Sunday, December 26, 2004

A Dove Among Hawks: Moshe Sharett -the Political Tragedy of an Israeli Leader

Zionist Biography

Moderation or escalation -these were the two basic alternatives in the entwined domains of foreign and defense policies confronting Israel's leadership immediately after the historic and bloody victory in the War of Independence in 1948-1949, and that have confronted government after government unceasingly to this very day. It was the choice of history that these two contradictory and fateful alternatives were first epitomized by David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett. These two outstanding leaders had stood together at the helm of the yishuv -the Jewish community of Palestine- starting in the early 1930s, leading up to the establishment of the State of Israel, and throughout the State's formative years until 1956.
It took Israel 22 years to reverse its escalationist trend -and momentarily at that- when it signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1978. But by then, both old rivals, Ben-Gurion and Sharett, were gone from the stage. In fact, Sharett, the first of the two leaders to pass away, had not even been a witness to the Six-Day War of 1967. Thus, when discussing Sharett's political school of thought and behavior, one should constantly bear in mind the crucial fact that Sharett belongs to the pre-1967-war era, a war considered by many to be the watershed of Israel's political course, since it resulted in the continuous occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

But how did it all start? How did it evolve? Why has escalation, as represented by Ben-Gurion, and not moderation, as represented by Sharett, held the upper hand for so long? Touching briefly on a few landmarks of Sharett's personal history might give us some relevant answers to these intriguing questions. Sharett was born in 1894 in the city of Kherson, Ukraine, situated a short distance east of Odessa, the second child among five siblings. His parents belonged to the Russo-Jewish intelligentsia. The father, Ya'akov Chertok-Shertok, was an ardent Zionist and man of the pen. His mother Fanya (neeLev) was a certified and dedicated teacher. Their household was traditional, yet enlightened and liberal. In 1882, under the impact of a series of anti-Semitic pogroms that swept over south and east Russia, Ya'akov Shertok joined a small group of university students like himself –the famous BILU group – and decided to emigrate to Palestine in order to build a Jewish homeland there.

After four difficult years in Palestine, the young Shertok, desperate at his inability to strike roots there, returned to Russia. However, his personal failure had not shattered his Zionist dream; he was convinced that the day would come when he would return to his cherished land of Zion, and he instilled this zeal in his children.

As a young boy, Moshe Sharett proved to be a bright pupil in the regular Russian school he attended. In additional, his father arranged for him to study Hebrew as well as other Jewish subjects privately.

Under the impact of the 1905-1906 pogroms that swept southern Russia 20 years after he left Palestine, Ya'akov Shertok decided to fulfill his personal obligation to the Zionist ideology and go back. He was not alone in doing so, just as in 1882. But now, he went there as head of a large family and together with the families of his brother and sister. Moshe Sharett was then eleven years old.

Once in Palestine, Shertok senior chose a unique way of building the Jewish national home, which seems to have had a far-reaching influence on his son Moshe's personal development. Under Ya'akov's leadership, the three-family clan leased from an Arab landlord a farmstead in the small Arab village of Ein Sinya, nestling in the hills between Ramallah and Nablus. The two years of the clan's Samarian adventure –they were the only Jews living in an all-Arab area—were quiet and peaceful throughout. The amicable relations that prevailed between the Jewish settlers and the local Arabs were kept up for years to come.

Sharett, the young teenager, did not attend school during that sojourn but rather threw himself into helping his father and two uncles in running the farmstead, which included an olive-oil press and a flour mill serving the fellaheen of the area. He now enjoyed schooling in the open fields with the local villagers who tilled the land and tended the flocks of sheep and goats. During this time, he especially befriended a young villager by the name of Abu A'oda, who was the chief steward at the family's farmstead. This friendship was maintained for many years until the 1948 war raised an "iron curtain" between Israel and the West Bank. Many years later, Sharett recalled in his diary:

While in Ein Sinya, I met one of the greatest teachers of life I have ever had. He was Abu A'oda -an illiterate fellah- and it was from him that I learned Arab colloquialisms and Arab pronunciation, and Arab Muslim faith and Arab folklore, and gained a treasure trove of the wisdom of life in general.
With his natural linguistic talent, which later made him a polyglot mastering eight languages, young Sharett quickly became fluent in Arabic. When in 1908, the family moved from hilly Samaria to Jaffa on the Mediterranean seashore, Sharett started to attend regular Hebrew school. Upon hearing him speak Arabic first time, his Jewish teacher for that language was struck by his fluency and natural accent that he could not believe this new pupil was not an Arab passing for a Jews.

But it was not Arabic alone that the young Sharett absorbed during those two idyllic years in Ein Sinya. He gained there a firsthand familiarity with the spirit of Arab rural society. Years later, he said in one of his lectures: "When told by tourists that their guides stopped at Ein Sinya to explain that Moshe Sharett was born there, I used to say: "Yes, it's true. That village is where I was reborn!"

Indeed, one cannot doubt the deep effects of those two early years on Sharett's later political outlook toward the Arabs, for in Ein Sinya, he came to regard them not as enemies but as equal human beings, proud of their culture and heritage. In a seminal lecture he delivered shortly after his forced resignation from Israel's government in June 1956, in which he vehemently criticized the prevalence of the escalationist school as advocated by Ben-Gurion and then Chief of Staff, Moshe Dayan –a criticism which seems to have preserved its forceful relevance today—he harked back to his days in Ein Sinya:

Your line of thinking regarding the necessity of military reprisals truly astonishes me. When we are hit by a terrorist act and blood is spilt, there is at first a very strong emotional shock. Then there is a political consideration arguing that we cannot sit still and not respond, lest this be interpreted as a sign of weakness. And there is of course also a military consideration demanding an eye for an eye. But at the same time we seem to be forgetting completely that there are men and women living on the other side of the border, and they too are endowed with brains, they too react to our raids in a similar way. I really cannot fathom the way some of us Israelis grasp the situation. It seems I cannot demand from all of you here to have had the same experience I had when I lived surrounded by Arabs in an all-Arab village in order to become aware that Arabs are human beings, that they have brains, rational thought, self-esteem, and human emotions, and are capable of feelings of outrage just like us.
Unquestionably, Sharett's early "Arab experience" was altogether unique when compared with that of his rivals such as Ben-Gurion and Dayan. A short time after arriving in Palestine in 1908 and settling in the village of Ilaniya in lower Galilee, Ben-Gurion witnessed the murder of a fellow watchman by Arab neighbors. As for Moshe (1915-1981), his first "Arab experience" occurred when he took part in violent brawls, which erupted on the outskirts of his village of Nahalal, in the Jezreel Valley, between Jewish youngsters and their neighboring young Arab villagers.

Unlike Sharett, these two public figures of the aggressive, escalationist school never felt comfortable among Arabs, did not empathize with them; neither did they feel respect towards their culture and mode of life.

Unlike Sharett, neither of them could speak fluent Arabic, read Arabic newspapers, or listen to Arab radio broadcasts. They belonged, as the saying goes, to those in Israel who "view the Arab problem through rifle sights." Their grasp of the Arab-Jewish conflict was therefore limited and short-sighted. They maintained that the Arabs must be - and can be - struck down whenever they raise their heads. Sharett, on the other hand, questioned whether this solution was attainable and valid. Consequently, he doubted whether this prognosis should be embraced to implement the vision of Zionism.

This is not to say that Sharett was oblivious to the basic Arab-Jewish conflict. He was a committed Zionist, and as such, aspired for mass immigration of Jews from all corners of the world to Palestine, hoping for the day when the Jewish community in this country would evolve, by its sheer magnitude, into an autonomous entity and eventually into a sovereign state. He knew that this process would entail a deepening conflict between the two vying national communities in Palestine –the Arab majority and the Jewish minority. However, at the same time he did not regard the Arabs as enemies to be vanquished. He recognized their national aspirations and frustrations. He believed they would come to terms with the Jewish national enterprise in Palestine when they recognize that it could not be eradicated, and that this recognition could be achieved by peaceful means, by moderation, and by compromise.
But let's retrace our steps.

During tile last year in the Herzliah Gymnasium (high school) of Tel Aviv, Sharett became an active member of a small coterie of classmates, each vowing to dedicate his or her life to the implementation of the Zionist vision in Palestine. In 1913, having graduated from the Gymnasium (valedictorian of his class), and looked upon by many members of the elite of the nascent yishuv as destined to join the leadership of the Jewish community, Sharett decided to study Ottoman Law in order to prepare himself for his future tasks. Consequently he enrolled in Istanbul University's Faculty of Law. At the time, neither he nor any other seasoned statesman could envisage the collapse of the Ottoman Empire within five years.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, Istanbul University closed down. All Muslim students were conscripted and sent to officers' training courses. Non-Muslim students, including Sharett, who had meanwhile returned to Tel Aviv, were conscripted in 1916. Sharett was sent to an officers' training course near Istanbul and, after receiving his commission, in view of his mastery of Turkish, German, and Arabic, was posted as a translator in a combat unit commanded by a German officer. He first served on the Macedonian front and later in southern Transjordan and in Aleppo, until the collapse of the Ottoman army in 1918. Sharett's military service was not an easy one. For most of the time, he was the only Jew in his unit, others being Turks and Arabs. Yet, true to his nature, he made the best of his experience. While serving in various post across Lebanon, Syria, and Transjordan, he cultivated close contacts with the local inhabitants of all walks of life, his knowledge of the area and its people, and of the Arabic language, forever expanding.

The war over, the 24-year-old Sharett decided to resume his studies. Palestine having come now under British rule, London replaced Istanbul, and his choice of university was the London School of Economics.

At this juncture, a pause must be made to register a historic event in which Sharett participated before leaving for London. This had to do with the creation in 1919 of the social-democrat labor party of "Achdut ha-Avoda" ("Unity of Labor," later Mapai), headed by members of an older generation, such as David Ben-Gurion and Berl Katznelson. It was then and there that Sharett's long and close relationship with Ben-Gurion –the man to whom he was destined to become "number two" for many years—began, a relationship at times pleasant and cooperative, at times stormy and enervating. During that convention, in view of his outstanding personal abilities, Sharett was nominated deputy-editor of the new Party's weekly organ as well as a contributor of articles. This marked the beginning of his journalistic career.

Sharett stayed in the capital of the British Empire from 1920 to 1925, majoring in political economy, mastering the English language, becoming familiar with the English democratic system, its cultural institutions and high standard of journalism, and devoting considerable time and energy to political activity in Zionist circle. He was employed by the Zionist Executive to scan the various Arab dailies published in the Middle East. In this capacity, he reaped a double harvest. First, his knowledge of political developments in this area became more profound. Second, a mutual acquaintance was cultivated between him and the top echelon of the Zionist leadership –first and foremost, Chaim Weizmann.

Labor leaders Ben-Gurion and Katznelson, who visited London several times on party missions in the early twenties, always met with their younger comrade Sharett. He aided them as a knowledgeable guide to the intricacies of British politics and facilitated their contacts with their counterparts in the leadership of the British Labor party. Although older than Sharett by close to a decade, these tow senior leaders found him to be an intellectual equal. Both of them maintained a constant correspondence with him.

In September 1921, having read Ben-Gurion's programmatic article in the party's weekly, in which the latter suggested that members of the party conduct cultural and political activity among Arab laborers in Palestine in order to divert them from the negative influence of their anti-Zionist effendis (landlords), Sharett wrote a significant letter to Ben-Gurion, in which he challenged his illusionary premises:

Is there really any sense in trying to convince Arab laborers and fellaheen of our right to settle in Palestine? Whose words would prove more convincing to them –ours, the foreigners and the hated, or the words of their sheiks and effendis, who live right in their midst and command the powerful instruments of racial and national instincts, as well as the effects of common language and of the Muslim faith? Moreover, we have fallen prey to the easy and simplistic illusion of being able to separate the so called "handful of effendis" from the "proletarian masses." You should know better: the masses of the Arab fellaheen have no need for the effendis to arouse their national feelings.

In no uncertain terms, Sharett, a mere university student lacking any status in his party hierarchy, felt free to criticize its leader Ben-Gurion for his unrealistic approach. In this very early disagreement with Ben-Gurion, he manifested not only his intellectual integrity and his ability to bring his party leader to task, but he also displayed an incisive and penetrating understand of the national character of the nascent Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine.

In 1925, a short time before his graduation from the London School of Economics and his return to Palestine, Sharett's Achdut ha-Avodah party decided to publish a daily newspaper in Tel Aviv by the name of Davar. When Berl Katznelson, who initiated this project, offered Sharett the post of deputy editor, Sharett accepted. Filling this post began his rise in the party hierarchy. In addition to his editorial responsibility for the front page of the newspaper, he started editing a weekly supplement in English and contributing articles on political issues to both publications. It was at that time, by dint of those articles, that his name became known throughout the rank and file of his party and the yishuv at large.

In 1931, as a result of the Labor Party's electoral victory within the World Zionist Organization, Dr. Haim Arlosoroff, a brilliant young intellectual of European background, was nominated as head of the political department of the Jewish Agency in Palestine (the operational body of the Zionist movement). Arlosoroff, who knew no Arabic and lacked expertise in Middle Eastern affairs, accepted the position on condition that Sharett become his assistant. Thus, Sharett moved up a notch in Mapai's hierarchy.

Very characteristically, Sharett's ascent from the domain of journalism to the political arena was not a result of his own ambition. The post, so to speak, was handed to him on a platter. It was not a result of his personal desire or politicking. He was simply offered it in view of his obvious wide-ranging capabilities, a very similar process to the one in which he was moved up from his studentship in London to Davar's editorial board in Tel Aviv. Indeed, this mode of ascent prevailed throughout Sharett's future political career: Sharett was not an ambitious climber; he was not a manipulator and schemer or one who elbowed his way up the careerist ladder while trampling on others. He gained his prestige and status by his own merits, in a kind of effortless, natural way. As a boy, he was the best pupil in his class. His parents adored and pampered him. He never had a head-on clash with his father, which could have contributed to his personal growth and to his becoming more of a fighter. When his father dies, Sharett, then 18 years old, had not yet rebelled against him and thus felt a psychological need for a substitute father. Joining Mapai furnished him with a new home and acquainted him with its charismatic leaders. In a way, Katznelson, seven years older than he, became a kind of father-figure for him, and later, when Katznelson died in 1944, Ben-Gurion, eight years older than Sharett, replaced him as such. It took Sharett quite a long time before he painfully freed himself completely from "father" Ben-Gurion.

In 1933, Haim Arlosoroff was murdered or assassinated on the Tel-Aviv seashore (the murderer has never been identified). It was universally accepted in Mapai that Sharett should take over his job. From then on, in his capacity as head of the Jewish Agency's political department –the future Israel's Ministry for Foreign Affairs—for the next fifteen years until the end of British mandatory rule in Palestine and the establishment of the Jewish State in 1948, Sharett and Ben-Gurion, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, on the whole worked hand in hand in harmony. In spite of several serious conflicts that erupted between them from time to time, they were united by the great aim of fortifying the yishuv with a view towards the attainment of independence.

One source feeding these occasional clashes was the delicate relationship within the leading triumvirate of the Zionist Organization: Weizmann-Ben-Gurion-Sharett. World-renowned Dr. Chaim Weizmann, President of the Zionist Organization, was the moderate of the three. Ben-Gurion was the extremist. Sharett, the junior of the three, steered his rational and pragmatic course between his two senior colleagues. Ben-Gurion found it difficult to accept Sharett's independence of mind. At one point during 1943, when Sharett clearly aided with Weizmann, Ben-Gurion exploded and, treating Sharett as a defector from his camp, stopped talking to him for several weeks. Subsequently, they patched up this rift, but it seems that, ever after, they ceased to feel comfortable and spontaneous with each other. In later years, when once referring to that episode, Sharett said: "I compare our relationship to a priceless crystal vessel. It suffered a crack. It remained usable as before, but the crack, an irreparable one, remained there." As far as Ben-Gurion was concerned, he no longer seemed to view his relationship with Sharett as real cooperation but rather as a tentative "coalition."

However, Ben-Gurion and Sharett presented a united front vis-à-vis the British government in London and in Palestine. In 1936, they both accepted the recommendation of the Royal Commission headed by Lord Peel to partition Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. When World War II broke out, they both called upon Palestinian Jews to volunteer for service in the British army in order to fight the common enemy, Nazi Germany. Once the war was over, they were in full agreement that the time was ripe for an unconditional demand for the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine.

Somewhat paradoxically, it was after the great realization of the cherished dream –the establishment of the State of Israel in May 1948—that the Ben-Gurion-Sharett coalition began to totter. A new situation altogether faced Ben-Gurion, now Prime Minister and Defense Minister, and Sharett, now Foreign Minister. Until now, they had headed a political movement, the aim of which was to attain Jewish sovereignty over a maximum portion of Palestine, a country populated by an Arab majority and ruled by a foreign, colonial power. However, once the main goal was achieved and the State of Israel was born, it was extremely clear to Foreign Minister Sharett that a complete and basic change had occurred in the state of affairs. As a sovereign state, a recognized member of the international community, and as a member of the United Nations, Israel could not continue to behave as an ideological organization or as a parochial community. Achieving statehood meant, in Sharett's view, that Israel must abide by international law, respect the sovereignty and the borders of its neighbors, and accept as conclusive its own borders as defined by the final results of the War of Independence.

In other words, while in the pre-state era when ruled by the British Empire the Zionists were constantly trying to expand their territorial gains by purchasing land for the yishuv, the State of Israel, by virtue of its becoming sovereign and a member of the UN, could no longer pursue an expansionist policy. Sharett accepted the dictum that World War II and the establishment of the United Nations Organization had ended the era of colonialism and territorial expansionism by force.

It seems, though, that this kind of basic change was not equally internalized by many Israeli leaders, most prominently not by Ben-Gurion, nor by the Israeli public at large. Ben-Gurion, for example, refused to define Israel's borders in its Proclamation of Independence. He also minimized the part played by the UN in the establishment of Israel and referred to the power of this organization with a great measure of reserve, even to the point of calling it by disparaging nicknames. Another example of this turn of mind was given evidence in his keynote speech on Israel's seventh Independence Day, in which he proclaimed: "Our future does not depend on what the gentiles say but on what the Jews do!" Sharett, outraged upon hearing this demagoguery, argued that common sense dictated that Israel's future depended both on what gentiles and Jews said and on what gentiles and Jews did. One could clearly discern here the deep and widening gulf between the two leaders.

Sharett, by nature of rationalist and by position and capacity keenly aware of the do's and don'ts governing the international arena, wanted Israel to behave as a normal state. The achievement of statehood, to his mind, had a price tag attached to it: no more expansion, recognition of international rights as well as duties, respecting UN decisions and mediations, pursuing a non-aggressive policy toward neighboring states, and charting a policy striving for peace in the Middle East. Moreover, having devoted all of his time and energies toward the attainment of the November 29, 1947 decision in the General Assembly of the UN to partition Palestine and later to accept the State of Israel into the UN, Sharett argued that the special emphasis on the moral right of the Jewish people to build a sovereign state of its own, which had played a major role in prevailing upon UN members to grant the larger part of Palestine to the proposed Jewish state, obliged it to abstain from pursuing policies that could be defined as immoral. Otherwise it was bound to destroy the very foundation of and justification for its establishment.

Generally speaking, Ben-Gurion, a man of vision, felt much less bound by mundane considerations. He saw history as a flow of time punctuated by sudden opportunities to be seized upon for establishing faits accomplis. Level-headed Sharett was not oblivious to historical opportunities, but he argued that once the miraculous advent of Israel had occurred, and once the majority of UN members had recognized the increase of its territory resulting from its victory over the various Arab armies that had tried to destroy it while defying the UN partition decision of November 29, 1947 to partition Palestine, Israel should refrain from future adventurous political and military operations, to say nothing of further expanding its territory. Ben-Gurion disagreed. His political philosophy harbored a messianic strain, manifested time and again in his urge to engage militarily in geopolitical changes that would expand Israel's territory in the southern, eastern and northern borders.

It seems appropriate to cite here from historian Michael Brecher's interview with Sharett, where Sharett delineated the differences between himself and Ben-Gurion: "I am quiet, reserved, careful. Ben-Gurion is impulsive, impetuous, and intuitive. My capital C is Caution; Ben-Gurion's capital C is Courage." On another occasion, right after the Anglo-French-Israeli collusion in the 1956 War (which had been the reason for Sharett's forced resignation from government), he said in all insightful frankness:
As it appears that standing at this country's helm entails adventurism and deception, and seeing that I am not able to do either, it follows that I am not fit for that position. My nature dictates that I consider the risks and not rush into an adventure. I shall be cautious and not tempt fate. Therefore, I shall not lie, nor instruct others to lie. This is neither an expression of self-righteousness nor show of it. It is an admission of my limitations and their acknowledgment. There is a chasm between our political thinking and actions - they do not converge. Israel is being led down a road that is not mine. Things have gone too far --incontestable facts are being established. The new historic facts cannot be altered. I had nothing to do with them. I had control only over myself. Fundamental conceptions have been adopted that cannot be remedied in this generation, and in any event, the next generation will not be mine. I am prepared to assume that in the end, history will justify both the deception and the adventurous campaign. Be it as it may, there is one thing I am certain about: I, Moshe Sharett, am incapable of these deeds. I therefore cannot stand at the helm of this country.

During the War of Independence, when at one juncture Ben-Gurion's proposal to his cabinet that the IDF exploit a certain opportunity and occupy the southern pan of the West Bank was outvoted by a majority of one -that of Sharett- Ben-Gurion was deeply annoyed and later accused Sharett more than once of being responsible for that missed opportunity about which "generations will mourn."

After Israel's swift occupation of the Sinai Peninsula in the Suez War of 1956 (the Sinai Campaign), Ben-Gurion announced that this area never really belonged to Egypt to begin with, and should remain in Israeli hands. This step was indeed in full accordance with his messianic approach to realpolitik.

At the time, Sharett was no longer a cabinet member -having been forced to tender his resignation a few months prior to the outbreak of the war, as mentioned above. However, there is no doubt that he would have vehemently opposed going into that war, to say nothing of Ben-Gurion's predilection for territorial expansion.

A not altogether dissimilar instance had occurred about two years earlier, in February 1954, when Minister of Defense Pinhas Lavon and Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan pressed for the military annexation of a strip of Southern Lebanon and for the establishment there of a Christian state, which would, undoubtedly, in their view, make peace with Israel. At the time, Ben-Gurion, then out of government and staying at kibbutz Sde Boker in the distant Negev, pulled his weight to prevail on the cabinet to accept this expansionist plan. Sharett, then Prime Minister, simply vetoed it. In a personal letter to Ben-Gurion he said:
Is there any chance that the Arab League would accept the annexation of southern Lebanon? Could one surmise that the bloody war which would inevitably erupt as a result of our attempt would be limited to Lebanon only and would not involve Syria as well? And what about the Western Powers? Would they behave as passive onlookers in view of this geo-political upheaval? I am afraid that an attempt on our part to arouse the non-existent wish of the Lebanese Christians for a separate Christian state in Lebanon would be seen as proof of our shallow and rash thinking, if not as an adventurous speculation with the peaceful life and independence of another people. No power on earth will reduce Lebanon back to its limited pre-World War I size. I am against any such adventure which is bound to end only in disgrace. It is a crazy adventure.

To reiterate: once the State of Israel was established, a clash between level-headed, moderate, and cautious Sharett and volatile, messianic Ben-Gurion was inevitable. The problem facing Israel's leadership was the nature of its policy toward the Arab world, or, in other words, what was the most effective policy to achieve peace with the Arab world at the earliest possible moment. Here Sharett and Ben-Gurion clearly differed. Ben-Gurion was convinced that the Arab states, which attacked Israel on the morrow of its establishment with the clear aim of annihilating it, were planning a "second round" to compensate for their humiliating defeat in 1949. In order to prevent this military revenge, Israel must prove to the Arabs its preponderant military strength time and again. Any sign of Israeli weakness would immediately entice Arab aggression. In view of this consideration, Ben-Gurion was given to a policy of constant "retaliation." Each incident of Arab incursion into Israel on any of its long borders with Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt must be responded to immediately with a military blow. Eventually, once the Arabs realized that they had no chance of vanquishing Israel, they would accept its existence in their midst. Only then would they be prepared to make peace with Israel.

Ben-Gurion went a step further. According to his line of thinking, it might very well be that this series of military retaliations would not suffice. At a certain point, then, a preventive war against all or one of the Arab states would become inevitable. It is indeed not clear whether this reasoning originated with Ben-Gurion or with Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan, who had a far-reaching influence over him. It was Dayan's tenet that the War of Independence had not "ended" as it should have with the IDF's reaching the River Jordan and making it Israel's "natural" eastern border. It was only natural that the ideas of these two influential men were directly, as well as indirectly, absorbed by the combined Israeli military and defense system, forming the most formidable establishment in Israel, filling them with a sense of a great national mission.

Sharett's political philosophy clashed head-on with the above. His course of thinking did not follow from the present to the future, but on the contrary, from the future to the present. While acutely cognizant of the Arabs' spirit of revenge towards Israel, he reasoned that since Israel was forever destined to be a small, non-Arab island in the vast Arab ocean, and since ultimately it must reach peace with its neighbors, for it could not live by the sword forever, Israel should, from the outset, pursue a de-escalatory policy calculated to blunt the sting of their1948-l949 trauma. The Arabs must be given time to heal their wounds and come to terms with the new Middle East reality created by the cataclysmic emergence of Israel. Each military blow Israel inflicted on any of the Arab states could not but revive that old trauma, could not but regenerate the Arabs' feelings of humiliation, hatred, and revenge, and thus postpone ever further, if not indefinitely, the moment of their readiness to make peace. If Israel really sought peace, it follows that it must demonstrate moderation, not aggression; com- promise, not belligerency; restraint, not impulsive behavior -and the sooner the better, before it became too late to put down the rising flames of Arab hatred and revenge.

Sharett was outraged by the spirit of revenge and retaliation that was generally rampant among the commanding officers in the IDF. A modern state, he argued, cannot behave as a bedouin tribe in the wild desert. "These men are beyond me," he wrote in his diary about the IDF officers "They have grown accustomed to the idea that the army's morale cannot be sustained without giving license to vent its emotions by blood letting from time to time."

Following a bloody incident in which a Jewish settler in a border area was murdered by an Arab infiltrator, Sharett the public-minded statesman, could not ignore outraged public opinion over a chain of such incidents and therefore, against his better judgment, approved a military retaliation. On the same day, he confided in his diary:

This murder was considered the last straw, and anger must be assuaged. This is the only logic, and none other. From a security point of view I do not believe that retaliation will make the slightest difference. On the contrary, I fear that it will ignite a new chain of bloodshed in the border area. The edifice I have tenaciously taken pains to construct for the past months and all the measures of restraints I tried to install against Israeli retaliatory steps -all this is liable to be wiped out in one fell swoop. Come what may, I feel that I have no alternative.

Whether or not Sharett was right in this prognosis, he was practically alone in calling for its implementation. Even after Ben-Gurion's surprising retirement from the government at the end of 1953, paving the way for his replacement by his second-in-command, Sharett's premiership was untenable. For one thing, although Ben-Gurion kept to his distant kibbutz in the Negev, it was common knowledge that his sojourn there was only temporary. For another, Ben-Gurion fully backed the Chief of Staff, namely the influential Moshe Dayan. And moreover, the latter fomented his own political-military agenda, which resulted in his policy of aggravating the situation on the borders. In this imbroglio, it was only natural that Sharett would face grave, if not insurmountable, difficulties in his efforts to rein in the IDF.

Still, as evident from his diary, on assuming office, Sharett planned to put an end to the IDF's prognosis, ie., that Egypt was planning a war against Israel. He wished to replace that prognosis with its ensuing conclusions, by non-military means such as "activating solutions to the refugee problem by bold and concrete offers on our part to pay compensation; restoring good relations with the great powers; and ceaseless endeavors to reach an understanding with Egypt. Each of these courses of action," he wrote on October 10, 1953, "is liable to take us into unknown avenues, and yet we are not exempt from striving towards them."

It is important to bear in mind that Sharett's tenure of less than two years as Prime Minister was not only fraught with obvious, objective difficulties but was also too short-lived. Thus he never did really have a "fighting chance" to implement his political agenda. As if to prove Sharett's precarious position, a most unhealthy situation evolved in February 1955, when Ben-Gurion, in the wake of the forced resignation of Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon, returned from Sde Boker to become Minister of Defense once again, under Sharett's premiership. This unhealthy situation was corrected a few months later, when following the general elections of July 1955, Ben-Gurion regained his former premiership. Sharett, acknowledging Ben-Gurion's seniority, remained in Ben-Gurion's new cabinet as Foreign Minister but was cruelly tom between his desire to serve as a moderate balancing weight in the new political constellation and his clear awareness of his political weakness opposite the revived Ben-Gurion-Dayan coalition. It was obvious to all political observers that his days in government were numbered.

Sharett himself was certainly aware of the personal consequences his opposition to the stronger Ben-Gurion must inevitably bring about. His moral integrity and political philosophy led him time and again to clash with Ben-Gurion -before Ben-Gurion became Prime Minister again, as well as afterwards. Even though he was not a charismatic and feared leader as was his opponent, Sharett fought with all his weight against a series of Ben-Gurion's proposals in the cabinet to approve military retaliations against Israel's neighbors, and at least four times he outvoted Ben-Gurion, thus thwarting major operations (such as the capturing of the whole Gaza Strip, or of the Eilat-Sharm-A-Sheihk strip on the Red Sea). It was only natural that the frustration that Prime Minister Ben-Gurion suffered at Sharett's hands would exacerbate their relations even further.

But while Sharett succeeded several times in carrying the majority of cabinet members with him, he was not prepared to bring about a showdown between himself and Ben-Gurion in the higher institutions of their common party of Mapai. For Sharett was essentially not an ambitious politician aiming at reaching the top. He had no autocratic strain in his personality, so consequently, he was neither a feared nor adored leader inside or outside Israel. When elected Prime Minister, he told his colleagues that he would like to operate on the basis of constant consultation and cooperation with them. (When one of them retorted that he should hope that the gentiles would not stand in his way, he said: "Let's pray that the Jews do not stand in my way!") Inevitably, this position of Sharett's weakened his leadership right from the start of his premiership. His followers were numbered, all others gravitated towards the seat of power, occupied by Ben-Gurion, the autocratic, charismatic, feared and worshiped leader, who generally found it superfluous to consult with anybody but himself.

In one major case, Sharett the Prime Minister failed to thwart Minister of Defense Ben-Gurion's proposal for a military retaliation against Egypt when he gave his approval to the so-called "Gaza Raid," in which an IDF elite unit, commanded by Ariel Sharon, attacked an Egyptian army camp on February 28, 1955, killing more than 40 soldiers. Sharett deeply regretted afterwards the approval he had given for this operation (as it turned out, its scope was enlarged without consulting him), but the far-reaching damage was done: Nasser, his army put to shame, decided to buttress his military might and speedily purchased a great deal of arms from the Soviet Union, thus giving a fateful push to the arms-race in the region.

In view of the gradual implementation of the Egyptian-Soviet arms deal, IDF experts assumed the modernized Egyptian army would be ready to initiate a heavy military strike against Israel by mid-June 1956. Dayan and Ben-Gurion started to consider waging a preventive war against Egypt before it became too formidable to overwhelm. However, Ben-Gurion was fully aware that in the event, he could expect Sharett's unquestionable opposition to this plan, and that with his powerful reasoning and eloquence, the latter could sway the majority of the cabinet to side with him on this occasion too. Moreover, Ben-Gurion was aware that in view of Sharett's prestigious position in the cabinet, in Mapai, and in the public at large, it would be heedless of him to conceal from him his secret war plan (as he eventually concealed it from most of his ministers, almost to the last moment). Ben-Gurion's only way out of this complication was to get rid of his opponent. In mid-June 1956, Ben-Gurion presented an ultimatum to the president of Mapai -either he or Sharett- the party had to choose between the two. If Sharett were to stay on, he, Ben-Gurion, would resign immediately.

The party's choice was predictable. Ben-Gurion won the day. Sharett tendered his resignation. Though he believed he had a reasonable chance of convincing Mapai's Central Committee of the soundness of his policy of moderation and of the basic mistake involved in opting for a war in which Israel would be the obvious instigator and obvious aggressor, Sharett characteristically desisted from fighting back. He reasoned, perhaps correctly, that in that case, it was not too far-fetched to surmise that Ben-Gurion, being backed by the IDF top echelon and the whole defense establishment, would continue to fight him. The result would be a devastating split in Mapai that would make his position as Prime Minister untenable. Moreover, during that momentous event of Ben-Gurion's ultimatum, none of Sharett's Mapai colleagues in the Cabinet sided with him. They were all under Ben-Gurion's charismatic spell. Sharett, a lonely, single, real dove in the midst of these war-like hawks, asked himself: suppose I do win the rank and file of the Party, can I go on collaborating with these colleagues, who have just succumbed to Ben-Gurion's ultimatum and agreed with his aggressive, escalationist policy? Thus, on June 18, 1956, he preferred to resign.

What Sharett did not know was that during the last few months of his tenure in Ben-Gurion's government as Foreign Minister, representatives of the Defense Ministry, at Ben-Gurion's direction, had begun clandestine talks with their French counterparts in order to amalgamate their collusion aimed toward toppling President Nasser. It was in this context that, on June 22, only four days after Sharett's forced resignation, an Israeli mission -established while Sherett was still at the helm of his Ministry- headed by Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan and General Director of the Ministry of Defense Shimon Peres, flew to France where they agreed to cooperate militarily with France against Nasser's Egypt. Little did Sharett know, at the time of his forced resignation, that Ben-Gurion and Dayan had already decided that war against Egypt was unavoidable, and that thus he was destined to be its first victim. Sharett understood this only too late when he laid bare his thoughts in an entry in his diary on November 3, 1956: "Who was to know if these plans had not been germinating for a long time, and whether or not they had been part and parcel of the original cause for my dismissal at the time it had occurred?"

And on December 2, he added:
It is possible that from an historical and objective standpoint, the nation was ordained, as it were, to seize upon this course of action of the Sinai Operation, and on none other. Who is a prophet to tell? But whatever the truth may be, it was evident to all that the operation and the victory involved casualties and losses and new dangers -in all aspects and on all fronts. It was also clear to me that I was one of the casualties. As a statesman, I have fallen in the battle, and that loss should be recorded as well.

But was Sharett the man the real victim of this fateful military action -of this first optional war of Israel, called in its annals "The Sinai Campaign"? Or was it his policy of moderation that was annihilated on the battlefield? Sharett the man and statesman was certainly removed from Israel's political arena. As an individual, he forever lost his prestigious position. But looking at it from another angle, with his departure, did not Israel lose -and for many years to come- a balancing weight, a force capable of curbing aggressive and expansionist impulses, of preventing useless, superfluous wars?

The question is easier to ask than to answer. It seems that we are confronted here with perhaps one of the greatest "ifs" of Israel's history. And surely one could also ask whether a moderate, rational statesman, by definition, must always be the weaker party vis-a-vis the self-assured political extremist and rouser of emotions.

Still, the future series of wars and mini-wars and Intifadas which befell Israel ever since the 1956 War seem to indicate that while the man and statesman Moshe Sharett has gone into almost total eclipse, his conceptions of moderation and of conflict management are too obstinate to vanish. Indeed, they seem to be ideals searching for a leadership of integrity, high moral principles, courage and eloquence, around which the people should rally -a leadership that Israel seems painfully unable to produce..

Friday, December 24, 2004

The eye of the needle that is Gaza
By Yitzhak Laor

Under cover of the disengagement the Labor Party folded, and it also looks very bad, and petty. Worse: Under cover of disengagement, the Education Ministry will continue doing what in any case the generals of the Labor Party do not oppose, and don't even know what to say against it; under cover of the disengagement, Benjamin Netanyahu will continue his economic policies, and Meretz-Yahad "won't let the radical right bring him down," and so forth and so on. Hasn't the time come to look at this format as the way our politicians survive?
There was a time when the distinction between left and right was somehow tied to their economic and social doctrines. The foundation of the dispute was not only about a weltenschaung, but representation of different sectors of the population. Even if it was not strictly along class lines as in Europe or Latin America during its moments of democracy, nonetheless the distinction included a form of connection between the world view and the constituency.

That political distinction between left and right in Israel was lost only after 1967. Did the territories swallow those political distinctions? Not necessarily. What did happen, along with all the domestic developments, was the turning of the territories into a political issue, around which the politicians managed to organize their disputes with greater success.

First they quarreled over "liberated territories" as opposed to "administered territories." The "occupied territories" only appeared in the lexicon of Rakah and Matzpen. The territories turned into a debate over "all the territories in exchange for peace" against "peace for peace." Only external events changed the political positions: the Yom Kippur War, American pressure, intifada, the fall in Lebanon. But gradually, with the integration of the territories in Israel, or more accurately, the deepening of the annexation, it was impossible for the political system, or for that matter, the military or economic system, to accept the position of "all the territories for peace."

Thus, the doves of Labor (where Yossi Sarid grew up) retreated to Meretz. But in the same way, with the deepening control over the territories, Meretz retreated toward positions that included formulations like "the large settlement blocs" and "territorial exchanges," a fake formula if ever there was one.

In short, the political, military and economic systems, in their entirety, accepted the settlement enterprise as a fact of life. Nonetheless, there was a need for something to argue about, because it is only through those arguments that one creates "the public represented by the politicians." Thus was born the new eye of the needle, at the end of the road, through which the entire Israeli ideological debate is now strung - disengagement.

Sharon does not deny that he intends to continue controlling the West Bank. All his talk about what's wrong about controlling another nation is shelved the minute the conversation turns to the West Bank, as if there is no nation there being controlled by another nation. Labor's people can speak emotionally about "bringing the boys home," as if "the boys will come home" from their guard duty around Gaza, as if the guarding will not be dependent on the army, on searching for tunnels, and on further engagements.

Meretz's people and the doves can talk all they want about dismantling settlements as part of a process, but none of them truly expects Sharon to dismantle the main settlements in the West Bank, the settlements that slice it into cantons. But, since the political system needs to invent subjects for debate to keep their constituencies going, there is no safer argument than the "departure from Gaza." Since 1967, Gaza has been a favorite subject for the opponents of annexation and a laboratory for "eradicating territory," a "a settlement enterprise of real agriculture," and mostly for extreme ghettoization, that the entire political system, including Meretz-Yahad, supported.

The entire "leftist" celebration over Sharon's retreat from "the dream of the Greater Land of Israel" has already taken place, in those same columns, same pages, sometimes the same writers, when Netanyahu gave up a little of Hebron to enable the settlers to expand their control over that unhappy town. Here, therefore, is the renewal of Israeli democracy: the "territories" are no longer a subject good enough to discuss, so the debate is narrowed down to Gaza, the eye of the needle. The problem is that it is impossible to shove through that needle's eye the thick rope of the political crisis of the occupation.
Court erupts over expert's testimony on `Arab mentality'
By Yair Ettinger

The Haifa District Court was thrown into disarray yesterday during testimony given by an expert witness on behalf of the State Prosecution in a case involving the Islamic Movement. At the height of the uproar, Judge Micha Lindenstrauss ordered one of the five defendants, Dr. Suliman Agbariya, out the courtroom. In protest, the remaining defendants and their supporters left the courtroom, too, directing cries of "You're a Nazi" at the state's expert.
The Arab mentality is made of "a sense of being a victim," "pathological anti-Semitism," and "a tendency to live in a world of illusions," said Prof. Rafi Israeli, a lecturer in Middle Eastern studies at Hebrew University, on the witness stand yesterday, adding that the Arabs neglect sanitation in their communities. "Most of the Arab villages are dirtier, physically - it's a fact," he said.

Professor Israeli is the last of the prosecution's witnesses in the case against five Islamic Movement members accused of security and financial offenses.

The defense initially requested that Israeli's testimony be rejected, claiming the professor is identified with the extreme right - but his testimony was heard.

The professor's entire testimony, which began last week and was completed yesterday, was accompanied by interjections and outbursts of emotion. Israeli was summoned to testify on an opinion he rendered at the request of the prosecution and according to which there exists an ideological similarity between the Islamic Movement under Sheikh Ra'ad Salah and the Islamic Brotherhood and Hamas. Like the Islamic Brotherhood and Hamas, Israeli believes, the Islamic Movement is a subversive organization that seeks the destruction of Israel.

During cross-examination yesterday, Israeli was asked to respond to questions on a number of issues concerning his viewpoint on the Arabs in Israel, Islam in general, and the sketch he offered of the nature of "the Arab mentality."

The cross-examination, handled by attorneys Avigdor Feldman and Riad Anis, focused on the opinion Israeli wrote for the prosecution and, primarily, on quotes from a book he published in 2002 in which he describes Israel's Arabs as a fifth column "that sucks on the udders of the country."

Yesterday in the witness box, Israeli reiterated that the Arabs were "a burden on the state."

During the course of the court hearing, Sheikh Ra'ad Salah likened Israeli's opinions to those of the Nazis. Similar views, Salah said, "caused the people of Israel to fall in the Holocaust."

Addressing Israeli, Salah said, "You are the danger; you are the worm of your people."

The Islamic Movement and its defense team expressed shock and outrage at the choice of Israeli as a witness for the prosecution. "It's a shame and a disgrace," said attorney Feldman, noting he would be taking the matter up with the attorney general "to see if he stands behind this testimony."

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Letter published in Jewish News

Your editorial is one of a number of articles I have seen recently which give advice to the Palestinians on whom they should elect as President, a matter, of course, on which they will make up their own collective mind. It is however, your assertion that, should Mustafa Barghouti win or even receive a significant proportion of the vote, negotiations would automatically freeze again that I take exception to. What you say would imply that the Israeli government was using President Arafat as an excuse to avoid negotiations over the last several years, but what are the facts?

Certainly Barghouti is in jail having been convicted of murder, and, although he was tried by an Israeli military court and refused to defend himself because he did not recognise its jurisdiction, that is a very serious issue. On the other hand, if he did receive endorsement from the Palestinians and was thereby enabled to negotiate seriously with Israel, that would be a very positive development.

And what of Prime Minister Sharon? It is a fact that he has a history of aggressive violence over his long career, and that his own hands are very far from clean. This history ranges from his leadership of Unit 101 in the early 1950's, which carried out a number of murderously effective raids on Arab villages; through his brilliant Suez campaign of 1973; the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 which gave few benefits to Israel at the cost of huge civilian casualties and resulted in Sharon's resignation as Defense Minister because of his complicity in the massacre of several thousand civilians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon; to the reoccupation of Palestinian towns and villages during the current intifada using overwhelming military force and resulting in 3000 Palestinian deaths and almost 30,000 injured, mostly civilians, an action I would categorise as state terrorism.

The point of this listing is that it is hypocritical for the Israeli government to pass judgement on whom they are willing to negotiate with when the current Israeli Prime Minister has a record like this--and he isn't the only one. If justice and peace are ever to be achieved, both sides will have to put such judgements on one side, and work with the negotiators mandated by their own people in good faith. The progress achieved in Northern Ireland, unfinished as it is, shows what has to be done and what can be done.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Mike Barnes

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Last update - 01:39 18/12/2004

Likud, Labor agree to form government
By Mazal Mualem, Haaretz Correspondent

Likud and Labor have struck a deal which will enable the Labor Party to join Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's ruling coalition, it was reported Friday night.

According to the report, Labor leader Shimon Peres phoned the head of the Likud negotiation team, attorney Yoram Raved, on Friday morning. The two met in Tel Aviv and finalized details of the agreement that will enable Labor to join the government.

"They have reached an agreement. They will meet tomorrow (Saturday) to summarise it," Shariv said on Friday.

An official agreement is expected to be signed on Sunday.

Under the agreement, Labor will receive eight portfolios in the new government. Among the portfolios are the Interior Ministry, the Housing and Construction Ministry, the Infrastructure Ministry, the Tourism Ministry and the Communications Ministry.

Shimon Peres will be granted a new title, Deputy Prime Minister in the Prime Minister's office, while current Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will retain his title. According to the report, Olmert had threatened to resign if the role of deputy prime minister was transferred to Peres.

Several social and financial agreements were also achieved as part of the deal between Israel's two largest parties.

Pension allowance annual cutback, which stood at 4 percent, will be lowered to 1.5 percent per year. Labor said it would demand next year the 1.5 percent cutback be also scrapped.

Likud also agreed to add 500 additional hospital beds to state-run medical centers. Furthermore, NIS100 million will be transfered to the medical drug basket.

Itzik comments anger PM
Absent from the meeting was chief Labor negotiator MK Dalia Itzik, who irked the prime minister Thursday by telling Labor party members that Sharon was "groveling" to get Labor into his government. As a result, Sharon suspended the talks on Thursday night.

Sharon allowed the resumption of talks to take place Friday only on condition that Itzik would not be present.

Sharon's anger was aroused Thursday when Itzik told the Labor Party convention that the premier was courting Labor to get the party to join his government. "He's running after us, not we after him," she said. "After 30 years, they [Likud] are seeing how right we were... They are contractors implementing [our policies]."

Labor sources insisted that the talks reached an impasse not due to Sharon's fury, but because the Likud had offered no substantive responses to its demands. Likud negotiators retorted that the impasse arose because every time one problem was solved, Labor introduced another demand.

"We've had enough of Dalia Itzik's games," said one Likud source furiously.

"We don't need the political capital that Itzik is making at the prime minister's expense, but genuine partnership... Let's see who grovels now."

"Itzik's behavior doesn't demonstrate a desire for partnership, but an attempt to extort additional portfolios," added another.

Shas announced Thursday it will not join the coalition at this stage due to its objections to the disengagement plan.

In contrast to the stormy negotiations with Labor, talks with Shas ended amicably. Likud and Shas published a joint statement Thursday saying they will continue their dialogue, and if the diplomatic situation changes, making it possible to leave Gaza by agreement rather than unilaterally, Shas will reconsider its opposition to disengagement and the possibility of joining the government. Portfolios also will be kept open for the party.

Sharon will meet with Shas Chairman Eli Yishai Sunday to launch the continued dialogue.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

At the gates of Yassergrad
By Amir Oren

In order to prepare properly for the next campaign, one of the Israeli officers in the territories said not long ago, it's justified and in fact essential to learn from every possible source. If the mission will be to seize a densely populated refugee camp, or take over the casbah in Nablus, and if the commander's obligation is to try to execute the mission without casualties on either side, then he must first analyze and internalize the lessons of earlier battles - even, however shocking it may sound, even how the German army fought in the Warsaw ghetto.

The officer indeed succeeded in shocking others, not least because he is not alone in taking this approach. Many of his comrades agree that in order to save Israelis now, it is right to make use of knowledge that originated in that terrible war, whose victims were their kin. The Warsaw ghetto serves them only as an extreme example, not linked to the strategic dialogue that the defense establishments of Israel and Germany will hold next month.

At around the same time, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer will visit Washington, and one of his interlocutors there, Secretary of State Colin Powell, will appear in two consecutive days of hearings before the foreign relations committees of the Senate and the House, where he will face trenchant questions about the Palestinians and terrorism in general and about Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in particular. Ben-Eliezer may find himself flanked on the right concerning the Palestinian issue, so much so that he will be left without ammunition for another item on his list of missions - Israel's reservations about the Americans' sale of advanced weapons (particularly the latest model of the Harpoon sea-to-sea missile) to Egypt.

The old and ludicrous slogan of one of his predecessors - "I came to strengthen and I emerged strengthened" - threatens to be manifested in Ben-Eliezer: the Americans are competing with the Israelis in taking an aggressive, suspicious attitude toward Arafat. The transfer of power from Ehud Barak to Ariel Sharon turned out to have less of an influence than George W. Bush's climbing into the hot bed of Bill Clinton. The two most important dates in the history of the present confrontation between the Israelis and the Palestinians are January 20, 2001, when Bush took office, and September 11. Now even the skeptics admit that Arafat made a colossal blunder in his reading of the world map, from the American point of view.

The shares could fall

Despite the images of the armored raid in Tul Karm; despite the headlines, in the wake of terrorist attacks, about an Israeli decision to get rid of Arafat and bring about the collapse of the Palestinian Authority; despite the frequent warnings about Ariel Sharon's "grand plan" - the fact is that all these interpretations have been proved wrong so far, and not by chance. Even more than Sharon hates Arafat, he loves himself. Sharon wants to stay in power and be prime minister until - and after - 2003. A full-scale war in the territories, or even a constant display of impotence in defending Israel's cities and citizens against terrorist attacks, will not achieve that goal for him. In the shadow of the gap between the wish and the decision lie the constraints, external as well as internal. Instead of devouring Arafat whole, as he would do if there were no constraints, Sharon is nibbling at him, nibbling and gnawing.

The dispute between the proponents of the Sharon school of thought (of which Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz is the major embodiment, though his summations in discussions are less militant than his opinions) and that of Ben-Eliezer was sharpened in the past two weeks in the wake of Israel's seizure of the weapons ship Karine A. The subject on the agenda was the entry into the "working plan" of the Central Intelligence Agency chief, George Tenet. Palestinians who are close to Arafat and object to his policy urged the Israelis to take advantage of the sharp downturn in violence - and the easing of the situation for the population - that followed the terrorist attack at Emmanuel and Arafat's speech on December 16, and take up the Tenet plan. They argued that the plan, which includes a degree of mutuality in the operations of both sides, would enable them to demonstrate equality, as distinct from capitulation.

The moderate school in the defense establishment found this proposal positive: the mutuality is one of principle rather than quantity (the burden on the Palestinians is four times as great as that on the Israelis), Arafat is at a low point, the emissary Anthony Zinni is demanding vigorous, quantifiable deeds from him.

Sharon rejected this approach. He has grown fond of the continuing sight, the result of chance - no one planned it - of Arafat under siege in Ramallah and his strength running out. He wants to wait a little longer, exert more pressure, extract the maximum from the situation - he's like an investor who follows the fluctuations in the stock market and refuses to be tempted into buying cheaply a stock that is falling in value, because tomorrow it will be even more worthwhile.

It was into this policy of refusing to shift policy that the assassination of Raed Karmi fell. As with the dozens of assassinations that preceded it, its major dimension - without which assassinations are not authorized - was the effort to preempt future terrorist attacks. To obtain intelligence information and to reduce the risk of revenge, arrests are preferred over assassinations, and hits are limited in terms of surroundings (innocent individuals in the immediate area), level and context. As a rule, there are no assassinations of individuals who are either too senior or too junior - in military terms, no one below the level of platoon commander or above brigade commander. Abu Ali Mustafa ,the secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was most senior individual to be targeted, after it became apparent that his political activity could not be separated from his direct responsibility for terror attacks.

The leader of the Tanzim militia in the West Bank, Marwan Barghouti, is defying, by his involvement in terrorism, the ceiling of assassination targets. His main flak jacket now is not Israeli fear of revenge at his death, but Israel's desire to maintain a layer of Palestinian leadership, militant in its methods but moderate in its demands, for the post-Arafat era. Barghouti, who earned the reputation of a fighter through terrorist attacks but does not insist on the right of return as a condition for a settlement with Israel, is considered an acceptable potential candidate.

The assassination of Raed Karmi spawned two conspiracy theories. One holds that it was intended to foment the escalation that Arafat was in fact seeking, but in the form of a deterioration of the situation that would prevent him from rehabilitating his force and obtaining rockets and other weapons. Alternatively (or in addition), the Karmi hit is intended to thwart the attempt to get the sides back onto the negotiating track. Both interpretations are incorrect, or purport to rely on telepathy. The decision on whether to go ahead with an assassination is based on discretionary judgment, not on malice. In the discussions that preceded the Karmi assassination, the small number of people involved talked about the operational opportunity and the need to take out Karmi for instructing his people to plan and execute attacks. One of the generals warned that the intensity of the Palestinian reaction would depend on the display of Israeli responsibility. An official denial, he said, even if it is received skeptically, will reduce the risk of revenge attacks - as was the case with the mysterious explosions that occasionally killed terrorist activists even before the start of the current confrontation in September 2000. If he had thought that in the Israeli reality the policy of plausible denial (according to which Karmi's death was due to a "work accident," meaning a bomb of his own making that accidentally went off) would collapse within hours, the general said this week with regret, he would not have backed the assassination.

The IDF was taken somewhat by surprise by the meager resistance to the forces that entered Tul Karm. Things will be different next time, the IDF believes, especially if Arafat reaches the conclusion that there is no longer any prospect of getting the Americans back into his fold. Logic dictates that this will be the IDF's line of thought: The U.S. successes in Afghanistan were achieved without an Arab or Muslim alliance. The Karine A weapons ship exposed Arafat's two-faced posturing (and no less grave in American eyes, his contacts with Imad Mugniyeh, who works for the Iranians and Hezbollah and was behind the car bombs that took 260 American lives in Beirut). General John Keane, deputy chief of staff, U.S. Army, this week cited the attempt to destroy Israel and establish a Palestinian state in the same breath with terrorist crimes against the United States. After all these developments, Arafat is liable to entrench himself in Ramallah and establish a Yassergrad there as a trap for IDF armor.

He may well order tens of thousands of armed members of the Palestinian Authority security units (and the thousands of armed members of Tanzim and Hamas, whose help he enlisted by ignoring both his commitment under Oslo and the American demand to uproot the terrorist infrastructure) to launch a war of desperation.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Memoirs of an Anti-Zionist Jew

Hanna Braun

From a sheltered middle-class early childhood in Germany with only nominal connections--I don't believe this is, in fact, the case--but let's begin at the beginning--to Judaism, to active participation in the PSC, via a Zionist upbringing in Palestine, including membership of the "Hagana" and later the Israeli Defence Forces, seems a winding if not contradictory route to have travelled.

My family were not just German, but ridiculously proud North-Germans with a Buddenbrook like disdain for South-Germans, Jewish or otherwise. Austrians and East Europeans were beyond the pale. Our assimilation into German society had become deeply ingrained over generations, with religion playing a derisory role.

My first intimation of being Jewish came in 1933: that Easter I started school and was told the previous evening that I would be asked to state my religion and was to answer "Jewish", which, my mother assured me, was nothing to be ashamed of. Subsequent events soon proved otherwise: Hitler had come to power and most teachers increasingly railed against Jews in front of the class, some of the staff relegated us to one corner of the classroom and refused to teach us. Within a couple of years our former good friends had stopped playing with us and would no longer invite us to their homes nor visit ours. Increasingly, we were excluded from public places of entertainment: theatres, concert halls and swimming establishments to name but a few. To make matters worse, out went the Christmas Tree and Easter Eggs; the alternative festivals of Hanukkah and Passover were not a patch on them!

I remember concluding with a Jewish classmate that being Jewish was no big deal at all; in fact we heartily wished we weren't! The actual peril of German Jewry was largely concealed from us, probably not least because Berlin being a large city, Jews, and particularly the very assimilated ones, were unlikely to be known or recognized as such.

However, there was an increasing exodus from Germany and we followed in 1937. Most of our circle of friends and acquaintances left for other European countries, including Britain, or for the USA. I fear the majority of my relatives were too shortsighted to move at all, finding the idea of leaving Germany unimaginable till it was too late; most of them perished in concentration camps.

Why did we immigrate to Palestine? Certainly not because of Zionist ideals, particularly on my mother's side; however, father had two siblings who had become early Zionists- a rarity at the time- and had settled in Palestine around 1930. Their enthusiastic persuasion prevailed, not least after father explored the possibilities of finding a livelihood and was guaranteed secure employment with the British Mandatory Authorities as a specialist in electrical engineering (he had been working for Siemens).

And so we arrived at the port of Haifa on a beautifully clear and sunny morning in October 1937, in the midst of the second bitter Palestinian uprising, euphemistically termed "disturbances" by the British authorities and Jewish settlers alike.

At the time, the prevailing slogan was "Hebrew work for Hebrew workers"- translatable as a boycott of any dealings with, or employment of, Palestinian Arabs.

On a daily basis relations between the communities were not quite so clear cut: in many cities neighbourly relations continued; I recently learned from a Palestinian friend of my generation that not only did she go to a Jewish teacher for piano lessons throughout this period, she also spoke Yiddish quite fluently because of neighbouring families. Similarly, in Haifa there was a certain amount of intermingling and some areas were quite mixed until the "liberation" of Haifa in 1948.

The uprising (1936-1939) was aimed mainly at the British Mandatory Powers and at the new Jewish settlements which mushroomed continuously, often literally overnight. An old Ottoman law (still existing in Turkey) that allows a new settlement to remain legally in place once a watchtower and a fence are completed, was frequently used by settlers on disputed lands during nights.

By this time (1937-1938) even the most greedy of absentee landlords, often living in Beirut, had stopped selling land to the Jewish National Fund from underneath his tenants' feet. Palestinian Arab fears of Jewish settler intentions had put increasing pressure on landowners, while such intentions were being completely denied by the Jewish community. We firmly believed that settlements, widely termed "Pioneer Settlements", were developed on otherwise neglected and unused land and lacked any understanding of indigenous people's feelings -we were not taking their lands from them, or so the accepted wisdom went, but turning an arid land into a fruitful and productive one. To that end, levies were paid on most goods and all public travel, not to mention the obligatory collection boxes in all shops, classrooms, restaurants, places of public entertainment and in many houses. Proceeds went to the Jewish National Fund and to the Settlement Fund. Money also came from Jewish communities in unoccupied Europe, the USA and various British colonies. Years later, in 1950 or 51, I was a Teachers' Union delegate to some national conference in which a discussion took place on whether to continue these collections and levies, particularly in schools. I could not see the point, as by then we had a state and - so I naively believed - all the land we had wanted and more. I was outvoted by a large majority.

During my school years I became increasingly involved in the Zionist movement as well as the Socialist one, as indeed a large majority of young people were at the time, especially those who stayed on at school after the age of 14. We perceived no contradiction: we were combating colonialism in the shape of the British Authorities and our training, initially in unarmed combat, later in armed combat as well as in various endurance courses in the underground "Hagana" (defence) organisation, was aimed at this.

I relished the difference between living in Germany and Palestine from the start: the freedom from restrictions, the absence of the stigma and anxiety of being a Jew and last but not least, the beauty of the country, its climate and the general air of informality, of a common aim and purpose and of discarding the shackles of an "old" traditional lifestyle for a new, confident and assertive one, captured my heart completely. With hindsight, I realize that many of these sentiments led to a sense of superiority, self-importance, arrogance and aggressiveness, characteristics which are still often found in Israelis nowadays; for youngsters growing up, however, this was heady stuff!

Most of us dreamt of a pioneering life as founder-members of a new kibbutz; we had experience of working and staying in established ones, very poor at that time, as volunteers during the long summer holidays as well as weekends spent training in handling a variety of firearms. Most kibbutzim had hidden caches of arms.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian uprising had come to an end in 1939; I was not aware at the time of how cruelly it had been crushed - indeed, the existence of the Arab population seemed somewhat remote and shadowy, barely intruding upon our consciousness. I can well imagine white children in other colonial countries - India, various African countries - growing up hardly noticing the indigenous population, except as servants, menial laborers or strangers occasionally glimpsed from a coach or car window.

This was also the time of growing anxiety about family members who had stayed behind in Germany: by 1941 all news of them had ceased; prior to this my mother had been trying in vain for some two years to obtain a permit for my widowed grandmother to join us. However, a quota had been imposed as a result of Arab protests, triggered by alarm at the sharp increase in the entry rate caused by Hitler's regime. Elderly people stood no chance of obtaining a permit. For a long time, mother was distraught; grandmother, so proudly German, had been sent to a concentration camp, as had all my other relatives. Only one survived.

The war years touched the Jewish community mainly by the terrible common anxiety, amounting to dread, of practically all European Jews about the fate of family and friends left behind, and by the mobilisation of large numbers of young men and women and their recruitment into the British Army. There was also growing bitterness at the lack of action by the Allied Powers and Britain in particular, to try and rescue Jews in any significant numbers or to speak out against the terrible atrocities, news of which increasingly filtered through. Our poet laureate of the time wrote a poem of bitter indictment, cursing both the perpetrators of the atrocities and those who stood silently by.

Another, for me illuminating, aspect of the war years, however, (discounting a few rather feeble air attacks by the Italian air force) was that for the first time Palestinian Arabs, or at least a few of them, became real to me. We had finally settled in Haifa in late 1941. Prior to that we had moved around between Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa following my father's work in the government's telephone exchange modernisation.

Our neighbours in Haifa, as well as two other families in the street, were Arab. I became friendly with their eldest daughter, who was about my age, and was frequently in their house, always treated with friendliness and warmth although conversation was minimal: the little Arabic we learned at school was formal literary Arabic, fairly remote from daily discourse, and the female members of the family, as well as the father, knew only the colloquial spoken Arabic. They were first generation town-dwellers, who had moved to Haifa from Al-Tireh, a prosperous village not far away, ironically the location of my first teaching post - but of that later. I was fascinated by their lifestyle and attracted to much of it, not to mention developing a crush on the eldest son, who had recently graduated from Beirut University. Through my contact with the family I began to see Arab people as individuals, no doubt influenced by my mother's attitude to anyone she met, which showed a healthy disregard for origins or "race".

We had occasional help with heavy laundry from Arab women, often from neighbouring villages, and mother knew all about their families, homes and problems, with hardly any common language. She also persuaded my father, who had Arab colleagues, to obtain some samples and recipes of Middle Eastern cooking, which were added to our own repertoire. Even today I still have vivid memories of the sound of the old Napoleonic cannons in Acre across the bay, going off in the evenings during Ramadan, signalling the end of the fast.

Haifa was still reasonably mixed throughout these years and we often visited the largely Arab downtown area close to the port, with its mixture of large and small shops and stalls, a market boasting a wide variety of fresh products, particularly fish, small restaurants and, last but not least, the largest and best stocked bookshop in Haifa, "Habash".

One of my classmates took piano lessons from a notable pacifist Jew (Yossef Abileah), whose music school accommodated Arabs, Jews, Armenians, Greeks and others. Proud parents and friends sat together at the annual concerts. Years later, in Birmingham, I was invited by the Palestinian Student's Association to attend a talk given by him, pleading for peace and recognition of Palestinian aspirations. He had just returned from the USA, a frail old man, who, together with his wife, was still striving for justice.

As a family we also frequently visited Acre, Nazareth and other well known Palestinian - Arab towns and there seemed to be a feeling of mutual tolerance at the time, although I knew of no other Jewish people in Haifa who regularly visited Arab homes. No doubt others did exist, particularly in the mixed areas.

Towards the end of the war tensions escalated, especially between the Jewish community and the British authorities, but also between the former's main parties and the extremist right-wing "Beitar" party (led by the late Menahem Begin, later to become the "Etzel" and "Stern" gangs). Officially at least, the community defence force, the "Hagana", claimed to be at war with the right - we were instructed to tear down their posters wherever they appeared; we also attempted - in vain - to have two pupils who were members of "Beitar" expelled from our school. Most of us were still blind, though, to the hidden agenda with its dangers to the Palestinian Arabs.

In 1945 I completed school and went to Jerusalem to study. At that time, we were still free to wander about in the Arab part of the city - far more Arab than it is now, when so much of the Arab sector has been gnawed away, partly openly and partly by stealth. Tensions continued to mount, with terrorist attacks by Etzel (ex-Beitar) and Stern gangs, with frequent curfews imposed by the British, with desperate attempts to land illegal ships packed with survivors from Europe and with increasing demands for a Jewish state.

The 1947 declaration by the United Nations of the partition of Palestine and of the creation of such a state were greeted with wild jubilation and all-night street celebrations; we were somewhat taken aback by the grim and worried faces of Arabs the following morning - little did we realise that fighting had begun and that expulsions were already occurring in other parts of the country.

Hostilities escalated sharply after the unceremonious departure of the British in May 1948. Having for years played the game of divide and rule, successfully contributing to the animosity between the Arab and Jewish communities, they washed their hands of the affair and left the two sides to their own devices. However, most British police stations, in the main well fortified and stocked with ammunitions, fell into Jewish hands, as did prisons, radar stations and warehouses. Pure coincidence, I now wonder?

We finished our studies early that summer. Jerusalem had been under siege since winter and there was no electricity, petrol or other fuel and very little food or water. Since January most of us students and others had spent nights on guard duties for the Hagana in the hills surrounding Jerusalem. In June we became full-time members of the developing "Israel Defence Force". Many of us, however, had by then experienced the first of many deeply disturbing shocks: the massacre at Deir Yassin.

Early one morning in April 1948, a friend burst into my room with tears streaming down her face: "they are butchering everyone in Deir Yassin!" It took some time to sink in - we had been repeatedly told that the village's inhabitants were entirely peaceful and the senseless brutality of such slaughter was incomprehensible. Equally despicably was the parading of some of the male villagers in an open van through the streets of Jerusalem prior to being shot. Our only comfort, if such it could be called, was that the atrocity was perpetrated by the Stern gang, forerunners of "Likud". That fig leaf was torn away when, a few months later, Stern and Etzel members were incorporated into the regular army and their commanders became our officers. Complaints fell on deaf ears; we now had one state with one army, we were told. At this perilous time, everyone was needed in the defence of the fledgling state and meting out punishment would be counterproductive. Nowadays it is of course widely known that Deir Yassin happened with the full knowledge and cooperation of Ben Gurion, our first prime minister.

That summer there was a brief cease-fire and I returned to Haifa for a week. During my absence the "liberation" of Haifa and of many other towns and villages had occurred: Jaffa, Afula, Safad, Lydda and many more. We had been unaware of any of this in Jerusalem, being cut off by the siege. The inhabitants had been driven out, sometimes by straightforward attacks, at other times by different means, often by deliberately terrorising people. In Haifa, for example, Palestinian Arabs had been given 24 hours to leave; armed soldiers ensured they complied. The predominantly Arab downtown business area was cleared as well as purely residential areas: our neighbours as well as the owners of the two other Arab houses in the street shared this fate. My mother recounted the story with tears, my father with pride. The term "ethnic cleansing" was as yet unknown, it certainly was a very apt description of what was, and indeed still is, happening.

The large shops and business premises downtown were now "liberated" and in Israeli hands. Only one Arab quarter remained, as it still does today: Wadi Nisnas, a small, largely poor, ghetto-like part of Haifa. What had become of our Arab neighbours, indeed of all Haifa's large Arab population many of whose families had been settled in that city for hundreds of years? It was a nagging doubt that refused to go away.

Upon my return to Jerusalem, I was assigned to a regiment commanded by Moshe Dayan (later General Dayan, Chief of Staff, later still, prime minister). He had "liberated" Qalkilya, among other towns, and villages and used to boast freely of his fear-striking tactics: he had ordered his troops to release a veritable deluge of shrieking sirens, careering searchlights, massive explosions of shells, grenades and other ammunition, prior to mounting an attack on these places. By that time, most of the inhabitants had fled in sheer terror. Dayan was rather proud of his successes gained by this method; I believe he used it often. The fact that the Qalkilians, like all Palestinians who had fled or who had simply been away from home during the "Independence War", had lost any right ever to return was left unmentioned. Indeed, for a long time- far too long - I realise with hindsight, it was so much easier to believe the propaganda we were bombarded with: the bulk of the Arab population had fled despite Israel's efforts to reassure them and to persuade them to stay put. Moreover, Jews from a variety of Middle Eastern countries were suffering persecution and peril and had to emigrate, or so we were led to believe, so it was a fair exchange. It was not until the early nineteen fifties, when I encountered some of these "persecuted" immigrants, that a very different picture began to emerge.

In early 1950 all female teachers and nurses were released from the army and shortly after that I started my first teaching job in Al-Tireh, formerly a prosperous Palestinian village which we had often glimpsed from the main Haifa - Tel-Aviv road. I was astonished to see the fine, modern school building erected and then abandoned by the villagers: the general perception by the majority of Israeli Jews was that Arab village dwellers, with very few exceptions, were illiterate.

The village was now peopled by new immigrants, the bulk of them from Bulgaria and Turkey. Initially, we had no means of communication, but in time it became clear that many of our pupils' parents were less than happy in their new homes. All the Bulgarians had come from Sofia and were used to big-city life; the Turks also felt that the wonderful promises of life in the Jewish homeland had failed to materialise. All of them felt unneeded and even unwelcome; they had been dumped in abandoned villages - if they were lucky - and were usually unemployed or were overqualified for the jobs they were doing. The young men, of course, had immediately been drafted into the army.

My opportunity to meet some of these young soldiers came when I was called up to go on reservist duty: in February 1952 I was sent to Eilat for a month. At that time, it was nothing but a military camp on the shores of the Red Sea. I was assigned to a class of new immigrant soldiers who spoke no Hebrew. The hostility of the 25 or so young men I encountered on the first morning shocked me: they wanted to learn no Hebrew! One young Yemeni who spoke a little Hebrew explained that all of these men from various, mainly Arab, countries, had left settled and contented lives in their former homes. They had been persuaded by the constant urgings of Zionist propaganda to come to the aid of the new Israeli state, which was in danger being destroyed by the surrounding Arab states, as indeed were their own communities. They had been made to feel needed, perhaps essential; what they had not been told was that their main role was to act as cannon-fodder. On arrival, they were sprayed with DDT at the airport and then crammed into extremely primitive reception camps. Within a week or two they were drafted into the army for a three-year term and sent to their bases, often without knowledge of where their families had been placed or how they would survive economically. They were far from unaware of the very different treatment accorded to European immigrants whose camps were far superior, who received help in finding suitable accommodation and who were quickly given jobs. Vast numbers of Eastern immigrants now wished to return to their countries of origin as soon as possible - the Indians even held a sit-down strike in central Tel Aviv demanding their fares back - very few had this wish granted. One difficulty was the very high level of taxes levied at the time on Israelis travelling abroad. This was compounded by the fact that, at that time, all Jewish immigrants, on arrival in Israel, had been automatically made Israeli citizens, without being informed properly, let alone consulted or asked for consent. As a result, most had lost their original citizenship.

On a recent visit to Palestine and Israel I met an Iraqi who had been part of this influx; he told me that he still felt bitter about what had happened to him, to his community and to all the other non-European immigrants.

The Eilat experience opened my eyes to the reality of life for the new, mainly non-European immigrants. Later on I saw some of the purpose built, shoddy villages, literally in the middle of nowhere, in which many of them were dumped; quite often these were later abandoned and the disillusioned inhabitants were housed in - inferior - ex-Palestinian accommodation; the better type of such accommodation, particularly in the cities, had gone to European immigrants.

The increasingly blatant inequality of treatment that existed between the Jewish and the remaining Arab citizens of Israel began to worry and to raise doubts and even anger in the minds of progressive Israelis, sadly not many of them. This was explained away by "security" needs: dangers had to be faced up to, especially those posed by the "fedayeen" (armed intruders, many of them farmers desperate to get back to their lands). However, everyone knew that these were few and far between and only affected the southernmost and northernmost borders, not any centres of population. It made no sense not to allow Arab-Israeli citizens to travel freely, not to give them access to health, education and other services in any comparable measure and to restrict their entry into a whole range of studies and professions, not to mention into trade unions.

Some of these issues have now been addressed but many still hold true and today there is the added danger of "Judaisation" - of the Galilee, for instance, and of old villages and settlements being expropriated and their inhabitants transferred against their will. Today we are told that these villages and settlements had never been officially recognised and hence had never had electricity, water or road access introduced; at the time noone, at least outside government, had ever heard of unrecognised villages.

Our disillusion with the new state reached its climax during the 1956/7 Suez crisis: this could not be explained away as a security measure by any feat of the imagination - it was naked aggression! Most Israelis - excepting communist party members and some far sighted individuals - were jubilant.

We (I had married by that time and was living in Jerusalem once more) found that open criticism led to social ostracism in all but a few cases. During this period, our Indian postman (a graduate of Madras University) knocked on our door very early one morning to inform us in a frightened whisper that all our mail was being opened. So, when in 1958 Bristol University offered my husband a post as research fellow, we finally decided to emigrate.

For many years thereafter I still visited Israel fairly regularly but after 1978, following Menahem Begin's election as prime minister, I felt too alienated to do so any longer.

During my years in Britain I came across writings by early Zionists (the unedited version of Herzl, inter alia) as well as those by Palestinians such as Edward Said, R. Sayigh and others which had not been widely available in Israel, and I gradually came to realise that my perception of Zionism having lost its way was mistaken: Zionism had never been justifiable from its outset. I also met numerous Palestinians, mainly students, during the seventies in Britain and began to see their side much more clearly. However, it took the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 to turn me from a non-Zionist into an anti- Zionist.

At a large demonstration in London that summer I came across groups of like-minded former Israelis and/or Jews for the first time and discovered that I could become involved and active in this country. For an even moderately politically aware, progressive former Israeli, I believe this is an unavoidable consequence.
Hanna Braun
Coventry, 1991

Addendum: I discovered recently that Israeli citizens have either Jewish, Arab or Druze nationality rather than Israeli one – discrimination from cradle to grave. (2003)

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Just another swear word

Benjamin Pogrund Saying that apartheid lives on in Israel is a potent but vicious lie

South Africa''s apartheid died in 1994, but the word is alive: Israel is accused of being "the new apartheid" while its founding ideology, Zionism, is attacked as "racism". How true are these accusations? Mere repetition, however frequent, widespread and fervent, does not in itself give them validity.

Describing Israel as an "emerging apartheid" gathered force in the run-up to the UN anti-racism conference in Durban in August-September 2001 and was given aggressive expression there. However, after pressure by democratic countries, the subsequent conference of governments expunged virtually every attack on Israel from its final document. The 9/11 destruction a few days later pushed the "new apartheid" campaign to the back burner. But in Chicago, Ramallah, Johannesburg, London, Cairo, Sydney, the phrase is increasingly heard.

If the apartheid label is appropriate, it provides a potent political weapon. If, however, the usage is wrong it reduces the vile system of racism perpetrated in South Africa to just another swear word. It also raises questions about the motivation of those who apply it. Clear purpose can indeed be discerned in the efforts to make the apartheid stigma stick: to have Israel viewed as, and declared, illegitimate. That is, to challenge its right to existence — and to ensure that Israelis are made unwelcome abroad and that it becomes politically correct to boycott Israeli products and to discourage investment in the country.

The situations inside and outside the Green Line, the borders determined by the 1967 war, are intertwined but separate. First, the West Bank and Gaza. Israel is the occupier and no occupation is benign. Everyone is suffering — Palestinians as victims and Israelis as perpetrators. Everyone suffers deaths and maimings in the occupied territories and in Israel itself. Both sides are brutalised and corrupted. But however ugly it is, it is not apartheid. Palestinians are not oppressed on racial grounds as Arabs but are, rather, the competitors in a national/religious conflict for land. One group imposes harsh control over another, but this applies to any situation of conflict and conquest anywhere; to call it apartheid stretches meaning to illogical lengths.

The word "Bantustan" is often used in an accusatory way to describe Israel''s policy about a future Palestinian state. Bantustans were the tribal mini-states created as a means of depriving the black population of citizenship in "white" South Africa. The common element between Israel and the apartheid state is control, seen especially in restrictions on freedom of movement; so too is the grabbing of land. But the root causes are different. White South Africans invented the Bantustans to pen black people into defined reservoirs of labour, being allowed to leave only when working for white South Africa. The Israeli intention is the opposite: to keep out Palestinians, having as little to do with them as possible.

Second, Israel inside the Green Line. In South Africa pre-1994, skin colour determined every single person''s life: where you were born, where you lived, which school you went to, which bus, train, beach, hospital, library, park bench and public toilet you used, with whom you could have sex, what you could study, which jobs you had and hence how much you could earn; and ultimately, where you were buried.

In Israel, Arabs are approximately 20% of the population. In theory they have full citizenship rights; in practice they suffer extensive discrimination, ranging from land use, diminished job opportunities and lesser social benefits, to reports of a family ordered off a beach. None of this is acceptable, and particularly in a state that prides itself on its democracy. Discrimination occurs despite equality in law and is buttressed by custom — but it is not remotely the South African panoply of discrimination enforced by parliamentary legislation. Anyone who says that Israel is apartheid does not appreciate what apartheid was.

Nor does "Zionism is racism" stand up to scrutiny. Israel has a Jewish majority and they have the right to decide how to order the society, including defining citizenship. If the majority wish to restrict immigration and citizenship to Jews, that might be undesirable in universalist terms but it is their right, just as it is the right of Saudi Arabia not to allow Christians as citizens. Yet it is also clearly unfair to give automatic entry to Jews while denying the "right of return" to Palestinians who fled or were expelled in the wars of 1948 and 1967. This unfairness is a tragic consequence of war, which again is anything but unique to Israel.

The Jewish state was born in pain: it was attacked and Arabs suffered mass dispossession in the war for survival. The many thousands of Arabs who remained in Israel now constitute a sizeable minority. Most countries have minorities; the question is how they deal with them. Some, such as Burundi and Rwanda, or India in 1947, erupt into terrible violence. Greece has an estimated 200,000 Roma who enjoy almost none of the benefits that other Greeks take for granted. Christians are targeted for attack in Nigeria, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia and China.

A crucial indicator of the status of Israel''s minority is that Arabs have the vote; black South Africans did not. Certainly, Arab citizens lack full power as a minority community, but they have the right and the power to unite among themselves and to ally themselves with others. Change is possible in Israel, and is happening. One example: Mosawa (The Centre for Equal Rights for the Arab Population in Israel), acting on a recent law banning discrimination, has launched court action against a website offering jobs to Jews only.

Health is a visible indicator of progress. In South Africa in 1985 life expectancy was 71 years for white people; 61 for black people. In Israel, the gap between Jews and Arabs in the 1980s was 2.3 years; in the 1990s it was 1.2 years. And life expectancy for Arab males, at 74.4 years, compared with 69.6 for the white majority in European countries.

Critics dub the separation barrier that Israel is building the Apartheid Wall. The barrier, supported by most Israelis in the hope of gaining security against suicide bombers, is being used as a cover to seize land from Palestinians; it is the cause of immeasurable suffering. Machiavellian, a land grab, misperceived or thieving the barrier might be, but it''s not apartheid.

Underlying everything is the nature of Israeli democracy. That in turn depends on the conception of the Jewish state. Which in turn depends on the definition of who is a Jew. Each is evolving. Meanwhile, visionary, courageous leadership is lacking. Palestinians undermined the Oslo accords by continuing violent attacks; Israel undermined the accords by continuing to build on the West Bank and Gaza.

The spurious "apartheid" and "Zionism is racism" accusations confuse and distract. Instead, South Africa''s experience should be put to positive use. What can be learned? For Israel, that armed might and oppression cannot crush a people''s spirit and passion for freedom. For Palestinians, there is the African National Congress''s switch to armed struggle in 1961, with the decision not to kill civilians: this proved crucial in persuading white people that they had nothing to fear in negotiating with the ANC. And the most basic South African lesson of all, contact across the lines of division: to create trust so that an agreed future can be forged between Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis, and between Israelis and Palestinians.

© Benjamin Pogrund, 2004

Benjamin Pogrund is director of Yakar''s Centre for Social Concern in Jerusalem. He was deputy editor of the Rand Daily Mail, Johannesburg, and is author of books on Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, Nelson Mandela and the press under apartheid. This article is abridged from a seminar paper.