the new Palestinian state would grow rapidly. That would be a big help to improving relations between Israelis and Palestinians. Prosperity has a way of doing that. The hatred among the younger generations: on the Israeli side racism against the Palestinians and on the Palestinian side vicious anti-Semitism will be dealt a fatal blow as the two actually begin to relate to each other in large numbers. Israeli youth will no longer be protecting an occupation, which means dehumanization of both sides, violence and deep seated anger.  For many Israeli soldiers it creates callousness about the use of force and attitudes toward Palestinian society, and on the Palestinian side an incentive to violence.

If, on the other hand, the settlers, led by religiously inspired Jews who believe that God has given them all of the land and that, if it was possible, it would be best if there were no Palestinians in the Jewish homeland, retain their prominent role in the Israeli government, there will be no peace. Israel will remain isolated in the Arab world. There will be peace with Egypt and Jordan and secret negotiations with Saudi Arabia and other states, but there will be no permanent settlement and the people of these counties will remain hostile to the Jewish State and to Israelis.  If there is no settlement, and the rightist elements in Israel continue to dominate, there will be a growing divide between American Jews, three quarters of whom are clearly in the liberal camp (80% voted Democrat in the last election).  The values of the Jews in the two nations are moving in different directions. This may not affect older American Jews whose DNA is tightly bonded to Israel. For American Jews born after the Six Day war it is another story.  If the Jewish State does not represent values that young American Jews hold what are they to do?  The best thing is to work to get a new government, new policies, in Israel.  But if the character of Israelis has been changed by successive right-wing governments and their educational programs that are overtly hostile to Palestinians, this is not an easy task, and many may abandon it and Israel as well. The most recent poll showed three-fourths of American Jews opposed to Netanyahu’s policies, not that he cares.  

The eight days of the mission were filled with meetings with all sides of Israeli and Palestinian life and government. I spend an additional week in Ramat Gan, Jerusalem and Zichron Yaakov. I wandered in the Old City on my own and to the Western Wall to the great Israel Museum. I returned exhausted and filled with excitement about the possibilities of peace and prosperous settlement, but even more with  apprehension about the direction of Israeli politics and what it portends for the Middle East. As elections near, the prospect of violence increases.  Netanyahu has cut off a significant amount of Palestinian funds. It can be argued that outbreaks of violence near the election could work in his favor, given the fully understandable security-consciousness of the Israeli public.

 

Let me close with two quotations from David Shulman, The first shows that he is aware that there is violence on both sides, that he is not some starry eyed idealist remote from reality, but someone who knows reality first hand.  He served in the War in Lebanon. The second is an overall assessment of the situation: 

 

The conflict is not about the sons of light and the sons of darkness.  Both sides are dark, both are given to organized violence and terror. And both resort to self-righteous justification and a litany victimization. , the bread and butter of ethnic conflict. My concern is with the darkness on my side.

 

Of one thing I am certain… The Price exacted by the occupation from Israeli Jews is beyond reckoning. My life in Israel coincides exactly with the life of the occupation; I have seen it mutate from harsh military rule at its inception to the inferno of violent theft and state terror that is in place today.  It embodies wickedness of such intensity that it calls into question the legitimacy and viability of the state itself. Worse even than that, it has corroded the souls of thousands, possibly millions.  Let me proclaim, again, the principle that seemed a little tentative at the start of this essay, and that now seems incontrovertible.  One cannot violate the inner being of an entire people without violating and impoverishing one’s inner life.  The universe has its laws. Israelis need to be liberated from the Occupation no less than the Palestinians need to become free.

 

Select bibliography;

 

The literature on Israel in general and on the Arab-Israeli dispute in enormous. These are books I have read recently that were helpful, but they are hardly representative of the entire corpus.  If you want to read more, you can start here or anywhere you have a library or bookstore or IPhone or IPad.

 

David Shulman, Freedom and Despair, Notes from the South Hebron Hills

Michael Safard, The Wall and the Gate, Israel, Palestine and the Legal Battle for Human Rights

Yossi Klein Halevi, Notes to My Palestinian Neighbor

Ian Black, Enemies and Neighbors, Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel, 1917-2017

Ari Shavit, My Promised Land, The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel

          Benny Morris,  The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947