Saturday, June 09, 2012

Avraham Burg: Settlement Goods not Kosher


Amid the darkness surrounding the Middle East peace process, we now see a ray of light. Since 2009, the United Kingdom has been taking measures, in accordance with European consumer protection rules, to ensure that settlement products – goods you might find on your supermarket shelves that have been produced in the occupied Palestinian territories – are no longer labelled as "made in Israel".

After a meeting of the EU Council of Foreign Ministers last month, several European member states now appear ready to follow the British initiative. Denmark has already announced it will do so. Member states also committed to ensure that settlement products were excluded from preferential treatment under the EU-Israel Association Agreement.

Contrary to what you may think, EU member states which take these measures act in Israel's interest. They do so because they take steps that defend and reinforce the Green Line, the pre-1967 border between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Green Line is of decisive importance to achieving Middle East peace. It is the line that was drawn in green pencil on the maps that were on the table at the time of the cease-fire agreements between Israel and the Arab states, signed in 1949. Regrettably, this line survived only until the 1967 war.

During this war, Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Ever since, efforts of consecutive Israeli governments to blur this line and, ultimately, to erase it have not ceased. The Green Line has disappeared from the official maps of the State of Israel. Schools were even prohibited from presenting it in educational materials.

The large-scale and expansionist settlement enterprise erodes the Green Line every day. Residential communities, now housing more than 500,000 settlers, were established within occupied Palestinian territory in order to make us forget the Green Line's existence and prevent the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. It should long have been clear to every Israeli that anything located inside the Green Line is the democratic, legal, normative Israel, and anything beyond the line is something else: undemocratic, illegal, not normative. Not ours.

But the Israeli people's eyes are blind, their ears are deaf and their leaders are flaccid and weak. This is precisely the situation in which civilised societies urgently need feedback and intervention from the outside: to mirror the absurdity of the situation created and to focus attention on the damage of human and political blindness. To tell Israel that it is impossible to be treated as "the only democracy in the Middle East", while it is also the last colonial occupier in the Western world.

It is not anti-Semitic and not anti-Israel to convey these messages. On the contrary: the settlers, the conquerors and their political allies – including Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel – are the real enemies of Israel's future.

Indeed, anyone who wants to erase the pre-1967 border is essentially asking to erase the basic values on which the State of Israel was established: democracy, equality, the rule of law, secularism and modernity. Colonising Palestinian land across the Green Line goes in the opposite direction: it generates fanatic, nationalistic, fundamentalist and anti-democratic energies that threaten all civilised Israeli foundations.

I have decided to not buy any product that comes from the settlements. I do not cross the Green Line, not to promote public causes and not for family events. Because everything happening across the Green Line is the dark alter ego of Israel. Its hidden personality is manifest there. Evil, aggressive and impenetrable. This personality threatens to take over the good and humane parts of the legitimate Israel. With international help, we must return these demons to their bottles, or rather to those positive domains for which this state was established.

Preventing the mislabelling of settlement products as "made in Israel" and blocking their preferential entry into the EU seems a symbolic and minor step. However, in the present circumstances, it is a giant leap for Middle East peace, which seems more remote than ever.
Contrary to what you may be told, this is not a sweeping boycott of Israel, but a subtle and moral distinction that marks the difference between Israel's great potential and its destructive capabilities.

If, God forbid, the Green Line will be permanently erased, from consciousness and from the ground, then Israel will also be erased. The struggle for the preservation of the Green Line is the struggle for Israel. Anyone who defends and reinforces it is a friend of Israel and keeps hope alive.

Avraham Burg was Speaker of the Knesset (1999-2003) and Chairman of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Six days in Israel, 45 years ago

In early June 1967, as I cowered with my mother and sisters in the "safest" room of our house near Jerusalem — the downstairs bathroom — we feared the worst. None of us imagined that the war that had just begun would end in six days. It was inconceivable that the Israeli army would destroy three Arab armies, kill upward of 15,000 Arab soldiers (at a cost of 700 Israeli casualties), triple the size of the state of Israel and, for the first time in two millenniums, give the Jewish people control over the entire land of Israel, including the crown jewel, the Old City of Jerusalem.

Many believe now, as they believed then, that Israel was forced to initiate a preemptive strike in 1967 because it faced an existential threat from Arab armies that were ready — and intending — to destroy it. As it happens, my father, Gen. Matti Peled, who was the Israel Defense Forces' chief of logistics at the time, was one of the few who knew that was not so. In an article published six years later in the Israeli newspaper Maariv, he wrote of Egypt's president, who commanded the biggest of the Arab armies: "I was surprised that Nasser decided to place his troops so close to our border because this allowed us to strike and destroy them at any time we wished to do so, and there was not a single knowledgeable person who did not see that. From a military standpoint, it was not the IDF that was in danger when the Egyptian army amassed troops on the Israeli border, but the Egyptian army." In interviews over the years, other generals who served at that time confirmed this, including
 Ariel Sharon and Ezer Weitzman.

In 1967, as today, the two power centers in Israel were the IDF high command and the Cabinet. On June 2, 1967, the two groups met at IDF headquarters. The military hosts greeted the generally cautious and dovish prime minister, Levi Eshkol, with such a level of belligerence that the meeting was later commonly called "the Generals' Coup."

The transcripts of that meeting, which I found in the Israeli army archives, reveal that the generals made it clear to Eshkol that the Egyptians would need 18 months to two years before they would be ready for a full-scale war, and therefore this was the time for a preemptive strike. My father told Eshkol: "Nasser is advancing an ill-prepared army because he is counting on the Cabinet being hesitant. Your hesitation is working in his advantage." The prime minister parried this criticism, saying, "The Cabinet must also think of the wives and mothers who will become bereaved."

Throughout the meeting, there was no mention of a threat but rather of an "opportunity" that was there, to be seized.

Within short order, the Cabinet succumbed to the pressure of the army, and the rest, as they say, is history. The Six-Day War began three days later and was over on June 10, 1967. When the guns fell silent, one general saw yet another opportunity, one that would take most of Israel's other leaders some decades to recognize. This was my father. A 1995 newspaper profile reconstructed the first weekly meeting that the IDF general staff held after the war. When it came his turn to speak, my father said: "For the first time in Israel's history, we have an opportunity to solve the Palestinian problem once and for all. Now we are face to face with the Palestinians, without other Arab countries dividing us. Now we have a chance to offer the Palestinians a state of their own."

His position was well known. He argued in 1969 that holding on to the territory gained in the war was contrary to Israel's interests: "If we keep these lands, popular resistance to the occupation is sure to arise, and Israel's army will be used to quell that resistance, with disastrous and demoralizing results." Over the years, he argued repeatedly that Israeli control in the West Bank and Gaza would turn the Jewish state into an increasingly brutal occupying power (he was right) and could eventually result in a binational state (he may yet be right, as events are moving in this direction). Allowing the Palestinians an independent state of their own, he maintained, would lead to stability and calm.

For 45 years, successive Israeli governments have invested billions of dollars in making the 1967 conquests irreversible, and they have eliminated any chance for the two-state solution to become a reality. Cities, highways, malls and factories have been built in the West Bank in order to settle Jewish Israelis there, while a reign of terror was put in place to govern the Palestinians whose lands were being taken. From denying access to water and land and obstructing free travel, through a maze of discriminatory laws and restrictions, to full-on military assaults, Israel has dedicated huge resources to the oppression and persecution of the Palestinians.

Now once again Israel is faced with two options: Continue to exist as a Jewish state while controlling the Palestinians through military force and racist laws, or undertake a deep transformation into a real democracy where Israelis and Palestinians live as equals in a shared state, their shared homeland. For Israelis and Palestinians alike, the latter path promises a bright future.

Miko Peled is an Israeli activist living in San Diego and the author of the recently published book, "The General's Son: Journey of an Israeli in