Gideon Levy writes for Ha’aretz, the newspaper than enables some Israelis, sadly a minority, to cling on to their sanity. I have described him in the past as the conscience of Israeli journalism. But he is far more than that. He is the conscience of all Israeli Jews. Today, 7 March 2010, he writes about the Israeli peace camp, which in terms of the headline over his article “Never was and never will be.“
I am posting below the complete text of this article. It should be required reading, today, by President Obama. (Perhaps George Mitchell, who is in Israel, will transmit the text of the Ha’aretz original to his master?)
Gideon, the eldest of two sons of Nazi holocaust survivors, was born in Tel Aviv in 1953. In an interview with ABC on 11 June 2007, he described his “modest mission” as being “to prevent a situation in which many Israelis will be able to say, ‘We didn’t know.’”
He is constantly critical of what he describes as Israeli society’s “moral blindness” to the effects of its acts of war and occupation; and he has described the construction of illegal settlements on private Palestinian land as “the most criminal enterprise in Israel’s history”
On the subject of Israel’s most recent war on the Gaza Strip, (an offensive which I described as a naked act of Zionist state terrorism, war crimes and all), Gideon wrote that it was a complete failure. “The conclusion is that Israel is a violent and dangerous country, devoid of all restraints and blatantly ignoring the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, while not giving a hoot about international law.”
He supports a unilateral withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territories without demanding concessions. “Israel”, he has written, “is not being asked ‘to give’ anything to the Palestinians; it is only being asked to return – to return their stolen land and restore their trampled self-respect, along with their fundamental human rights and humanity.”
Gideon is, of course, vilified by some Israelis and other supporters of the Zionist state right or wrong everywhere. In 2002, Israeli novelist Irit Linur sparked a wave of subscription cancellations to Ha’aretz when she wrote an open letter to the paper cancelling her own subscription. “It is a person’s right to be a radical leftist, and publish a newspaper in accordance with his world view… However Ha’aretz has reached the point where its anti-Zionism has become stupid and evil,” she wrote.
As I write, it occurs to me that it wouldn’t be a bad idea if all of Israel’s Arab citizens wrote to the editor of Ha’aretz telling him how much they appreciated Levy’s contributions to understanding.
Here now is Gideon’s latest piece.
The Israeli peace camp didn’t die. It was never born in the first place. While it’s true that since the summer of 1967, several radical and brave political groups have been working against the occupation – all worthy of recognition – a large, influential peace camp has never existed here.
It’s true that after the Yom Kippur War, after the first Lebanon War and during the giddy days of Oslo (oh, how giddy those days were), citizens took to the streets, generally when the weather was nice and when the best of Israeli music was being performed at rallies, but few people really said anything decisive or courageous, and fewer still were willing to pay a personal price for their activities. After the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, people lit candles in the square and sang Aviv Geffen songs, but this certainly isn’t what one would call a peace camp.
It is also true that the stance advocated by the so-called Matzpen movement immediately after the Six-Day War has now more or less become the Israeli consensus position – but it is mere words, devoid of content. Nothing meaningful has been done so far to put it into practice. One would have expected more, a lot more, from a democratic society in whose backyard such a prolonged and cruel occupation has existed and whose government has primarily invoked the language of fear, threats and violence.
There have been societies in the past in whose name frightful injustice has been committed, but at least within some of them, genuine, angry and determined left-wing protest took place – of the sort that requires personal risk and courage, and which is not limited to action within the cozy consensus. An occupying society whose town square has been empty for years, with the exception of hollow memorial rallies and poorly attended protests, cannot wash its hands of the situation. Neither democracy nor the peace camp can.
If people didn’t take to the streets in large numbers during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, then there isn’t a genuine peace camp. If people don’t flood the streets now – when dangers lie in wait and opportunity is wasted time after time, and democracy sustains blow after blow on a daily basis and there are no longer sufficient resources to properly defend it, and when the right wing controls the political map and settlers amass more and more power – then there is no genuine left wing.
There is nothing like the debate over the future of the Meretz party to demonstrate the sorry state of the left. This comes in the wake of the strange and ridiculous report last week about the party’s poor showing in the last election, and which gives every possible recommendation. Meretz disappeared because the party fell silent; you don’t need a commission to find that out. But even during its relatively better days, Meretz was not a real peace camp. When Meretz applauded Oslo, it deliberately ignored the fact that the champions of the “historic” peace accords never intended to evacuate even a single settlement over the course of the great “breakthrough” that earned its promoters Nobel peace, yes, peace prizes. This camp also overlooked Israel’s violations of the agreements, its illusions of peace.
Above all, however, the problem was rooted in the left’s impossible adherence to Zionism in its historical sense. In precisely the way there cannot be a democratic and Jewish state in one breath, one has to first define what comes before what – there cannot be a left wing committed to the old-fashioned Zionism that built the state but has run its course. This illusory left wing never managed to ultimately understand the Palestinian problem – which was created in 1948, not 1967 – never understanding that it can’t be solved while ignoring the injustice caused from the beginning. A left wing unwilling to dare to deal with 1948 is not a genuine left wing.
The illusory left never understood the most important point: For the Palestinians, consenting to the 1967 borders along with a solution to the refugee problem, including at least the return of a symbolic number of refugees themselves, are painful concessions. They also represent the only just compromise, without which peace will not be established; but there’s no sense in accusing the Palestinians of wasting an opportunity. Such a proposal, even including the “far-reaching” proposals of Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, has never been made to them.
Meretz will surely find some kind of organizational arrangement and will again get half a dozen members elected to the Knesset, on a good day maybe even a dozen. This doesn’t mean much, however. The other left-wing groups, both Jewish and Arab, remain excluded. No one has any use for them, no one thinks about including them, and they are too small to have any influence. So let’s call the child by its real name: The Israeli peace camp is still an unborn baby.