Thursday, February 19, 2004

Yes, Refusal Is In The Air

Four separate Refusal-centered events are currently occurring these days in the country. In Tel Aviv, a high level IDF committee discussed at length a demand from the IDF prison authorities to ‘relocate’ the five anti-occupation conscientious objectors, Hagai Matar, Noam Bahat, Adam Maor, Matan Kaminer and Shimri Tsameret to the civilian prison system.

The infamous IDF Conscience Commission turned down for the fourth time, Yoni Ben Artzi’s demand that he be exempted from service on the basis of his clear pacifist convictions, but did redirect him to the Incompatibility Commission with a recommendation that he be released from the IDF.

Amid Zahad from the town of Dalyat El-Karmel belongs to that section of Israeli Druze who have opted for military service. Therefore, his decision to join the Israeli refusal group, Courage to Refuse, was newsworthy and led to his designation as the first Druze refusenik. Zahad told the media that his action met with general approval in his community.

Laura Miloh will not be alone this Sunday morning, February 22, 2004 when she presents herself to the IDF mobilization base in order to be jailed. Laura wrote to the “Conscience Commision’ that she refuses to participate in the crimes perpetrated by Israel through the IDF. I am not a pacifist. My refusal is motivated by my opposition to the occupation.” And the Commision wrote back that her request was rejected because her position was not related to a question of conscience. Laura, a member of Hashomer Hatzair, has recently completed a year of community service in the Yeruham development town. She will receive deep expressions of solidarity from members of the High school seniors group (the ’shministim’), New Profile and members of the Refusers Parents’ Forum. If indeed jailed, Laura will join Inbal Gilbart, serving her third sentence in jail after her right to follow the dictates of here conscience was rejected by the Conscience Commission.

The Dangerous, Disruptive Five Subversives

Pity the poor military prison system. Just a few days after the five entered Military Prison #6, the chief wardens sounded the alarm by requesting that an internal high-level IDF relocation commission send the five to civilian prisons. Colonel Major O. told the committee that “ever since they arrived the five, their presence is completely undermining discipline and order in the prison…the chief warden and the entire staff are mainly busy with them and do not have any time and energy left for the other five hundred prisoners.” The clincher came when the IDF official explained that as a group the five were quite problematic, by this example: If we would send the prisoners to work on the Wall isn’t it clear that they would refuse?

When asked to detail the sins of the five, O. demanded that the courtroom be cleared of the public before he would indulge the secret information.” Certain members of the commission asked the five, almost enticingly, that since you do not want to be in army, wouldn’t you be better off without the troublesome yoke of military discipline. The prisoners replied that if they are considered unfit for military service, then they should be released and sent home and not shoved off to serve time with hardened criminals. After it became clear to the five and their counsel that the IDF was going to do everything to make life miserable for them, including attempts to force them to do prisoner assignments in the occupied territories, the five withdrew their opposition to the transfer.

Vicious, Savage Character Assassination by an Official IDF Panel

The lengthy 9 month proceedings in the case of the IDF v. Yoni Ben Artzi propelled the IDF Conscience Commission into the public limelight. The Commission became the object of justified media criticism and public ridicule. Nobody could accept that it was reasonable that Army officers with no previous training or minimal understanding of the problem, and who never bothered with small matters like rules of procedure or criteria regarding the nature and the definition of pacifism, should be the ones to decide the fate of conscientious young men and women. A while back, a panel of military judges expressed their belief that Ben Artzi was indeed a pacifist and with this in mind sent Ben Artzi back to the Conscious Commission instead of sentencing him for refusing to obey orders.

It wasn’t a complete surprise when the CC stuck by its previous decision. However, in a fit of vengeance and anger, the CC proceeded to release a flood of vilification against Ben Artzi, accusing him of ‘ego-centricism’, inconsistency and indifference to the welfare of fellow soldiers. In an action probably unparalleled in the annals of military bureaucracy in this country, an official IDF panel defended its crude behavior by an act of totally uncalled for character assassination against a young Israeli who had been in confinement for over a year struggling to make his totally honest case before them. The IDF prosecutor chimed in trying to convince the public that Ben Artzi was devious and dangerous because he expressed on one occasion that dangerous idea that the state should not force people to act against their will.An official government bodies seized on partial and distorted quotes from hundreds of pages of testimony to defend themselves, at the expense of an honest young person, from the justified suspicion that they really had no understanding of the subject and just enjoyed setting themselves up as all powerful and all knowing.

Divide and Conquer

The manipulation of the Druze community in Israel is one of the stellar achievements of the government policy to set Arab against Arab by extending preferential treatment to candidates for co-option. Thus, most young Druze, at the insistence of their elders become regular and often professional soldiers in the IDF. The idea that a young member of the community can set up his own ideals and feelings as the only guide to his behavior can, in unchecked, spoil the deal that is based on the strange idea, promoted by Israeli quasi-intelligence ‘academic’ experts that Druze are not Arabs. A Druze soldier has declared that he will not serve in the occupied territories. What a lack of gratitude for all the Israeli government has done for the Druze by separating them from their Arab brethren.

A Matter of Slight Lack of Proportion

I have little chance of being appointed an advisor to the PR division of the IDF. But here is a bit of free advice for them. Be very careful about throwing women into military prison because they have a conscience and refuse to participate in the crimes of the occupation. We have witnessed a surge of solidarity here and abroad with the anti-occupation five serving their second year in jail. If you insist on imprisoning all the young women who openly and clearly tell you that they refuse to serve the occupation, you are going to get into a very serious battle, indeed.

The glare of publicity on the Conscious Commision may be indirectly responsible for the current wave of arrests against young women. During the Ben Artzi proceedings, it was revealed that 97% of male requests for exemption are rejected while 97% of requests from women are accepted. Two things have to be said here. The first is that the reason for the discrepancy is obvious: men are cannon fodder in demand and women are less suitable in this respect. The second is that the only ‘logical’ explanation of the discrepancy is that the women are all devoted pacifists and the men are just a bunch of fakers. The problem with this explanation is that no one will believe that it is true. It may be that the CC is trying to even up the numbers by jailing more female conscientious objectors. If this is true, boy, are they making a mistake.

(Special thanks to Adam Keller of Gush Shalom)

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Dr. Ilan Peppe and the Geneva Bubble that Refuses to Burst

This is the text of my reply to an article by Dr. Ilan Pappe, The Geneva Bubble, which appeared in the London Review of Books, Volume 26 Number 1, (January 8, 2004).

Dr. Ilan Pappe and the Geneva Bubble that Refuses to Burst

The historian, Ilan Pappe totally rejects that Geneva Accords and determines that they are an abortive initiative, or a ‘bubble.’ Pappe, it appears, is absolutely opposed to any negotiations for peace which are not based on sincere remorse by Israel for its responsibility for the conflict and its intensification. By insisting on this seemingly well-meaning, but rather naïve precondition, Pappe is actually rejecting outright any chance in the foreseeable future to reach a compromise based on the two-state solution. With the flick of his pen Ilan Pappe postpones the fight for peace to another era. Meanwhile, he is busy proving that not only is there no chance for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but that no such chance ever existed. The 1947 Partition Plan, the Oslo Framework, the Road Map and the Geneva Accords – were all merely diplomatic bait designed to lure the Palestinian people to forfeit their rights. As a historian, he has no difficult in weaving a narrative that fits his central thesis.

The Approach to Texts

It is not easy to argue with Pappe, who is completely at ease in ignoring the actual content of important documents and presenting his own interpretation of them without even relating to the text itself. He simply submits his own conclusion as if it were the text itself. Here is a typical example. In explaining his opposition to the Road Map, he states that it is just one of the three Israeli initiatives which appeared after three years of Intifada. The three we learn were all designed to please Israeli public opinion and included United States support in the form of an ‘honest broker.’ That, according to Pappe is the background of the Road Map. And the content? Pappe tells us:

"At the end of the Map: 10% of Palestine will be divided into two giant detention camps – in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – without any solution to the Palestinian refugee problem and with complete Israeli control of Jerusalem.”

The reader is invited to compare Pappe’s statement with the relevant text of the Road Map. In the third stage: “Parties reach final and comprehensive permanent status agreement…through a settlement based on UNSCR 242, 338, 1397 that ends the occupation tht began in 1967, and includes an agreed, just, fair and realistic solution to the refugee issue and a negotiated resolution on the status of Jerusalem that takes into account the political and religious concerns of both sides..and fulfills the vision of two states, Israel and sovereign, independent, democratic and viable Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”

I assume that Pappe is really ‘helping’ us understand that the Road Map is just another of Sharon’s schemes, but he fails to tell us that this is an interpretation, unsupported by the text.. Pappe doesn’t even bother telling us how he reached his conclusion regarding the text in question. Of course, Pappe has the right to interpret the Road Map as he sees fit, but why present his interpretation as if there was no difference between it and the text itself. Pappe’s interpretation of the Road Map is built on the charge that it is just another Israeli initiative. In fact there is no basis for the charge. Anyone who makes it will have to explain that not only the United States, but also the European Community, the United Nations and Russia are all involved in the Israeli plot. Israel which ‘accepted’ the Road Map with fourteen unilateral reservations has done everything possible to sabotage it. To this very day, Israel makes a clear distinction between the Road Map which was imposed on it and President Bush’s ‘vision’ from June 2002, which it considers an endorsement of Israel policy. According to Pappe, Israel can wrap the entire world around Sharon’s chubby finger. The Palestinian leaders, for their part, are mere candidates for the job of chief wardens in an Israeli prison, the Palestinian Authority we are given to understand are nothing but a gang of despicable collaborators.

Defining the Geneva Accords as a “Bubble” Means Evading any Real Debate

After categorizing the GA as just one more initiative by Israel and obscuring its oppositional role in Israeli politics, Pappe launches an attack on the content of the initiative, without quoting any part of its text. Another example of Pappe’s unique interpretations is his statement that the Accords provide “for a mini-state built on 15% percent of what used to be Palestine, with a capital near Jerusalem and no army.” But the Accords based on the June 1967 borders provide for a full pull out from all the occupied territories, i.e., 22% of Western Palestine. The Palestinians would receive full territorial (dunam for dunam) compensation for any area retained by Israel for some of the settlements.

Pappe’s statement about a ‘capital near Jerusalem’ is just another example of his cavalier treatment of the Accords which state clearly (Article 6 (2): The parties shall have mutually recognized capitals in the areas of Jerusalem under their respective sovereignty.” The Accords call for the division of Jerusalem with all the Arab neighborhoods under full Palestinian sovereignty, including Palestinian control of the Temple Mount. Can anyone familiar with Israeli politics fail to acknowledge the deep significance of the fact that 220,000 Palestinian residents of the city, will live in their own capital of the state of Palestine?

I assume, knowing Ilan Pappe’s wide knowledge of the Palestinian issue, that he must have some sort of evidence for his interpretations of the Accords up his sleeve. Meanwhile, he is satisfied with a description of the Accords which is clear contradiction to the provisions of the Accords. But, again, he doesn’t bother to adduce the missing evidence. He really doesn’t want to get bogged down in an argument about ‘details’, because his sole concern is ‘positioning’ himself on the side of justice, which is for him the Palestinian side of the conflict.

This conscious act of ‘positioning’ has produced a historiographical methodology concocted by Ilan Pappe from elements of post-modernist relativism and vulgar Marxism. A sense of wrath (completely understandable in and of itself) over the injustices against the Palestinians, which he is protesting, has lead him to create his own narrative, wherein interpretations of facts are judged by their conformance with the need to censure the terrible crimes Israel is committing against the Palestinian people (and its own hope for a normal existence in the region).

Pappe even faults the Geneva Accords for not reshaping the internal relations between Israel and its Palestinian Arab citizens. This noble demand from the Accord is at variance with the thinking of almost every organized political group of Israeli Arabs. The clear position of all the major parties and the Israeli Arab population as a whole is that achieving a reasonable version of a peaceful solution, more or less like the Geneva Accords, based on the minimum demands of the Palestinian leadership and public opinion, would be a major contribution in advancing their fight for equality and democracy. This is a mature and reasonable way to look at their problem. The chances to improve their own standing as Israeli citizens will improve to the degree that current Israeli reality, bedeviled by acute chauvinism and insecurity, can be transformed by a serious reduction in the tensions that come with daily armed confrontations.

Of course, the Geneva Accords could have done more for the Palestinian refugees. However, everyone knows that this is the issue where passions and suspicions dominate the discourse. For most Israelis, massive and unrestricted realization of the right of return by millions of refugees spells the end of Israel as a Jewish state. Unfortunately, the basically humanitarian demand for the refugees right of repatriation, is also the program of a multitude of Arab nationalists who support it mainly because it is the only path to the demise of Israel as a Jewish state.

However, it is simply untrue that the Geneva Accords “leave the refugees in the camps,” as Pappe claims. The refugees would have a number of options, including the return of tens of thousands to Israel, proper, repatriation to the newly established Palestinian state, remaining in the host countries, relocation to other states – all based on a serious compensation package from the international community.

Peace then, for Pappe, depends on the de-Zionization of Israel and its agreement for the unlimited repatriation of the Palestinian refugees to their homes in Israel. This perspective is tantamount to an orientation on some sort of cataclysmic upheaval in Israel and the area. Without going into the moral and practical complexities of this perspective (Would it really be a good thing? What are the chances of it happening during the present century) one thing is sure. This perspective advances a ‘program’ which is today, here and now, grist for the propaganda mill of the Israeli government and assists it in falsely claiming that the peace process means that Israel is being asked to make concessions that would change the very nature of the state. The orientation on a hoped-for cataclysm will do absolutely nothing to alleviate the suffering of three and a half million Palestinians under occupation and the millions of refugees scattered in the region.

Insulting the Palestinian Leadership

I do not want to get into a historical debate with Ilan Pappe, but I cannot desist from commenting on the insulting language employs against the Arab leadership since 1948. The Geneva Accords were only launched, according to Pappe, after the Israeli side succeeded in ’scaring the Palestinians’. All through the years, the Arab leadership was either faint-hearted or just plain scared out of its wits. According to Pappe, the Palestinians behaved in such a fashion at every pivotal crossroad, such as 1947-1948, Oslo and Camp David. Pappe is in a sharp ideological dispute with the dominant currents in the Palestinian national movement which have opted for a two-state solution. Sadly, instead of discussing the differences of opinion openly with a minimum of respect for his adversaries, he accuses the leadership of the largest, mass-based Palestinian groups and organizations of being psychologically defective.

As against Pappe’s opposition to any concession regarding all Palestinian rights, the Palestinian leadership realized, after serious deliberation, that it must strive for a painful compromise and that unrealistic rejectionism was actually helping Israel and the enemies of the Palestinian people. For this, the present Palestinian leadership is humiliated by Pappe and branded as traitors and cowards . Pappe believes that he knows the Arab world much than better than the overwhelming majority of secular Palestinian leaders; he ‘knows’ that the Arab world will never accept an unrepentant Israel that doesn’t acknowledge its responsibility for the conflict’. Isn’t it in the realm of possibility that the Palestinian leaders may know a few things about the Arab world that Ilan Pappe does not.

The Bubble that Didn’t Burst

Sharon’s top advisers, explaining his recent unilateral withdrawal ploy, leaked the information that it was intended to head off alternative proposals such as the Geneva Accords. Recently, the entire Bundestag and Spanish Socialist Party endorsed the Accords. These are just some of the events that prove that the Accords have become an influential factor wherever and whenever serious thinking is directed to realistic chances to improve the situation in the Middle East.

Likewise important is the possibility that the Accords can play a role in weakening the prestige of both Bush and Sharon, who are both, along with Blair, under serious public pressure for their culpability for the daily outrages against the Palestinian people. Sharon and Bush can be isolated politically for turning their back on a genuine opportunity for peace and an end to the occupation.

I have no doubts about Ilan Pappe’s sincerity and devotion to justice for both Jews and Palestinians, and I am more than willing to recognize his extreme courage and selflessness in defending his ideas. Even so, I fear that a sense of despair has led him to exaggerate the strength of Sharon and the weakness of the Palestinian side. It is this sense that has led him to turn his back on genuine, practical political efforts that can make a big difference. Such efforts are necessary to convert the growing awareness that something terrible is happening in Palestine into an effective force for change.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

The Five Families and the Five Who Refuse to Serve this Occupation

Public interest around the battle of the five young Israelis who decided to stand up and tell their own society that it is on the path to disaster in the most effective way that they could do so naturally centered on the young men themselves, their background and their opinions and the path that each of them traversed on his way to jail.

The story of the five is being told and will undoubtedly be retold again and again. One very important aspect of that story deserves special mention, the story of the parents group which spearheaded and actually organized much of the protest activity. It has done so in close, uninterrupted consultation with the five, mediating between them, their legal representatives, the press and the wider community of friends and supporters. This was no simple matter. It must be clearly stated that the five were never members of a single organization and that they made their way to confrontation with the Israel Defense Forces on an individual basis. Though, without exception, belonging to the dove constituency, most of them were not political activists in any sense. There was no way that they could have forseen that the actions of their sons would throw them together and load on their soldiers a tremendous burden of social and collective responsibility. A minority were involved in the peace movement and had a rich background of struggle. But for the most part, the parents were thrown into a cauldron of tensions, concerns and pressures both as individual parents, seized with deep concern for the suffering of their children and as activists in the parents group carrying the main responsibility for the success of a tremendously complex, totally unprecedented and publicly critical campaign in their defense. They have maintained for over a year an intensive level of cooperation and effectiveness in assisting the development of a local and a world wide campaign.

This kind of battle is not easy for any parent. In addition to all the difficulties there is cloud of uncertainty as to the outcome of every battle in the courts and the extent of the price that the sons will have to pay until this struggle is over. Every parents asks himself and herself, every day and every minute, have I done enough to prevent my son from putting himself in harm’s way? Every parent asks himself as to whether he or she is doing enough to increase and broaden the campaign in their defense. Every parent is amazed at the courage of the five and hopes that it will not be taxed to further limits. And above everything, each parent must keep on reminding himself or herself that this is a battle for the soul of this country, that their children are sacrificing their freedom to send a message to their friends, to other young people, to their entire society. It is of some comfort that the content of this message is in accord with the basic views and understanding of millions of honest and fair people all over the world. But every parent would like to see his child studying, loving, working, developing and military prison is no place for these activities.

I must confess that the motivation to sit down and write about the parents is a result of some sort of crisis. The difficulty arose out of serious differences of opinion regarding an important problem of strategy. A few days after the five entered Military Prison #6, they were informed that the IDF had initiated proceedings to transfer them to the civilian criminal prison system. This move surprised the five and their families.The proceedings revealed that it was the IDF Military Police which runs the army prison system demanded the switch. Their argument centered on the fact that the five were a walking incitement for disturbances and that they were ill equipped to handle this kind of rebel. It seems that in order to bolster their case, their people in IDF Prison # 6 were busy convincing the five that life would be better in the civilian prison since the IDF has it in for them and will do everything to make them miserable if they remain there. In these circumstances, both the parents and the five had to decide on whether to take public and legal initiatives against the transfer. There were serious differences of opinion about the impending transfer among the five.

There are long list of reasons pro and con on the issue. There were good reasons to resist the switch and good reason to see in it certain advantages. Almost instinctively, the parents, the minute they learned about the IDF scheme, started to organize against it. On the other hand, the parents could not ignore the different opinions among the five. A complicated process of comparing positions and working on a consensus ensued, with different positions emerging in both groups. Consultations among the five were complicated by the fact that they were unable to meet without the intervention and presence of one of the lawyers assisting the parents. During the entire process and in anticipation of an important hearing scheduled for February 17, 2000 the parents were making immense efforts to gather information, especially about the regular prison system, its workings and the chances of the five with the system’s problems and apparatus. Admittedly, though not always, there was a very understandable and completely human tendency for the parent to see the strength of the argument presented by their son and to feel the need to stress that it was the five who had the full right to make the decisions that would influence them, first and foremost.

A lawyer, present at a recent consultation of the five wrote in a report to the parents: “I have to emphasize that the way that they conducted the discussion and handled the differences of opinion between them was so impressive and mature, that I was simply inspired and educated, again and again. If only I were able to conduct a discussion of such differences of opinion in such a manner.”

But the circumstances, despite the efforts of all the parents were incredibly difficult. Parents felt that the wishes of their son, had to be the guide for their own position and for the response of the group especially as the consensus of the five was less militant regarding the transfer out of IDF Prison #6. It is not the purpose of this letter to present my or any other position regarding the complex issue of the impending transfer. It is the purpose to stress the painful nobility and the exasperations that the fight to defend the five involve.There is however, a new emerging consensus among the parents and the five.. Whatever the fate of the IDF move to relocate the five, the main thrust of our efforts and those of all who realize the importance of this battle for freedom of conscience and against the occupation, must continue, without any let up, to be for the immediate release of the five.

Free the anti-occupation refuseniks now!