Virtual Talmud

In response to Rabbi Eliyahu Stern’s blog post criticizing former President Jimmy Carter’s new book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” “God’s Politics” guest blogger Jeff Halper, an Israeli peace activist, defended Carter’s perspective on Israeli policies toward Palestinians and his use of the term “apartheid.”

Read Virtual Talmud blogger Rabbi Susan Grossman’s reply to Halper:

Commenting on Jimmy Carter’s newest book, Jeff Halper says “apartheid” is “exactly what Israel is doing, from annexing its huge settlement blocs to imprisoning the Palestinians behind 26-foot concrete walls and electrified fences. I don’t even see what the ‘controversy’ is about. Just go to the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem and open your eyes.”

I have been to the West Bank and Gaza and have seen the security barrier with my own eyes, several times. I traveled with Israeli Defense Forces soldiers and with Rabbis for Human Rights, on whose advisory board I sit.

The electrified fences Halper refers do not deliver shocks to those who touch them, as one might infer from Halper’s words. They do not harm anyone touching them. They are electrified with sensors which inform the army whenever someone tries to climb over them.

The walls comprise only short sections of the overall security barrier, most often to block Palestinian snipers from lethally shooting passengers in Israel proper driving in cars or putting their children to sleep in their bedrooms.

The barrier would not be necessary if Palestinians had in fact fulfilled the commitment they made to then-President Carter to renounce violence for negotiations. It is a shanda (a shame) that Carter, who could do so much good as an honest broker for peace in the region, sold out to become a lobbyist for the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who never could make the transition from terrorist to statesman and thus led his people to perdition instead of peace and statehood.

Now that chaos reigns in the territories, the situation is even worse.

The reality is that since the security barrier went up, deaths from terrorism are down in Israel. Simply put: The barrier makes it much more difficult for suicide bombers to get through to kill innocents.

It is true that the security barrier has created hardship for many Palestinians. It is also true that Israel’s own courts have required the army to restructure the barrier to ease up some of those hardships. (That is not what would happen in an apartheid state.) But the bottom line is, if we are weighing hardship against loss of life, Judaism would come down on the side of saving lives.

As Alan Dershowitz points out in his fine article in The Boston Globe, if we really want to identify apartheid nations in the Middle East, we should look to the Arab nations that ban citizenship to non-Muslims. In contrast, Israel provides its Arab citizens with civil rights, electoral representation, and the full protection of the courts, which often support their causes.

There certainly are inequities in Israel, as there are here in the United States on race and class issues. But that is not the same thing as practicing apartheid. To imply Israel is doing so is simply slanderous. Worse, it actually undermines lasting peace by continuing to polarize the parties rather than bring them together.

Israel is not an ideal society, and the security barrier is far from the solution many of us, on the left or center, would prefer, let alone need, if there were a partner willing to commit to peace on the other side of the wall.

The cement slabs that are shown in the photo in Halper’s blog post are from Abu Dis. They sit on a roadway. When I asked why, I was told it was because they could be set up without causing destruction to area homes and because they can be easily removed!

The hope is that they can be removed quickly, as soon as the threat of terrorism ends. But that will not be the case until enough Palestinian people in the territories decide they are better off living in peace next to a Jewish State that they are willing to elect leaders who will broker and enforce such a peace. Until then, good fences remain necessary to protect against bad, i.e., deadly, neighbors.

–Posted by Rabbi Susan Grossman

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