Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sane Voices from Israel III

This beautifully written piece appeared in the Washington Post. My thanks to my friend, Shammai Leibowitz, for sharing it with me. Here is the link:

But first, a word to my readers. Today is New Year's Eve. I pray for a better year to come, when both peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, live in dignity and peace. This year, as usual, there is no peace for either side -- but only one side robs the other side of its dignity, and dictates to it the terms of co-existence. This is not a war in Gaza; it is an assault on a the sovereign right of the Palestinian people to determine its destiny, and it began when one side refused to recognize the results of democratic elections.

Only when we Israelis view the Palestinians as equals – as possessing no less a right to a state, no less a right to security, no less a right to self-defence as we have – will there be the possibility of peace.

Happy New Year


Darkness in Qassam-Land

By Julia Chaitin

Wednesday, December 31, 2008; A15

In the winter, the Negev becomes quite beautiful. Though it rains very little here, the rain we get turns everything green, and there is a cleanness in the air that we don't have during the dry summer months. But since Saturday, when a major Israeli offensive began in the Gaza Strip, less than 20 kilometers from my home and less than two kilometers from the college where I teach, all we have had is darkness, despair and fear.

This war is wrong. It is wrong because it cannot achieve its manifest goals -- long-term "normal" life for the residents of the Negev region. The war is morally wrong because most of the victims are Palestinian and Israeli civilians whose only "crime" is that they live in Negev or Gaza. This war is wrong because it is not heading toward a viable solution of the conflict but is instead creating more hatred and greater determination on the part of both peoples to harm one another. It is wrong because it is leading to stronger feelings that we have nothing to lose by striking further, with greater force. This war is wrong because, even before the last smoke rises from the rubble and the last ambulance carries the dead and wounded to hospitals, our leaders will find themselves signing a new agreement for a cease-fire.

And so this is an unnecessary, cruel and cynical war -- a war that could have been avoided if our leaders had shown courage during the months of the cease-fire to truly work toward creating better lives for people whose only crime is that they live in the south.

Since the Israeli air force began bombing Gaza, it has been almost impossible to speak openly against the war. It is difficult to find public forums that welcome a call for a new cease-fire and for alternative solutions to the conflict -- ones that do not rely on military strength or a siege of Gaza. When people are in the midst of war, they are not open to voices of peace; they speak (and scream) out of fear and demand retribution for the harms they have suffered. When people are in the midst of war, they forget that they can harness higher cognitive abilities, their reason and logic. Instead, they are driven by the hot structures of their brains, which lead them to respond with fear and anger in ways that are objective threats to our healthy survival. When people are in the midst of war, voices calling for restraint, dialogue and negotiations fall on deaf ears, if their expression is allowed at all.

I live in the Negev and teach at the Sapir Academic College -- the school located next to Sderot -- in the heart of what is called "Qassam-land," after the rockets that fall on us. I know the fast beating of your heart and the awful pit in your stomach that comes when a tzeve adom -- red alert -- is sounded, heralding a rocket attack. I know what it is like to comfort students and colleagues when the rockets strike very, very close -- and to wish that someone was there to comfort you as well. I know what it is like to be afraid to get into the car and drive to work because you are not sure you will make it from the parking lot to your classroom alive.

But I know the answer to our conflict will not come with this war. We will know peace only when we accept the fact that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have every right to lives of dignity. We will know peace only when we recognize that we must negotiate with Hamas, our enemy, even if we are devastated that the Palestinians did not elect a more moderate party to lead them. We will know peace only when our leaders stop considering our lives cheap and expendable, and help us create a beautiful, green Negev, free of fear and despair.

The writer is a senior lecturer in the Department of Social Work at the Sapir Academic College and program developer at the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development.




Anonymous said...


No doubt you would have urged President Lincoln to entertain a ceasefire with the rebel South after Bull Run in 1861. Lincoln knew that the preservation of the Union was prudential. Therefore he accepted nothing less than unconditional surrender from the Confederacy.

The survival of Medinat Yisrael requires much the same. Hamas wanted a Holy War. Now they have it but it is they who will suffer a Hattin or Gettysburg not the Jewish infidels they seek to slaughter. In that context sane voices demand that Hamas surrender unconditionally before there can be any end to the hostilities. This time we must finish the job!

Meyrick Kirby said...

Federal forces invaded the Confederacy to free the slaves. The allies in WW2 invaded Europe to free France, the Benelux, Denmark, etc. In both cases they were greeted by those they were freeing as liberators, and rightfully so. British soldiers in Northern Ireland were initially greeted by the Catholic community as protectors.

Is anyone in Gaza going to welcome the IDF as liberators?

Anonymous said...


I've been following your blog for a while now and must say I generally agree with most of your posts and the sentiment behind them.

However I'd like a clarification as I'm failing to understand something in your last post:

How is Israel "[refusing] to recognize the results of democratic elections"?

As far as I can tell Israel does recognize Hamas as the representatives of the Palestinians in Gaza.

Israel is unwilling to negotiate with them on certain terms and are now at war with them.
Ironically, one of these terms seems to be whether or not Hamas recognizes Israel's right to exist.

Now, one might argue whether these are reasonable or realistic terms, but I sincerely fail to see how any of this amounts to "[refusing] to recognize the results of democratic elections".

Please elaborate.


Anonymous said...


Our Nobel Peace Prize-winning President says HAMAS' behavior is "illogical" or "irrational" or some such thing. But is it? You yourself have stated on more than one occassion that the problem is not 1967, and not even 1947, but rather 1917 and 1897 (i.e. not the "occupied territories"-Judea/Samaria/Gaza from the Six-Day War, and not even the creation of Israel as a result of the 1947 Partition Resolution on Palestine, but rather the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the founding of the World Zionist Organization in 1897). In other words, you yourself admit that the very attempt for the Jews to set up a national entity in Eretz Israel is inherently wrong. HAMAS agrees with you. The only difference between them and FATAH is that they lay all their cards on the table and tell the truth to their people, that they are in a fight to the death to get rid of that Zionist entity that is illegimate, which the entire Arab world (and you yourself) agree with. They quite openly promise their people a more comfortable life, but rather, victory, no matter how long it may take.? What is illogical or irrational about that. Because you and Peres have a narrative that says "peace is better than justice" as they see it? Now, just so there is no misunderstanding, I totally reject their claim. I say the Jews DO have national rights in Eretz Israel. I am not sure what Peres' position is, I assume that it is like that of most of the post-Zionists who are in power today....Israel is an existing fact, it would be nice for those of us living in it to have peace, lets either bribe (Oslo) or force (this current war) them to go along with our preference for peace. But they don't look at it this way. This is the flaw that what you call "the Liberal Zionists" have....they can not confront HAMAS and their followers as equals.
I believe we must. That is why ultimately, HAMAS and those in the supposedly more "moderate" FATAH must be defeated. That doesn't mean there have to be wars, I don't know what the goal of this war is, but it means Israel must be FIRM in its rights and to reject the merely "pragmatic" approach of Peres and the rest of the post-Zionists who exchanged their belief in Zionism for what Bernard Avishai calls his soulless, secular, materialist, consumerist, "Hebrew Republic", which unlike a true Jewish State is merely another alien, European-American satellite Crusader state.

Anonymous said...

One more thought-
Isn't the irony delicious noting the fact that Israel has the "peace camp" in power, with founding members of Peace Now (Yuli Tamir and formerly Amir Peretz) sittings as cabinet ministers, and yet they have given us a second bloody war within 2 1/2 years, with a President who is a Nobel Peace Prize winner cheering the war on?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Kirby-

Federal forces invaded the South to preserve the Union and put down the rebellion against the authority of a popular government. In the same vein, Zahal is in Gaza to put down thuggery and restore rightful authprity.

Diana said...

"This is not a war in Gaza; it is an assault on a the sovereign right of the Palestinian people to determine its destiny, and it began when one side refused to recognize the results of democratic elections"

Oh fergoshshakes, Jerry. Fine then: it's a war on the sovereign right of the Palestinian people to do something that is, among other things, shit-stupid.

Jerry Haber said...


When Hamas won the PA legislative elections in 2006, Israel (and the Quartet, for that matter), refused to recognize the results. Israel proceeded to arrest and jail as many of the Hamas legislators as possible, and began to put pressure on Gaza. That pressure became a complete siege when Hamas took over the Gaza strip last summer.

With all due respect, Arnon, these are questions that I don't have to waste my time on. Google and Wikipedia are avialable to you, too

Jerry Haber said...

Y. Ben David,

Recent commentators have argued that Hamas' decision to launch rockets and draw Israel into a war with Gaza is eminently "rational," i.e., advances their own agenda, which is to win greater control of the Palestinian people, to establish its position on the world stage, and to harm Israel.

An interesting piece was published in Haaretz by Arthur Nelsen, who writes:

Rocket attacks may be criminal and ineffective - as well as self-defeating in the destructive response they elicit from Israel. But they also meet a very human need to maintain both honor under fire and the spirit of resistance.

[Y, I am sure that, as a Jewish nationalist, you sympathize with Hamas on this point. -- JH]

More than that, breaking the siege that has crippled normal Gazan life is the central challenge facing Hamas, both because it has decimated the lives of its electoral base, and because it is a litmus test of the group's alternative policy for statehood through resistance as well as talks.

If the tahadiyeh (lull) had succeeded in opening Gaza's borders to aid, trade and free passage for Gazans - especially work-related passage - it would have been political madness for Hamas to break it. As things were, the Gaza closure pushed the organization's popular support down to 16 percent in November, according to one opinion poll, and it must have concluded it no longer had anything to gain by holding fire.

At the best of times, Israel's fear of its resistance is the only leverage Hamas feels it has. As Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum put it, "Because the occupation decided to use every shade of punishment to destroy Hamas - collective punishment, deporting, arresting and killing - we need military resistance to force it to stop."

I noted that some liberal Jewish organizations in the US have called for lifting the Gaza siege -- which they would not have done, had Hamas not fired rockets.

That said, I disagree with Nelson's "may".

Jerry Haber said...


You may want to read the Arthur Nelsen piece that I mentioned in Haaretz. You may not agree with him, but he makes a strong case, that Hamas's actions in launching rockets is not "shit-stupid" but quite reasonable.

One thing, however, he doesn't address, and that is how Hamas can overplay its hand and lose. You can do something which is quite reasonable, and still come out on the losing end.

The link is:

Anonymous said...

hi Jerry,

I did what you suggested and read a little about the Palestinian elections of 2006. I've found little there that I didn't already know, so I'm left with the same conundrum - this is the one statement that I can find no basis for - neither in my own knowledge nor in your post.

Perhaps I stressed the wrong part of your proposition in my initial remark:
"This is not a war in Gaza; it is an assault on a the sovereign right of the Palestinian people to determine its destiny, and it began when one side refused to recognize the results of democratic elections."

If the Palestinian people democratically elected to the PLC a political party that refuses to acknowledge past agreements signed by the PLC, then de facto they've revoked any legitimacy and recognition they might expect from Israel (this is not to say that they AREN'T a legitimate government, only that any expectations of legitimacy from Israel are unwarranted under the circumstances - agreements and recognition go both ways).

Once more, I'd like to say that I do hold most of what you say in very high regard and I find that I agree with most of your statements and deductions.
Mainly because I can find no logical faults in any of them.

However this one specific statement is at best unsubstantiated, and at worst fallacious.

I think you can make the rest of your case without basing it on this one remark.

Otherwise you do your case a disservice by not better stating (or backing up) this argument.

Google+Wikipedia+my own meager logic failed to substantiate this statement. Sorry.

Just saying that Israel has arrested Hamas legislators - while certainly backing the claim that Israel does not recognize Hamas - does nothing to support your statement's place in the larger proposition - ie. placing the blame (or the starting point) on Israel's refusal to recognize Hamas's legitimacy.

I have a hard time with the existence of this remark in an otherwise well-thought-out and concise body of work. It offends my aesthetic sensibilities somehow.


Anonymous said...


As I am not a religious jew, I am inclined to ask you a question about your sentence:

"This is not a war in Gaza; it is an assault on the sovereign right of the Palestinian people to determine its destiny, and it began when one side refused to recognize the results of democratic elections."

What does the Talmud say about the following moral dilema "Do we have to recognize somebody who does not recognize us (i.e. the Hamas chart)"?

Thanks a lot