Israeli Answers Charges in UCONN Paper

This is a letter that Angela Godfrey-Goldstein from The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) wrote to the UConn community after a debate around her lecture at UConn., which tool place a few days ago (Dec 1, 2005).


With interest I read on your website of my UConn presentation, representing ICAHD, an Israeli peace group working for a just and sustainable peace in Israel / Palestine; we work to end the Occupation -- even Prime Minister Sharon has referred to the need to end it, and yes, he called it what it is, an occupation of another people, which he says Israel cannot sustain if it wishes to continue existing; Sharon worries about demographics, we are more concerned about morality. We know from our contact with them and their leaders that the Palestinians also want peace -- those who deny this neither want nor believe in peace.

Denying the occupation always seems an intellectual trick to ignore reality; over four million people have no human rights on any level - even if " disputed" territory, that fact does not disappear. Their land is being grabbed (our Sasson Report confirms it) and Israel has commandeered the entire West Bank road system, just as the Wall has captured most West Bank water. Some ignore reality; a holocaust survivor visiting here recently expressed deep disturbance to see again sights he had not seen since the ghetto and camps - what does it take for American Jews to wake up and understand what's happening in Israel? Palestine, an institutionalized Israeli police state, is being set up as a puppet state. Fascism was never the Zionist dream, indeed once upon a time Jewry stood for morality, conscience and civil rights struggles. After 24 years as an Israeli, I see Israel sinking into corruption. Denial is no solution.

ICAHD promotes a viable Palestine because nothing else will deliver a lasting peace for all of us (including the West - peace in the region runs via Jerusalem). Unfortunately, Bantustans are being developed on 10% of historic Palestine as a unilateral version of a Palestinian state; East Jerusalem is being "judaised" especially by settlement activity, and home demolitions which create ethnic transfer. Tens of thousands have been forced out, Israel having demolished over 12,000 homes since 1967 to control demography. The Wall is creating an international border, annexing all strategic resources - roads, water, agricultural land, access to Jerusalem (40% of the Palestinian economy), freedom of movement - so there cannot be peace; this runs contrary to international law - you, the international community, have a huge stake in the disappearing integrity of international law.

Similarly, American tax money facilitates all this, so it should be of interest to those who would prefer to pay for levees, healthcare, education and job creation.

A correspondent, Jeff (Chaim) Peck writes that MSA "admitted regretted [sic] inviting [me]." According to my correspondence with that association and from its letter to you, this seems somewhat short of the truth. On the contrary, I've received letters grateful for my presentation. Maybe Peck is the student who was a soldier in Gaza. In my talk I spoke of "Breaking the Silence" (_www.breakingthesilence.org.il_ (http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/) ): "The present collection is not just one more testimonial collection, revealing the brutal routine of the territories' reality, or the constant moral degradation and erosion of soldiers' values. The collection focuses on IDF orders, rules of engagement and operational procedures. It presents a grave picture of evidently illegal orders given frequently, and in different times and places: firing at civilians who pose no risk, revenge operations, intentionally shooting at rescue-forces and more. This collection reveals the depth of the military administration's moral corruption, and the dimness of moral sense, which has spread to the highest ranks."

As a member of MachsomWatch (500 Israeli women who monitor military checkpoints in the OPT - _www.machsomwatch.org_ (http://www.machsomwatch.org/) ), I have seen soldiers shooting wantonly at children more than once, insulting women, humiliating men. Peck refers to cps as if they treat equally Israelis and Palestinians, a statement "short of truth," as settlers drive through checkpoints without being stopped at all, whilst Palestinians often wait hours in lines like crowded cattlepens, and can therefore never plan their time. Most Palestinians never receive permits to cross checkpoints (80% succeed with lawyers' help, proving refusal has nothing to do with security). I quote, also, the "Courage to Refuse" letter signed by 600 reserve officers: "We, combat officers and soldiers who have served the State of Israel for long weeks every year, in spite of the dear cost to our personal lives, have been on reserve duty all over the Occupied Territories, and were issued commands and directives that had nothing to do with the security of our country, and that had the sole purpose of perpetuating our control over the Palestinian people The missions of occupation and oppression do not serve this purpose [of Israel's defense] - and we shall take no part in them."

Actually, a main reason given for the Gaza "disengagement"/redeployment was that too many elite soldiers were refusing to serve there (Adv. Dov Weisglass, senior aide to Sharon, interviewed in Haaretz). A UConn student wrote to me: "I think the comment that disturbed me most yesterday was the guy who got upset that you called Israel void of joy. I couldn' t believe that he was seeing all the suffering that was happening in Israel and still be able to say that he believed it was a joyful place. I believe that anyone who can actually believe that a land where children are getting shot, babies are being thrown out of windows and people are being thrown out of their own houses is a joyful one, is a blind, ignorant and cold hearted human being."

Whilst a writer to your journal misquoted me much (not least, I said Israel is a traumatized, not traumatizing, society: terror attacks, Occupation, the holocaust, historic anti-semitism in the Diaspora, all have taken a toll, whilst Palestinians suffer tragically high rates of post-traumatic stress syndrome), I still maintain Israel is a society without real joy. Rampant hedonism in Tel Aviv I interpret (as do most Israeli intellectuals) as an expression of denial and hopelessness in our society, not as a sign that all is well. We are deeply worried by our younger generation. How can a country in which every third child is under the poverty line be well-balanced, content or creative? I quoted the 60% increase last year of the family murder rate. Road rage claims more victims than terror attacks. The romantic, abstract version of Israel which lurks in the imagination of fanciful American Jews really isn't helping the real state, which is in great distress - our fear, guilt and denial compounded by blind denial in America. Our youth feel hopelessness, and leave. Between 500,000 to one million Israelis (up to 20%) have voted with their feet of late. Of course, denial has it as the only democracy in the Middle East. Go tell it to the Bedouin in the Negev or Galilee, whose land is even now being grabbed, as they are disenfranchised. An Israeli professor refers to Israel as an ethnocracy. Racism is a version of that word; 20% of our citizens do not have civil rights -- an uprising waiting to break.

Every house we demolish is a breeding ground for terror, as is every checkpoint denying freedom and imposing collective punishment. BTselem, our human rights group, recently issued a report entitled "Under the Guise of Security" about the landgrab of the Wall. Another, Physicians for Human Rights, took the IDF to court for torture in its use of sonic booms over Gaza. Reframe the conflict, as we do, to see the Occupation as the problem, and see that resistance to it is as predictable as night following day. '67 border gives us a future. Anything else is a recipe for ongoing attrition. Since you do not have to live with that threat, it is hugely immoral to condemn others to it from your safety. But American lack of bona fides in dealing with the Palestinians and peace efforts is a huge issue in the current growth of anti-American feeling in the world generally: Iraq compounds it. Every American UN veto to "save" Israel sinks you in ever growing resentment. Stop treating us as a most favoured nation. Treat us equally.
For all our sakes.

Chaim Peck wrote to me personally, via our website, to chastise me "Your lecture, given to somebody who is uninformed, could be used as something [to] incite violence against us and fuel anti-semitism". He continues in his letter that "it was necessary for us to point out the invalidity of many of your statements, i.e. the one about Judaisation not only to help the name of Jews and Israel, but to protect us here at UConn in Storrs, CT." Mr. Peck, allow me to point out that the settler movement states that it aims to judaise Jerusalem, and is proud of its aims, which it sees as redeeming the land and fulfilling prophecy. There have been plenty of newspaper reports in which they have used this terminology (our website _www.icahd.org_ (http://www.icahd.org/) has a good article: Like a Thorn in the Heart detailing their activities). No less an organization than the EU has recently authored a report (The New York Times, The Guardian and The Independent report on it) stating:

"1. East Jerusalem is of central importance to the Palestinians in political, economic, social and religious terms. Several inter-linked Israeli policies are reducing the possibility of reaching a final status agreement on Jerusalem, and demonstrate a clear Israeli intention to turn the annexation of East Jerusalem into a concrete fact: * The near-completion of the barrier around East Jerusalem, far from the Green Line; The construction and expansion of illegal settlements, by private entities and the Israeli government, in and around East Jerusalem; The demolition of Palestinian homes built without permits (which are all but unobtainable); Stricter enforcement of rules separating Palestinians resident in East Jerusalem from those resident in the West Bank, including a reduction of working permits; And discriminatory taxation, expenditure and building permit policy by the Jerusalem municipality.

2. The plan to expand the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim into the so-called " E-1" area, east of Jerusalem, threatens to complete the encircling of the city by Jewish settlements, dividing the West Bank into two separate geographical areas. The proposed extension of the barrier from East Jerusalem to form a bubble around the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim would have the same effect. 2004 saw a near tripling of the number of Palestinian buildings demolished in East Jerusalem. We expect a similar number of demolitions in 2005. 88 homes in the Silwan neighbourhood with demolition orders outstanding against them attracted much attention in June.

3. When the barrier has been completed, Israel will control all access to and from East Jerusalem, cutting off its Palestinian satellite cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah, and the rest of the West Bank beyond. This will have serious economic, social and humanitarian consequences for the Palestinians. By vigorously applying policies on residency and ID status, Israel will be able finally to complete the isolation of East Jerusalem - the political, social, commercial and infrastructural centre of Palestinian life.

4. Israel's activities in Jerualem are in violation of both its Roadmap obligations and international law. We and others in the international community have made our concerns clear on numerous occasions, to varying effect. Palestinians are, without exception, deeply alarmed about East Jerusalem. They fear that Israel will "get away with it", under the cover of disengagement. Israeli actions also risk radicalizing the hitherto relatively quiescent Palestinian population in East Jerusalem. Clear statements by the European Union and the Quartet that Jerusalem remains an issue for negotiation by the two sides, and that Israel should desist from all measures designed to pre-empt such negotiations, would be timely."

This report was deliberately "buried" by the EU because of an EU decision to upgrade its ties with Israel, including its economic ties, despite continued Israeli violations of the Association Agreements under which goods from settlements cannot enjoy special tariffs extending to Israel itself. ICAHD has uploaded it in its entirety onto our website: _www.icahd.org_ (http://www.icahd.org/)

Israel needs friends who will stop their friends from driving drunk. Israel needs tough love to bring it back to sanity. Israel needs to be brought back to borders before it becomes a total hooligan or bully on the block, harming itself, threatening its future, losing its legitimacy and dragging the region and maybe the world into another war. Painful all this may be. It's going to be a whole lot more painful for all of us if Israel doesn't return to sanity... How to heal the traumas, corruption and denial? Straight talking and internationally recognized borders might help. Denial, however self-interested, isn't an option any more.

Bearing in mind God created all life, it is therefore all sacred; I'd prefer to see more spiritual leaders acknowledging that, instead of promoting supremacy, separatism, exclusivity and "chosenness." We are all chosen by God to share life. Only if Israel returns to values of caring for the weak, the oppressed and the downtrodden, of empathizing with those who are suffering, will it reclaim its own mental health.

Until then? Cycles of violence will continue to destabilize and we will all continue to suffer, more than just increased rudeness and stress. Whether the chicken or the egg came first is insignificant in shadow of that destabilization. But ending the Occupation just might give us a better chance for life. A real life. Which is how I ended my presentation. Israel and the Palestinians deserve a decent life. Like everyone else on this little blue planet. Or do we only learn from tragedy, when it's too late? In burying the two-state solution, do you realize you are consigning Israel and Palestine to the probability of ongoing war? The Bush-Sharon Letter of Understanding of April 2004, ratified by Congress across the board has buried the two-state solution, cancelled international law and negated any version of America as honest broker. Put it another way. Would you ask for anything less than food on your table? Or freedom? No. So why expect it from Palestinians, our much maligned, ill-treated cousins? Or don't you care about them? If you don't, that lack in you is a token of depleted humanity. Fighting, squabbling, playing mind games and needing to win (replaying history back to days you did not live) are ego tricks, based on fear, pride or winning. For those who can afford that luxury, fine. But remember Exodus, Deuteronomy or Leviticus. Oh, ye stiff-necked people.

Rebellious still?

- Angela Godfrey-Goldstein
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)