Israeli and Jewish soul-searching
January 26, 2001
The Intifada, coupled with Israeli brutality and recognition that the term
"Apartheid Peace" is in fact applicable after all, are having an effect on at
least some Israelis and some Jews; even while Ariel Sharon marches to the Prime
Minister's office in Jerusalem (and maybe because of this).
The real suffering of course is being done by Palestinians -- large numbers
dead and wounded, the severe restrictions and destructive economic sanctions,
plus the day-to-day realities that go along with an "Apartheid Peace". Add to
this the "double occupation" of the Israeli Army and the Palestinian Authority
-- or is it "triple" when one adds the "Hashemite Regime" which cooperates so
closely with the Israelis and greatly represses the large numbers of Palestinians
on the East Bank.
Even so there is also psychological and moral suffering. And while the Palestinians
face these as well, and far more than the Israelis and Jews do, nevertheless
this kind of suffering is far harder to quantify and discuss.
Recently the editor of a Jewish newspaper in Kansas City was immediately fired
when she published a rather simplistic but very sincere article from an American
Jew who wrote to support the Palestinian "Right of Return" and to express her
awakening to Palestinian suffering and Israeli lies. Indeed what is called "the
organized Jewish community" deserves to be condemned for decades of blind support
for Israel and numerous instances of quashing any expressions of moral anquish
and dissent from within. Years ago during the first Intifada the "Jewish Committee
On The Middle East" (JCOME) did just this in dozens of full-page advertisements
that appears in many magazines and newspapers throughout the country; but the
organization was not able to continue after the renwed "peace process" limited
It is some Israelis from within who have really led, especially in recent
years, when it comes to protesting the "Apartheid Peace". It's not a large percentage
of the population, for after all look how far Sharon is so far ahead in the polls.
But still it is a significant number of intellectuals and activists -- including
some key revisionist historians, like Benny Morris; journalists, like Amira Hass;
and activists, like Peretz Kidron. And during the first Intifada there was Dan
Almagor, the TV personality, and Natan Zach, probably Israel's most famous poet
at the time -- who in fact pushed hard from within the core of the Israeli establishment
for recognizing the justice of Palestinian demands for Statehood and reparations.
The following article in an American Jewish publication, after so many years
of overlooking and belittling such persons as Kidron and such organizations as
"There is a Limit", is far too little far too late -- that's for sure! The "organized"
Jewish community cannot redeem itself with such limited willingness at this very
late date after so much suffering and after so many "facts on the ground". And
the same goes for Henry Siegman's recent article in the New York Review of Books
applauding the efforts of Barak and Foreign Minister Ben-Ami while making a few
thoughtful comments about the Palestinians -- for after all Siegman has been
in the lifetime forefront time supporting the Israelis and decrying the Palestinians
while now in his declining years he is apparently seeking redemption and forgiveness.
MER will have more to say in the future about why the "organized" American
Jewish community deserves such condemnation -- including Siegman who himself
headed one of the worst of the big Jewish organizations at one of its most anti-Palestinian
times, the American Jewish Congress (AJC). But right now this article just published
by the Jewish Bulletin in Northern Californa about Israeli "conscientious objectors"
who refuse to follow orders and be "Good Germans" -- no, they didn't dare to
write it that way but we do!:
ISRAELI GROUP OFFERS SUPPORT TO CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS
By ALEXANDRA J. WALL
[Jewish Bulletin of Northern California - 26 January]: In 1979,
the translator of Yitzhak Rabin's memoirs leaked a passage
to the New York Times.
Peretz Kidron knew just how explosive those few paragraphs would be.
"Dynamite," he called them. The lines were not in Rabin's book
because they had been excised by Israeli censors.
The passage told how Rabin, then a 26-year-old brigade commander, was
ordered by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to expel 50,000 Arabs from
the villages of Ramle and Lod during the War of Independence.
"There were some fellows who refused to take part in the expulsion
action," Rabin wrote. "Prolonged propaganda activities were required
after the action, to remove the bitterness of these [soldiers] and
explain why we were obliged to undertake such a harsh and cruel
If the soldiers that Rabin referred to were serving in the Israel
Defense Force now and refused to take part in an action they believed
to be unethical, they'd have a support group to help them. And some
20 years after Rabin's translator made that passage public, he is the
spokesperson for that group.
Kidron, a translator and journalist who has a long relationship with
KPFA Radio in Berkeley, was in the Bay Area recently to promote the
activities of Yesh Gvul, a support group for soldiers who refuse to
serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Yesh Gvul means "there is a
limit," or "there is a border."
With his unruly white hair and bright blue shirt, Kidron looked much
like the kibbutznik he used to be.
Originally from Vienna, Kidron's family fled to Great Britain in 1938
when he was 5. "I was a refugee at an early age," he said. "If you're
looking for a pat explanation for my politics, that's it."
Kidron, 68, has been involved with Yesh Gvul since its inception
during the Lebanon War. At that time, about 170 reservists refused to
serve in the invasion.
Yesh Gvul believes in selective refusal, meaning soldiers who refuse
to serve in the territories will still protect Israel in a war
situation within its borders.
The group faded and resurrected itself in the 1980s, during the
intifada, when some 200 soldiers -- also reservists -- refused to
serve in the territories. Yesh Gvul has been lying low since the Oslo
peace process began. But with the current violence in the territories
showing no signs of abating and an election that -- if the polls are
correct -- will usher in a more hardline prime minister, those
involved with Yesh Gvul felt the time had come to resurface.
Only a handful of soldiers have refused to serve in the territories,
but for the first time, they are not all reservists.
In a highly publicized case, soldier Noam Kuzar received a 28-day
sentence in military jail for refusing to serve in Jericho. When he
was released, he was made to do such jobs as clean toilets. He was
not allowed to speak to the press.
Yesh Gvul representatives have been standing at bus stations, handing
out fliers to soldiers that quote laws from the Geneva Convention.
With the headline "Hey soldier, where are you headed?" the flier
suggests that refusing to obey orders may be the right thing to do.
"It's a moral question, not a geographical one," said Kidron. The
most obvious reason for refusing to serve is that "the overwhelming
majority of casualties fell in the conquest of or retention of places
now under Arab rule."
Additionally, he said, it is difficult for a soldier -- even one who
is sympathetic to the Palestinians -- to refrain from inflicting harm
when he feels as if his life is threatened.
"The soldier is placed in an intolerable situation, where he has to
commit some kind of atrocity or disobey orders," Kidron said. "The
best way to avoid it is to not get into the situation in the first
place. Even if you're a nice occupier, you're still an occupier."
For those refusing to serve, Yesh Gvul tries to boost their morale by
initiating letter-writing campaigns to incarcerated soldiers or, in
the case of reservists, offering support to their families.
During the Lebanon War, Kidron said, a U.S. Reconstructionist
congregation called two conscientious objectors up to the Torah, a
move that received a huge amount of press coverage in Israel.
Such actions of U.S. Jews are much appreciated by the peace movement
in Israel, he said, since often, American support of Israel can be
By giving billions of dollars a year to Israel without placing any
conditions on how the money is used, Kidron said, "the U.S. is
providing us junkies with a regular allowance to get our next fix.
But then, when they say, 'Maybe we should cut off the money and make
us go to detox,' we say, 'That's interfering with our private life.'"
Oftentimes, he said, American Jews come off like cheerleaders, even
when supporting specific Israeli policies that "are leading to
Like the rest of the country, Yesh Gvul is preparing for Ariel Sharon
to be the next Israeli prime minister. If that happens, the group
will step up its efforts.
"He can do whatever he's going to do," Kidron said. "The Palestinians
aren't going to lie down or go away." Saying he hoped Sharon didn't
turn Israel into another Chechnya, he added, "The question is whether
Israelis are ready for it. I hope there will be many soldiers who
say, 'Count me out.'"