As is well known, an increasing numberof courageous Israeli soldiers are now refusing to do their service in the illegally occupied territories.Since the tendency by Israelis in general is to demonize them, I believe in the necessity of not just listening about them, but to listen to them as well.
This is one of the best article I have read of the brave peaceniks dubbed Israel's army of peace that needs to be read to realize the inherently violent nature of occupation, and the brutality Israel has imposed on Palestinians and why an increasing number of Israelis who deserve our support and respect no longer wish to play the part of the oppressor.
An Open Letter to American Jews
By Assaf Oron
Passover Eve, 2002
Yesterday I was informed of an interesting phenomenon: a
peace-supporting Jewish organization called Tikkun published an ad
in favor of us, the Israeli reservist refuseniks, and was immediately
bombarded with hate mails and phones from other American Jews. What
ís more interesting is that even other Jews considering themselves
supporters of peace have denounced the Tikkun ad, to the extent
that some of the Tikkun Advisory Board members are resigning in
order to minimize the personal damage to themselves. This has so
saddened, alarmed and angered me, that I find myself setting aside
a half-day at the eve of Passover, and writing this open letter to
you all. As is my habit, it is quite long, so please bear with me.
Most of the 'civilized' attacks, so I understand, were seemingly
aimed at this or that detail of the Tikkun ad. This is nothing new
to me. Over the past two months since we came out with our own ad,
Iíve heard and read so many specific arguments about specific
aspects of our act. They range from petty nit-picking to plain
ludicrous, and each and every one of them can be refuted to dust
in a matter of minutes. But the moment you refute them, new specific
arguments sprout up like mushrooms. It is clear that there is
something very general and non-specific behind all this criticism.
Therefore, if you allow me, I will start from the general and only
later turn to a couple of these specific issues.
The general theme is the tribal theme. A very very loud voice (and i
n Israel nowadays, it is the only voice that is allowed to be fully
heard) keeps shouting that we are in the midst of a war between two
tribes: a tribe of human beings, of pure good ñ the Israelis ñ and
a tribe of sub-human beings, of pure evil ñ the Palestinians. This
voice is so loud, that it has found its way even to the op-ed pages
of the New York Times (William Safire, March 24 or 25). To those who
find this black-and-white picture a bit hard to believe, the same
voice shouts that this is a war of life and death. Only one tribe
will survive, and so even if we are not purely good, we must lay
morality and conscience to sleep, shut up and fight to kill--or
else, the Palestinians will throw us into the sea.
Does this ring a bell to you? It does to me. As a little child
growing up in Israel under Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan, all I heard
was that the Arabs are inhuman monsters who want to throw us into
the sea, they understand only force, and since our wonderful IDF
has won the Six Day War they know not to mess with us anymore --or
else. And of course, we must keep the Liberated Territories to
ourselves, because thereís no one to talk with. Then came the Yom
Kippur war, and for a child of 7 it was the perfect proof that
indeed the Arabs want to throw us into the sea, and what a great
opportunity it was for our glorious IDF to teach them a lesson.
I prayed for the war to continue to its natural and final end --
the complete surrender of all Arab armies. I was too small to
evaluate, then, how the war really ended; all these cease-fires
and talks were too complicated and boring, much more boring than
a war. And it seemed humiliating that WE should withdraw in these
cease-fires; I remember that the re-opening of the Suez Canal
was portrayed in our mass media as a kind of defeat.
A few years passed and a funny thing happened: those
throw-us-into-the-sea Arabs came to talk with us, and in
exchange for all of Sinai they would sign a full peace. The
IDF chief of staff (the late Motte Gur, later a Labor Party
minister) shouted that it is a hoax, that we should not believe
Saadat, but the politicians had to sign. Already a teenager, I
went and protested against the withdrawal from Sinai. It seemed
strange to me that most of the demonstrators were orthodox Jews.
After all, it was a purely logical issue: the Arabs are not to
be trusted, thatís what weíve learned from day one. Well, lucky
for the country, the government and the majority of the people
employed a different logic, and the peace with Egypt was not
But the throw-us-into-the-sea paradigm immediately found new
fields for play. There was an inconvenient reality on the Northern
border, and even though the forces on the other side (Palestinians!
Phew!) had strictly adhered to a secret cease-fire for about a year,
they were Arabs and therefore could not be trusted. So we talked
ourselves into invading Lebanon and setting up a friendlier regime
there. The mastermind of the invasion was defense minister Ariel
Sharon, and Shimon Peres, then head of opposition, voted together
with his party in favor of the invasion. Only later, when it turned
sour, and after many refuseniks already sat in jail, would the main
opposition turn against the whole affair. For me at 16 it was also
a turning point. When I understood that the government had lied to
me in order to sell me this war, I turned from 'center-rightist' to
'leftist'. Sadly enough, it has taken me almost 20 more years,
in a slow and painful process, to understand how deeply the lies
and self-delusion are rooted in our collective perception of reality.
Anyway, when Peres withdrew most of our forces from Lebanon in 1985,
the Arabs could still not be trusted. And so, to soothe our endless
paranoia and suspicion, we created that perpetual source of death
and crime ironically known as "the Security Zone." It took many
years, a lot of blood and Four Mothers ñ against almost all
politicians, generals, and columnists ñ to finally pull us out of
Lebanon. In the long and hard way, we learned that even the Lebanese
are human beings whose rights must be respected.
But not the Palestinians. Because the Palestinians are too painfully
close, like a rival sibling (and ñ may I add ñ because they have
always been so weak), we have singled them out for a special
treatment. Having them under our rule, weíve allowed ourselves to
trample them like dirt, like dogs. Weíve been doing it even to our
own Palestinian citizens (especially before 1966), but we have
perfected our treatment in this strange no manís land created in
1967, and known as the Occupied Territories. There we have created
an entirely hallucinatory reality, in which the true humans, members
of the Nation of Masters, could move and settle freely and safely,
while the sub-humans, the Nation of Slaves, were shoved into the
corners, and kept invisible and controlled under our IDF boots.
I know. I've been there. I was taught how to do this, back in
the mid-1980ís. I did and witnessed as a matter of fact, deeds
that I'm ashamed to remember to this day. And fortunately for me,
I did not have to witness or do anything truly "pornographic",
as some friends of mine experienced.
Since 1987, this cruel, impossible, unnatural, insulting reality in
the Territories has been exploding in our face. But because of our
unshakeable belief that the Palestinians are monsters who want to
throw us into the sea, we reacted by trying to maintain what we've
created at all costs. This meant of course employing more and more
and more force, with the natural result of receiving more and more
and more force in return. When a fledgling and hesitating peace
process tried to work its way through this mess, one major factor
(perhaps THE factor) that undermined it and voided its meaning was
our establishmentís endless fear and suspicion of The Other. To
resolve this fear and suspicion, we chose the insane route of
demanding full control of The Other throughout the process. When
this Other finally decided that weíre cheating him out of his
freedom (and having too many mental disorders of his own to
accommodate ours as well), violence erupted, and all our ancient
instincts woke up. There they are, we said in relief, now we see
their true face again. The Arabs want to throw us into the sea.
Thereís no one to talk with (ëno partnerí, in our beloved ex-PMís
words), and they understand only force. And so we responded as we
know and love, with more and more and more force. This time, the
effect was that of putting out a fire with a barrel of gasoline.
And thatís the moment when I said to myself, NO, Iím not playing
this game anymore.
But what about the existential threat, you may ask? Well I ask you,
have you not eyes? Donít you see our tanks strolling in Palestinian
streets every other day? Donít you see our helicopters hovering over
their neighborhoods choosing which window to shoot a missile into?
What type of existential need are we answering in trampling the
Prevention of terror, I hear you say. Let me use the wonderful words
of my friend Ishay Rosen-Zvi: ìYou are ëfighting against terrorí?
What a joke. The Israeli government, in its policies of Occupation,
has turned the Territories into a greenhouse for growing terror!!!
We have sown the seeds, grown them, nurtured them ñ and then our
blood is spilled, and the centrist-right-wing politicians reap the
benefits. Indeed, terror is the right-wing politicianís best friend.
You know what? When you treat millions of people like sub-humans for
so long, some of them will find inhuman strategies to fight back.
Isn't that what the Zionists, and other Jewish revolutionaries,
argued about a hundred years ago in order to explain the questionable
strategies of survival that Jews used in Europe? Didn't our
forefathers say, ìLet us live like human beings, and see how we'll
act just like other human beings?
So here's the deal. I hope that the first part of this letter made
it clear that I donít buy the ìthey want to throw us into the sea
crap. Itís just a collective self-delusion of ours. But more
importantly, I donít see tribes. I see people, human beings. I
believe that the Palestinians are human beings like us. What a
concept, eh? And before everything else, before EVERYTHING else,
we must treat them like human beings without demanding anything in
return. And no (to all die-hard Barak fans), throwing them a couple
of crumbs in which they can set up pitiful, completely controlled
Bantustans in between our settlements and bypass roads, and
believing it to be a great act of ëgenerosityí, does NOT come
close to answering this basic requirement. This requirement is NOT
negotiable; moreover, in a perfect demonstration of historical
justice, it is a vital requirement for the survival of our own State.
After that, and based on the lessons of modern history, especially
that of the Arab-Israeli conflict (as was briefly described above),
I do believe that the Palestinians will calm down, and that the
elusive ëSecurityí and peace will finally come upon us (as it did,
incidentally, for almost two whole years between Wye 1998 and Camp
David 2000). I donít have any insurance policy for that (well
--almost none, except the solemn promise of the entire Arab world),
but remember - I have this funny notion that they are human beings.
In any case, we are seeing now all too well what type of insurance
policy the opposite paradigm is providing us.
In the meanwhile, I refuse to be a terrorist in my tribeís name.
Because thatís what it is: not a ìwar against terrorî, as our
propaganda machine tries to sell. This is a war OF terror, a war in
which, in return for Palestinian guerrilla and terror, we employ the
IDF in two types of terror. The more visible one are the violent acts
of killing and destruction, those which some people still try to
explain away as ësurgical acts of defense.í The worse type of terror
is the silent one, which has continued unabated since 1967 and
through the entire Oslo process. It is the terror of Occupation,
of humiliation on a personal and collective basis, of deprivation
and legalized robbery, of alternating exploitation and starvation.
This is the mass of the iceberg, the terror that is itself a
long-term greenhouse for counter-terror. And I simply refuse to be
a terrorist and criminal, even if the entire tribe denounces me.
That leads me to the first specific subject: are we, the refuseniks,
being persecuted and denounced, or are we enjoying the wonderful
Israeli tolerance and democracy and exploiting it to make trouble?
Well, I must admit that this is not yet the USSR or Pinochetís Chile,
and at least the Jews here enjoy a relative democracy (describing
it as vibrant or tolerant would be a gross error, but that is a
different subject altogether; maybe in another letter). I first must
point out that the government and IDF also enjoy the image of
'letting us speak', and it serves them well. Secondly, in a rather
sophisticated manner the establishment (with the generous and
voluntary help of the mass media) is effectively shutting us up.
The media has decided for us that there is no opposition. Thus, a
demonstration of 20,000 is reported in 5 seconds at the late-night
edition, and a demonstration of 500 outside a military prison is
completely ignored. The fact that right now there are over a dozen
refuseniks in jail ñ the largest number in twenty years ñ is hidden
from the Israeli public. The story of Captain (res.) Itai Haviv
and Sergeant (res.) Yair Yeffeth, who demanded a full military
trial in which they could prove that refusal is innocence and that
the order to serve in the Territories is illegal, was not told
anywhere except for a brief mention in the back pages of Haaretz.
So the public, of course, didnít learn that the IDF evaded answering
these demands, and that Itai Haviv will spend the Seder night in
prison following a ëdisciplinary hearing.í I hope the readers are
intelligent enough to know that if the media wanted, these stories
would make the headlines.
Still, you keep hearing about us. Thatís the key word, ABOUT us. But
you donít hear us. You just hear people explaining, analyzing, mostly
(in a ratio of 99 to 1) attacking us. We have become the perfect
'hate hour' figures, to reunite the tribe against (have you read
1984?) Petty ëvolunteerí groups who organized against us, a mayor
who called upon local governments not to hire us, and a group of
industrialists who called employers to fire us, have all won their
moment in the spotlight. No one cared to mention that these are
blatantly illegal calls (no, ëthe lawí is remembered only when
we 'break' it). No one has tried to set limits to this discussion.
Moreover, the prime minister in one of his rare public addresses
blamed us for the wave of terror (us, not his catastrophic policies).
The IDF chief of staff canít stop talking about us; he sees us as a
bunch of inciters with a hidden agenda. So, ironically, the only
thing protecting us from long-term ëgulagí imprisonment and from
losing our jobs is public opinion ñ the rather large pockets of
support and sympathy among key sectors in the Israeli public, and
yes, support ads such as the one published by Tikkun. The moment
the government or IDF will think the lights are out, and no one
sees or cares ñ they will find or invent the 'legal' clause (Israeli
politicians are experts in this) and throw those they believe to be
our ëleadersí to jail for long terms. Remember, even poor Abie Nathan
was thrown in for two years, just because he dared speak with PLO
personnel about peace.
But that's nothing, because the moment our government will sense a
"lights out" situation - a huge terror attack, an American attack on
Iraq - there will be a horrible bloodbath in the Territories,
compared to which the last year and a half will be remembered as
a happy picnic. And that brings me to the second specific issue,
that of the Nazi allusion.
Some readers thought that the way the Tikkun ad said "obeying orders"
was an allusion to Nazi murderers' claim that they were "just obeying
orders." Rabbi Lerner has rightly pointed out to these readers,
that automatic execution of orders is a characteristic of all
dictatorship, not just the Nazi one, while refusal on moral grounds
is a sign of democracy. I agree, but let me be less polite and
politically correct. After all, itís just my country thatís going
up in smoke as I write. What is this? Does Israel have the exclusive
monopoly of labeling all its rivals as Nazis, and everyone else has
to shut up, even when reality starts speaking for itself?
Parties that support the essentially Nazi idea of deporting all
Palestinians from the country, have been part of our Knesset and
our "legitimate" political map since 1984. Recent opinion polls
show that 35% of the Jewish public now supports this ësolutioní, as
it is sometimes called. Leaders, Rabbis, and just plain folk feel
free to call openly in the mass media to eradicate Palestinian cities
with or without their tenants. Last weekend, Gen. (res.) Effi Eitam,
fresh out of the military and all ready to take the leadership of
the religious public and become a deputy or alternative to Netanyahu,
received a flattering cover story on Haaretz supplement. He unfolded
his chilling ideology, calling to expel those Palestinians who don't
want to remain in the Galilee and West Bank as serfs, to Jordan,
and from Gaza to Sinai. And he said this: why should us, the country
poorest in land resources, bear the burden of solving the Palestinian
problem? Well I donít know about you, but I remember some of the
Nazi rhetoric in that dark period between the Kristallnacht of 1938
and the beginning of the war, when Jews were expelled from Germany
but could find no safe haven anywhere else. When I see a retired
IDF general and rising political star use the exact same Nazi
rhetoric on Israelís most ëliberalí newspaper, without any criticism
by his interviewer or the editors ñ my hair just stands on my head
Letís move from the political scene back to the ground. My friend,
Captain (Res.) Dan Tamir, decided to refuse to serve in the
Territories about a year ago, after he realized what heíd done as a
reserve regimentís intelligence officer a few weeks before that. He
realized he had laid out the plans to convert a large Palestinian
town into a closed ghetto. You can find his full statement on our
website, www.seruv.org.il. The vast majority of Palestinians in the
Territories now starve in such ghettos; in those days of mercy when
they are allowed to leave them by foot and perhaps catch a taxi,
these taxis are forbidden from using most of the paved roads in the
But why listen to a "leftist"? Letís hear it from senior IDF officers.
One of the top commanders in the Territories was quoted in Haaretz
(Jan. 25) as saying that in order to prepare for potential battles
in dense urban neighborhoods, the IDF must learn, if necessary, how
the German army ëoperatedí in the Warsaw Ghetto. A week later, the
reporter confirmed this quote and the fact that this is a widespread
opinion in the IDF, and went further to morally defend it. A small
number of people, including myself, tried to raise a scandal over
this. One letter to the editor was published in Haaretz. A much
tougher letter, which I wrote, was never published, nor was my plea
for a phone discussion with an editor ever answered. The issue just
died down. No one in Israel or in the Jewish public abroad was
interested. Where were all these holy souls, who now scold Tikkun
because they indirectly allude to the Nazi horror, where were they
all when a senior IDF officer proudly called, ìin order to beat the
Palestinians, let's be Judo-Nazisî?
In my letter to Haaretz I went further. Knowing the IDF mentality
and adding one to one, I concluded that the IDF is operationally
prepared to invade refugee camps ñ an utter, indefensible war crime
- and through this leak to the press it is starting to pressure the
government and prepare the public opinion for the invasion. The l
etter was not published. It was sent on February 2. A few weeks
later we all saw the horrors of the refugee camp invasions and
the bloody revenge attacks that followed culminating on Passover eve.
And you know what? Army generals and colonels morally and
professionally pat themselves on the back, because these invasions
"prevented terror", and killed only dozens and not thousands. (Note:
in fact, the major reason limiting the bloodshed was the "terrorists"
responsible decision not to turn the camps into all-out
battlegrounds. But this may change in the next round.)
In truth, I have little hope that the Israeli public will wake up.
The Israeli public, in its fear and confusion, has made a decision
(aided by the politicians and mass media) to go to sleep and wake
up only ìafter it is all overî. But it wonít be over, because while
our mind sleeps our muscles tighten the death grip, instead of doing
the only sensible thing (which requires an open mind) ñ which is to
let go. Will you guys join the hypocrite mobs who sing lullabies to
Israel and pounce upon the refuseniks, upon Tikkun,
to shut us up? Or will you finally take responsibility and be the
true friends that Israel needs now ñ even if it means not being "nice"
to Israel for a while?
As you sit tonight at the Seder table, please remember the dozen or
so refuseniks that spend this Seder in a military jail. More
importantly, please remember the thousand or so people, three
quarters Palestinians and one quarter Israelis, who were here with
us a year ago and have been murdered. Most of them could have
been here with us, if you and we had acted sooner. We have now
acted, done what little we can do. Please think of the many
thousands that may be doomed soon, if you continue sitting on
May you have a happy Holiday of Freedom,
Please help us struggle free from fear, racism, hatred and the deaths they