Feb 2011 Journal
Letters to the Editor
THE PRICE OF SECURITY
Sir – I refer to the article ‘In defence of doves’ by Anthony Grenville, in your December 2010 issue.
It was most refreshing to read an article on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which does not aim just to give Jews in the Diaspora a good feeling - unlike the ‘Letter from Israel’ about Jewish youngsters becoming officers in the (doubtfully named) Israel Defence Forces. It is, of course, vitally important for Israel to be able to defend itself and it has not only shown repeatedly that it can do that but, over and above, it is reputed to have the fifth strongest army in the world. Yet we live in fear despite all we have done with our power. Is there no other way?
Israeli governments continue to declaim that ‘We want nothing more than peace but there is nobody to talk to.’ Yet Israel has continued to build settlements at a greatly increased rate, in direct breach of international law, even after the Oslo accords in 1993 for which Rabin and Peres together with Arafat got the Nobel Peace Prize and, with optimism in the air, the economy soared. Of course, Arafat also broke the agreement by not curbing acts of terror - but which is cause, which effect? In 1993, after 26 years, there were about 25,000 Jewish settlers on the West Bank; today the number is about 350,000. All this time Israel demands ‘negotiations without pre-conditions’, when every brick that is laid changes the conditions and, incidentally, also breaks repeated undertakings to our staunch friend the US.
The Arabs have dramatically changed their tune. Jewish extremists, linking hands with their Palestinian counterparts, still say that the Palestinian strategy is to eliminate Israel, though there is no Palestinian leader who thinks that possible. They have come a long way from the Khartoum declaration ‘No recognition, no negotiations, no peace’. In 2002 the Arab League put forward proposals for a final settlement, with normalisation, but, as yet, no Israeli government has responded in any way. This Arab plan is arguably more favourable to Israel than the Geneva accords or President Clinton’s proposals.
As an Israeli patriot, my over-riding concern is for my country, but a solution to the conflict must be equally good for both sides. There must be an end to the occupation, with disbandment of the smaller, isolated settlements and exchange of land for the big settlement blocs, as part of an agreement with a recognised, secure border for Israel. It is a ‘win-win’ game: I can only win if you also win. Continuation of the present situation holds various dangers apart from security and Israel's standing among the nations. Not least, it saps the moral fibre of our young soldiers, lording it over another people with tanks and planes - evils come home to roost and violence and racism inside Israel are rising alarmingly.
Time is running out. Today, between the Jordan and the sea there is a majority of Jews. In 10-15 years the majority will be Palestinian. Where will the democratic-Jewish state, for which we came on aliya, sweated and fought, be then? The Palestinians are struggling today for less than a half of what was awarded them by the United Nations in 1947 in the decision to which we owe the State of Israel. There is no question if - but only when - the Palestinians will get their sovereign state. Self-interest should now at last guide Israel to a peace settlement. Not more land, arms and bombs - only peace can give us security.
Sir – Thank you for your article ‘In defence of doves’, with which I wholeheartedly agree. In my opinion, the AJR Journal tends to be one-sided in defence of the Israelis and their attitude towards the Palestinians, including their continued building of settlements. I am very much aware of the danger the Palestinians pose, and the necessity for strength and defence, but I feel that we Jews, of all people – refugees from oppression – should do all we can in our power not to oppress our ‘enemies’. It may be too late but I feel it is our duty to behave differently from those who oppressed us and to try with all possible urgency to bring about some sort of peaceful co-existence.
I have often thought of stopping my subscription to the Journal because of its stance on this matter and may still do so. I often wonder what Werner and Susie Rosenstock (friends and colleagues of my father) would have thought of the Journal these days.
Sir - May I advise your correspondent Heinz Grünewald (January) to remove his blinkers so he can see the other side too. He seems to put all the blame for the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians squarely on Israel’s shoulders. He should acquaint himself with the actions and pronouncements of Fatah - not to mention the ‘peace-loving’ Hamas.
Sir - Congratulations to Heinz Grünewald! He puts succinctly the unassailable case for peace: the benefits to the Palestinians - victims of other Arabs rather than Israel - and Israel’s responsibility to facilitate it happening. The biggest obstacle to peace is the illusion of knowledge that so many ignorant people flaunt.
I have just returned from two weeks in Israel and Jordan with my daughter. At no time did we feel unsafe or intimidated, even in Ramalla. Ordinary people everywhere, both Arabs and Jews, were extremely friendly and welcoming and eager to engage with us. Yes, there were some people with rigid views based largely on ignorance, but even those people longed for peace. I went to Israel (as well as for a fabulous holiday in Jordan) to promote my book Person of No Nationality, which I hope Yad Vashem will translate and publish in Hebrew. I spoke with 17-18-year-olds in three schools, the head and her administrator in the Quaker school in Ramalla, and three adult groups. I learned a lot about the complexities of people’s experience and views and the importance of sharing personal narratives. I am convinced that the ‘real’ enemy of both Jews and Arabs is despair. Those who lose hope succumb to fear and frustrated anger and, finally, violence. Violence breeds more violence. Open-minded dialogue is the only possible path to peace.
Sir - I enjoy Dorothea Shefer-Vanson’s ‘Letters from Israel’. However, in her latest one, she seems to have missed the point of criticism of Israel. It is not about whether the state is capitalist or socialist. Her message seems to be that if you don’t live in a country you have no right to criticise it. Does that mean we can’t criticise Iran if we don’t live there?
It is true that we have chosen to live in Britain, but many of us have relatives in Israel and strong emotional bonds with the country. We are well aware of some of the unfair and hostile reporting of events in Israel by the British press. Equally, we cringe when we read of humiliating and insensitive treatment of Palestinians. Once Israel enjoyed good relations with many Western countries. It is a pity that this is being eroded by the actions of the Israeli government.
Sir – I’m amazed by the naivety expressed in these columns, which sometimes borders on the irrational. Martha Blend (January) means well, but queries Zionist thinking about going back to a country after 2,000 years. Where else could they have gone? It was never the intention of those early Zionist idealists to displace anyone but events took a different turn due to Arab intransigence and their all-or-nothing mentality. Furthermore, there were always Jews there, even if they went to end their days there and bewail the loss. The dream of return could not have been realised in a land with which they had no connection, like Uganda, which Herzl was prepared to accept as a national home. Madagascar, where the Poles and, later, Hitler planned to ship them to, would have gone the way of Stalin’s Birobidzhan venture.
But Heinz Grünewald takes the biscuit: to say Palestinians have no allies is surely the understatement of the year. He spells out what Israel needs to do for barbarism to become history. Perhaps were it not for the pesky Israelis, jihad too would go into the dustbin of history! He expects nothing of the Palestinians - never mind the Khartoum ‘three no’s’ and the Palestinian Authority and Hamas charters sworn to Israel’s destruction! Abbas insists he will never recognise a Jewish state and that no Jews will be allowed in a future Palestine - this is true apartheid, which is often levelled at Israel. Abbas’s idea of a two-state solution is based on pre-67 borders and East Jerusalem, as well as the return of seven million refugees that would amount to national suicide. Mr Grünewald would be happy for Israelis to live under a Pax Arabica, but this post-Shoah generation are of a different mould and unlikely to take risks with their security.
Jews of all people should take note of tyrants’ threats. Given the means, Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah and Assad are not much different from Hitler. And those who only claim to be anti-Zionist are in reality Jew-haters, who would deny them their natural right to self-determination, a right they would never deny any other people. These are not my words but those of Martin Luther King. Those doomed to destruction in Europe complained bitterly of being abandoned by an uncaring world and by Western Jewish leaders fully aware of their plight. History seems to be repeating itself. Where is Jewish solidarity?
Sir – It is difficult to achieve peace in the Middle East because we have to deal with the most right-wing government Israel has had since its establishment. At the moment, there are 19 legislative measures which have either been passed by the Knesset or are about to be passed. They are all targeted towards Palestinians who are Israeli citizens or live in the Occupied Territories. These acts all try to take away the Palestinians’ civil liberties and make them into second-class citizens.
Israel has again and again declared that it fights not only for Israelis but for all Jews throughout the world. We should state publicly that the State of Israel is not speaking for us. Once it is accepted that world Jewry opposes Israel’s policy, they will lose support from other countries and, hopefully, this will make the Israeli public vote for a government more amenable to peace. Peace with its neighbours will give Israel greater security and stop the continued criticism which harms her reputation.
Sir – There are well-meaning, naïve Jews who do not see that the Palestinian flag has no Israel on it. The peace negotiations include a demand for the Palestinians to return. The number of those who left in 1948 is now in the millions.
There was no Palestinian government at any time in history. We are not occupying land. The West Bank is Judea.
Sir – Having enjoyed the recent Chanukah Party at the Southgate and District Reform Synagogue, I reflected on other AJR meetings and outings that I attended throughout the year. All memorable occasions – and my appreciation and thanks go to Myrna Glass, Hazel Beiny and Esther Rinkoff for their hard work and devoted efforts in making them successful and enjoyable.
With all good wishes to the AJR for the New Year.
RESCUE OF BULGARIAN JEWRY
Sir – There seems to be a general impression that the Jews of Denmark were the only ones who were saved from the Holocaust. This is not so.
In Bulgaria, where King Boris (under pressure from the Germans) had already signed a deportation order, he was forced by a general outcry to cancel it. This outcry was started by the Orthodox Church and a number of members of parliament, but involved people of all classes throughout the country.
Unfortunately it was impossible to stop deportations from the two areas that had been ‘awarded’ to Bulgaria following the German occupation of Greece. But no Jews were deported from Bulgaria proper.
There is a memorial in the centre of Sofia which was erected by the Bulgarian Jews now in Israel as a tribute to their old country for its action in 1943.
‘DANCING UNDER THE GALLOWS’
Sir – In connection with the recent discussion on this issue, may I explain how the Theresienstadt musicians got their instruments.
In the Protectorate, Jews had to hand in their musical instruments on 26 December 1941. Records show that 20,300 instruments were looted, among them 1,220 pianos, mostly grand, from that small area alone. The same happened within the Reich and all over occupied Europe.
When, in early 1943, Himmler conceived of a visit by the Swiss Red Cross to the ghetto, which had to appear ‘normal’ on that occasion, the Germans handed out some of the stolen instruments from their vast store. I shared a room there with a prodigy who thus got hold of a good violin and a good bow.
Before inmates arriving in the ghetto had their one piece of luggage returned to them, it had passed through the ‘Schleuse’ (Sluice), where it had been thoroughly searched for prohibited items, e.g. cigarettes. The story of the smuggled instruments is therefore improbable.
None of the tens of thousands of Jewish-owned instruments taken to Germany and representing a fortune in money terms were ever returned. Thus, the present users are playing on stolen goods without enquiring into their provenance - on the principle that if you start asking questions you get too many (uncomfortable) answers.
Sir – Victor Ross (October 2010) describes Arthur Koestler as ‘[t]he greatest escape artist of all’. But Koestler was not the only Hungarian escapist!
Kati Marton’s fascinating book The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World appeared in 2006. These nine Jews were the scientists Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, Eugene Wigner and John von Neumann; Arthur Koestler, author of Darkness at Noon; Robert Capa, the first photographer ashore on D-Day; Andre Kertesz, pioneer of modern photojournalism; and the iconic filmmakers Alexander Korda and Michael Curtiz, maker of Casablanca.
These individuals really did ‘change the world’. They marked indelibly the world of physics, cinema, literature, mathematics and computers. The scientists were involved in the invention of the atomic bomb.
STONES OF REMEMBRANCE
Sir - I read with great interest Hetty Jacoby’s article ‘Stones of Remembrance’ in the January issue. However, I feel that she has misquoted the Jewish proverb at the end of her article. Surely the correct quotation is ‘It is only those that nobody remembers who are really dead.’
This is the true meaning of the Yizkor prayer and it is therefore incumbent on future generations to remember the six million victims of the Holocaust when we, the first and second generation survivors, are no longer alive to do so.
Sir – Excuse me, Leslie Brent (January, Letters)! There is nothing wrong with the National Health Service. It is the ‘benefits culture’ that is the problem. ‘National Assistance’, as it was first known, was temporary relief for people who had fallen on hard times through no fault of their own. Now, it has developed into a way of life for the work-shy (third generation), who have never done a stroke of work.
What is so irritating is that the working and thrifty people have to support the scroungers with their taxes. As a result, it is said that it is useless to save money as those not on ‘benefits’ have to pay for everything.
Every time a government tries to do something about this abuse of the ‘welfare state’, a howl of protest goes up: ‘What about the poor children from deprived families?’ So nothing can be done. Not even Maggie Thatcher could do anything about it!