JERUSALEM - Dear Rick Hellman, Someone forwarded to me the revealing "report" you wrote of the recent Sabeel conference.
(Chronicle, Nov. 10) As one of the Israelis participating in the conference, I want to register my embarrassment and disappointment with your and Rabbi Mark Levin's "performances."
Embarrassment for the whole Jewish community in that neither of you, having received the right to participate and speak at the conference, had the basic decency to stay, listen and truly participate in good faith; disappointment that an educated person, and a rabbi to boot, could reduce the complex and tragic conflict embroiling both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples to shallow PR and to "making points."
The purpose of the conference was not to "win points for Israel with a couple of attendees," which you say was your goal, but to listen, to learn, to hear some other views, to make your voice heard (and not only when you are leading the "dispute"), and to grapple with some very hard issues. I was offended that you and Rabbi Levin did not accord either the conference or the hosts the basic courtesy of listening to what was said. This, despite the fact that you yourself say Rev. Are "reached out to the normative (whatever that is) Jewish community." Showing up to "make points" and then splitting is certainly not reciprocity nor good faith nor, again, even common courtesy.
As to the "counter-balancing information" offered by a self-described "strategic pro-Israel thinker," I have to say as a professor at an Israeli university that an "A" in thinking you would not have earned in my class. Thinking does not mean repeating simplistic and misleading slogans. And if you think defending morally indefensible policies of Occupation (wait a minute! where's that word in your "counter-balancing information?!") is "pro-Israel," the Leon Uris Israel you're defending in KC is a far, far cry from the country of a thousand opinions in which I live - the actual Israel. In fact, you and all the other "normative" Jews in the U.S. who "defend" Israel instead of respecting it, understanding it and helping it get out of its troubles (the Occupation at the head) are the anti-Israel ones.
It is truly impossible to respond to your simplistic "counter-information." Slogans are always hard to counter, because the required analysis is always too nuanced and complex to fit into a counter-sound bite. Which is why propaganda is, indeed, so "strategic." But three (sic) brief comments:
(1) The "security barrier" is not along the Green Line; there is no evidence that it has reduced terrorist attacks since it has not been completed and many other factors can explain the relative quiet (such as Israeli military actions or the year and a half cease-fire declared and honored by Hamas); and the "apartheid wall" is certainly an apartheid wall: made of concrete slabs 26 feet high (the Berlin Wall was only 12 feet high), it imprisons all the Palestinians living in urban areas. What's worse, unlike the Berlin Wall, it is not linear but is a complex of walls, secondary walls, fences, trenches, checkpoints, terminals and watch-towers that lock tens of thousands of Palestinians into closed cells; it is an apartheid wall because it meets precisely the definition of apartheid: separation of populations (the official name of the wall is the "Separation Barrier," not the "security barrier") in a regime in which one population permanently dominates another. You might not care if Jews become Afrikaaners, but it does bother a few of us "non-normative" Jews.
(2) Security is not the issue; Israel's exclusive claim over the entire country west of the Jordan, which leaves no place for the Palestinians, is. Almost no element of the Occupation can be explained by security: not the 300-400 settlements (and they are illegal; the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an Occupying Power from moving its population into an occupied territory - and even your government considers the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza occupied); not the construction of 29 Jewish-only highways linking the settlements to Israel; not the demolition of 18,000 Palestinian homes since 1967 (in less than 10 percent of the cases having anything to do with terrorism); not the uprooting of 1 million olive and fruit trees (protested by other "non-normative" Israeli Jews, Rabbis for Human Rights); not the building of the Wall (which even the Israeli government now admits was built to mark a political border and not primarily for security).
(3) The two-state solution is dead. Israel killed it (as Begin charged Sharon with doing back in 1977). The settlement enterprise has gone beyond the point of no return. Of course, a two-state solution is possible if the Palestinians are "given" a Bantustan, which is what Olmert's "Convergence Plan" does, but, again, there are a few of us "non-normative" Jews who do not want Israel to become the successor of apartheid South Africa. "Splitting" the land cannot mean Israel gets 85 percent and the Palestinians (who are at least 50 percent of the population of the Land of Israel) only 15 percent, and that truncated into five or six enclaves.
The Palestinians, by the way, formally and publicly accepted the two-state solution in 1988, well before Oslo.
If it wanted, Israel could have had peace and security 20 years ago. It prefers territory. True, Resolution 242 calls on the Arabs to make peace with Israel. But that's not the end of the story (although I realize slogans have to kept short). Israel has also to relinquish its Occupation - not settle a half a million Israelis beyond it borders in defiance of international law and to prejudice those very negotiations you accuse the Arabs of not pursuing.
(4) Fighting against stateless terrorists may not be a war crime (although there are rules of war, and the word "terrorist" is a lot like "Communist.") So your terrorist (Hamas) is another person's "freedom fighter" (Begin). Attacking civilian populations - even if it means "only" demolishing 18,000 homes - is a war crime.
Terrorists are not only stateless people; state terrorism kills more innocent people by far than do non-state actors. Israel has killed far more innocent Palestinians than vice-versa.
(5) I know you and the good rabbi didn't come to hear me speak, but I don't believe you read my writings either.
(6) Very generous of you to "forthrightly" condemn Barukh Goldstein - was that sincere or just another example of "strategic point-making?" Oh yeah, and Rabin....
I wish I could be as hopeful as you are. If we cannot get educated, liberal Jews concerned with Israel to engage in a critical discussion of the issues with a wide array of very bright and informed people, both from the States and from Israel/Palestine - even if their friends and neighbors reach out to them - if Jewish leaders spend their time making simplistic points instead of listening and learning, then I truly have no hope. Fortunately, I have found enough moral, concerned and open non-normative people that I believe, as I did in Minnesota in the '60s, that the Revolution will happen - including a just peace in Israel/Palestine. But Rick and Rabbi Mark, step aside if you can't lend a hand.
Jeff Halper is coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.