Harvard Square Observer: Jimmy Carter and Israeli Actions - Part 2

Ernest Cassara

Last week, in preparation for a discussion of Jimmy Carter’s new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, I told of some of the experiences of a study group of which I was a member on our visit to Israel-Palestine in October 2002. For example, we observed the many Israeli settlements across the West Bank, connected by roads on which only Jews can travel.  Certainly, although it might be denied by Israel’s apologists, this smacks of apartheid.  Of course, President Carter makes plain that he is not using the term in the same sense in which it was used in describing the old South Africa.

If you check out Carter’s book from a library, most likely you will miss the dust jacket, which pictures a pensive Jimmy Carter looking on the wall that the Israelis are building - on Palestinian land - to separate them from the Palestinians.  A cogent illustration of what Carter is getting at.

As is true of his earlier books, Carter is very thorough.  He devotes several  chapters to the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations; his dealings with the major players during his presidency; the attitudes of Israel’s neighbors; the years of Reagan’s presidency; the George H. W. Bush years; the presidency of William Jefferson Clinton; and, of course, the involvement of the current president. The Oslo Agreement and the Geneva Initiative he reviews in detail, and he brings the story down to the present, with his discussion of the Palestinian and Israeli elections in 2006.

In addition, a series of appendices are a historical gold mine.  How many of us have had convenient access to such as the U.N. Resolution 242 - which we hear referred to often - or the Camp David Accords - which Carter brokered, bringing peaceful relations between Israel and Egypt; or, the Arab Peace Proposal of 2002; and Israel’s negative attitudes to the “Roadmap” of 2003?  Each major topic is illustrated with maps.

On our trip, we chatted with several Israeli soldiers in Hebron. They were of a brigade ordered to keep an eye on the 500 or so Israeli settlers who have plunked themselves down among 130,000 or so Palestinians.  When questioned by our study group about how the Israelis were dealing with the Palestinians, a soldier - from Miami! - likened Israel’s actions to those of the European Americans conquering the native Americans. Carter likens the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes to that of the Creek Indians and the “Trail of Tears.”  He points out that the Israelis rejected a multi-cultural state and purged many Palestinians in 1922.  Indeed, this attitude is alive among some present-day Israelis, Prime Minister Olmert recently having appointed to his cabinet a member of a minority party, indeed, who does advocate kicking the Palestinians out of the land.

Among the leaders our group interviewed on our trip was Hanan Ashrawi.  When she entered the room, she looked so familiar from my seeing her so often on TV that I blurted out that it was like visiting a member of the family.  Carter quotes her regarding the penchant of the Israelis to blame all things on Palestinian “terrorism.”

So far, they have succeeded in holding the peace process hostage to this mentality on the one hand. And on the other hand they have provoked tremendous violence by acts of incitement like shelling, bombing, house demolition, uprooting trees, destroying crops, assassinating political leaders, placing all Palestinians under closure in a state of total immobility - a prison.  And then they wonder why some Palestinians are acting violently!  And then they want to have the right to exercise violence against the captive population.  Then they like to make non-violence on the part of the Palestinians a precondition for the Palestinians to qualify for talks, let alone for statehood. [p. 154]

And, recently, the Israeli government has threatened to kill Hamas legislators.  Indeed, it has imprisoned a fair number of them - without charge, of course, as is the Israeli custom.

Whenever I ponder American Jewish support of Israel’s actions, my mind goes back to the late Rabbi Beryl Cohon, of blessed memory.  At Tufts many years ago, before the introduction of computers, registration for courses at the beginning of each semester was held in the huge Cousens gymnasium for three days.  Rabbi Cohon, who was an adjunct lecturer in Judaic history, and I sat together many times.  Thus, I have a much better understanding of the various branches of American Jewry, something I never learned from the Jewish friends of my youth.  I, also, have a store of wonderful Jewish jokes, thanks to Rabbi Cohon.  Have you heard of the one about the recently hired rabbi, who . . . .  Oops! Must stop myself, and get back to my topic.

Rabbi Cohon, I was surprised to learn, did not favor the establishment of modern Israel, believing that the Jews had settled very nicely in many lands, the U.S. being a fine example.  Despite his influence on me, I have always supported the Jewish state - although, I must admit that the idea of a state set aside for one religion bothers me.  What further bothers me is the unflinching support of the U.S. government for Israel, and its attitude toward  the Palestinians, on whose land the new Israel was established, treating them as non-persons.  I can name several American politicians, who because they expressed sympathy for the Palestinians, were defeated when Jewish organizations poured money into the coffers of their opponents.

Thus, it took great courage for Jimmy Carter to undertake this book.  Not that he is running for political office, but, he was been severely criticized for dealing with the subject.  Mostly by those who have not read his book. I’m sure they will not be won around when, should they pick up the book, they see the chapter heading, “The Wall As A Prison.” If you want a balanced view of Israeli actions, I suggest you read the newspaper, Daily Ha’aretz, published in Tel Aviv.  Unlike American newspapers, which fear being labeled anti-Semitic, Ha’aretz pulls no punches. Visit them on the web and save this URL: www.haaretz.com

I should close with an extended excerpt, illustrating what Carter means by a prison.

With increasing control of East Jerusalem, with relative security from the wall surrounding what is left of the West Bank, and with thousands of remaining settlers east of the wall protected by a strong occupying force, there is a temptation for some Israelis simply to avoid any further efforts to seek a peace agreement based on the Quartet’s Roadmap or good faith negotiations on any other basis.

In this diplomatic vacuum, Israeli leaders have embarked on a series of unilateral decisions, bypassing both Washington and the Palestinians.  Their presumption is that an encircling barrier will finally resolve the Palestinian problem.  Utilizing their political and military dominance, they are imposing a system of partial withdrawal, encapsulation, and apartheid on the Muslim and Christian citizens of the occupied territories.  The driving purpose for the forced separation of the two people is unlike that in South Africa - not racism, but acquisition of land.  There has been a determined and remarkably effective effort to isolate settlers from Palestinians, so that a Jewish family can commute from Jerusalem to their highly subsidized home deep in the West Bank on roads from which others are excluded, without ever coming in contact with any facet of Arab life.

Withdrawal from Gaza was the first unilateral step, leaving a tiny and nonviable economic and political entity, circumscribed and isolated, with no dependable access to the air, sea, or even other Palestinians.  The future prospects for the West Bank are even more dismal.  Especially troublesome is the huge dividing wall in populated areas and an impassable fence in rural areas.  The status of this barrier is a key to future peace in the Middle East.  The original idea of a physical obstruction was promoted by Israeli moderates as a means of preventing intrusive attacks after the withdrawal of Israel’s occupation forces.  The first barrier, surrounding Gaza, proved that this was a valid premise, in that there was a substantial decrease in cross-border raids.  The plan was to continue construction of the barricade along the border between Israel and the West Bank.

Instead, the governments of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert have built the fence and wall entirely within Palestinian territory, intruding deeply into the West Bank to encompass Israeli settlement blocs and large areas of other Palestinian land.  It is projected to be at least three and a half times as long as Israel’s internationally recognized border and already cuts directly through Palestinian villages, divides families from their gardens and farmland, and includes 175,000 Palestinians on the “Israeli” side of the wall, 175,000 of whom are outside Jerusalem.  One example is that the wandering wall almost completely surrounds the Palestinian city of Qalqiliya with its 45,000 inhabitants, with most the citizens’ land and about one-third of their water supply confiscated by the Israelis. Almost the same encirclement has occurred around 170,000 citizens of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.

First, a wide swath must be bulldozed through communities before the wall can be built.  In addition to the concrete and electrified fencing materials used in the construction, the barrier includes two-meter-deep trenches, roads for patrol vehicles, electronic ground and fence sensors, thermal imaging and video cameras, sniper towers, and razor wire - all on Palestinian land.  The area between the segregation barrier and the Israeli border has been designated a closed military region for an indefinite period of time.  Israeli directives state that every Palestinian over the age of twelve living in the closed area has to obtain a “permanent resident permit” from the civil administration to enable them to continue to live in their own homes.  They are considered to be aliens, without the rights of Israeli citizens.

To summarize, whatever territory Israel decides to confiscate will be on its side of the wall, but Israelis will still retain control  of the Palestinians who will be on the other side of the barrier, and enclosed between it and Israel’s forces in the Jordan River Valley. [pp.189-193]   

Assuming that a fair number of our readers are on medication to control their blood pressure, I think it wise to stop here.  What follows the above passages is unlikely to improve your mood.

I have often wondered how the people of the Holocaust can treat their fellow human beings in such a manner.  It is one of the conundrums of human existence, and makes me despair for the future of human kind.

You may be interested in a review of Carter’s book in The Nation.  In addition, you may find a blog which discusses Israelis who agree with Carter worth reading.

“Hurricane Carter,” review by Henry Siegman

BLOG | Posted 01/08/2007 @ 4:12pm. “An Israeli Defense of Jimmy Carter”

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Harvard Square Commentary, January 15, 2007