God's Politics

Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper continues his dialogue with Virtual Talmud bloggers, this time responding to Rabbi Susan Grossman’s post titled, “Israel’s Good Fences Against Bad Neighbors.”

The problem evidenced by Rabbi Grossman’s response is not a disagreement over facts or even morality. The good rabbi sits on the advisory board of Rabbis for Human Rights which, in turn, was a founding member of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). The problem – a deep and worrying one – is the willingness of our spiritual leaders to justify fundamental violations of human rights in the name of “Jewish lives” and to refuse to hold Israel – the world’s fourth largest nuclear power and an occupying power – accountable for its actions.

map courtesy of B'Tselem - click for more information
Separation barrier detail courtesy of B’Tselem – click for more information

What is missing in Rabbi Grossman’s reply? “Occupation.” Never does she or her colleagues mention the “O” word. She apparently does not see the overarching political context of our conflict with the Palestinians. There is absolutely no reason why this conflict should continue. The Palestinians accepted the two-state idea already in 1988, well before Oslo. To lay the blame for the failure of the “peace process” at Arafat’s feet is simply outrageous. During the seven years of Oslo, as we were supposedly negotiating the status of the land, Jerusalem, a Palestinian state and all the rest, Israel doubled its settler population, effective foreclosing any viable Palestinian state. What would you have counseled the Palestinians to do – accept apartheid, not resist? Their offer of a two-state solution is still on the table – this is the gist of the Prisoners’ Document of all the Palestinian factions – but Olmert is talking “convergence/realignment,” annexing eight major settlement blocs to Israel, a permanent regime of apartheid in my view. And even the Arab League in 2002 offered Israel peace, recognition and regional integration in return for the Occupied Territories.

Rabbi Grossman also couches her reply in “security.” The issue is not security – Israel could have had that 20 years ago if it had relinquished its occupation; its Israeli claims to the Land. Nothing Israel has done in the Occupied Territories – not the expropriation of half the Palestinians’ land, not the building of 300 settlements and outposts, not the demolition of 18,000 Palestinian homes, not the uprooting of a million fruit and olive trees, not the construction of Israeli-only highways to link the settlements irreversibly into Israel and not the construction of the Separation Barrier with its convoluted route deep in Palestinian territory – can be explained by “security.” Security comes from peace; it cannot be acquired by force and repression.

Rabbi Grossman does not relate to the wider issues of occupation and apartheid, but relates solely to the “security barrier” – whose official name is the “Separation Barrier” because – again – its main purpose is to separate Jews from Arabs, as the Israeli government itself says. Doesn’t that sound like apartheid to you? And she is simply wrong about the wall. Except in tiny areas like Qalqilia and Tulkarm, the Wall does not separate Palestinians from Israelis but, rather, Palestinians from Palestinians. It is built inside Palestinian communities where Israelis never see it. Like in Abu Dis, where its separates grandparents from children, pupils from school, patients from doctors, customers from stores. As for snipers? In many places such as Ma’aleh Adumim the wall is actually lower than the road. No, the point of the wall is to mark borders, as Foreign Minister Tsipi Livi confessed a few months ago. “Security” might be a by-product (was the reduction in terrorism due to the barrier or to the year and half cease-fire declared unilaterally by Hamas?), but it is not the main purpose.

To call what we are doing to the Palestinians “hardship” and then to justify it as “saving Jewish lives” is truly a shanda. To call those under oppression – yes, our oppression – “bad neighbors,” shows to where we have descended as Jews defending indefensible Israeli policies of occupation and now apartheid. Its not a choice between Jewish lives or human rights; its human rights for everyone as a guarantee of Jewish lives.

Jeff Halper is the coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), based in Jerusalem.

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