Jerusalemite to Bay Area Jews: ‘Your involvement will help bring peace’

Author and Oleh describes problems with Jewish settlement of Palestinian Territories

By Ryan Ariel Simon

For Gershom Gorenberg, author of “The Accidental Empire:  Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977,” Israeli settlements across the Green Line threaten the very existence of the State of Israel.

According to Gorenberg, who meticulously researched his book by going through volumes of Israeli government documents, the settlers threaten Israel’s democratic process by “undermining the rule of law, and creating facts which drag the country towards an apartheid bi-national state ruled by Jews.” That’s why he considers it a problem that “since 1967 when Israeli children look up at the wall when they’re bored in class, they don’t see the armistice line on the map.”

“The (1949 Armistice) Green line in Israeli society is akin to sex in Victorian society, a taboo, yet important part of life,” said Gorenberg.

Sporting a substantial, graying beard, and flashing a trademark Jewish sense of self-deprecating, poignant humor, Gorenberg alternated between comedy and solemnity as he spoke Friday, April 23 to an audience of around 100 mostly Jewish, Bay Area residents at the Downtown campus of San Francisco State University.

The event, hosted by the New Israel Fund (NIF) and co-sponsored by J Street, was meant to highlight the urgency of NIF’s mission: democratic change within Israel, and equality for all Israelis.

The New Israel Fund accomplishes this objective by providing grants to Israeli Non-Governmental and Civil Society groups that meet its criteria. The fund has provided over $200 million to more than 800 organizations since it was founded, according to its website.

At the event, Gershom Gorenberg provided information from his book that made it clear; Israel’s settlement project was built in the shadows. With each passing year this project causes the State of Israel to sleepwalk closer and closer towards a cliff.

He got the information with help from an NIF-funded lawyer, obtaining access to historical materials that the Israeli military sought to keep sealed.

According to Gorenberg, the Israeli government knew the project of Jewish settlement in the Israeli occupied Palestinian Territories would be considered illegal from the beginning.

In 1967 Theodor Meron, then legal counsel to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, wrote a secret memo arguing that settlement of the occupied territories contravened the fourth Geneva conventions.

He was ignored by then Prime Minister Levi Eshkol who directed the government to establish Nahal Army base in the West Bank, which Gorenberg says had no connection to the army.

Meanwhile, in the Golan religious Zionists settled an abandoned Syrian army base, supported by many Israel army officers. This contravened official government policy to give back the Golan, formulated only weeks earlier.

Many Israelis saw little reason to give back land for peace; given that after the ’67 war the Arab League’s Khartoum declared the three infamous no’s:

NO peace with Israel

NO recognition of Israel

NO negotiations with Israel

These religious Jewish Settlers aimed to emulate the efforts of the late 1940’s Jewish militias, who used military maneuvering to set the armistice line: creating facts on the ground.

They saw the 1967 Israeli conquest as an act of god and an opportunity wrest the title of Zionism’s vanguard from the socialist Labor-Zionist party, its Kibbutzim, and communal values.

They viewed the Labor-Zionists as heretics to the Zionist cause, who turned their focus away from settlement, and advocated taking control of all of ”Greater Israel”.

When the Likud party won power in 1977 it began an expressed policy of suburb building in the West Bank to fulfill the American dream for Israelis, a people with no suburbs of their own.

Likud made legal changes in the West Bank whereby Israelis would be covered by Israeli law, and Palestinians would continue under a “belligerent military occupation,” using the Israeli government’s own words.

But settlement does not serve the purpose it once served, in fact “settlements today make less sense than getting to work by covered wagon,” Gorenberg said.

Secular Zionism “killed God the father, and married the motherland,” he added. Religious Zionists combined the two, making their zeal even more dangerous.

That is why it is essential settlement construction stop now, and why a peace agreement is needed for Israel to pull out of the territories it occupies. Only this will preserve the original dream of Israel as a home for the Jewish people.

It means a negotiated agreement between Israel and the Palestinians to establish two-states.

The tricky situation of the Hamas ruled Gaza strip could be resolved, Gorenberg said, if: US objections to Palestinian unity government with Hamas were removed, or negotiations with the Palestinian Authority demonstrate to Gazan’s the benefits of peace. The hope being that this will lead either to them pressuring Hamas to accept the agreement, or risk being voted out of power.

Fearful, many Jews continue to raise objections about the current Palestinian leadership. With a dose of reality Gorenberg said, “whatever the history of Fatah, the most important thing now is there is no question their current policy objective is a two-state solution.

But time is not on Israel’s side.

The young settlers are radical, and getting more so. They derisively call the Yesha, or official Settlers Council, “Pesha”—which translates to a transgression against God—for negotiating over illegal outposts with the democratically elected Israeli government.

The real objective should be, Gorenberg said, to figure out what can be done to make a peace proposal real for Israelis. Right now many just aren’t convinced that an Israeli quid, will bring a Palestinian quo.

The New Israel Fund’s objective, and that of J Street, is to make it clear that American Jews support Israelis in their quest for peace, and support strong leadership of the government of the United States in assisting them.

The author is an activist with J Street Local – SF Bay Area



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