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PROFESSOR WARNS AMERICANS
WRITER WARNS ISRAELIS
MID-EAST REALITIES - www.MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 22 May:
In Washington on Sunday, from the same podium where Secretary of State
Albright delivered the commencement address half an hour later, a courageous political science professor chosen by the students delivered a warning that the rampant nationalism loose in the U.S. today had similarities to the national socialism of Nazi Germany in days past. No one commented further on this theme.
The message, delivered gently and eloquently, was largely lost or misunderstood.
That same day in Israel, the following provocative article about the realities of Israeli life and policies was published, the author also using a serious historical reference, that of the city of Sodom in the Bible, a city condemned and destroyed by none other than God himself.
Intellectuals have little impact on contemporary affairs these days,
though they sometimes help set the climate for thought over time. This
message too is likely to be lost or misunderstood until maybe it will be
DESCENDING FROM UTOPIA TO SODOM
By Gideon Levy
"Masses of Palestinians were arrested without
being put on trial; thousands were tortured in
interrogations; hundreds of houses were
demolished; dozens were banished arbitrarily;
innumerable Palestinians suffered humiliations,
and were victimized by cruel, unjust daily
[Ed Note: The author wrongfully uses past tense, another sign
of contemporary Israeli self-misrepresentation about the
present even while attempting to reveal some of the past].
[Ha'aretz, 21 May 2000]
Here's the story: in the beginning, we really believed we were a virtuous,
chosen people. With all our talk about purity of arms on the battlefield,
brotherhood and equality in civilian life, we were saying that the world
could learn something from our moral diligence. Maybe, for a moment, the
world believed this was serious; maybe not. Nobody heard a murmur about
injustices during the 1948 Independence War; nobody got agitated about the
spraying of new immigrants with DDT; the kibbutz was perceived as an
exemplary social paradigm; and Israeli assistance to African nations warmed
hearts. We really thought at the time that we were do-gooders, and perhaps
there was some justification for this self-image.
Then came the 1967 military
conquest, one which we believed was forced upon us. We marveled at our
enlightened conquest. The increase in the number of tractors to be found in
the territories, and subsequently the rise in the number of universities on
the West Bank, were self-serving proofs of our enlightened ways, and the
progress we were bringing to the Palestinians. We thought that the conquest
was good for us, and good for them, and therefore it should continue forever..
And then came the cursed Intifada, and tarnished our immaculate self-image.
The pictures of soldiers beating Palestinians, and testimony furnished by
tortured Palestinians, couldn't be ignored; and the image of the enlightened
conqueror was blemished, irreparably.
Nonetheless, in its own eyes, Israel remained attractively moral. The
prevailing wisdom was that Israel was an exemplary democracy within the Green
Line borders, one whose norms of equality and justice were without parallel,
while out in the backyard, separated on the other side of the border in the
areas of the military conquest, matters might a bit less perfect. Such
imperfection, everyone knows, is an inevitable fact of military conquest; and
the conquest had been forced upon us, as a kind of inexorable necessity.
The Supreme Court furnished legal and moral sanction for this state
affairs; and its judgments were supplemented by a set of emergency orders
issued for circumstances which no longer could plausibly be defined as dire
emergencies, and by secret reports formulated by parts of the security
establishment, some of which were factually unfounded.
An endless sequence of
court verdicts ratified and whitewashed innumerable misdeeds in the
territories; the court would never have sanctioned such wrongs, had they
occurred within the borders of the state of Israel. But in conquered areas
virtually everything is permitted, even by the Supreme Court, which gave an
assenting nod to this dubious double standard - the theory being that a state
can be a democratic upholder of human rights exclusively within its own
Masses of Palestinians were arrested without being put on trial; thousands
were tortured in interrogations; hundreds of houses were demolished; dozens
were banished arbitrarily; innumerable Palestinians suffered humiliations,
and were victimized by cruel, unjust daily policies. In this period, Israel's
self-image was one of a democracy in its own, grade A, areas, and a military
conqueror by necessity in grade B regions. This might have been unpleasant,
but it was not too awful.
Recent years have unraveled the last threads of such tawdry self-satisfaction.
Suddenly, it turned out that ill winds were blowing at home as well. Suddenly,
it was disclosed that Arabs in Israel suffer discrimination and racism in
virtually every walk of life, that Bedouins live in the Negev in insufferable
conditions, that social clubs in our cities have exclusive entrance policies
barring Ashkenazi or Sephardic customers, that new immigrants from Ethiopia
are treated worse than newcomers from Russia, and that women routinely
suffer sexual abuse.
True, Israel has in some spheres experienced genuine social transformations,
as in the case of rights accorded to homosexuals and lesbians, but an overall
gloomy social picture, one ridden with injustice and inequality, has taken
shape within the borders of the state of Israel.
The disadvantaged have a harder time in Israel than in several countries
animated by far less self-flattering moral images. Last week supplied two
more proofs of these woebegone realities. An Amnesty International report
revealed that trafficking in women prostitutes has reached a scale in Israel
that is unmatched by most other countries; and the Bank of Israel disclosed
that Israel is now the world leader, in terms of the proportion of foreign
workers in the country.
It's impossible to say now that the problem is the conquest. The woes
here. This is a society which exploits the weak within its own borders,
sometimes displaying fearful levels of wanton cruelty while doing so - the
prostitutes and foreign workers being cases in point. The establishment which
sanctions such exploitation can be characterized as being sick.
Why exactly us, of all nations in the world? Though it's hard to analyze
the sources of this corruption, it doesn't follow that those responsible for
the ills must escape identification. Responsibility starts with the state.
Just as the state stands behind most of the wrongdoing in the territories, so
too has the exploitation of foreign workers and trafficking in women occurred
within Israeli for years, without the state raising a finger to try to stop
it. The state imprisons and deports exploited foreign workers, while
exculpating their exploiters. The state detains and punishes enslaved women,
while letting their enslavers off the hook. As always, the state authorities
side with the advantaged and the strong - the contractor, the moshav farmer,
even the pimp. They continue their misdoings unabated; it's only the victims
who change from time to time.
Our local Sodom badly needs some undoing. The change can only come from
above. One should expect two morally sensitive ministers with authority in
relevant areas, Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and Public Security Minister
Shlomo Ben-Ami, to do something to stop this downward slide. Should they be
determined and diligent, they are empowered with tools needed to enforce
laws, and legislate new ones, before the slide from utopia to Sodom becomes a
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