Issue 354 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


I was disappointed that Yossi Klein Halevi [“Leap of Faith,” interview by Rebecca Dreisinger, March 2005] spoke of reconciliation between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but then heaped most of the blame for the current conflict on the Palestinians. Halevi said that Arabs have never recognized Israel’s right to exist, yet at the 2002 Arab summit, all of the Arab governments offered security guarantees and full normalized relations with Israel in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. The Israeli government refused.

In 2000 Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was offered roughly 88 percent of the West Bank and Gaza, with Israel retaining control over the water, airspace, and borders of the resulting “Palestinian state” — a group of noncontiguous cantons dissected by Israeli settlements and bypass roads. The capital offered was not East Jerusalem, but a suburb of it. Arafat rejected this proposal, but negotiations continued. The two sides were close to a final agreement, with terms far more favorable to the Palestinians, when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak suspended the talks. Then Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister, and he ended negotiations.

The “security fence” is severely disrupting Palestinian life, cutting through some towns and completely surrounding others. It has prevented people from getting to work, school, hospitals, and farm fields. Some families have been separated and homes and businesses destroyed to make way for the fence. There is much to criticize the Palestinians for as well, but the violence is not happening in a vacuum. It’s a product of thirty-seven years of occupation under which Palestinians have had virtually no control over their lives and are often killed or abused by the occupying force. The more militant Palestinian groups, such as Hamas, did not exist before the occupation. Violence and repression breed fundamentalism, as we are finding out in Iraq.

The U.S. should stop funding Israel’s occupation, pressure it to remove all illegal settlements, and work to help establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with security guarantees for both states. Israel would be far more secure within an internationally recognized border than it is defending illegal settlements on occupied lands. In addition, both sides must admit their mistakes and crimes and ask for forgiveness, not just blame the other for the conflict.

Rachel Cadman Corralitos, California

Yossi Klein Halevi encourages Arabs to repudiate Holocaust denial as a sign that they accept Israel’s legitimacy. I invite him to repudiate his own denial of Israeli aggression and slow-motion ethnic cleansing. Since 1967 Israel has destroyed more than half a million olive trees, citrus trees, and grapevines in the West Bank and Gaza (mostly for “security purposes”), consigning thousands of Palestinian families to poverty and robbing them of the dignity that self-sufficiency provides. He claims that Israel is “in a mode of territorial contraction,” yet it continues to confiscate Palestinian land around Jerusalem and expand settlements in the West Bank. He accuses the Palestinian Authority of teaching a generation of Palestinians to hate Israelis, when that generation was living under a brutal occupation that taught hatred with tanks, guns, and bulldozers. Israel is like a rapist who won’t release his victim until she avows her love for him.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, said, “If I were an Arab leader, I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, But what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, it’s true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They see only one thing: we came here and stole their country. Why should they accept that?”

Until Israelis acknowledge their crimes, cease what they are doing, and make restitution for the damage they have done to the Palestinian people, peace and legitimacy will — and should — remain elusive.

Bill Lyman Saint Helena, California

I feel strongly that the interview with Yossi Klein Halevi did not belong in The Sun.

My background is very similar to Halevi’s: We are both Ashkenazi Jews from Brooklyn, New York. I am not a child of Holocaust survivors, but I have aunts and uncles who were rounded up and shot in their town in Poland. As a youth I shared Halevi’s anger, and had my parents not made a move to the suburbs, I likely would have ended up a follower of Rabbi Kahane. Since then, however, I have turned away from that limited, self-righteous perspective, while Halevi, it seems, has not.

Halevi says that Israel is the only country ever to offer shared sovereignty of its capital city. History shows this claim to be absurd. The 1947 United Nations partition plan designated Jerusalem as an international city, not as the capital of Israel. During the 1948 war, the Israelis took Jerusalem, along with a corridor of land connecting it to the coastal plain. The conquest involved a massacre of Arab civilians at the village of Deir Yassin and a significant loss of civilian life elsewhere, including in Jerusalem itself. Jerusalem today is not recognized by the international community as the capital of Israel, and even the United States, Israel’s staunchest ally, maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv.

Halevi says he hates the term “cycle of violence,” but what other possible interpretation could there be for what is going on in Israel-Palestine? The Jews take land, the Arabs strike back. That is the history of Israel and the Zionist movement. The slogan of Zionism — “A land without people for a people without a land” — implies that the Arabs didn’t exist, and Jewish land acquisition has systematically displaced them. Halevi’s claim that the Jews are not colonizers is simply untrue.

Halevi says that the Arabs have to accept that the Jews have “returned home.” But Halevi and I are Ashkenazi Jews, a group mostly descended from the Khazars, who converted to Judaism centuries after the destruction of the second Temple. And many of the Jews who remained in Palestine (despite popular Zionist claims that they were all expelled) later converted to Islam or Christianity. The Jews have not returned home. My Ashkenazi Jewish people, who have little or no original Jewish blood, have conquered the Palestinians, many of whom are descended from the land’s original Jewish population.

The reason the problems persist in Israel-Palestine is that most Jews, Halevi among them, simply refuse to look at history. We are so attached to the notion of Jews as victims that we are unable to see how we have victimized another population. The solution is simple: Acknowledge the past, apologize for it, give Palestinian Arabs the right to return, end open Jewish immigration, and invite those who have been formerly conquered into full participation in a multiethnic state. Israel cannot claim to have offered the Palestinians justice until they do this.

Rich Siegel Teaneck, New Jersey
Yossi Klein Halevi responds:

I appreciate the tone of Rachel Cadman’s letter, especially compared to those that follow. I agree with her plea that both sides need to accept blame for the conflict in general, even as I believe that the Palestinian leadership is responsible for the current war, which could have been avoided had it negotiated in good faith over Israel’s offer of Palestinian statehood in 2000. In the interview I stressed that I blamed the Palestinian leadership for this phase of the conflict, not for the conflict in its entirety; I noted that during the first intifada of the late 1980s, Israel hadn’t yet offered the Palestinians a fair deal, and I opposed Israeli policies then, both as a journalist and a voter.

The substantive argument between Cadman and me, then, is whether Israel offered the Palestinians a fair deal at Camp David in July 2000 and then, six months later, at Taba. Cadman’s version of events, while widespread on the Left, is simply wrong. At Camp David Israel offered the Palestinians a state on 91 percent of the territory, and then at Taba on 96 percent, with compensatory territory in Israel proper for the remaining 4 percent. Those were also the parameters of the Clinton proposals of December 2000.

As for Jerusalem, Israel offered the Palestinians not merely “a suburb” but three out of four quarters of the Old City, the heart of historic Jerusalem. (The Muslim, Christian and Armenian quarters were offered, leaving only the Jewish quarter under Israeli control.) The Palestinian leadership rejected all those offers. For that reason, both President Clinton and his chief Middle East negotiator, Dennis Ross, placed the entire blame for the collapse of the peace process on Yasser Arafat. For readers interested in pursuing this, I recommend Ross’s exhaustive account of the collapse of the Oslo process, The Missing Peace.

Cadman’s assertion that Israel’s hold on the West Bank is to blame for Palestinian terrorism is likewise wrong. Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization, which engaged in a systematic campaign of terror atrocities, was founded in 1964, before the West Bank fell under Israeli control in 1967; its platform called for the “liberation of Palestine” — that is, the destruction of pre-1967 Israel. Most Israelis today believe that, no matter what concessions we offer the Palestinians, the Arab world will continue to treat Israel as a pariah.

Bill Lyman wants to reduce a bitter hundred-year conflict between two peoples with legitimate claims to the same piece of land to “Israeli crimes.” And if Israel doesn’t acknowledge its role as criminal, he insists, its right to exist should be denied. I know of no other country whose existence is conditional on moral behavior; by that measure, how many Arab states should exist? Should Sudan’s existence be conditional on how it behaves in Darfur? Why the exceptional hatred for Israel?

As for the quote, it seems clear that David Ben-Gurion, who believed passionately in the justness of the Zionist cause, was trying to empathize with the Palestinians and understand the conflict through their eyes. I pray for the emergence of an Arab leader who will try to understand the conflict through Israeli eyes; when that happens, peace will be brought considerably closer.

Rich Siegel believes that the entire Jewish narrative is a lie, that a crackpot blood theory about the Jews explains our real origins, and that the only honorable alternative for the Jewish state is to commit suicide. I will not engage him in debate, even if he is from Brooklyn.

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