Meetings Last Week with Members of the Knesset About the Current Situation in Israel and Operation Protective Edge
Last Wednesday, our group of J Street leaders from the United States and J Street U students spending the summer in Israel, met with four members of the Knesset to get their perspective on the war – or “Operation” as it’s referred to here. One was from Hatnua (which is Tzipi Livni’s party and part of the government), one from Meretz, and two from Labor.
From Labor and Hatnua, we heard a message of support for the war. That it was necessary and needed to be fought. While the fighting is going on, this type of position is not surprising even given the brutal way that Israel has been conducting the war. I think that they all perceive the tunnels as a very real strategic threat that needs to be destroyed and they have no illusions about the nature of Hamas as a terrorist group actively planning to attack Israel.
Because all of those we spoke with are on the center left, it is not surprising that they emphasized the importance of strengthening President Abbas so that he could be in a position to gain enough political power to execute a deal with the Israelis. They felt that one of the not so obvious benefits of this war is that it opened the eyes of many, not only in the government, but in the general population as well, to the fact that they have someone that they can deal with on the other side. All of a sudden, Abu Mazen has gone from being the “Partner we can’t Trust” to being ‘not so bad’ compared to the alternative. Amram Mitzna, former General and Mayor of Haifa and Yeruham, feels that the Operation will help more people understand that there is no better option than the two state solution. There is no military solution to the conflict because Hamas is more than a military organization – it is a state of mind. Israel can destroy all of the rocket caches, blow up the tunnels and kill all of Hamas leaders, but Hamas’ “death to Israel” message will simply be adopted by new leadership.
But the most surprising and most upsetting thing we heard about is what has been going on in Israeli society. Over the past several years, there has been a steady and significant increase in overt racism in the country. This extreme hatred is now being projected against those who oppose the war. Whether it is at physical protests where marchers have been beaten up and forced to disperse – or online bullying which has gone to the extreme of calling out death threats to those posting pieces against the war – we heard about an ugly atmosphere of hate that is getting stronger and stronger. These MKs were concerned that the Cabinet Ministers have remained silent on denouncing these racist attacks. Rather, said one, Ministers are often actually the ones inciting this conduct. Virtually everyone we spoke with was extremely concerned about the increase in societal hatred – even the American Consul General in a separate meeting. Although the tragedy of the death and destruction from the war is heart wrenching, what hits me the strongest is the changing nature of Israeli society. There is something going on here that is abhorrent and rotten. No one drew any links directly to the Occupation, but it is clear that in order to enforce the Occupation, there is a need to dehumanize the Palestinians as “the other”. And once a society labels one group that way, it is a short hop to applying the same attitude to any other group. This trend is taking Israel further and further away from what most of us consider to be our Jewish values.
Along these lines, we also heard about the deterioration of conduct within the Knesset. Of course, it reminded us of home, seeing that Congress continues to set new lows in obstructionism and lack of decorum. One characterization of the way bills are pushed through the Knesset was “violent”. Not a term that one expects to hear describing legislative functioning. Just as in the U.S., we got the sense that there is a general breakdown in decorum and long-standing unspoken rules of how to relate to your political opponents. Whether this reflects the trends of more explicit and blatant religious, ethnic and, now, political hatred, or leads those trends, isn’t clear. But what was being communicated to us by the MK’s was that this was a serious, serious problem.
Finally, all of the MK’s expressed their appreciation for J Street leaders – particularly the J Street U students – for being in Israel at this time of war, and caring enough to reach out to see and hear what was going on so that we could bring what we saw back to those in the U.S.
One of the main stumbling blocks to coming to a peace agreement with the Palestinians is Jerusalem. The Israelis claim the entire city of Jerusalem (as they define it – including the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1980) as Israel’s capital. The Palestinians also demand Jerusalem (Al-Quds) as their capital – although it seems that they might accept East Jerusalem and the holy sites as sufficient.
A recent post in +972, tells about an East Jerusalem neighborhood that has been without water for three weeks:
The East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ras Shehada, Ras Khamis, Dahyat A’salam and the Shuafat refugee camp, which are cut off from the rest of the city by the separation wall, have gone without running water since March 4.
Palestinian East Jerusalem residents turned to Israel’s High Court on Tuesday demanding that running water be restored to their homes, after suffering for three weeks without it. The petition was filed on their behalf by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).
So this raises a question: If the municipal authority of Jerusalem does not systematically offer the same services to East Jerusalem as it does to the rest of Jerusalem, how can it claim that it is all part of the same city? In the U.S. there is a law that if you don’t retain some aspects of private ownership over a piece of property, it falls into the public domain. You may notice this via plaques on ground of certain building setbacks or even closing off of small areas of public walkways that exist on private property for some hours or a day to maintain private rights. So, isn’t the current situation in Jerusalem somewhat analogous? That is, if basic municipal services are not being systematically provided, or like in this case, repairs are not made within a reasonable time, doesn’t that provide an argument that, in fact, the municipality has given up some right to claim these neighborhoods as part of its city?
More photos here: PHOTOS: 13 days without water in East Jerusalem
As Richard Goldwasser points out in his op-ed “Jerusalem The Divisible” in today’s Times of Israel:
The ostensibly unassailable assumption that Jerusalem must remain Israel’s undivided and eternal capital, however, fails to take into account the evolution of Jerusalem’s boundaries.
He goes on to give an extremely brief – but enlightening – outline of some of the highlights of the history of Jerusalem’s boundaries. His conclusion:
Abraham Lincoln once posited, “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling the tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.” So it is with Jerusalem. Calling the Palestinian village of Beit Hanina Jerusalem doesn’t make it Jerusalem. At least not in a way that has any meaning for the Jewish attachment to Jerusalem. Perhaps that is why two of Israel’s past prime ministers, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, were prepared to cede the Palestinian neighborhoods in present-day Jerusalem to a future Palestinian state.