Gaza Freedom Flotilla vs Exodus by mattsteinglass
June 2, 2010, 6:18 am
Filed under: Israel, Uncategorized

Jeffrey Goldberg should have used the construct “both/and” rather than “either/or” in thinking about this issue: “Most Israelis are aware, unlike much of the rest of the world, that these ships were not on a humanitarian mission, but a political mission, one meant to lend support to Hamas, which seeks Israel’s destruction, so you might have to excuse Israelis for not sympathizing overly much.”

Compare, for instance: “Most Palestinian Arabs are aware, unlike much of the rest of the world, that the Exodus was not on a humanitarian mission of rescuing refugees, but a political mission, one meant to lend support to Mapai, which seeks to establish a Jewish state in historically Arab areas of Palestine, so you might have to excuse Palestinian Arabs for not sympathizing overly much.”

Which leads us to a comparison. In 1947, having blocked the Exodus and its 4500 passengers from disembarking in Haifa, placed them on more seaworthy boats, and sent them temporarily to France, where they refused to disembark, the British determined that they would have to return the refugees to camps in the British-occupied zone of Germany to screen them for “extremists”; simply setting them free posed an unacceptable risk of releasing Zionist radicals who might go on to kill British soldiers. In Hamburg, the Holocaust survivors being pulled off the boats and sent back to camps in Germany understandably resisted. The British sent in 300 soldiers to evacuate the 800-900 passengers on one of the boats. The result was 33 refugees and 3 soldiers injured. The commanding officer, Lt. Col. Gregson:

“It is a very frightening thing to go into the hold full of yelling maniacs when outnumbered six or eight to one.” Describing the assault, the officer wrote to his superiors: “After a very short pause, with a lot of yelling and female screams, every available weapon up to a biscuit and bulks of timber was hurled at the soldiers. They withstood it admirably and very stoically till the Jews assaulted and in the first rush several soldiers were downed with half a dozen Jews on top kicking and tearing … No other troops could have done it as well and as humanely as these British ones did.” He concluded: “It should be borne in mind that the guiding factor in most of the actions of the Jews is to gain the sympathy of the world press.”

A different witness, Noah Barou of the Jewish World Congress, described the soldiers as behaving in a much more aggressive fashion. But no one was reported killed.


If only there weren't anyone like Baruch Goldstein by mattsteinglass
May 30, 2010, 9:26 pm
Filed under: Israel, Judaism, Uncategorized

Leon Wieseltier writes that a group of ultra-orthodox settlers who had just taken over a Palestinian house in the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah sang a version of “ayn kamocha” as a hymn to Baruch Goldstein, the Jew who massacred 29 Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. It seems to me that in addition to being disgusting, singing “ayn kamocha” (“there is none like unto Thee”) as an ode to Baruch Goldstein rather than God is blasphemous.

Andrew Sullivan needs a little more tolerance for ambiguity on Jerusalem by mattsteinglass
March 29, 2010, 2:55 am
Filed under: Israel, Uncategorized

I basically agree with Andrew Sullivan on Israel/Palestine issues. But he keeps writing things that are just a bit off point. Sometimes, these small mistakes lead to significant errors in the thrust of what he’s saying. For example, today he characterizes Dennis Ross as “a fervent believer in Israel’s eternal control of all of Jerusalem (meaning a two-state solution will never happen).” He backs this up with an interview Ross gave to the Jerusalem Post in 2008:

You raised the issue of Jerusalem. That was at the AIPAC speech. And what [Obama] said, he said the following: “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.” He said the city should never be divided again. And it’s true that in that speech he didn’t make the third point, which is, the final status of the city will be resolved by negotiations. Before the speech he said that, after the speech he said that. The American position has been those three points. The fact of the matter is, Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. That’s a fact. It’s also a fact that the city should not be divided again. That’s also a fact. The position of the United States since Camp David, the position, by the way, adopted in the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, signed by [prime minister] Menachem Begin, was that the final status of Jerusalem would be resolved by negotiations. Those are the three points. That’s what his position is.

I have no idea what the problem is supposed to be with what Ross said here. He’s expressing the same diplomatically carefully line the US has always expressed on Jerusalem. The deal with Jerusalem and the Israel-Palestine conflict is that it combines the unbelievably tedious niggling details of a Brooklyn zoning dispute with the murderous desperation of the Bosnian religious-ethnic civil war. This is a difficult needle to thread, and the US has a formula for threading it, which involves fudging words like “Jerusalem” and “undivided” so they can mean different things to different people.

Here’s the deal: Israelis consider Jerusalem to be their capital. The US has no problem with the idea that West Jerusalem, where the Knesset and Prime Minister’s offices are located, is the capital of Israel, but it doesn’t want to embrace the idea that East Jerusalem is included in that designation. East Jerusalem needs to become the capital of a future Palestinian state, because the Palestinians insist on being able to say that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine. So the Americans can embrace the statement that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, without expressing the caveat that they mean West Jerusalem, as that would piss off the Israelis. They can also agree that Jerusalem will be the capital of an eventual Palestinian state, without needing to specify “East Jerusalem”, as that would piss off the Palestinians, and in any case the Palestinians have no interest in trying to claim West Jerusalem.

The next requirement for American policy is to avoid any suggestion that Jerusalem will ever be divided by a hard border with fences and checkpoints. This is unacceptable to the Israelis because, during the 1948-67 division, Jewish residents were expelled from the Old City (which was occupied and then annexed by Jordan) and Jews could not access the Western Wall. It’s probably unacceptable to Palestinians as well, since any hard border drawn today would run through the Old City so as to keep the Jewish Quarter on the Israeli side; that would put the main entrance to the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa mosque across a border inside Israeli territory. Basically the whole idea is a nightmare, and nobody is considering it. The statement “Jerusalem should not be divided again” refers to this consensus. In this way, the US manages not to disagree openly with Israelis who expect to solidify Israel’s illegal and unrecognized annexation of East Jerusalem, but in fact what the US means by “undivided” is left ambiguous, in terms of sovereignty issues, to leave room for ultimate Palestinian sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and the Old City.

The point here is that for Dennis Ross to say “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, and Jerusalem must never again be divided” is not the same as saying “Jerusalem cannot be the capital of an independent Palestine.” The US envisions a future in which Israel considers Jerusalem its capital and has sovereignty over Jewish neighborhoods, Palestine considers Jerusalem its capital and has sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods, there are no hard barrier walls dividing the city, and security and other municipal arrangements are worked out in negotiations. Sullivan needs to grant more credit to the complexity of these negotiations and of the history of the dispute, and the ambiguity people need to embrace to arrive at formulas that will allow negotiations to go forward.

The map is not the Territories by mattsteinglass

I’m a big believer in a two-state Israel-Palestine solution on 1967 borders. And I think it’s important that Israelis acknowledge the reality of Palestinian dispossession. But this map Andrew Sullivan picks up from Juan Cole is ridiculously tendentious:

israel-palestine-mapI don’t know who produced this thing, but it’s got the entire Negev Desert listed as “Palestinian” land in 1946, which somehow suddenly turns “Jewish” in 1947. How is that supposed to happen? What does this map claim to be representing? Is it Jewish/Palestinian-owned land? But the Negev isn’t “owned” by anyone, any more than the Sahara is; it’s empty desert. Is it Jewish/Palestinian-controlled land? But the Negev was controlled by British forces in 1946.

The same weird ambiguity plagues the entire representation; there are vast tracts of land in there that were just empty desert at the time, but are represented as Palestinian in 1946 (giving the impression they were privately owned by Palestinians) and then turn Jewish later (clearly meaning Jewish-controlled territory in the military/political sense). And you can’t tell from the map where the boundaries are between land that’s privately owned and land that’s empty. The general point is correct, Jews have taken a lot of land away from Palestinians, but the map is methodologically incoherent in a way that’s clearly designed to exaggerate the effect for propaganda purposes. Juan Cole, certainly, should know better.

Gush Etzion by mattsteinglass
February 26, 2010, 7:02 am
Filed under: Israel

I was going to write something about this, but one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers beat me to it.

As far as Etzion and southern settlements go: I encourage you to take a look at a map of settlement activity from Ir Amim.  Ir Amim is a wonderful organization, and a great way for Jews and non-Jews alike to understand Jerusalem (where I lived while I was in Israel.)  I think you will find that settlements are too complex to lump entirely into the “bad column”.  Some settlements are innocuous.  Some are heinously awful.  Ir Amim has done a great job of determining which is which, and I encourage you to make use of them when you talk about settlement activity.  I think it will provide you with more nuance when you approach this debate.

Israeli settlements on the West Bank are illegal, but when you make judgments about the character of a particular move by Netanyahu, the particular nature of the settlement you’re talking about comes into play. The Etzion Bloc were kibbutzes that were overwhelmed in the War of Independence by Jordanian troops after a long last-ditch battle to protect the southern approach to Jerusalem, and many of their civilian inhabitants were massacred. That story is the stuff of Israeli patriotic legend; re-establishing them has a different feeling about it than tossing down entirely new religious hilltop settlements on stolen land.

On the other hand, you have to keep in mind that Palestinians don’t get to start up settlements at the villages they lost.

Glenn Greenwald on Gideon Levy and J Street by mattsteinglass
November 3, 2009, 3:46 am
Filed under: Israel

This Greenwald column is basically right on, but this misses something:

I have almost nothing but good things to say about J Street — they are fighting a difficult and largely noble battle — but the fact that not even this group, devoted to orthodoxy-busting, is willing to get anywhere near what Gideon Levy advocates illustrates how constricted American debates over Israel continue to be compared to Israel’s.

If we’re talking about American Jewish debates here, then the reason Gideon Levy and other Israelis can go farther in their critiques is the same reason why African-Americans can have a much more full-throated and vicious debate within the community about various kinds of problems than white commentators can have about those problems. Basically, you do your army service and serve your miluim, and it entitles you to say a whole lot of stuff that people sitting in nice coffee bars in Manhattan can’t say.

America, stop sucking up to Israel by mattsteinglass
November 2, 2009, 6:39 am
Filed under: Israel

I’ve lifted the title of the post from this Gideon Levy piece in Haaretz. I simply quote.

It is true that unlike all the world’s other troublemakers, Israel is viewed as a Western democracy, but Israel of 2009 is a country whose language is force. Anwar Sadat may have been the last leader to win our hearts with optimistic, hope-igniting speeches. If he were to visit Israel today, he would be jeered off the stage. The Syrian president pleads for peace and Israel callously dismisses him, the United States begs for a settlement free ze and Israel turns up its nose. This is what happens when there are no consequences for Israel’s inaction. 

When Clinton returns to Washington, she should advocate a sharp policy change toward Israel. Israeli hearts can no longer be won with hope, promises of a better future or sweet talk, for this is no longer Israel’s language. For something to change, Israel must understand that perpetuating the status quo will exact a painful price. 

Israel of 2009 is a spoiled country, arrogant and condescending, convinced that it deserves everything and that it has the power to make a fool of America and the world. The United States has engendered this situation, which endangers the entire Mideast and Israel itself. That is why there needs to be a turning point in the coming year – Washington needs to finally say no to Israel and the occupation. An unambiguous, presidential no.

Gideon Levy is probably the most anti-occupation journalist in Israel, but still, this is pretty amazing stuff to be hearing from an Israeli. “The only language they understand is force” is what they used to say about the Arabs.