By Gil Maguire

Can a country that has deprived over a third of its population  of basic civil rights, including the right to vote, for nearly half a century, be called a democracy?  Next week, citizens of Israel, who proudly claim they are the only democracy in the Middle East, will vote in the fifteenth national election they’ve had since 1967. In June of that year, Israel captured and occupied the entirety of Palestine including the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the areas most presumed would soon become the long-delayed Palestinian state.

Sadly, after decades of fruitless negotiations, the goal of an independent state for the Palestinian people seems more and more a cruel chimera.  There is little remaining support for a two state solution among the Israeli electorate and Israeli leaders, including its prime minister, now admit publicly there will be no Palestinian state.  The bleak reality of nearly half a century of Israeli military occupation and settlement of the Palestinian territories has made it obvious that the Zionist goal of creating so-called Greater Israel, or Eretz Israel, which includes pre-1967 Israel, as well as the West Bank and East Jerusalem (Judea and Samaria), was achieved in 1967.

Greater Israel has only been strengthened and solidified in the ensuing 48 years as Israel gradually transferred over 10 percent of its Jewish population into over 200 illegal, all-Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.   It continues to build new settlements at a frenetic pace.  Israel’s Minister of Housing predicts a 50 percent increase in the Jewish West Bank settler population from 400,000 in 2014 to about 600,000 in four years.  The current Jewish settler population of 300-350,000 in East Jerusalem will likely grow at the same rate.

Greater Israel has every appearance of being a fait accompli,   This sad fact raises the question of whether the non-Jewish Palestinian population of Greater Israel will be ever be afforded basic human civil rights including the right to vote.  Half a century is certainly far too long to wait to be treated like a human being.   Even the most complicated military occupation in history, the US occupation of Italy, Germany, and Japan at the end of World War II, was ended in less than eight years.   After helping rebuild infrastructure and civil institutions, the US returned full sovereignty and all territory to its three former enemies.  Despite its 48 year military occupation, Israel has accomplished none of those tasks.  Instead, it has illegally seized more and more Palestinian land and property, while transferring greater and greater numbers of its Jewish citizens into Palestine to solidify its seizure of Greater Israel.

The current population of the Greater Israel is about 12.9 million: 6.2 million Jewish Israeli citizens, 2.1 million non-Jewish Israeli citizens, and 4.5 million non-Jewish Palestinians who are not recognized by Israel as its citizens even though they’ve been under Israeli occupation and control for 48 years.  In next week’s election, 48 percent of Greater Israel’s population, Israeli Jews, will be allowed to vote, as will the 16 percent who are non-Jewish citizens of pre-1967 Israel, the so-called Arab Israelis.  The remaining 36 percent, the non-Jewish, mostly Muslim Palestinians, who live in the West Bank and Gaza, will be excluded from voting as they have been in all prior national elections since 1967.

Jewish Israelis who live in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, and who now comprise about 20 percent of the West Bank population, will be allowed to vote in this election even though they, like their Palestinian neighbors, live outside the borders of pre-1967 Israel.  Basic human civil rights, including the right to vote, are extended only to Jews in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  Muslims, Christians, Druze, and other non-Jews apparently don’t qualify for these rights.

As many have pointed out, Israel faces a conundrum: If it insists on having its Greater Israel, including the occupied territories, it must also accept the 4.5 million non-Jewish inhabitants of those territories as fellow citizens and afford them the same civil rights, including the right to vote, it affords its Jewish Israeli and Israeli citizens.   If it fails to do so, as it has for nearly half a century, it richly deserves the label of  apartheid state.

Stephen Roberts, the former chancellor of Brown University and a Jewish-American and major life-long supporter of Israel, concluded in 2012, after a humanitarian aid trip to East Jerusalem and the West Bank, that “… Israel has created a system of apartheid on steroids.”  Americans in general, and Jewish Americans in particular, need to face up to this hard reality.  The Israel of their dreams does not reflect the reality and brutality of today’s Israel, which certainly does not share or reflect the values of our own democracy.  The Israel of today is a country that has brutally occupied and controlled millions of non-Jews for nearly half a century while denying them the most basic civil rights including the right to vote.

Congress’s contemptible fawning support for this atrocious behavior needs to stop.  We need to send a strong and clear message to our fellow citizens and to our representatives in Congress that Israel’s abhorrent behavior is immoral and unacceptable.  Israel must end its apartheid-like control of the Palestinians and allow them to have a nation of their own along the internationally-recognized pre-1967 borders, or it must accept non-Jewish Palestinians as equal citizens with all the rights and privileges currently afforded to Jewish and non-Jewish Israelis, including the right to vote.

The Palestinian people have been waiting and fighting for their freedom and a state of their own for nearly half a century.  They’ve waited long enough.  Israel must either give them full citizenship rights as fellow Israelis or give them their freedom.  In a few days, Israel’s will hold an election which will exclude over a third of its population, making a mockery of its claim to be democratic.   It is high time we shouted that unpleasant fact from the rooftops of Congress.

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Palestinians have been waiting for their independence for almost a century.  At the end of World War I, Palestine, which had been a colony of the Ottoman Empire, was occupied by the British army.  Palestine’s population was then 93 percent indigenous Palestinians and 7 percent Zionist Jews, mostly recent immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe, working, with British consent, to establish a Jewish home in Palestine.

After the war, the League of Nations converted the Middle East colonies of the defeated Ottoman Empire into mandates, each supervised by a European power which had the duty to bring its mandate to the point of independent nationhood.   The mandates of  Syria and Lebanon went to the French, Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine to the British.  Iraq became an independent nation in 1932, Syria and Lebanon in 1944, and Jordan in 1946.

In 1947, the United Nations proposed a partition plan for ending the Palestine mandate that allotted 56 percent of the land for a Jewish state but only 43 percent for a Palestinian state even though Palestinians comprised two thirds of the total population and owned over 90 percent of the land.  The plan also gave most of the coastline and prime agricultural areas to the proposed Jewish state.  The Zionists accepted the plan while the Palestinians understandably rejected it.

When fighting broke out, the UN and the US, convinced partition was unworkable, began exploring binational solutions.  But, by mid-1948, the Zionists had conquered more than half of Palestine.  As the last British troops departed, the Zionists declared their independence as the Jewish state of Israel under the provisions of the UN partition plan.  US recognition of the new state made the partition of Palestine a fait accompli. 

By the end of 1948, Israel had conquered and occupied almost 80 percent of Palestine and had evicted or ethnically cleansed over 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and lands, forcing them into refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, or the West Bank and Gaza. The remaining 22 percent of Palestine not occupied by Israel became a colony of Jordan, once again depriving the Palestinians of independence and statehood.

In its 1967 Six Day War, Israel conquered and occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.  It now controlled the entirety of Palestine including the original 43 percent designated by the UN partition plan for the Palestinian state.  Israel, as an occupying military power, had a duty to withdraw from the Palestinian land it had occupied and return it to its rightful owners, but it refused to do so.  Instead, it immediately began treating the occupied Palestinian territories as an Israeli colony, transferring its Jewish citizens into all-Jewish settlements, while evicting more and more Palestinians from their homes, confiscating their land, and subjecting them to harsh military rule.

The Palestinians rejected Israeli colonization, demanded their independence, and soon began a violent revolt against Israeli occupation of their land.  Lacking the sophisticated and modern weaponry of the Israeli armed forces, the Palestinians resorted to asymmetric or guerilla warfare, including acts of terrorism, tactics commonly used by weak insurgents fighting wars of independence against powerful colonial occupiers.

Israel responded savagely, using all the tools employed by colonial powers attempting to maintain their hold on valuable colonies, including random arrests, torture, assassinations, indefinite imprisonment without trial, house demolitions, mass detentions, collective punishment against civilian populations, strict military rule, and other oppressive measures that violate international law and are sometimes labeled “state terrorism”.  These tactics have proved successful.

During the past 47 years, the Palestinians have tried both violent and nonviolent resistance with no success, and the UN, the US, the EU, and other European nations have tried for decades to resolve the conflict.  Despite those efforts, no Israeli government has been willing to withdraw completely from the occupied territories to allow the Palestinians full independence and a state of their own on the remaining 22 percent of Palestine.  Instead, Israel has greatly increased its illegal land seizures and evictions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  According to a recent statement from Israel’s Housing Minister, there are now about 750,000 Israeli Jews living in settlements on Palestinian land and that number is expected to grow by 50 percent by 2019.  Based on recent statements from the leaders of its major political parties, including its prime minister, Israel has no intention of withdrawing from the occupied Palestinian territories which it considers to be part of a Greater Israel it inherited from Biblical times.

As observers to the ongoing conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, we need to ask the right questions and avoid accepting the narrative that Israel wants us to accept: that it is a beleaguered country merely defending itself from mindless terrorists who aim only to kill Israeli civilians.   In reality, the Palestinians, including Hamas, are fighting for their independence from a brutal oppressive colonial power, Israel, who took all their remaining land in 1967, has settled massive numbers of its own Jewish civilians on their remaining land, and refuses to give them even 20 percent of that land to create the independent state of Palestine they have been promised since the end of World War I.   If that was happening to me, I’d be willing to fight and die for the independence of my people, wouldn’t you?

It’s high time we started looking at the Palestinians as freedom fighters, struggling to achieve their independence and a state of their own from an oppressive colonial power, Israel, who is unwilling to allow that to happen.

How can we, as Americans, support the Palestinian struggle for independence.  By being vocal in our criticism of Israel’s refusal to allow the Palestinians to have a state of their own on the West Bank, by writing letters and emails to our congressional representatives telling them to stop their blind, unwavering support of Israel and its oppression of the Palestinian people.   By having the courage to tell American Jews that their unquestioning support of Israel and its oppression of the Palestinian people is immoral and that they  need to tell the Israelis that while their support of the state of Israel is unconditional, they cannot support immoral and oppressive actions and policies of its current government.

Americans, including Jewish Americans, stood up for the rights of Black South Africans to have equal rights and freedom and ultimately forced our own government to pressure the white South African hierarchy to give black South Africans equal rights.  It’s high time Americans stood up for the rights of Palestinians to be free of Israeli oppression and to have independence and a nation of their own.

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I am constantly amazed at how the Israeli narrative of self-defense is never challenged in the media, particularly since the Palestinian narrative, that they are fighting a war of independence, is so much more accurate and compelling.  So here we are again, fighting has erupted between the Palestinians and Israel.  Thousands of rockets have been fired from Gaza, and Israel has responded with a massive air and ground assault that has killed over 1000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, with thousands more injured and made homeless.  Three Israeli civilians have been killed by rockets and at least 43 Israeli soldiers have died in combat.  At least 10 West Bank Palestinian demonstrators have been shot dead by Israeli soldiers during demonstrations against the Gaza war.

Israel again is claiming it is fighting a legitimate war of self-defense against Palestinian rocket fire which it labels as terrorism.  But that justification ignores the underlying cause of the conflict: Israel’s 47 year illegal occupation and settlement of Palestinian land and its refusal to allow the Palestinians to have a nation of their own in the West Bank and Gaza.   The Palestinians are fighting a war of independence from Israeli occupation.


During the past 47 years, the Palestinians have tried both violent and nonviolent resistance with no success, while the UN, the US, the EU, and other European nations have tried for decades to negotiate a two-state solution to the conflict.  Despite those efforts, no Israeli government has been willing to withdraw completely from the occupied territories to allow the Palestinians full independence and a state of their own on the remaining 20 percent of Palestine. 

Instead, Israel has continued its oppressive military rule over the Palestinians, increased its illegal land seizures and evictions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and built hundreds of Jewish settlements.  According to a recent statement from Israel’s Housing Minister, there are now 700,000-750,000 Israeli Jews living illegally on Palestinian land and that number is expected to grow by 50 percent by 2019.  Based on recent statements from the leaders of its major political parties, including its prime minister, Israel has no intention of withdrawing from the occupied Palestinian territories which it considers to be part of the Greater Israel it inherited from Biblical times.


Palestinians are fighting Israel because they are fed up with broken promises, failed negotiations, and half a century of Israeli oppression.  Palestinians are firing rockets at Israel because 1.8 million Gazans have been trapped in what is often described as the world’s largest open-air prison, a result of Israel’s total blockade of that began in 2007.  

When the victim of a violent crime fights back, the perpetrator can’t use self-defense as a justification for doing even more physical violence to the victim.   Israel can’t claim claim self-defense as justification for invading and bombing Gaza to stop Palestinian rocket fire since it is the perpetrator of the underlying and ongoing crime, it’s half-century occupation and theft of Palestinian land, and oppression of its people. 

It is the Palestinians who have the right of self-defense, the right to fight back against their occupiers.  People suffering under illegal occupation by a foreign power have a legitimate right to violently resist.  Lacking tanks, planes, and well-equipped modern armies, they typically use the only tools available: bombings, assassinations, and other tactics of asymmetric guerrilla warfare. 


Israel and the US are quick to label violent resistance by the Palestinians as terrorism and have labeled Hamas a terrorist organization.  But Hamas is little different than the Haganah, Irgun, and Lehi, factions of the Zionist resistance against the British who also used asymmetric guerrilla warfare tactics. Their campaign of terror against the British and the Palestinians from 1939-48 included assassinations of British military and government officials and Count Bernadotte, the UN mediator, hanging of British prisoners of war, and terror bombing of Palestinian communities, and British military, government, and private facilities, including the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. 

Zionist terrorism was highly successful and a major factor in Britain’s decision to withdraw from Palestine, making it possible for the Zionists to declare their independence in 1948 and create the nation of Israel.  The violent resistance of the Palestinians against Israeli occupation of their land has the same aim, to force the withdrawal of a brutal occupying power to gain independence and nationhood.  This is no different from dozens of other wars of independence in which the colonial powers also accused the insurgents of being terrorists.  While the brutality that accompanies guerrilla warfare is horrific and regrettable, it is the only tool available for weak, oppressed people fighting powerful  occupying armies. 


Israel has always responded savagely to Palestinian violence, and has used all the tools typically employed by colonial powers attempting to maintain their hold on valuable colonies. These oppressive measures, which violate international law and can be called state terrorism, include random arrests, torture, assassinations, indefinite imprisonment without trial, house demolitions, mass detentions, collective punishment against civilian populations, strict military rule, and more.  Demonizing Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians, while excusing Israeli violence that does far greater harm to the Palestinian civilian population is one-sided and hypocritical, particularly since Israeli violence is aimed at maintaining  the illegal status quo of occupation, settlement, and continuing theft of Palestinian lands.

The Palestinians are fighting a legitimate war of independence and have been since 1967.  Israel’s attack on Gaza isn’t an act of self-defense but just another of its many massive military actions aimed at crushing Palestinian armed resistance to its occupation while it also inflicts an unnecessary and ghastly toll on thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians.

It’s time for politicians, pundits, and the media, to get this story straight, and time for the rest of us to insist that Palestinians get the independence and nation of their own they have long sought and so richly deserve.


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BANALITY IN THE PROMISED LAND: Admitting and Rationalizing Zionism’s Evil Deeds

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel is a personal account
of the history of the Jews in Palestine (later Israel) by Ari Shavit, a liberal and
influential Israeli journalist and writer who was at one time a leader in the Israeli
peace movement. While Shavit’s recounting of that history is Israel-centric, it is
also brutally honest. Shavit describes Israel’s ethnic cleansing and forced expulsion
of some 750,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes in Israel-conquered territory in
1948 in graphic detail including the massacres of civilians and massive, systematic
looting by Israeli troops. Shavit not only admits it all happened, but he provides
details through the mouths of both perpetrators and victims that allow the reader to
see how horrific it all was and how much Palestinians have suffered as a direct
result of the Israeli terror of 1948 and after.

My Promised Land is history recounted by individuals experiencing each
critical point in the history of Palestine and Israel. The reader learns first-hand
about the original Jewish settlers in the 1890s, the Kibbutzim, the clashes with the
Palestinians, the war of 1948, and the experiences of holocaust victims both in the
death camps and in Israel after they immigrated as shaken but determined refugee-survivors.  Shavit shows the development of Israel’s nuclear weapons program, the
experiences of over one million Russian immigrants, and the revival and rise to
power of Israel’s Arab Jews, all through the eyes of the participants he interviewed.

He describes his own experiences as a young soldier in the Israeli army
having to guard thousands of imprisoned Palestinian demonstrators who were kept
without due process and subjected to torture, and whose screams still haunt him.
He describes the post-1967 war settlers and settlements, and the peace movement
that developed in response to the settlers and Israel’s continuing occupation and
oppression of the Palestinians. Shavit weaves in his own and his family’s history as
he travels from one end of Israel and Palestine to the other doing interviews of the
many major and minor figures that make up this complicated history.

Shavit is most effective in his framing of the conflict. While admitting to all
the horrors of 1948 and the continuing horrors of occupation, he says the conflict
cannot only be seen as the story of what the Jews did and are doing to the
Palestinians; it must also be seen in the context of what happened to the Jews, to
the existential threat and fear that Israeli Jews face and experience. His
realization of the duality of the conflict drove him away from the peace movement
which, in his mind, failed to balance its valid condemnation of Israel’s occupation
and oppression of the Palestinians with the existential threat faced by Israeli Jews.

The essence of Shavit’s argument is that this existential threat justified the
expulsion and oppression of the Palestinians. Shavit believes that if Israel’s
founders had not ethnically cleansed Israel of its Palestinian population neither
Zionism nor its Jewish State would have survived. The end, saving Zionism and its
Jewish state, justified the brutal means of removing and oppressing the Palestinian
people. In essence, Shavit says the brutality, “…the dirty, filthy work…” of
massacre, forced expulsion, terror, looting, was necessary if Jews were to have a
state of their own.

This conclusion leads Shavit to what he sees as the crux or conundrum of the
conflict: that the Palestinians, so grievously harmed by the Israelis, so justified in
their claims for a right to return to their stolen homes and lands, can never give up
those claims. Thus, Shavit says, the conflict is not about the occupation and the
settlements, it’s about Israel’s very existence. Ending the occupation and removing
the settlers will not solve the conflict because the Palestinians cannot give up their
claim to return to homes and lands stolen from them that are now a part of the
Jewish state. In essence, Shavit is saying peace with the Palestinians is impossible
because it would threaten the Jewish state, and that the existential threat and
fears of Jews have a higher moral standing than the rights of Palestinians to return
and reclaim their stolen land and homes.

Despite his honesty, Shavit’s conclusion is chilling because his rationalization
of Israel’s horrific actions of 1948 could easily be applied to a complete cleansing of
Palestinians from the entirety of the land between the Mediterranean and the River
Jordan, the promised land of Greater Israel. While this would require more brutal,
dirty, and filthy conduct by the Israeli army, if Shavit can justify Israel’s 1948
conduct, it is difficult to see how he could reject a modern version of the same
conduct since it is aimed at the same end, the building of a powerful, invulnerable
Jewish state.

Ultimately, Shavit’s rationalization fails. Israel’s massive war crime of 1948
wasn’t necessary. Israel could have created a Jewish state that included a high
percentage of Palestinian citizens as envisioned by the UN Partition Plan of 1947.
Or, it could have accepted the Arab League offer of a binational state in which the
Israelis would have had almost complete autonomy in their portion. Either would
have been a moral choice that wouldn’t have required the sacrifice of the
Palestinian people to gain a homeland exclusively for the Jews.

As Israel’s new historians have shown, Israel was never the weaker party in
the 1948 conflict and never under any significant military threat. It had manpower
advantages of at least two to one and its forces were far better organized, better led,
and better motivated from 1947 through the end of the conflict in early 1949. By
April of 1948, Israel had decisively defeated all Palestinian military opposition and
was invading the portion of Palestine set aside by the UN for an Arab state.
Ultimately, it would conquer, cleanse, and keep for itself half of the Arab state’s

By mid-May of 1948, on the eve of its declaration of independence, Israel’s
army had already expelled over 300,000 Palestinians from their homes and lands,
forcing them across borders into Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank. By August it
had stopped and defeated the combined but outnumbered Arab League forces that
had come to the aid of the Palestinians in May of 1948. Israel would have been able
to easily conquer all of Palestine and Egypt’s Sinai in 1948, and had plans and
forces in place to do so. However, it decided that such an aggressive action coupled
with the ethnic cleansing of another million or so Palestinians would have created a
great deal of international condemnation so it postponed its planned invasion until
1967 when it captured all of the Sinai and all of the land west of the Jordan, the
fabled land of Greater Israel.

Israel’s easy capture of Egypt’s Sinai in the 1956 Suez conflict, and its
overwhelming six day vanquishing of the combined armed forces of Egypt, Syria,
and Jordan in 1967 demonstrated how hapless the Arab forces remained. Even
after the surprise attack by Egypt and Syria in 1973, Israel quickly recovered,
handily defeated both countries’ armies, and was threatening the capture of both
Damascus and Cairo when a ceasefire was imposed only 20 days after the start of
the conflict. Today, Israel’s military superiority is unmatched and its neighbors are
in disarray, riven with internal strife. Israel’s only remaining threat is from the
Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, and those in the West Bank
and Gaza who continue to live under the boot and oppression of the Israeli army
and the 600,000 violent Jewish settlers it protects in the Palestinian territories it
has occupied since 1967.

Despite his immense pride in Israel’s many accomplishments, Shavit remains
fearful of the future. While he admits to all the horrors of 1948 and the continued
oppression of the Palestinians, he cannot offer a solution and sees the prospects for
peace as distant at best. Despite having identified the moral failings of Zionism,
Shavit cannot bring himself to offer a moral solution for Palestinian suffering which
he knows is unsustainable. All he can see is more of the same with the wonders of
his modern, sexy, start-up nation living blissfully and oblivious to the nearby
horrors of Israel’s continuing oppression of an entire people.

Shavit’s fear is justifiable. The Jewish State, with all its wondrous
accomplishments, was founded on a war crime of immense proportions which
continues to this day. Israel and Zionism’s one great failure was moral, and its
failure to stop and atone for the continuing immorality of its conduct may
ultimately lead to the failure of the Jewish State that Shavit so loves and fears for.

My Promised Land is a good read and essential read for understanding the
mindset of a prominent Israeli liberal Zionist. It is also a well-written, easily read
history of Palestine and Israel as seen through the eyes of its participants. Most
important, Shavit’s brutal honesty in describing the horrific conduct of the Israeli
army in 1948 and its continuing oppression of the Palestinians since then puts an
end to the false narrative created by Israel’s hasbara masters that convinced many
in the West that the Palestinians left their homes and lands voluntarily, and that
the Israeli army scrupulously obeyed the laws of war.

Shavit’s brutal honesty may have opened a Pandora’s box. His admission
that Israel committed a massive and continuing war crime against another people
cannot stand on its own, nor can his rationalization that is was all really necessary
if Zionism and the Jewish State were to survive. His admission has left his beloved
Israel swinging in the wind, naked for all to see. Once the reality of his admission
becomes well-known, the former widespread sympathy for a weak Israel David
beset by a savage Arab Goliath will dissipate as its now disillusioned supporters
angrily react to Israeli duplicity, intransigence, and continuing atrocities and

In the meantime most Israelis, and most American Jews remain largely oblivious to Israel’s past and continuing war crime against the Palestinian people.  This almost banal acceptance of a massive ongoing war crime by decent, thoughtful, and influential Israeli and American Jews, their unwillingness to make critical moral judgments, their refusal to recognize the awful, continuing plight and suffering of millions of Palestinians, harkens back to Hannah Arendt’s famous statement about the banality of evil, and how ordinary and normal the perpetrators and apologists for evil often are:

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were
like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that
they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the
viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of
judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the
atrocities put together.”

Most banal and terrifying of all is Shavit himself, a thoughtful, decent, liberal Zionist who concludes that no peace is yet possible and that the decades-long oppression of the Palestinian people must continue indefinitely while Israel seeks a more perfect solution to its amorphous but ever-expanding existential threat.

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A TIME FOR ATONEMENT: Will this Yom Kippur Bring Justice for the Palestinians?


Will this Yom Kippur Bring Justice for the Palestinians?

by Gil Maguire

On September 29 American and Israeli Jews celebrated Rosh Hashanah.  The ten days following Rosh Hashanah are days of reflection and repentance for Jews culminating October 8 in Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement, the most important and solemn of Jewish holy days.  This year, American and Israeli Jews alike should reflect on the plight of over 8 million Palestinians who, some 63 years after Israel’s formation, remain estranged from their homeland, deprived of self determination and freedom and imprisoned in a limbo-like oppressive existence that reflects terribly on Jews.  It is an existence that American and Israeli Jews are jointly responsible for and for which they have a moral duty to change.  This season of Yom Kippur is the time to reflect and a time to commit to that change.

 The scope of the harm American and Israeli Jews have created is immense.  Stephen Robert, a Jewish-American investment banker, and long-time Israel supporter, who is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former chancellor of Brown University, described the situation in the West Bank as “apartheid on steroids” after his most recent fact-finding visit to Israel and the West Bank this past summer.  In a long and detailed article in The Nation, he concluded,

 “How can Jews, who have been persecuted for centuries, tolerate this inhumanity? Where is their moral compass? How can this situation be acceptable to Judaism’s spiritual and political leaders? I don’t have that answer; except to say that Israel’s biggest enemy has become itself.”

There are about 4.5 million Palestinians living and confined in the West Bank and Gaza occupied and controlled by Israel since 1967.  There are another 4 million or so living as unwanted refugees in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.  Over 1.5 million Palestinians still live in the squalor of refugee camps, all some 63 years after they or their forebears fled or were ethnically cleansed from Israel in 1948.

Every day that goes by is another day of squalor and oppression for 8.5 million Palestinians which will compound to over 3 billion individual days of additional squalor and oppression in the coming year alone.  During the coming year, more and more Palestinians will be illegally evicted from their lands and homes which will be confiscated to allow thousands more Israeli Jews to move to illegal Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas set aside by the United Nations in 1947 for the planned but long-delayed Arab State of Palestine.

This is not to say that the Palestinian leadership and extremists are blameless.  Palestinian tactical and strategic errors and violence against Israeli civilians over several decades are inexcusable and have contributed to the continuing pain and isolation of 8.5 million of their fellow citizens.  But, the major culprit in the continuing oppression of millions of Palestinians is Israel and its ongoing occupation and settlement of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  From 1967 on, Israel has always had the ability to turn over the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians to allow them to create the Arab State of Palestine promised them by the United Nations in 1947.  It never did so, despite internal recommendations that this would be in Israel’s long-term best interest, and that the settlement of the West Bank with Israeli Jewish citizens would violate the terms of the 4th Geneva Convention.  It never did so because of greed and a religion-based desire to create a Greater Israel including the entirety of the West Bank.  The responsibility for that immoral policy and its horrific results is ultimately on the shoulders of American and Israeli Jews who support and condone it.

Unfortunately, Israel’s 44 year occupation and settlement of the West Bank is on the verge of destroying  the possibility of  a two state solution because Israeli settlements now control so much of the West Bank that a separate Palestinian state may no longer be viable and acceptable to the Palestinians.  When that happens, Israel’s occupation of the entirety of the West Bank (and by default, Gaza) will become a de facto illegal annexation of the entirety of original Palestine into a Greater Israel (the dream and goal of many American and Israeli religious Zionist Jews).  That reality will leave Israel with three stark and unacceptable choices:

It can create a democratic state of Greater Israel in which Palestinians and Jews alike have equal rights, including voting rights.  This choice would not be acceptable to Zionist Jews because these demographic changes would deprive Israel of its status as a homeland for the world’s Jews and as a predominantly Jewish state.  While initially, the Jewish and Palestinian populations of this Greater Israel would be about equal, there would be intense international pressure to allow the remaining 3-4 million Palestinians still living as unwelcome guests and refugees in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan to return to their homeland in this Greater Israel.  Since Israel would refuse to allow their return, it would never have peace and it would remain a pariah state in the eyes of the world.

The two remaining choices are even less palatable: apartheid or ethnic cleansing.  Israel could refuse to give the Palestinians in Greater Israel equal voting and other civil rights possessed by its Jewish citizens, but that will make Israel truly an apartheid state rather than one having apartheid-like qualities as it is now.  Or, Israel could attempt to remove all or a major portion of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to insure a dominant Jewish majority.  But, to do so would be  ethnic cleansing.  Either choice would be an unacceptable  major violation of international law and norms  and would subject Israel to international sanctions and a status equivalent to that of South Africa during it apartheid period.

The only acceptable choice, if Israel is to remain a democratic Jewish state and have peace with its Arab neighbors, is for Israel to accept the 1967 borders as its eastern boundary and give up its illegal settlements and annexation of all of Jerusalem, including Arab East Jerusalem.   Ten years ago, in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, 22 Arab states offered Israel peace under those terms.  Israel has yet to respond even though Palestinian negotiators have shown a willingness to accept only a modest return of refugees to Israel proper and accede to reasonable Israeli security concerns.

The issue of security is vital to Israelis as the distance between the West Bank and the heart of Israel is less than the commute to work for most Americans.  But, the highest threat to Israel is no longer tank warfare.  Instead, it is the threat of missiles from well beyond Israel’s borders, which in large numbers can overwhelm any missile defense system.  The current Israeli government stresses the importance of “defensible borders” and claims a return to the pre-1967 borders would put Israel at risk.   Yet, those very borders withstood the test of time, two decades, and two major wars.

What are the legitimate security concerns of Israel, and what would be acceptable defensible borders?  Many high-level US and Israeli military and security experts feel Israel’s 1967 borders are defensible.  Martin van Crevald, Israel’s preeminent military historian and theorist, recently analyzed this issue in the Jewish Daily Forward on December 15, 2010 in an article entitled: “Israel Doesn’t Need the West Bank to be Secure”.  He concluded that an invasion of Israel from Jordan through the West Bank would be suicidal for the attacker,

“…since the West Bank itself is surrounded by Israel on three sides, anybody who tries to enter it from the east is sticking his head into a noose. To make things worse for a prospective invader, the ascent from the Jordan Valley into the heights of Judea and Samaria is topographically one of the most difficult on earth. Just four roads lead from east to west, all of which are easily blocked by air strikes or by means of precision-guided missiles. To put the icing on the cake, Israeli forces stationed in Jerusalem could quickly cut off the only road connecting the southern portion of the West Bank with its northern section in the event of an armed conflict.”

As his article demonstrates, Mr. van Crevald is not in any sense a hand wringing liberal Israeli Jew with unrealistic views of Israel’s security concerns.  For instance, he approves of Israel’s security wall as well as the extreme violence of its invasions of both Lebanon and Gaza as effective means of deterrence.  Nonetheless, van Crevald views the Israeli settlement movement as the major threat to Israel’s security and feels Israel needs to withdraw totally from the West Bank as it is fast becoming an apartheid state.  His conclusion is both powerful and persuasive:

“… it is crystal-clear that Israel can easily afford to give up the West Bank. Strategically speaking, the risk of doing so is negligible. What is not negligible is the demographic, social, cultural and political challenge that ruling over 2.5 million — nobody knows exactly how many — occupied Palestinians in the West Bank poses. Should Israeli rule over them continue, then the country will definitely turn into what it is already fast becoming: namely, an apartheid state that can only maintain its control by means of repressive secret police actions. To save itself from such a fate, Israel should rid itself of the West Bank, most of Arab Jerusalem specifically included.”

Unfortunately, accepting the 1967 borders is no longer a politically viable choice for Israelis because of the strength of its right-wing religious parties who believe Israel has an ancient right of ownership in the West Bank.  Nor is the US government able to influence or force Israel to accept that solution, even though it would be in both countries’ best interest.  The influence of Israel’s US lobby has become too powerful.  To paraphrase the recent words of New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, a moderate and influential American and Jew, the U.S. government has become a hostage to Israel because its powerful US lobby is capable of forcing the US to defend Israeli policies that are neither in American interests nor in Israel’s.

It is a lobby that quite apparently controls Congress, and even the executive branch, on all matters involving Israel and US foreign policy in the Middle East.  It is not a Jewish lobby but more the lobby of Israel’s right-wing Likud and religious parties who seek their dream of a restored historic Greater Israel including all of ancient Palestine.  Noted commentator Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Beast has accurately described  it as the pro-Greater Israel lobby.  Ironically, this powerful lobby doesn’t speak for either the majority of Israeli or American Jews who generally support a two-state solution and see Israel’s settlements as a major obstacle to that goal.

As we have recently seen, no US president dares diverge from pro-Israel policies, even when those policies are doing great harm to US standing and influence, for to do so would be a political death sentence.  This is a situation that is dangerous to Israel and to the US.  It is a situation for which American Jews are directly to blame for allowing Israel to pursue policies that were both immoral and self defeating to Israel, and for failing to support their own president and country when Israel and its US lobby’s conduct were doing grave harm to American interests.   More ominously, it is a situation that will not change until some major tragedy occurs that will open the eyes of the American public to the harm done to American interests by Israel, its US lobby, and by American Jewish citizens who either supported Israeli misconduct, or stood silently by and did nothing when faced with that evidence.

The situation in the West Bank and Gaza is as much apartheid as was the treatment of black Americans in the South, or blacks in South Africa.   It is a practice that must be ended for it reflects badly on American Jews.   As the remaining short days and hours before Yom Kippur tick by, American  Jews should reflect on what it would be like to be a Palestinian for each of those days, each of those hours.  Each must answer the question posed by Stephen Robert:  “How can Jews, who have been persecuted for centuries, tolerate this inhumanity? Where is their moral compass?”  I hope the answer for the vast majority of American Jews will be that continued Israeli oppression of the Palestinians is not tolerable, and that they can and will no longer remain silent.

Thousands of courageous American Jews standing up and insisting that both the West Bank settlement folly and oppression of the Palestinians be ended would represent atonement in the highest spirit of Yom Kippur and the noble Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olam, working to make the world a better place.  Unfortunately, many Jews will reflexively dismiss these comments as the blatherings of a likely anti-Semite, and will seek refuge in the old tired narratives in which Israel can do no wrong, the and for which the Greater Israel is their historic birthright.  Neither choice will be accurate or help Israel.

Sometimes, to paraphrase the ending in today’s article by New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, “Is Israel its own Worst Enemy?“, the best criticism comes from concerned friends.  As Israel has few friends left in the world, it might be wise for its Jewish citizens and American Jewish supporters to heed these warnings and begin to question the validity and morality of its assumptions and actions.

Hopefully, this Yom Kippur will cause the vast majority of American and even Israeli Jews to reflect, repent and move forward in the spirit of atonement.  This may well be the last Yom Kippur season they will have the opportunity to do so before the door for a two-state solution slams shut and Israel hurdles further into the abyss.  We can pray that won’t happen.

Shana Tova, and, for Saturday, G’mar Chatimah Tovah.

Gil Maguire practices law in Ventura, California

and blogs on the Israel-Palestine issue at

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