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A Tough Time To Support Israel

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Israel has found itself and others would say has placed itself squarely in line for world condemnation. With many of its recent actions such as the announcement of the building of 1600 houses in East Jerusalem during Vice President Biden's visit in March to acknowledge the beginning of Proximity Talks and more recently it's decision at the Jordanian border to bar internationally known peace activist, Noam Chomsky, it appears that the State of Israel is working overtime to blacken its own image. There are many more instances of zealotry seemingly displayed by a conservative government to give its multi-headed leadership the opportunity to underscore the implementation of an anti-peace platform generally based on a lack of belief in a Palestinian willingness to ultimately sit down and sign any agreement that will forestall the goal of the return of every square meter of ground from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. The public who elected Benjamin Netanyahu, Silvan Shalom, Moshe Ya'alon, Avigdor Liberman, Ehud Barak, Dan Meridor and Eliyahu Yishai to the leadership of the State of Israel was far more concerned with supporting security than advancing a meaningful peace process, (which they believed was unachievable at least in the short run with Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran, (the benefactor of both), building a nuclear weapons capacity and a weakened Palestinian government in Ramallah).

The Obama Administration promoted a new emphasis on reaching out to the Muslim world as evidenced by the President's speech in Cairo: "A New Beginning," on June 4, 2009 and his position requiring a complete settlement freeze by the Israeli government. It appears that this position in turn required Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to make the freeze into a fundamental pre-condition for any direct peace talks with Israel. It was clear that the American President expected to make tangible progress on peace when he appointed George Mitchell as his Middle East Envoy on January 22, 2009.

There are two stories in Israel/Palestine today: One is a positive story led by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's economic revitalization of the Palestinian economy, the development of a new crack Palestinian Security force under the training of American General Keith Dayton and its deployment in coordination with the State of Israel successfully in areas of conflict such as Jenin, Nablus and Hebron, the gradual relaxation of movement stifling closures in the West Bank by Israel and the increasing investment primarily by the United States and the European Union in the Palestinian economy. The other story is of a growing local and international movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions, BDS, against Israel and particularly the economic offerings of the West Bank settlers. This expanding action in unison with some peaceful and other not so peaceful protests occurring at a variety of locations against the impact of the "security wall," or in reaction to a number of ongoing conflicts between Palestinians and extremist Israeli settler's calls for responses from Israel that further isolate them from the international community.

The invasion of Gaza, (Operation Cast Lead), beginning with Israeli airstrikes on December 27, 2008 was undertaken to eliminate the ability of Hamas to launch Qassam rockets at will at the civilian population of S'derot and the surrounding Negev. During the prior three year period over 3000 rockets were fired at Israel, killing few civilians, but terrorizing the entire population as the red alert siren sounded almost daily providing no more than a fifteen second warning before each rocket landed. The airstrikes and invasion that followed killed between 1100 and 1450 Palestinians including a high percentage of civilians varying from 295, (IDF estimate), to 926, (Palestinian Centre for Human Rights estimate). Israel lost thirteen soldiers in the conflict. The invasion in Gaza, home to 1.5 million civilians led the United Nations to launch its own investigation led by Richard Goldstone with harrowing consequences primarily for Israel's international image including accusations regarding the targeting of civilians, their homes, hospitals, factories, UN and other vital facilities, the use of white phosphorus and the commitment of actual war crimes. Israel's control of the borders along with Egypt's control of the southern Rafah crossing continue to limit movement into and out of Gaza including the importation of food, medical and building supplies. Although Israel allows approximately 10,000 tons of supplies a week through, economic conditions continue to deteriorate and the international community continues to watch from the sidelines. The Free Gaza movement which has sent a series of boats filled with international peace activists and supplies has been largely unsuccessful in challenging the Israeli sea blockade. A new flotilla of nine boats supported by Turkey and other governments is traveling toward the Israeli Navy today to further increase international pressure on Israel.

In addition to all of this a writer formerly with the New Republic, Peter Beinart, has written a damning indictment of the American Jewish education system and its inability to prepare a new and far more liberal corps of American Jewish youth to accept the standard fare on Israel presented by AIPAC, the American Jewish Congress, the Council of Presidents and the Federation system that feeds the synagogues. "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment," has incited a firestorm of heated debate that even includes some serious introspection. You can read this 5000 word essay in the New York Review of Books at;

It is difficult for me to look at all of this wearing the hat of an impartial observer. I have spent a lot of time imbibing a liberal American Jewish philosophy that envisions the occupation as the great evil and two states for two peoples as the only viable moral solution to this seemingly unending conflict. Well, there is plenty of evil in the Middle East and more people than you would ever think in both Israel and Palestine working as hard as they can to bring tolerance, understanding, reconciliation, cooperation and peace closer every day. I have come to believe that we must find a way to sit down with the stranger, to break bread and implement a thousand programs across the length and width of Israel/Palestine to teach both peoples how to prepare for peace. I do not believe that anyone can wave a magic wand and eliminate terror or hatred or fear or vengeance or incitement or a well founded cynicism. I do believe that peace is the only answer and we have to find ways, (maybe even invent them), to give everyone a stake in the peace process. The alternative is a nuclear Iran met by an Israeli first strike that has the potential to set off a conflagration that will kill tens of thousands and involve the whole world. There are other scenarios, none of which is positive for very long unless we cultivate the investment of the international community in a peace process that is doable for Palestinians and Israelis alike. If we are all invested in the promotion of peace, young Jews, Muslims and Christians and people of other faiths will each respond to the call.

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Larry Snider was the President of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace; ICMEP. He founded New Hope for Peace, a dialogue and educational forum in 2001 and is a member of the Greater Bucks County Peace Circle. He is author of numerous (more...)

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