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Sep 2009 Journal

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Confused as never before (Point of view series)

My feelings are confused as never before. I have always been a fervent Zionist, like my father before me. For my barmitzvah he gave me the biography of Theodore Herzl by Alex Bein – translated from the German. The same year, came one of our happiest moments when the State of Israel was proclaimed. We closed our eyes to the terrorist acts of the Stern Gang and the Irgun Zvai Leumi. We hated Ernest Bevin, considering him an anti-Semite. We were shocked about what happened to the Exodus. We defended the killing of the two British sergeants, the blowing up of the King David Hotel, the assassination of Count Bernadotte. Our new heroes were David Ben-Gurion and the Haganah.

The Palestinians declared war on Israel the moment it was created. Of course, nearly all Diaspora Jews sided with our new homeland, including those who had fully integrated into their new countries. It was said that Israel would not have been created but for the Holocaust and Hitler. Perhaps - but did this matter? We Jews had a country we could call our own. The wars continued. The Six-Day War was a miracle in military planning, thanks to Moshe Dayan. Do you remember those stickers we proudly put up in our cars: ‘Come to Israel and see the Pyramids’?

The Yom Kippur War was not a success but Israel had great leaders, particularly the highly regarded Golda Meir. Furthermore, Shimon Peres was still a young man, as was Yitzhak Rabin.

Then, to everyone’s surprise, Menachem Begin, a fierce right-winger and former terrorist (or freedom fighter), became prime minister, made peace with Egypt and, together with Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian leader, even won the Nobel Peace Prize. The relationship with Jordan, thanks to behind-the-scenes activities between Peres and King Hussain, was good too. Above all, the US backed Israel, and the European countries were not openly averse.

So what went wrong? In peace negotiations, Israel could not agree - nor should it - to the right of return of the 1948 Palestinians. Also, Israel took land in the 1967 war to which it was not entitled. In 1979 the Sinai had been returned by Begin, and so was the wretched strip of land called Gaza, but that was all. Then, in 1982, Defence Minister Ariel Sharon turned a blind eye to the attacks by the Falangists on innocent civilians in the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon. Anti-Israel feelings were growing fast. The West Bank was becoming a hotbed of Palestinian terrorist actions – as, of course, was Gaza. Later, the Israelis built a very unpopular ‘security wall’, which was condemned worldwide.

More recently, Hezbollah, made up of Lebanese, Syrians and Iranians, attacked Israel from the north; Hamas, which had won the Palestinian elections, attacked Israel from Gaza. Israel lost the battle against Hezbollah (certainly in PR terms) and upset almost the entire world by what was seen as an over-reaction to the rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza. (I disagree with the world’s reaction but perhaps I am biased.) Israel has become almost a pariah state, accused of apartheid. Anti-Zionism has become rife; so, inevitably, has anti-Semitism. President Ahmadinejad of Iran declared that he would wipe Israel off the map. Of course, Israel could retaliate. Saudi Arabia reportedly said it would allow Israel to fly over its air space to bomb Iran. But the Israelis are already partly blamed for the Iraq wars. Do they want to be blamed for another war?

President George W. Bush, together with most of his predecessors (with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter) supported Israel. Now, however, we have a US president who may not be as staunch a supporter: Barack Obama. At about the same time, because of the daft PR electoral system that Israel follows, Israel chose a right-wing prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who did not win the election and who is supported by Avigdor Lieberman, an ultra-right-winger who is generally disliked. Tzipi Livni, who did win the election, isn’t even in the government.

It can be argued that it was a right-winger, Begin, who made some sort of peace with Egypt and that perhaps another right-winger, Netanyahu, might agree to peaceful co-existence with the Palestinians. Sorry, but I doubt it! Already he has allowed the settlers (mostly ultra-religious Americans) to continue to build settlements on the West Bank. He dare not agree that Jerusalem should be an international city under Jewish, Muslim and Christian rule. He is frightened of Israel being divided into two states. (I personally also cannot see how this can be achieved with Palestinian Gaza so far in distance from the Palestinian West Bank.) Due to the PR electoral system, Netanyahu is under the control of the religious parties. They would never agree to any land being returned to the Arabs. They believe it is theirs. Remember, it was an extremist who murdered Rabin, in order to sabotage the Oslo peace accords that Rabin, Arafat and Clinton had signed.

I feel no optimism about the situation in the Middle East. Sadly, I think that Netanyahu is on to a loser. Israel’s public relations are already dreadful – they will get even worse when it is seen that Obama and Europe cannot bring their Road Map for peace to any fruition. I do not blame Netanyahu. He is afraid of the Jewish fundamentalists just as Arafat was afraid of the Palestinian ones.

Just one thing please. Would Jews in the Diaspora stop condemning Israel in public! We have enough enemies without fighting among ourselves!

Peter Phillips

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