Semantics often shape our sense of understanding about the inconsistencies, contradictions and confusions that unsettle the world, be they conscious or unconscious. How, why and in what way we interpret circumstances for rational understanding is a significant aspect of living in this mad world.
Knowing what the underlying causes may be instead of merely focusing on superficial symptoms necessitates defining our terms so we can all start on the same page. In a global perspective, powerful politicians can apply a word/s to situations that often inflame hostility, anger and mistrust in their counterparts elsewhere, engendering more extreme reactions from both.
For example, the recent UN Security Council Resolution 23334 adopted on 23 December, 2016, employs a variety of different words that suggest and imply different attitudes to situations I believe equally illegal and invalid. It also uses words such as violence and terror too generally, obfuscating the complexity implicit in these words.
The Resolution is firstly only:
*‘Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and reaffirming, inter alia, the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force,” not vehemently or morally opposed to and continues by
*“Condemning all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including inter alia, the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians in violation of international humanitarian law and relevant resolutions” and goes on by also
*“Condemning all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror as well as acts of provocation, incitement and destruction”, as well as
*“Recalling also the obligation under the Quartet Roadmap for the Palestinian Authority Security Forces to maintain effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantling terrorist capabilities, including the confiscation of illegal weapons” as just a few pertinent points.
Purposely, I’ve reordered the position of the last two (they are stated the other way around) to highlight that the Israeli occupation, development of settlements and proposed expansion of these settlements on Palestinian land since 1967 are no less acts of terror and violence against Palestinian civilians as much as those engaged in terror and violence within the Palestinian Territory against the Israelis. Are terror acts, with illegal weapons, different to the occupation, maintained by similar terror acts, which the Resolution regards as having “no legal validity”? The ‘weapons’ as I call the bulldozers and machines employed by the Israeli Government for the destruction of Palestinian homes and construction of settlements are just as “illegal” if you consider why and how they are deployed as the Resolution subsumes.
Moreover, as the US provides Israel with $38 billion in military aid (according to a recent newspaper report), including $5bn for missile defence, how much of that money is invested in the demolition and construction industry? Apparently, according to the same newspaper report from Associated Press and published in The Weekend Australian, Obama’s administration gave Israel the billions of aid for a “long-term security agreement” (are settlements part of security?) but it’s hard, if not impossible, to know exactly on what and how that money is spent.
Furthermore, one significant aspect about so-called “long-term security” is when do legitimate security concerns go beyond reason to become paranoia, an irrational fear, hate and distrust of those opposed to the settlements and Israeli occupation of their land? Living in Israel almost 50 years ago for four months, I was only too well aware of the rampant paranoia of many Israelis against the Palestinians and against Israeli Arabs still living there. Indeed, anyone not Jewish was essentially unwelcome as a resident. Zionism gone askew as far as I could understand and/or maybe, the reality of Zionism was inherently racist. It is an issue I’ve mulled over ever since, realising the need for some kind of Jewish state in a world still bedevilled by animosity towards Jews, but at the same time, wanting this state to NOT then persecute or discriminate against those who are not Jewish as it all too frequently does.
In this perspective, the US abstention on the UN vote is especially interesting, tantamount to assenting by not applying its power of veto. Was it about maintaining a superficial measure of neutrality or at least being seen to, or just pragmatic, political expediency to reassure Israel and the Jews in the world that it’s still intrinsically on their side?
The ramifications of the abstention have as yet not fully unravelled except that the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a measure rebuking the UN for criticising Israeli settlements, with Republicans accusing Obama of turning his back on the Jewish state. The house voted 342-80 for the non-binding resolution that declares unwavering support for Israel, insisting the US reject future UN actions that are “similarly one-sided and anti-Israel.”
The Resolution is not simply one-sided as it includes that the Palestinian Authority act against all those engaged in terror and to dismantle all terrorist capabilities. What it makes clear is the settlements are “illegal”, yet just a few days after the UN vote, Israel announced plans for 2500 more settlement homes in the occupied West Bank.
Clearly, the UN vote which Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, perceived as a “declaration of war” against Israel is meaningless and superfluous to his country’s future, accusing Obama of a “shameful ambush”. Many political commentators have scribed about the demise of the possibility for a two-state solution for the conflict, but as former US Secretary of State in the Obama government, John Kerry, said after the vote, the “US was standing up for a two-state solution,” criticising Mr Netanyahu for “dragging Israel away from democracy,” adding that expanding settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were leading to an “irreversible one-state reality.”
Israel has over the decades revealed itself unaffected by international criticism of its settlements’ policy, which now house about 600,000 Israelis and Netanyahu’s decision to keep building comes as no unexpected surprise.
Maybe I’m just a semantic pedantic, but for me these settlements represent ‘violence’ against Palestinians in so far as they encroach on their land, destroying their homes and livelihoods, ensuring they are refugees, homeless, unemployed and without money to give them any semblance of a life worth living. To reiterate one part of the Resolution which condemns “all acts of violence against civilians, which includes acts of terror, acts of provocation, incitement and destruction…” it seems the Israelis are culpable of exactly those acts of violence. However, while the Palestinians also perpetrate violence against the Israelis, perhaps more obviously blatant with missiles and rocket fire, what is the quintessential difference in the violence? Both physically strip people of their lives, psychologically as well as physically. It seems only the physical violence by the Palestinians attracts and is condemned by one-sided, pro-Israel supporters. I vehemently condemn both, as displacement and dislocation can be as ‘murderous’ as a missile. The consequence of both acts of violence is to attack and destroy the opposition to render them powerless and ineffective, enemies now fled or dead.
Within Israel recently, there was some legal redress for the Palestinians as the Israeli Supreme Court in 2014 ordered the demolition of the Amona Jewish village in the West Bank where 40 Jewish families lived in mobile homes. The court ruling was based on the reality that the Jewish village was built on land privately owned by Palestinians from the neighbouring villages. Earlier this week, Israeli police surrounded the Jewish village in the occupied West Bank “dragging angry residents, sputtering curses and prayers, out of their mobile homes”, according to a report in the Washington Post and Reuters.
One Jewish resident apparently asked “Why give this land to the Palestinians, who preach nothing but hate and violence and want to destroy Israel?” yet at the same time, Israeli leaders, including Netanyahu and Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, promised 3000 more settlement homes. What is that if not an act of violence with provocation? Are the beliefs about the Palestinians by the Amona Jewish resident reasonable when no Palestinian used violence against the Jewish residents or is it paranoia by the Jewish resident? Can they be regarded as legitimate security concerns? And of the proposal for 3000 new settlement homes, what’s that if not “an act of violence and terror” against the people who currently live there? The Israeli Government’s settlements manifest hate and violence by destroying the land, the homes and thereby the lives of Palestinians, albeit with demolition and construction not conversation. I can’t see a difference in the actions and their consequences.
The tragedy is clearly obvious in the conflict for land, power and control of the country and while I don’t have the answers to solve the conflict, stopping settlement development and removing the existing settlements, may just contribute to the peace-making process. It’s just incredibly sad for most Israelis and Palestinians who want to live in peace and enjoy being alive. The reality as I can appreciate it is that the Israelis are as culpable of terror as the Palestinians and it’s been on-going for too many years. Too often however, the Palestinians are condemned as merchants of hate while the Israelis are simply defending their security.
New US President Trump is supportive of Israel and while that is to be acknowledged as promising, talking how his Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, can help broker peace, one can only hope it may come to pass. I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime, certainly not as Israel builds more settlements and encroaches even further onto Palestinian land. Surprisingly, Trump who during the election campaign said “he’d not buckle in the face of campaigns against Israeli settlements on Palestinian land,” has now declared the “unthinkable” as reported in The Age on February 12, when he told Israel this week he didn’t believe “going ahead with these settlements is a good thing for peace”. But will his “new” perspective make any impact on the Israeli Government? Sadly, I think not. But one issue for me is that if the Israeli Supreme Court deemed Amona Palestinian and the Jewish settlement there “illegal”, why not all the other settlements in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza? I don’t know the answer.
Sometimes, peace, power and paranoia are beyond rational comprehension, or as a prominent Melbourne, Jewish historian, Mark Baker, commented nearly four years ago on the ABC-TV program, Compass, about Melbourne’s Jewish community: “They walk in the shadow of the Holocaust”. Tragically, it’s not just Melbourne’s Jewish community and is there any more to say? Have we as Jews, and I include myself too, really learned the lessons from history to create a meaningful dialogue for peace?
This is the text of a letter I penned to the Editor of the Australian Jewish News on April 15, 1966. I was 16. The letter was not published. Make of it what you will.
“On reading in the recent Jewish News that on Sunday 17th April is the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt Anniversary Commemoration, makes me wonder why all this is remembered. I may be damned for my flouting of this memorable day, but I do not consider it such. The News quotes “the day marks not only the anniversary of the Uprising, but the heroism and martyrdom of millions of Jews who were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.” I cannot comprehend why they persist in recreating all the glory, if it was such, for indeed, it was not glorious, but the adverse; it was dirty and permeated with blood and butchery. Why remember? Is it to make the present generation aware of all the hatred and contempt felt towards them, or is it to make them suffer as their parents suffered or is it another reason that instigates such a commemoration?
Throughout Australia, and in other continental areas, Jewish people are claiming to be recognised as an equal to other religious sects, they want to be included, not ostracised from international affairs. Or do they?
Is it not true that by remembering they are issuing on themselves further suffering and pain, a pain, that although cannot be erased, could be allowed to fade with time. Instead of looking to the past, they should look to the future and take precautions that will guarantee no repeat performance of such a holocaust.
Perhaps if we look further, the reason that induces the commemoration is that the ones who are alive feel guilty for their brothers, parents or relatives that were slaughtered and that by causing themselves to suffer all over again, their guilt will be eradicated. These people are living in an age where progress and a high criterion of intellectualism is being attained so why retreat into an age where narrow minds and maniacal personalities were in command. The situation is ridiculous.
I am not saying that in our present time a similar situation could not occur, but what I hope to get over to you is the need for further education, to enlighten the people so that it will not occur. But human nature doesn’t change, to quote that favourite cliche, there will always be some substitute for Hitler, but if the masses are educated then they will overcome the will of the minority, instead of vice-versa.
I feel it is wrong to make the present generation who are divorced from any complete realisation of such disaster suffer torment and anguish for uncles etc they didn’t know. What purpose does it achieve? Does it make them any better or worse Jews because they are interested in perhaps more stimulating activities and the need to be educated in literature, science etc instead of the mass slaughter of their race? Do they need to recognise the martyrdom and heroism of former Jews? I feel they should be devoted to creating their own history, a name for themselves in other fields, a name that will make other religions sit up and take notice, not by relating their valour in the Second World War for to most people this is past history, only the Jews see it as present.
We should not look to the past for our heroism but now is the stage to manifest a new kind of bravery, one that will excite respect and admiration from other religions.
Jewry is as some might say, becoming assimilated, if we do not want this to occur, we should not look to the suffering to bind us together, but something more and more lasting, concrete, for the present generation feel unattached from such. More and more young Jews are attending universities, they are becoming educated, they are being taught to think, formulate and discard and the war is something most cannot conceive of. If we are to remain unified, we should be joined by a far greater bond than pain and anguish, for pain, to those who have not suffered, is quickly forgotten.”
Rereading this more than 50 years later, I am aware how naive in some ways I was at 16, but the need for education and to think about the future so such a Holocaust will never happen again, is even more paramount now than in 1966, and I’m not talking about the Jews particularly. My perspective is what’s happening in the world about Muslims and so many other peoples persecuted for no other reason it seems so often than because they are different to the WASP mentality. Trump and many Far Right extremists across Europe and Britain are lambasting Muslims when it was once the Jews. For both the Israelis and Palestinians, it is tragic, too.
Moreover, an article in The Age this week reported a 67 per cent rise in hate crimes or incidents targeting Muslims in the US in 2015 with a seven per cent rise overall in hate crimes. Of the 1402 victims of anti-religious hate crimes, the majority, 52.1 per cent, were victims of crimes motivated by their offenders’ anti-Jewish bias, 21 per cent anti-Islamic and just 4.3 per cent anti-Catholic. According to the US Government’s former Special Representative to Muslim Communities, Shaarik Zafar, appointed by Obama, “Anti-Semitism is growing globally, anti-Muslim bigotry is growing globally.” A friend pointed out to me that what is perceived as anti-Semitism may indeed be an anti-Israel condemnation relating to its settlements and “belligerent occupation” of Palestinian territory by non-Jews and while this may be valid in part, too often people equate, and/or confuse, being anti-Israel’s current government with being anti-Semitic. Non-Jews usually don’t distinguish between Israel and Jews more generally and as Israel proclaims itself a Jewish state, it’s an understandable, albeit unfortunate, consequence of Israel’s existence even more so now with its settlement construction against the Palestinians. I was surprised that the anti-Muslim crime rate was so low which was an FBI report for 2015, so who knows what those figures will be after Trump’s election? Watch this space.
Three days since I wrote the above text, The Age newspaper published a Washington Post story about the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) on Monday 6th February passing a “contentious law” allowing Israel to seize land privately owned by Palestinians in the West Bank and grant the properties to Jewish settlements for their exclusive use.
Following on from the Israeli Supreme Court ruling about Amona, the passing of this law was “designed to protect homes in Jewish settlements…in good faith or at the state’s instruction” from possible court-ordered evacuation and demolition. The bill is likely headed for a high court challenge, it was reported. Netanyahu supports the legislation and unsurprisingly, opposition MKs condemned it as “reckless and goading prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague to take action against Israel. The bill passed on a vote 60-52.”
What was surprising for me to read was that the Washington Post quoted two members of Netanyahu’s own Likud Party that expressed serious concern about the legislation. Benny Begin labelled it “the robbery bill”, while a former Justice Minister, lawyer Dan Meridor, called it “evil and dangerous” warning the Knesset that the West Bank remains under a “belligerent occupation” 50 years after the 1967 war. Palestinians who live in the territory are not Israeli citizens, don’t vote in Israeli elections and live under a military authority. Penning a column for a newspaper, Meridor pleaded with his fellow legislators “Don’t cross a line we’ve never crossed before…No government in Israel has applied its sovereignty to the West Bank”. The Palestinian Authority called it “an illegal land grab”. The legislation was “pushed” by Education Minister of the Jewish Home Party, Naftali Bennett, who tweeted after it passed one word: “revolution”.
Tragic to read, I am not surprised by the legislation which legally sanctions what Israel has been doing for decades in demolishing Palestinian homes on their land and constructing new Jewish settlements. What I find curious, for wont of a better word, is the condemnation now by Begin and Meridor as if they have just become aware of what Israel has been doing for decades, albeit without legislation. It’s as if this law has engendered some antipathy where none existed before. I don’t know but Meridor’s comment about “belligerent occupation” (belligerent defined in the Macquarie Dictionary as ‘warlike, given to waging war) seems to support my belief about Israel’s acts of violence against the Palestinians. Moreover, the Jewish settler resident in Amona who commented that the Palestinians “preach nothing but hate and violence and want to destroy Israel” tragically seems as applicable to the Israelis about the Palestinians. The legislation subsumes not just hate and violence against the Palestinians, but authorises the seizure of their land and with it, their lives. The implicit permission of the legislation is not just about psychological violence in its wording, but condones actions of physical violence against their land and homes, manifesting a fear in the Palestinians that their homes can be seized at whim whenever Israel wants to. Respect is MIA. Why I can only ponder, has Meridor taken decades to speak out against the occupation. Furthermore, calling it “belligerent” means it seems by definition, that Israel is ‘waging’ war against the Palestinians. On what basis? This “warring” legislation cannot possibly be rationally opined as an issue of security, and for me, it is not just paranoia but perdition.
Meanwhile, I am yet to read that the US or other Western nations condemn the legislation, seeing it for what it is. I am only pleased that within Israel, there is opposition and condemnation for the bill. While Netanyahu condemned the UN Resolution as a “declaration of war”, so too is his government’s legislation. Tragically, as I repeat ad nauseum, it is an “eye for an eye” mentality, that only prohibits peace and prolongs the hatred and violence on both sides. Is there a resolution to resolve it?
Two days after The Age published the legislation story, an Australian media consultant, Harold Mitchell, who had just been in Israel for a visit, penned a piece about how Australia could learn from “Israel’s successful innovations” in fields as diverse as medicine and irrigation. No disputing Israel is often in the forefront of all sorts of technological and creative innovations, but Mitchell writes that this occurs “while being on a constant war-footing” without any analysis as to how and why this reality exists.
The tragedy of it all, once more, is that he concludes his piece citing the medical reality of his experience visiting the Hadassah Medical Centre to witness two simultaneous heart operations; one on an older Jewish man and the other, a 12-month old baby. In sight of the wall dividing Israel from the Palestinian territory, he wrote the medical team for the operations included both Arab Israeli and Jewish technicians, side by side. For him, it “struck (him) strongly that…the animosities of the outside world didn’t mean a thing”.
As the inconsistencies, contradictions and confusions abound I just feel sad about it all, semantics aside, with peace seemingly just an ethereal dream that persists for too few in this world.