Israelis reconsidering views of ‘the Other’

Haaretz has had two interesting stories in recent weeks detailing attempts by Jewish Israeli peace activists to stimulate discussion and reconsideration among their compatriots regarding their views of ‘the Other’.
One of these stories was about a project jointly undertaken by Israeli conceptual artist Mushon Zer-Aviv worked and the brilliant Gaza-Palestinian writer Laila El-Haddad: They created a walking tour of Tel Aviv in which, by overlaying a map of Gaza City onto the map of Tel Aviv, participants could understand the spatial relationships among various different spots in Gaza City by visiting geographically analogous spots in Tel Aviv.
If you’re in Israel, there’s a number you can call, and then punch in numbers to hear Laila’s audio homage to her chosen Gaza City locations. Now, the YANH team has put the audio clips onto their website, too. So even if you’re not in Israel you can download a copy of the project’s map and take an audio-enhanced virtual tour around such Gaza landmarks such as the Arts & Crafts Village, the Palestinian Parliament building, Kathem’s ice cream parlor, etc…
In the Haaretz description of the project linked to above, read Laila’s thoughtful expression of her feelings about working with Zer-Aviv on this project.
The second project described/reviewed by Haaretz is the book about Israeli perceptions of Golan that peace activist (and longtime Golan resident/settler) Yigal Kipnis published recently about Israeli perceptions of Golan.
Reviewer Yechiam Weitz writes,

    The main argument put forth by Kipnis, a geographer and historian, is that the image of the Golan built up over those years in the eyes of the Israeli public was that “the mountain has become a monster,” in the words of a song by Yoav Katz, entitled “The Little Girl from Gadot” (a kibbutz at the foot of the Heights). This perception reached its climax in 1967, “but continued to be shaped and preserved in the collective memory, where it remains fixed to this day.” Kipnis asks if this image is justified, and he proceeds to respond to his own question in a way both complex and riveting.
    From the narrow point of view of the residents of the border settlements, who “underwent the routine of life in a war zone at a topographical disadvantage, the answer is decidedly yes,” writes the author. But this subjective memory does not correspond with the historical facts. In actuality, there was no justification at all for the menacing image of a Syrian Golan Heights. The primary reason for this was Israel’s military superiority over Syria, which only increased as the years went by. In this context, Kipnis points out something that is to a large extent an absurdity: “The greater that Israel’s military superiority became, the more powerful was the image, and the more Israel made use of its superior force, the power of the image reached new levels.”

This latter point is one that has much broader applicability in terms of the self-image of Israelis in general, I think.
I am really looking forward to reading Kipnis’s book in English. I do hope it gets translated soon!
Weitz discloses in the review that he himself is the son of Raanan Weitz, who was head of the Settlement Department of the Jewish Agency. He notes that Israel’s M in 1967, Levi Eshkol, had succeeded Raanan Weitz as head of the settlement department and had pursued jewish settlement efforts for many years prior to 1967.
Nevertheless, according to the research revealed in Kipnis’s book,

    Very soon after the war’s end, on June 19, 1967, Eshkol’s cabinet made a dramatic and secret decision: It would sign peace agreements with Egypt and with Syria based on the international borders. All the ministers supported it, including Menachem Begin, who had joined the government on the eve of the war and was a full partner in formulating the decision. It proposed “offering Syria a peace agreement based on the international border, ensuring Israel’s water rights, and the demilitarization of the Golan Heights.”
    The decision was conveyed to the American administration, which was to transmit it to the rulers of Egypt and Syria. Kipnis suggests that, “Contrary to conventional wisdom, Egypt and Syria did not reject the peace offer … for the simple reason that it was never passed on to them by the U.S. government.” When no reply to his generous offer was received, Eshkol understood that “the vision of a peace agreement with Syria was not about to be realized in the near future,” and he laid down the policy that there would not be a withdrawal from the Golan without a peace agreement. “This policy was based on the deployment of an
    Israeli presence on the Golan and on plans for settlement there, as well as demonstrating determination to hold on to it for as long as was necessary,” Kipnis explains.
    Eshkol led the settlement enterprise on the Golan until his death in February 1969…

I am fascinated by this assertion that Eshkol had transmitted to the Americans his withdrawal offers to both Egypt and Syria with, presumably, the clear expectation (or outright request?) that Washington pass them on to those two other governments– but that Washington never did send the message on to Cairo and Damascus.
If so, then the U.S. government bears a large degree of responsibility for all the human suffering that has been occasioned since 1967 by the long delay (in the case of Egypt) and the failure to date (for Syria) of the effort to secure a land-for-peace final peace between Israel and those two countries.
Most notably, given that today is October 7, we could say that the huge human suffering occasioned by the October War of 1973 could have been completely avoided. That war was launched by Egypt and Syria on October 6, 1973 with the express effort of restarting the long-stalled peace diplomacy (in the case of Sadat) and of both restarting the diplomacy and regaining the Syrian national land still held under Israeli occupation (in the case of Syria.)
We can also note that since 1967 some half million Syrian citizens– persons displaced into the Syrian interior by the 1967 war and the subsequent occupation, and their descendants– have been deprived of the right to reside or farm in their families’ rightful Golan homesteads; and the 17,000 or so Golani Syrians who have stayed in their homes since 1967 have been forced to live under a land-grabbing form of Israeli military occupation for 42 years now.
… Anyway, I am really delighted to see the attention being given to Kipnis’s book– as to the very innovative cultural intervention undertaken by Zer-Aviv and El-Haddad. The peace forces in Israel are so much better grounded in the history and realities of their community’s always tortured relations with its Arab neighbors than are most of the ardent “supporters of Israel” in the west! The ignorance many of these “supporters” display about Israel’s own past and present actions is often almost as great as their disregard for the rights and views of Israel’s Arab neighbors.

35 thoughts on “Israelis reconsidering views of ‘the Other’

  1. Eurosabra

    As the Israeli artists admits, “Laila does not believe in two states for two peoples.” Also, from looking at her website in the past, I know she wears the hijab. So I would be very, very guarded about an art project involving Tel Aviv by someone who describes herself first and foremost as “a gazawi mother” and who is transparently a one-state Islamic supremacist and I would be very careful to keep her and her sympathizers away from any position of power and influence on the future of Tel Aviv. I don’t think she’s only working by analogy, I think she really wants to see the city as Jaffa-Ahuzat Bayit, the Arab city with the tiny Jewish suburb.
    Re-inscribing Gaza in Tel Aviv is a bit different from the usual move, which Emily Jacir and Zochrot have also done, which is visually to re-inscribe the lost villages over and in place of Israel. I don’t know whether to thank them for conceptually over-playing their hand and telegraphing their intentions this early or be mortified at the support such ideas receive in Israeli-Jewish society.

  2. Helena

    And the relevance of Laila wearing a hijab is– ?
    Lots of men in Israel wear a kippah. Some of them are peace activists, many of them not. But I wouldn’t presume to judge what a person’s political views are by the degree of religious piety they display in their dress.
    So, she’s not a supporter of the two-state outcome. News bulletin: Lots of Jewish Israeli aren’t, either. Some of them support extending Jewish-theocratic rule over the whole of Mandate Palestine; some of them support establishinga unitary binational state in that whole area.
    Once again, you can’t judge or extrapolate a person’s views simply by using the simplistic rubrics you offer here, Eurosabra. “Transparently a one-state Islamic supremacist”– where do you get that from?

  3. David

    Just two minor points.
    “From the narrow point of view of the residents of the border settlements, who ‘underwent the routine of life in a war zone at a topographical disadvantage, the answer is decidedly yes,’ writes the author. But this subjective memory does not correspond with the historical facts. In actuality, there was no justification at all for the menacing image of a Syrian Golan Heights. The primary reason for this was Israel’s military superiority over Syria, which only increased as the years went by.” According to this philosophy George Bush was correct to ignore Osama Bin Laden because the US was militarily so much stronger than Bin Laden could ever hope to become. So how did 3000 people die? Simple, an enemy does not have to attack your strengths he can also attack your weaknesses. Yes, the Israeli military was much stronger than Syria’s but settlers at the bottom of the Golan had precious little warning if the Syrians fired artilly shells at them (Syrian strength) and would be just as dead despite the disparity in military strength.
    The second point concerns the “some half million Syrian citizens– persons displaced into the Syrian interior by the 1967 war and the subsequent occupation, and their descendants…”. I spent ten years living on the Golan and there aren’t enough homes, destroyed or standing or even an infastructue to support that many anywhere on the Golan. Your figure of a half million is too high by a factor of at least 5, probably more like 10.

  4. Eurosabra

    The difference, Helena, is that Israeli one-staters have no reasonable prospect of the world ganging up on Israel/Palestine to make their exclusionary and exclusive vision a reality, whereas BDS aims to use the EU and UN to do so for Palestinian one-staters. The fact that a believing Muslim under a believing Muslim government wants to implement HER vision for Tel Aviv gives me pause, at least, particularly given the role of Islam per se in Tel Aviv (Hassan Bek Mosque as center of resistance, etc) in 1947-48.
    I note from her blog that she believes Gaza is governed by the right people, the best people for the job, and as she is not a political theoretician of cantonization or bi-nationalism, to judge by her blog, while still being a one-stater, she wants to extend the rule of the “right people” over all of Mandate Palestine. It is the type of apolitical “Arabism and Islam and Islamism as domesticity” that she typifies that makes/made Algeria such hell for its non-Arab and non-Muslim minorities, and I doubt Israeli Jews will allow its extension to Tel Aviv if they can avoid it.

  5. Helena

    I hear your concern, Eurosabra.
    Israelis and Palestinians both have strong concerns about being “over-run”. Some of those concerns seem to me, as an outsider, to be rational, some of them over-blown and hyped up. But surely the best thing is if you talk about them to each other and try to avoid actions that would have the quite predictable effect of increasing the fear level of “the Other”?

  6. Eurosabra

    She has this most amazing openness to Israelis and the West, and a not-insignificant experience of both, while still combining it with the attitude that (god willing) there will be one Palestinian government by Hamas of all the territory of former Mandate Palestine. So she is simultaneously a very appealing and very frustrating figure, and the Israeli Right is right to fear her, given that the UN could conceivably vote us out of existence as a Jewish state on the strengths of the blogging of a bright, pretty, well-written Gaza soccer mom. Like everyone else, she wants only what is best for everyone, and I don’t think she quite realizes the depths of the antipathy her current government bears Israeli Jews, because she personally doesn’t feel such hatred.
    As for increasing fear of “The Other”, what we are seeing locally is grassroots wildcatting of violence, where individual citizens on both sides are taking it upon themselves to do so, and I don’t see what more can be done, as Jerusalem is already (geographically, at least) a somewhat easy city to police, with all of its natural choke-points. Short of blocking access to the Temple Mount and the Kotel to everyone, that is. Police force applied equally when warranted would provide the simplest peace-keeping incentive to counteract deadly violence by everyday people who do so when deadly violence is cheap and easy, a significant effort by Ir Amim to propagandize about the costs to civil life of one’s own community could counteract the temptation of low-cost, anonymous, cheap & easy deadly violence from a distance. “Don’t Do It, for Yourselves.”

  7. Shirin

    Your figure of a half million is too high by a factor of at least 5, probably more like 10.
    David, Helena referred to the Golanis ethnically cleansed in 1967 and their descendants. In 1967 Israel systematically ethnically cleansed the Golan of 96% of its Syrian population, and destroyed 95% of the towns and villages – its most successful ethnic cleansing operation to date. I don’t recall the exact population figures, but I believe the number ethnically cleansed was somewhere around 100,000. I can check the numbers later. The population of Quneitra alone was around 21,000. Today the number of ethnically cleansed Golanis and their descendants could easily be in the vicinity of half a million. Israel has illegally colonized, and is illegally exploiting the resources of their land and homes.

  8. Eurosabra

    The other thing is that the “monstrosity” of the Syrian SSM threat, with over 700+ theater-level missiles of low accuracy aimed at Israeli population centers, some of them certainly nerve-gas tipped, renders the debate about the military advantage of keeping the Golan somewhat moot: the occupied Golan is effective protection against infiltration and the type of harassing rocket fire coming from Lebanon, but no deterrent to an apocalyptic war. The mountains are an advantageous window into the area of Syria’s most concentrated threat, so from an Israeli perspective, if the real issue is 1947, or 1967, Israel prefers the Golan without peace to no Golan and no peace. Syria’s strategic dilemma is getting the Golan “plus”, the 1923 line, while giving only the “cold peace” of Egypt in exchange, and retaining as much influence as possible in Lebanon, and many Israelis think the Syrian goal is the dissolution of the State of Israel tout court.
    The 1973 war is also indicative of how very quickly a massive Syrian force based in the Golan could enter Northern Israel and cause massive disruption of military mobilization and civilian infrastructure, with immediate mixing of troops and population forming an immediate deterrent to Israeli use of battlefield nukes and the Syrian missile threat preventing use of Israeli strategic nukes, forcing a 1973-style defeat-in-detail on one side or the other as the practical result. South Vietnam almost disappeared in 1972, and did disappear in 1975, against a Soviet-doctrine military using mobility, mixing and deterrence of air against it in a very similar fashion to Syria’s attack on IDF in 1973.
    I know your intent is not to force Israelis to dwell on how easily they can be defeated by intransigent enemies unwilling to make peace, provided only that those enemies are willing to pay the cost, and how deterrence is their only hope, but that is the practical effect.

  9. David

    Shirin,
    When I read the paragraph the phrase “and their descendants” seemed to me to be in addition to the half million. It could just be the wording or the way I read it, if the descendants are included in half million I still think the figure is off by a factor of at least 2.
    I lived on one of the kibbutizm opposite Quneitra and I currenly live in a town of 35,000 in the mid-west and this town dwarfs Quneitra, I mean really dwarfs Quneitra, it’s population would not have been 21,000. Max 10,000.
    And I know this is hard to understand but unless the Israelis also removed the rubble from the majority of the houses they destroyed, leaving the rubble from just some of the others there isn’t evidence for 100,000.
    And then there’s the problem of what those people did. Even subsistance farming on the Golan is difficult, the ground is just rocks. Grasing livestock on that land requires vast areas.
    I’m not denying people fled, (I’m not going to use your word of “ethnic cleansing”, because it implies something more to me) just the number.

  10. Alexno

    some of them certainly nerve-gas tipped
    That’s a joke, EuroSabra, ‘certainly’. What you mean is that Israel has that weaponry, in far greater quantities than anyone else. I wouldn’t know whether Syria does, and nor do you (apart from Israeli sources).
    Of course, nerve gas is not a useful battle-field weapon. If it were, it would have been used, but it hasn’t, other than in the Tokyo subway.
    What you are doing is projecting a false threat in order to justify a might-is-right policy. Israel is in Golan by force of arms, against international law. Why not accept the truth? After all, Israel does not bother about international law.

  11. Shirin

    David, it seems clear to me that Helena was including the descendants of those who were ethnically cleansed in her number, but she knows better than I do or than you do what she meant, so I will defer to her on that question. I also imagine she has some actual basis for the number she presented, whereas you appear to have no real basis other, of course, than a desire to minimize it.
    On what basis do you insist that the number is off by a factor of two? Have you seen statistics for the Golani population from the Syrian government, or some other official, or unofficial body? I spent some time a number of years ago studying the attack on the Golan Heights, and events of the preceding years. That study included obtaining official population figures. Thank you, but I do have more confidence in the figures I obtained in my studies than in your obviously self-serving guesses. I also have more confidence in the documentation I have seen, and the testimony of Golani Syrians who were there than in your accounts.
    As for the term ethnic cleansing, of course you will insist on the standard Israeli lie that the people simply “fled” of their own accord, though the Israelis begged them to stay and share in the wonderful Israeli adventure in their country. The reality is that not only did the Israelis systematically cleanse the Golan of 96% of the Syrian population, they did so very selectively. In a number of documented cases they went into mixed towns, separated the Druze from the Arabs, expelled the Arabs, and allowed the Druze to stay. You see, the Druze are known to cooperate with and not resist whomever is in power whereas those pesky Arabs tend to resist foreign takeover of their land.
    The fact that Israel demolished 95% of the towns and villages is also evidence of active ethnic cleansing rather than your claim that the inhabitants simply upped and fled. It is a standard part of the ethnic cleansing process to prevent the inhabitants’ return by destroying their dwellings and their means of support. Israel did it pretty successfully in 1948, and they did it again in 1967.

  12. Eurosabra

    Alexno,
    Ha-ha. If the Syrians haven’t, they had better advertise the fact, because it would mean a significant de-escalation. As it is, some of the arsenal is based in Hama, also worthy of a bitter laugh.
    It’s not intended as a battlefield weapon, it’s intended partly as deterrent and partly as tool of genocide. Fortunately Syria is susceptible to logic of deterrence so far.

  13. Eurosabra

    Alexno,
    Ha-ha. If the Syrians haven’t, they had better advertise the fact, because it would mean a significant de-escalation. As it is, some of the arsenal is based in Hama, also worthy of a bitter laugh.
    It’s not intended as a battlefield weapon, it’s intended partly as deterrent and partly as tool of genocide. Fortunately Syria is susceptible to logic of deterrence so far.

  14. Shirin

    Hey, Alex, where have you been? Didn’t you know that Saddam shipped all of his WMD’s to Syria for safe keeping, and now that Saddam is gone, and Syria has no one to give them back to, Syria has them all pointed threateningly at Israel – at least the ones that are not buried in the Beq`a Valley? Everyone knows that because it was all published in WorldNet Daily.

  15. Alexno

    Thanks, EuroSabra, for your reply. I was expecting a list of links, proving that Syria has these WMDs ready to go (of course, from Israeli sources). Unfortunately, you don’t seem able to provide that.
    By the way, I was interested to know why you call yourself ‘EuroSabra’. The ‘Euro’ bit is contradictory to ‘Sabra’.

  16. J K

    A couple of points – the number of refugees from the Golan in 1967 is generally agreed to be about 100,000, from both Israeli and Syrian sources – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golan_Heights .
    That the US did not transmit the 1967 offer to Egypt and Syria is not novel; it’s in Avi Shlaim’s The Iron Wall. But probably Israel never asked the US to transmit the offer, Shlaim considers that the Israelis talking to the Americans were just trying to score points with them, not seriously starting a diplomatic effort. The only evidence that Egypt and Syria got the offer is from Abba Eban, who probably lied. Former foreign ministers of Egypt and Syria searched their nations’ archives without finding anything about it.

  17. David

    Shirin,
    My desire not to use the word “ethnic cleansing” is not because I want to claim that Israel begged the residents to stay, it’s just that to me “ethnic cleansing” means more than just soldiers knocking on doors and telling the residents that have x minutes to leave. (Just as I wouldn’t use the word concentration camp, as a former co-worker of Japanese desent used when referring to the detention camp the US had put his father in during WWII. Concentration camp means a little bit more than just a place where you are not allowed to leave.)
    I readily admit I may have read Helena’s meaning wrong. But I stand by my claim that 100,000 is too large by at least a factor of 2. From the type of work I do I am very used to “official” estimates being off base depending on the desired bias. Use google earth, look at the Syrian side of the Golan border, estimate the density of the villages and their populations. Figure out what land area on the Syrian side is needed for 100,000 people. (It is unlikely that the population density on the Syrian side has changed much from 1967 to the present.) From this how many would have been on the other side?

  18. Helena

    My meaning is quite clear in the main text: since 1967 some half million Syrian citizens– persons displaced into the Syrian interior by the 1967 war and the subsequent occupation, and their descendants– have been deprived of the right to reside or farm in their families’ rightful Golan homesteads. Commenters who wilfully misunderstand that are just trying to create a diversion.
    I actually calculated this number from available figures back in 1999 when I was writing my USIP book on the Israel-Syria negotiations. Of course, by now it is higher, since these families have had to live through yet another decade of Israeli-enforced dispossession.
    As for the allegations of Syria’s “nerve-gas-tipped missiles”, this is yet another diversion, and completely unsubstantiated by the commenter(s) in question. What is far better substantiated* is Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons, including some that quite possibly are in silos in the occupied Golan.
    * See the figures from the US Defense Intelligence Agency as presented here.

  19. Joe in Australia

    Syria’s present population is around 22 million. 500,000 would be around 2.27%. Is it plausible that descendants of the Syrians from the Golan Heights are now 2.27% of the entire population? In my opinion, yes, that looks about right.
    The area of the Golan Heights is around 1,800 km sq. Syria’s area is around 180,000 km sq, so the Heights are roughly 1% of Syria’s total area. But, most of Syria is desert. It looks to me as if the Heights are greener than the rest of it. So we would expect it to have a higher average population density.
    Furthermore, the number of descendants includes many people with only one parent (or grandparent) born on the Heights. So there will be many more people descended from Heights-dwellers than would be expected from natural increase among the original population alone. In fact it wouldn’t take many generations to have all Syrians descended from at least one resident of the Golan Heights!
    When you combine a higher population with the effect of intermarriages between people from the Golan Heights and other civilians it seems very easy to account for a factor of 2.27% This analysis surprised me; I thought 500,000 was far too high. It goes to show that you really need to work these things out.

  20. David

    Joe from Australia is thinking along the lines of something I was also wondering about. If a person ethnically cleansed from the Golan marries someone not from the Golan. They have 4 children. And each of them marries someone not from the Golan and each of those four couples have 4 children each. How many displaced persons are there?
    a) 1
    b) 21
    c) 26

  21. Helena

    If y’all knew anything about Golan– and not just “the Heights”– you would know that the whole plateau is extremely fertile and prior to 1967 was home to a very well-endowed farming community. So yes, evidently it was much “greener” and more densely populated than the norm for the whole of Syria’s land-mass, much of which is indeed arid. Why does this come as news to anyone?
    Bottom line: A substantial number of people have been deprived of their rights by the 42-year continuation of Israel’s occupation of Golan. Belligerent military occupation is only ever considered under international law as a very temporary state of affairs.
    Then, in addition, there’s the whole issue of Israel’s annexation of the whole of occupied Golan (as of occupied East Jerusalem.) Both moves are completely illegal under international law and have been recognized by NO significant governments from anywhere in the world. They will be reversed and/or rendered meaningless in the context of land-for-peace deals being achieved.

  22. Joe in Australia

    If y’all knew anything about Golan– and not just “the Heights”– you would know that the whole plateau is extremely fertile and prior to 1967 was home to a very well-endowed farming community. So yes, evidently it was much “greener” and more densely populated than the norm for the whole of Syria’s land-mass, much of which is indeed arid. Why does this come as news to anyone?
    Is this a serious question? It’s news to me because the Golan Heights (and its “whole plateau”, or whatever) is a relatively tiny patch of ground a long way away, and the war took place before I was born. There are some things of which I have a hypertrophied knowledge; the geography of the Middle East in the 1960s is not one of these.

  23. Shirin

    David, you quite simply could not be more wrong. Ethnic cleansing is precisely what the Israelis did in the territory they took in 1948. It is also precisely what they did in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights in 1967. It is also what they have done internally since 1948 in parts of the country, such as the Galilee (Yehud ha-Galil), Jaffa, and other places. It is precisely what Israel has done continuously since 1967 in the occupied territories using a variety of “quiet”, gradual methods, and it is what they are doing in a less “quiet” and gradual manner right this moment in Jerusalem.
    Ethnic cleansing is defined as the systematic elimination of an ethnic group or groups from a region or society, by deportation, forced emigration, or genocide. So yes, it is precisely knocking on doors and telling the residents that have x minutes to leave, and then taking steps to prevent their return.
    It is also deceiving them into leaving by making them believe falsely that they will be allowed back, and then not allowing them to come back. And it is terrorizing a population until they flee for their lives, and then making it impossible for them to return, by, for example, leaving nothing for them to return to (Palestine, 1948, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, 1967). And it is transporting them out of the region in trucks and buses, and dumping them across the border, or forcing them to walk – or as in 1967, to wade through a river – to the other side. It is forcing them on death marches (Lidde and Ramle, 1948). It is squeezing them into ever smaller, more crowded and isolated enclaves, restricting their freedom of movement, and destroying their economy until life becomes so untenable that those who can leave will. There is not one of these ethnic cleansing methods that Israel has not used, and this is certainly not a complete list.
    And by the way, what Israel has done and is doing to the Palestinians also falls under the definition of genocide.

  24. Michael W.

    Shirin,
    If Israel has or is systemically cleansing said territory of its Arab inhabitants, why do they offer medical services to the Palestinians?
    The relationship between the Jewish dominated Israeli power and the local Arab inhabitants is not uniform. Israel, commonly called as the Jewish state, has given many more rights to Arabs than Arabs have received in Arab countries. These rights have been violated many times on a case per case basis by the Israeli government, but it is not an unaddressed issue by Israeli officials and media.
    Nobody expects to change (any time soon)the current ethnic-centered political atmosphere of the Middle East. But lets not confuse property rights/dispossession with a policy of ethnic elimination/cleansing.

  25. steve bronfman

    ISRAEL’S PECULIAR POSITION
    By Eric Hoffer (LA Times 5/26/68)
    “The Jews are a peculiar people: Things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews.
    Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people, and there is no refugee problem. Russia did it. Poland and
    Czechoslovakia did it. Turkey threw out a million Greeks, and Algeria a million Frenchmen. Indonesia threw out heaven knows how many Chinese–and no one says a word about refugees.
    But in the case of Israel, the displaced Arabs have become eternal refugees. Everyone insists that Israel must take back every
    single Arab. Arnold Toynbee calls the displacement of the Arabs an atrocity greater than any committed by the Nazis.
    Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace. Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world.
    Other nations when they are defeated survive and recover, but should Israel be defeated it would be destroyed. Had Nasser
    triumphed last June, he would have wiped Israel off the map, and no one would have lifted a finger to save the Jews.
    No commitment to the Jews by any government, including our own, is worth the paper it is written on. There is a cry of outrage all over the world when people die in Vietnam or when two Negroes are executed in Rhodesia. But when Hitler slaughtered Jews no one remonstrated with him.
    The Swedes, who are ready to break off diplomatic relations with America because of what we do in Vietnam, did not let out a peep when Hitler was slaughtering Jews. They sent Hitler choice iron ore and ball bearings, and serviced his troop trains to Norway.
    The Jews are alone in the world. If Israel survives, it will be solely because of Jewish efforts and Jewish resources.
    Yet at this moment Israel is our only reliable and unconditional ally. We can rely more on Israel than Israel can rely on us. And one has only to imagine what would have happened last summer had the Arabs and their Russian backers won the war to realize how vital the survival of Israel is to America and the West in general. I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel, so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish, the holocaust will be upon us.”

  26. David

    Helena, your statement “prior to 1967 was home to a very well-endowed farming community” brings to mind the phrase “the noble savage”. Yes, the Golan is green. Every winter the rains come and everything come up green. A few months later it turns brown and dies due to the lack of water. It cannot support a large farming community. Closer to Mount Hermon there is more agriculture including some large towns, Migdal Shams and a slightly smaller one Maasda, because they get water from the melting snow from the mountain.
    Your figure of 500,000 today may be accurate, it depends how you want to count descendants. As Joe pointed out, in a few generations all Syrians will be able to be counted as displaced from the Golan. It’s the original figure (and I don’t know whether it came from you or Shirin ) of 100,000 displaced that I dispute. I have no doubt you calculated it but just as you claim that I wish to minimize the number I think you want to maximize it. (I actually would prefer accurate but you’re not going to believe that).
    Shirin, use the word “ethnic cleansing” just as my co-worker used the word concentration camps if you want. The trouble is the meaning of the word cheapens with every use. Everything is called an ethnic cleansing, everything’s a concentration camp, and everything gets called genocide.

  27. Shirin

    David, are you denying that Israel has intentionally and systematically used and continued to use forced migration and deportation to remove unwanted ethnic groups from the areas they have gained control of, and that Israel has taken deliberate and systematic steps to prevent them from returning – you know, like destroying hundreds of entire villages? That is the only way you can realistically deny that Israel has engaged in ethnic cleansing.
    As for the 100,000 number for the Golan Heights, I hope you will understand that I find my varied sources more convincing than I find your self-serving guesses on this subject. And Helena is, if anything, more careful than I am about these things, and has an excellent track record for honesty and accuracy, so I certainly trust her to know what she is talking about, even when we do not see eye to eye.
    The bottom line, though is that the number is less important than the fact that Israel deliberately and systematically used deportation and forced migration to rid the Golan of its Syrian inhabitants, and systematically destroyed the towns and villages in which they lived so they would have nothing to come back to should they risk their lives by attempting to return. That fits perfectly the definition of ethnic cleansing. It is also, whether you recognize it for what it is or not, a crime against humanity.

  28. Howard

    It’s always a tragedy when a potential peace outreach is sabotaged by enmity, indifference or simple misunderstanding. I won’t speculate, though, as to why Eshkol’s message was not passed along. But let us not forget how many different countries and non-state actors have done everything they could to keep the conflict going, not just by failing to deliver messages in a timely way, but by actively destroying opportunities. These powers have ranged from the USSR, the IRI, Syria itself, France (in 1919, by destroying the peace agreement by thwarting the already-agreed-upon Arab self determination in Damascus), to the Arab League, Yasser Arafat, and to a lesser extent Bibi – a lot of others, too.
    The Golan thread:
    1. The descendants of refugees are not refugees under international law. The descendants of the roughly 1,000,000 Jewish refugees who were ethnically cleansed from the Arab / Muslim world are (emphatically) NOT refugees. Only those who were personally driven from Arab/Muslim countries are actual refugees. This rule puts a finite limit on refugee status recognized by the international system in which the nations that have lost territory over the last 100 years are not constantly engaged in trying to send the sons of sons of refugees back to reclaim it.
    Similarly, Syrians who actually fled or were driven from the Golan in 1967 are refugees; but their descendants are not. (Someone will certainly note that all Palestinians, descendants included are considered refugees. Yep. A politically motivated exception to an otherwise uniform definition that applies to every other refugee in the world – Arab, Jewish, Bosniak or Darfur Sudanese).
    2. I would like to see a Syrian government that can be trusted to hold the Golan without using it as a firing platform and spotter’s platform. If Syria were in the hands of a trustworthy (and stable) government (I’ll explain what I mean in a moment), I would actively support an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan, and many more Israelis would too.
    The problem with Syria at the moment is that it is run by an unstable junta which makes a habit of exporting its instability to its neighbors:
    * The Iraqi government is quite vocal about the fact that Syria is training Islamist terrorists (who kill Iraqis daily).
    * The Jordanian government evidently views Syria with distrust, based on the suspicion that Syria sponsored the Amman hotel bombings and the Aqaba/Eilat rocket attack; and reaching further back, the Hashemites remember that Syria sent a PLA column into Jordan to support the PLO during Black September.
    * The Palestinians have suffered more from Syria’s sponsorship of destabilizing terrorist organizations like PIJ, Hamas, etc. than almost anyone else – and I’m sure that you have no trouble remembering how, during the 1990s, particularly bloody Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist attacks usually happened just as the PA’s negotiations with Israel gained momentum, and that when this happened, both the PA and Israel said that the PIJ terrorists had received their instructions from the leadership in Damascus.
    * The Lebanese – even those who work with Syria – know quite well how the Syrian junta works and what it wants.
    * And finally, Syria used to sponsor the PKK, wielding it against Turkey, until Turkey threatened to go to invade Syria unless Syria expelled the PKK. Anyone who has been following Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, the Palestinians or Syria with any attention at all doesn’t need *me* to tell them how Syria has attempted to destabilize every one of its neighbors.
    In other words, the Syrian regime is no more a “good neighbor” to countries with which it is formally at peace than it is to Israel, with which it is formally at war. In many ways, Syria has arguably been a worse neighbor to its “Arab brothers” than it has to Israel itself over the last 35 years. Under those circumstances, and ignoring for a moment everyone’s opinions about Israel itself, Israel would be mad to allow the current Syrian regime to put its armies back up on top of the Golan again in exchange for the kind of “normal” relations that Syria maintains with its other neighbors.
    If Syria were ruled by a stable and peaceful government, my opinion would be completely different. As it is, I’m sad to say that I don’t see an Israel-Syria peace breaking out any time soon.
    3. Israel continues to allow Golani Druze and Alawites to choose either Israeli or Syrian citizenship. One could look at this as an indication that despite its formal annexation of the Golan, the Israeli government quietly believes that some day, with a different regime in power in Damascus, it will feel safe enough to withdraw.
    Thanks.

  29. David

    All,
    Just to follow up on Howard’s comments. In exchange for peace I would agree to give the Golan back in a heart beat.

  30. Eurosabra

    I don’t do make-work for people trying to relieve me of my elected government and my personal safety. There is plenty of information flitting about, partly at Jane’s.
    In general, the Israeli desire to keep the Golan is a a side-effect of Syria’s success in 1973 and the reiterated Syrian desire to maximize Syrian land and Israeli insecurity (the 1923 line, and calling Shebaa Farms Lebanese to keep that front “hot”, when the Purple Line has been the most peaceful of the temporary armistice lines) and minimize peace–offering a cold peace at the most, and honestly, not even that, if we take Syria’s behavior towards its neighbors at face value.
    A land-for-peace deal that would actually go through would involve actual confidence-building measures on the Lebanese track with AT LEAST the real implementation of 1559 and 1701, a resolution of Sheba’a Farms, the 1967 line as the basis, etc. etc. So much impossible stuff that given the experience of the 1990s, too many major transformations have to take place to make land-for-peace reasonable.
    It is interesting that once again the periodic re-evaluation of Israeli history leads to the consideration of a past threat as part of the “security mythos”, and I suspect that there is a lot of discussion going on in the history faculties and service schools right now.

  31. Shirin

    * The Iraqi government is quite vocal about the fact that Syria is training Islamist terrorists (who kill Iraqis daily).
    And of course if the Iraqi government says it – especially if they are “quite vocal” about it, then it must be true!
    And a secular government in which Shi`as (`Alawis) hold the power will have a natural affinity to Islamist terrorists. I’ll bet they’ve got a direct line to bin Laden.
    Jeeeeez!

  32. Eurosabra

    Incidentally, the latest official Syrian government conference on the Golan is more of the same as the last 36 years, with the usual intransigent formulas, “permanent, inalienable right of return not subject to limitation or negotiation”, “500,000 refugees” (which means that they ARE counting descendants, given the ca. 200,000 1967 population of the entire Golan) etc. Not a single mention of peace, of contacts undertaken since the last breakdown of negotiations, etc. So Syria is still in the realm of magical thinking, when one day all that is lost will be magically restored, with no concessions to the existence of the other side. I think that the Syrian regime is in fact far too shrewd and cynical for this to represent serious policy, which is geared towards–as noted above–war from Lebanon, piecemeal harassment, using intransigence on Sheba’a and the 1923 line to forestall negotiation, and deployment of WMDs. So the Israeli book will join the folklore of “Israeli militarism”, be purchased by a few Golan experts and the university libraries which are required to, and the author will get to join the roster of “beautiful souls.”

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