Israel's Hidden Shame


In his article for last week’s New Matilda, President of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, David Knoll, asks readers to believe Israel isn’t ‘colonialist’ and that its intentions are benign, peace-loving and even humanitarian. Facts on the ground prove otherwise.

Thanks to Clay Bennett.

The elephant in the room, conveniently ignored by Knoll, is the ongoing, illegal and brutal Israeli occupation one of the longest in modern history.

Millions of Palestinians are starved, trapped, killed and humiliated on a daily basis by the Israeli forces. Jewish-only roads criss-cross the West Bank, arrested Palestinians are treated more harshly than Israelis (this was recently admitted by an Israeli security chief), hundreds of Palestinians are imprisoned without trial for months and years, natural resources such as water are routinely stolen to supply Israeli settlements, and olive groves the Palestinian life-blood are regularly destroyed by rampaging Israeli settlers, without punishment.

Israel is a democracy, but only if you’re Jewish. Israel’s 1.1 million Arabs may have greater rights than Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, but they do not have the same political and social rights as Jewish Israelis.

Knoll asks us to support Israel’s ‘barrier.’ ‘There is no doubt that the barrier causes great hardship,’ he writes, but he appears to care little for the consequences.

A report by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem in mid-February confirmed that, ‘settlement expansion was the principal consideration in setting the route in many sections of the separation barrier.’

‘Security’ for the Israeli people is the reason stated by the Israeli Government and its dutiful Diaspora leaders, but the ‘apartheid fence’ is merely the latest tactic to annex land and resources for the Israeli State. This is illegal under international law, but Israel is no stranger to ignoring such minor details.

According to a recent report issued by Israel’s National Insurance Institute, a quarter of Israel’s citizens live below the poverty line. The Center for the Study of Israeli Arab Society recently released a report that stated more than half of Arab households in Israel live in poverty and the Arab community ‘suffers from social and cultural problems, severe economic distress and are discriminated against in terms of education, employment and infrastructure budgets.’

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on 17 February that, ‘a military order that took effect last week bars Palestinians with permits to enter Israel from entering via the roads that Israelis use to enter the country from the West Bank.’ The week before, the same paper revealed that while the world was salivating over the Gaza ‘withdrawal’ in 2005:

Israel completed cutting off the eastern sector of the West Bank from the remainder of the West Bank Some two million Palestinians, residents of the West Bank, are prohibited from entering the area, which constitutes around one-third of the West Bank, and includes the Jordan Valley, the area of the Dead Sea shoreline and the eastern slopes of the West Bank mountains.

The overall number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank increased in 2005 there are now roughly 250,000 settlers there, and a further 200,000 on land annexed by Israel in East Jerusalem.

If all this sounds familiar, it should. Former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, Alon Liel, recently said: ‘If we take the magnitude of the injustice done to the Palestinians by the State of Israel, there is a basis for comparison with apartheid.’

Knoll mentions none of this, of course. He claims that I oppose the right of Jews to live in peace in their own homeland. For the record, I believe that Israelis and Arabs have the right to prosper in peace and security, but a Jewish State is anathema to the modern age. I am equally against a Christian, Islamic, Buddhist or any kind of religious State.

Soon after the HAMAS win in Palestine at the end of January this year, the Israeli Prime Minister’s advisor Dov Weisglas commented on Israel’s intention to impose an economic siege on the Palestinian Authority. ‘It’s like an appointment with a dietician,’ he said. ‘The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die.’ Israel’s Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz soon added insult to injury by claiming Israel still had the right to assassinate recently appointed HAMAS leaders, including leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Perhaps Knoll would like to consider a legal and moral response to such statements. How would he respond if an Arab leader openly called for the murder of Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert? HAMAS may say it wants to destroy the State of Israel, but it certainly doesn’t have the means to do so. Like it did with the PLO in the past, Israel conveniently wants to create an existential threat out of a vastly weaker opponent.

When Iran’s leader calls for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map,’ the world is rightly outraged. But when Israeli leaders advocate ethnic cleansing against Palestinians or dealing with the demographic ‘threat,’ the world remains silent fearful of being accused of anti-Semitism.

Knoll’s grand vision for his homeland is erecting walls, barriers and fences around ‘survivors of the Shoah and their descendents.’ Does he need reminding that Jews have a tragic history of living in the ghetto?

Israel ‘s current crop of leaders are talking about further unilateral moves in the West Bank, but intend to maintain Jewish control over Jerusalem. A Palestinian State is impossible under these terms. Israel must make a choice. Does it want to be a truly democratic State for all, or just for its Jewish citizens?

During my travels in Israel and the Occupied Territories in early 2005, researching my forthcoming book on the subject, I discovered any number of Jews, Arabs and Palestinians who knew that the current Israeli path was unsustainable. Israel opposes a resolution to the conflict because it is against the presence of another people on land it has claimed as exclusively for Jews.

Knoll prefers to charge Israel’s critics with anti-Semitism, but the word loses its meaning when used so carelessly. As a Jew, and a human being, I oppose any State that promotes a racially hegemonic vision.

Antony Loewenstein recently interviewed Robert Fisk acclaimed Middle East correspondent for New Matilda and The Independent (UK) while the latter was in Australia. To listen to a podcast of this interview, click here.

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.