Friday 4 March 2016

Boycotts, Settlements and Beautiful Innocence

I recently read an interesting article. Penned by John Ware for the Jewish Chronicle and entitled ‘Israel must stop making it easy for the boycotters’, it contains a passionate plea in relation to Israel’s West Bank settlements.

I’ve read the article several times, but I’ve got to admit it’s still not entirely clear to me exactly what, in practical terms, “Israel must” do in order to “stop making it easy for the boycotters”. John speaks about“reversing settlement expansionism”, but what does that mean? Freezing the settlements? Evacuating them? One or the other, it is obvious that John Ware believes that “Israel must” do something or other about those settlements; and that, if only that ‘something’ were done,
"it would trigger a dramatic climate change. Fewer people would listen to their frenzied and selective ravings. The spotlight would swivel towards Ramallah and away from Jerusalem where it has been fixed for a generation at such a cost to Israel’s global standing. There would be renewed pressure on Ramallah to come to terms with its geographical reality."
Now, I like John Ware. He is a lover of Israel; he is a very, very good guy. He is also very, very naïve. I hate to spoil his beautiful innocence. But it has to be done.

Let me be very clear: like the vast majority of Israelis, I have few territorial hang-ups. In return for true, permanent peace – the kind of peace that would guarantee Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state, the kind that would allow her to dedicate all its resources to the civilian pursuits in which it excels – I would give up the vast majority of the West Bank. Sure, Jews can claim that territory based on religious, historical and legal arguments. But – again like the vast majority of Israelis – I’m fundamentally a pragmatist.

And it’s as a pragmatist that I have a few issues with John’s beautiful dreams. See, the problem is that I’ve heard the promise ‘if only Israel did X – everything would be fine’ way too many times. Worse: I fervently believed in it.

In the early 1990s, Israel’s Prime Minister was Yitzhak Shamir – a stubborn individual many reviled as a perpetual nay-sayer. ‘If only’, John Ware’s precursors were saying, ‘Israel would start speaking with the Palestinians…’ So we did: we elected another Yitzhak – a yea-sayer. We did not just speak with the Palestinians, we made a deal with the PLO – the arch-enemy; with Yasser Arafat, the man we’d learned to hate just a notch less than Hitler. We gave him land concessions just for deigning to sit at the negotiations table with us. For peace, we offered him some 95% of what he said he wanted. But we did not get peace— we got humami bombs blowing up our buses, our restaurants, our shopping centres. Of course, decent people like John Ware condemned those terrorist attacks with utter disgust… before turning to Israel with a new set of ‘if only’ demands.

In the late 1990s, I used to hear another ‘if only’: ‘If only you guys withdrew from South Lebanon, you’d have peace at that border. After all, Hizb’ullah are Lebanese; they only want their land back’. So we did, we withdrew from Lebanon. But we did not get peace, you see – we got tens of thousands of Iranian rockets threatening us. How many of those rockets are aimed at my mum’s house in Haifa? How many, John?

Yet, almost immediately, we got a new set of ‘if only’. ‘If only’, they said, ‘you got out of Gaza… What are you guys doing there, anyway??’ So we did. We withdrew – to the last soldier; to the last settler. We dug out our dead, reversing even their illegal expansionism. As a hint of good intentions, we also uprooted four West Bank settlements. This, the likes of John Ware were telling us at the time, would surely signal to the Palestinians that if they gave us peace, we’d give them land. But they did not give us peace – we got Hamas, rockets and hate.

I believed in those ‘if only’. I pushed for those concessions, I hung my hopes onto those dreams. But you know what they say: ‘Fool me once – shame on you; fool me twice – shame on me’. I’ve been fooled too many times, John.

So now you’re telling me that ‘if only’ we ‘reversed settlement expansionism’ (whatever that means), there would be “a dramatic climate change”. Do you truly believe that West Bank settlements are the reason (rather than the latest excuse) for what you accurately described as the “fashionable disgust for Israel among many in the West”? You’re a dear, John! Unfortunately, you’re also wrong.

If only…’ Yes, ‘if only’, you say. If only we gave up building even one new flat in Gilo… If only we outlawed the ‘expansionism’ of settlers, including their illegal procreation… Better still, if only we kicked them all out, so that they ceased offending the world’s oh-so-selective sense of justice… ‘If only’ we did all that, surely we’d finally be loved; or at least accepted without a grimace. Or would we?

Or would we duly be presented with a fresh set of ‘if only’? What would the next ‘if only’ require us to do, John? The ‘right of return’? To place a crescent next to the Star of David on our flag, paint one of its stripes green? To finally admit that we are worse than Nazis – and thus liberate ‘progressives’ of their last annoying pangs of conscience? Do they really, really hate us for what we do, John? Or for who we are?

I really like you, John – you’re a good guy. But I’ll have to ask you to sing at another table. No offence, ‘If only’ is a lovely, lovely song; it’s just that we’ve listened to it too many times. See those guys in the opposite corner? They’re called Palestinians; I’m sure they’ll appreciate the melody – they’ve never heard it before…


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  2. Great post. IMHO it would have been more complete if you has inserted the fact that before 1967 there were no settlements and the terror attacks, having started in the 1920's, were still ongoing. a certain point, they will also say, "If only you returned the Western Wall, and made Jerusalem Judenrein as it was prior to the 6 Day War."