Category Archives: Book Reviews

My Speech for Palestine Awareness Week at SDSU.

I want to begin by thanking the members of AIPAC the Jewish Zionist community who are here tonight. I am glad that they decided to set aside time to express solidarity with the people of Palestine. I know that you will listen to the tapes and view the recordings of my remarks tonight and you will study them well and hopefully you will realize that you are supporting evil. You see, I too came from a deeply Zionist background, far more Zionist and Jewish than most of you here tonight. My grandfather was a signer on the Israeli declaration of independence, and my father, a general, one of the giants who planned and executed Israel’s most definitive military victories, namely 1948 and 1967. So I know what you were taught and I know what you think. But its time to sweep away the Zionist myths and uncover the truth so that we may all finally live in peace. The myths I will address tonight are the three most common myths:
1. The myth of 1948.
2. The myth of the existential threat of 1967.
3. The myth of the Jewish democracy.
I want to read to you a passage from my upcoming book The General’s Son, and I quote: (Growing up we were taught to believe that the Arabs had left Eretz Israel partly on their own and partially at the directive of their so called leaders, and that therefore taking their land and homes was morally OK. It never occurred to us that even if they did leave willingly, we had no right to prohibit their return. But then Israeli historians had found that what Palestinians have been saying for decades was true.) end quote. In other words when Palestinians claim something is true we doubt it but when Israelis claim it themselves, well now that is a different story. So Israeli historians found that Israel and Palestine the exact same place. But when Israel was created it was created on the ruins of Palestine.

Now, although Palestine was not a state yet, it would have become one had it not been so thoroughly destroyed. Palestine had bustling cities where commerce and trade were taking place, they had a middle class, they had judges and scholars and a rich political life and indeed they had culture and a unique identity that set them apart from the rest of the Arab world. What the Palestinians did not have, the one thing in which they did not invest was a military. And while they constituted the vast majority of the population, when the Jewish militias attacked, they were helpless.

The Jewish community in Palestine at the time was small, numbering less than half a million people but it had developed its own state like institutions separate from those of the Palestinians. Based on the principle of Hafrada, or segregation, they had developed their own schools, a nationalized health care system, a quasi government and a strong, well trained militia with young men like my father who were dedicated to creating a Jewish state in Palestine disregarding the existence of the vast majority of the population who were, Palestinians.

In 1948 the Jewish militia became the Israeli army but between the end of 1947 and the beginning of 1949 they destroyed close to 500 towns and villages and exiled close to 800,000 Palestinians who to this day are not permitted to return. So, it turns out that the creation of Israel had not, after all, been a haphazard fight in which the Arabs fled their homes due to the directives of their own leaders. It had been a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Jewish militia involving massacres, terrorism, and the wholesale looting of an entire nation.

My mother remembers the homes of the Palestinians who were forced to leave West Jerusalem. She herself was offered one of those beautiful spacious homes but refused. She could not bear the thought of living in the home of a family that was forced out and now lives in a refugee camp. She said the coffee was still warm on the tables as the soldiers came in and began the looting. She remembers the truckloads of loot, taken by the Israeli soldiers from these homes.

Once the state was established, Israel had worked tirelessly to efface the remnants of prior Palestinian existence by demolishing towns and villages and historic sites including an estimated two thousand mosques. I recall the Israeli TV series Tkuma or “Rebirth,” (an outstanding series that describes the rebirth of the Jewish people and the establishment of the Jewish state. In one interview a veteran brigade commander of 1948 was asked if it was true that the Jewish forces burned down Arab villages. He looked up slowly into the camera and said: “Like bonfires,” he replied, they burnt like bonfires.)

After the war was over, the Palestinians who remained within the newly created Jewish state were forced to become citizens of a state that forced itself upon them and they were designated as “The Arabs of Israel” a designation that denies them a national identity and rights. They are Arabs in a Jewish state and they are citizens of a state that is despised by all its neighbors.

Another widely accepted Zionist myth is that in 1967 Israel had to defend itself against an existential threat as invading Arab armies were about to wipe it off the face of the earth. And it just so happened that miraculously the Israelis won and conquered lands to the north, east and south defeating three massive armies. Well, setting aside the countless books that have been written in Hebrew, English and Arabic and documentaries that were filmed and disprove this myth, and clearly show that Israel attacked in order to conquer, as part of the research for my book, I sat for days at the Israeli army archives reading through the minutes of the meetings of the Israel army general staff. Here is another quote from my book: (In a stormy meeting of the IDF top brass and the Israeli cabinet that took place on the 2nd of June, 1967, my father General Matti Peled told the cabinet in no uncertain terms that the Egyptians needed at least a year and a half in order to be ready for a full scale war. His point was that the time to strike a devastating blow against the Egyptian army was now, not because of an existential threat but because the Egyptian army is NOT prepared for war. The other generals agreed. But the cabinet was hesitant. The cabinet members and Prime Minister and a tug-of-war of unimaginable proportions ensued. During that same stormy meeting my father said to the Prime Minister: “Nasser (Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser) is advancing an ill prepared army because he is counting on the cabinet being hesitant. He is convinced that we will not strike. Your hesitation is working in his advantage.”) No mention of an existential threat but of an opportunity to assert Israeli strength. Years later this was confirmed by other Generals, including the butcher Ariel Sharon.

In the end the cabinet succumbed to the enormous pressure placed on them by the generals and approved a pre-emptive attack against Egypt, that began on June 5, 1967. Again I quote:(The surprise attack led to the total destruction of Egypt’s air force, the decimation of the Egyptian army, and the re-conquest of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula in a matter of days. The Israeli army also knew the Syrian army was in shambles, and the Jordanians were no match to the IDF strength. After the campaign against Egypt went so smoothly, the generals, turned their attention to the West Bank and the Golan Heights, two regions Israel had coveted for many years. Both had strategic water resources and hills overlooking Israeli territory, and the West Bank contained the heartland of Biblical Israel, and the crown jewel, the Old city of Jerusalem. In six days it was all over. Arab casualties were estimated at 15,000, (15,000 dead in 6 days!) Israeli casualties 700, and the territory controlled by Israel had nearly tripled in size. Israel had in its possession not only land and resources it had wanted for a long time, but also the largest stockpiles of Russian-made arms outside of Russia. Israel had once again asserted itself as a major regional power.)

Now here is where something of immense proportion takes place: remember this was 46 years ago (At a meeting of the General Staff after the Six Day War, Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin was beaming with the glory of victory. But when the meeting was nearing its end, my father raised his hand. He was called on, and he spoke of the unique chance the victory offered—to solve the Palestinian problem once and for all. For the first time in Israel’s history, we were face to face with the Palestinians, without other Arabs between us. Now we had a chance to offer them a state of their own in the West Bank and Gaza. He claimed with certainty that holding on to the West Bank and the people who lived in it was contrary to Israel’s long-term strategy. Popular resistance to the occupation was sure to arise, and Israel’s army would be used to quell that resistance, with disastrous and demoralizing results. It would turn the Jewish state into an increasingly brutal occupying power and eventually into a bi-national state. This was nothing short of prophetic as today we live this exact reality. As he was saying this, the future leaders of the Intifada (the Palestinian uprising) were still lying in their cradles.)

His words were ignored, his claims brushed aside and instead, blinded by their newly gained access to places with mythical/biblical names like Hebron and Bethlehem, Shilo and Shcem Israeli leaders began a massive settlement project to settle Jews in the newly conquered land. A few years later my father called on Israel to negotiate with the PLO: The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). He claimed that Israel needed to talk with whoever represented the Palestinian people, the people with whom we shared this land. He believed only peace with the Palestinians could ensure our continued existence as a state that was both Jewish and democratic.)  Now, all these years later people talk of creating a Palestinian state in the WB but that option no longer exists.

The myth of Israel being a democracy is still being perpetuated even in light of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. While Jewish Israelis over there and AIPAC over here like to think they are the only rightful citizens of their land and will argue that they live in a democracy, this is far from being true. Israel has been in control of the West Bank for over four decades and had built and invested heavily in the West Bank. But Palestinians who make up the vast majority of the population in the West Bank are excluded from any of it. In other words, 100% of the construction in the West Bank was done to bring Jews into the WB and exclude the close to 3 million Palestinians whose land this belongs to in the first place. 3 million Palestinians are left out, disenfranchised even as they see their lands taken, their homes destroyed and roads, malls, schools and gated communities being built for Jews only with no access to them or their families. Some democracy.

And that is not the worst of it. Water, the scarcest resource of all is controlled and distributed by the Israeli water authority, including the large amounts of water that exists within the WB. According to Betselem, the Israeli human rights organization the ground water from the Mountain Aquifer is a shared water source for Israeli and Palestinians. It is the largest and highest quality water source in the area, producing 600 million cubic meters (mcm) of water annually. Israel holds almost complete control of the aquifer and exploits 80 percent of the production for its needs, leaving the remainder for the Palestinians’ use. “The discriminatory and unfair division of shared water resources creates a chronic water shortage in the West Bank, and is liable to harm Palestinians’ health.” The World Health Organization recommends a minimal per capita daily consumption of 100 liters. The daily per capita consumption in Israel is 242 liters, the consumption in the West Bank is 73 liters per person. “In certain districts, consumption was as low as 37 liters (Tubas District), 44 (Jenin District), and 56 (Hebron District).” So  Palestinians have to buy their own water back from Israel, as Israel does not recognize Palestinian rights to the water that exists under Palestinian land. As absurd as it sounds Palestinian farmers are prohibited from digging wells on their own land. When seen as a per year distribution it is even more alarming. Israel distributes the water as follows: Per capita, Israeli Jews receive 300 cubic meters of water per year. Per capita Palestinians receive 85 cubic meters per year. (World Health Organization recommends 100 per year) Per capita, Jewish settlers in the WB are allocated 1500 cubic meters of water per year. In other words while Palestinians have barely enough to drink, Jewish settlers not 500 yards away have swimming pools and green lawns. So does anyone seriously think that this can go on forever? Democracy indeed. Now in light of the peoples uprising in the Middle East we can expect to see dictatorial regimes falling like dominos. Can we expect that 5 million Palestinians will continue to live under a regime, that is democratic for Jews but is a brutally oppressive one to Palestinians? There are close to 6 million Israel Jews and 5.5 million Palestinians sharing the same country under different laws.
My father who was a military giant but had also spent years fighting for justice for the Palestinian cause, was often asked about the question of Palestinian terrorism. I mention his reply in my book because it is classic: “Terrorism,” I recall him saying in an interview on Israeli television, “is a terrible thing. But the fact remains that when a small nation is ruled by a larger power, terror is the only means at their disposal. This has always been true, and I fear this will always be the case.”

My father’s predictions have all come true. The work of the Israel lobby in this country not withstanding, people around the world are beginning to realize that there are in fact two nations who live between the Jordan River and the Med sea and that the brutal regime under which Palestinians live is unacceptable.

And speaking of AIPAC, I remember seeing many of you, the mighty San Diego AIPAC bunch who are sitting here tonight, at the vigil that was held for the innocent victims murdered by Israel in Gaza. It was held a couple of months ago in Balboa Park. You were draped in the Israeli flag, singing and dancing as we who were there too, separated from you by a line of police and a sense of morality tried to recall the names of over 1400 dead, innocent civilians, police officers, children, women and men who were killed by the state of Israel in a matter of three weeks.

Those were three weeks of such death and destruction that one can hardly comprehend. I recall stories of the Israeli air force pilots who flew sortie after sortie, dumping hundreds of tons of bombs on Gaza, exposing a civilian population to unimaginable horror and then returning home to their families to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Hanukah, you see the attacks took place during Hanukah. Then these pilots, having enjoyed the celebration slept well in the comfort of their homes and their beds only to get up the next morning and do it again, and again, and again. I recall that during the vigil you who were draped in the Israeli flag held signs that told of the warning the Israeli army gave the people of Gaza prior to the attacks. They dropped thousands of leaflets to let the besieged people of Gaza know that this nightmare was about to begin. I can only imagine the mother who saw the warnings. Knowing that the death and destruction were pending and knowing also that there was no where to go, nowhere to take her children no where to hide them from the fire, the smoke, the chemicals and the phosphorous that melts the flesh and won’t be extinguished – no where to go because Israel had imposed a siege, a never ending lockdown on the people of Gaza. So for the Israeli air force pilots, young men who Israelis and Jewish Zionists everywhere consider their finest, this was nothing more than shooting fish in a barrel as they began their merciless onslaught at precisely 11:25 am on December 27, 2008. A date that will forever be etched in our memory as one of the darkest and most shameful days in the long history of the Jewish people. A day when the Jewish State committed horrendous shameful crimes by dropping hundreds of tons of bombes at the precise time that Gaza children were out on the street. Between 11 and 11:30 AM 800,000 children of Gaza are on their way to school or returning home from school, it is at this time that the two shifts of the school day change. That was the time chosen by the Israeli decision makers to begin the assault.

To emphasize the how criminal this is, I want to read to you the quote from Charles Glass a veteran writer and middle east reporter: In “The Tribes Triumphant” arguably the one of the best books ever written about the Middle East, journalist Charles Glass describes children in Gaza on their way to school in the morning. Everyone should read his book, by the way, and here is what he writes about children in Gaza: “..in smocks of blue or grey little girls with white fringe collars, boys leading their younger brothers…with canvas bags of books on their backs, hair brushed back and faces scrubbed .. Thousands and thousands of children’s feet padding the dusty paths between their mother’s front doors and their schools…Gaza is a children’s land. …beautiful youngsters so innocent that they could laugh even in Gaza.” these are the people Israel attacked on that dark, dark December day. Those of you who are here because you support Israeli brutality will no doubt claim that Israeli had the right to act as it did because it was acting in self-defense. Self defense from kassam rockets fired by Hammas militants in Gaza. Thousands of rockets that were launched to kill innocent civilians in Israel.

I know a thing or two about kassam rockets. I was sitting with my children and relatives in a kibbutz, a stones throw from Gaza relaxing on a Saturday afternoon as the rockets began flying over us and the alarms went off. It was frightening. Just this last December a kassam rocket fell in the same kibbutz near the kindergarten, when children were present. The children were hurt. There were bloody scratches, shattered glass everywhere and several children were hospitalized in a state of shock. I saw the hole in the ground created by the rocket, the size of a large soccer ball. And then I remembered what a crater made by a one-ton bomb looks like. It is the size of a city block. Children do not suffer shock or scratches, they are decimated and burned and buried in the rubble and suffocated from the fumes. Now, multiply that by 100 and multiply that again and again and keep in mind that in Gaza population density is one of the highest in the world 10k per sq mile. Yet the Israeli lobby will justify this. Those among you who are Jewish will be familiar with the story in the book of Genesis, chapter 18, verses 23-26: God decides to destroy the city of Sodom and Abraham, the patriarch chastises him and says “wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked, perhaps there be fifty righteous within the city” and God promises he will spare the city if he finds 50 righteous people. But in Israel today there is no Abraham, for as we know there are 800,000 children in Gaza and Israel did not spare them the horror. Hard to imagine.

I am often accused of being one sided and not mentioning Palestinians terrorism. Well this time I will: as my father said it decades ago, when a small nation is governed by a brutal larger power, some sort of violent resistance is to be expected. And the victims are always innocents.  As for my family’s brush with terrorism it was what drove us to learn more about the conflict and to reach out to our Palestinian neighbors: And the drive, the final push for me to reach out to Palestinians came as a result of a devastating tragedy:  I quote again from my book The General’s Son: Then, in the fall of 1997, disaster. My niece Smadar was killed by Palestinian suicide bombers. Hours later, there we were, driving along the road to the cemetery. Police escorted our procession on motorcycles, making way for vans carrying the devastated family members of another Jewish casualty. As we got out of the van, someone approached and asked me to carry the small coffin. My heart felt far heavier than the heartbreakingly slight weight on my shoulders. Israelis and Palestinians, family members and friends from across the political spectrum, famous leaders and ordinary people, came to give eulogies or express their sorrow at this unspeakable loss. Smadar was laid to rest near my father, her grandfather, in a small hilltop cemetery just outside of Jerusalem. To this day my sister Nurit cannot forgive herself for leaving her baby girl alone out in the cold, damp ground. But when she came out of her room to face the thousands of mourners she did not ask for retaliation. She did not beg for revenge. Instead she said this:  “No real mother would want such a terrible thing to happen to another mother.”

It seemed impossible to carry on. But my mother always said that life was stronger than death. And so we went on. But something had changed. I felt I had to do something and I knew that meeting and talking to Palestinians was the right thing to do. And so I did, and I began right here in San Diego where I was welcomed by the warm embrace of the local Palestinian community.

The experience of meeting Palestinian was comforting, liberating and heart wrenchingly difficult. It was comforting because I found that we were very similar, it was liberating because I found we are not doomed to be enemies forever and it was heart wrenching because I realized I did not have full possession of the truth – that is where you my AIPAC supporting friends are right now: you are not in full possession of the truth and I suggest you get over it and join me in what was so eloquently described by the great Clovis Maqsoud as The “Constituency of Conscience”.

I can only imagine that the whites in SA upon seeing the end of apartheid wanted so badly to hang on to their dying way of life, corrupt as it was. I can only imagine that white racists in the Southern states were doing the same as legalized racism and discrimination came to an end in this country. We see brutal tyrants everywhere these days, from Libya to the Gulf states do the same. Holding on even as they fall one by one.  Now Zionists and their supporters do the same, holding on to the notion that a racist regime can last, that injustice and horror can last that crimes against others who are different can go unpunished. But we are near the end. The Zionist dream of an ethnically, religiously homogenous state was shattered by the Zionists themselves with their insatiable hunger for land. In their own hands they created a bi national state, a state where half the population is not Jewish or Israeli but Palestinian Arab. True they have no rights, true also that they are not counted but that will change and sooner than you think.

Change will come because the non-violent resistance movement in towns and villages all over Palestine will prevail. In Beit-Umar, In Bil’in, in Nabi Saleh, in Silwan in Ni’ilin, in Shekh Jerrakh, in Maasara, dear friends Palestinians and Israelis who are committed to justice and democracy, organize non-violent marches every single week. And this is why we who believe in justice and democracy are optimistic. The people, grass roots Palestinian leaders who are dedicated and relentless.

In East Jerusalem, just outside the walled old city and not far from the Jewish Quarter, sits the neighborhood of Silwan with close to 50,000 residents. Israel wants to expel families from Silwan in order to build an archeological park that glorifies its Jewish past. They claim that king David built a city there some 3000 years ago and they hope to find the remnants of this city under the homes of the people of Silwan. Thousands of families may have to leave so that Israel can build a park to glorify a conquest that took place 3000 years ago, never mind that not a shred of scientific evidence exists that such a king ever lived, any more than there is evidence the world was created in 6 days. The past trumps the present in Israel – a state that wants to eliminate the existence of people who live on their land to solidify the myth of a glorious past.

But the Palestinians constantly and stubbornly interfere with the Zionist myth making and so the Palestinians, men, women, children and the elderly along with their schools and mosques, churches and ancient cemeteries and all evidence of their existence must be destroyed so that Zionist claims to exclusive rights to the land may be substantiated.
So, those of you who wish to associate yourself with Zionism and AIPAC and drape yourselves in the Zionist flag, the flag that has come to symbolize intolerance, hate, racism and brutality, feel free to do so. But know this: When the trials begin, when the tribunals take their seat, when the “truth and reconciliation” commission begins its work and when you are finally shamed into admitting that you are wrong, remember to go down on your knees and beg for forgiveness of the people you so blatantly wronged. You will not be able to claim that you “did not know” because we watched you dance as others were counting their dead. Remember and never forget that you and I and these witnesses were here today. Because I will not forget you, they will not forget you and worst of all, your conscience will not let you forget that you draped yourself in the flag, you supported the killing and you mocked the bereaved.

The rest of us will move on, and along with the rest of the Middle East we will follow the example of the brave people of Egypt to create what will surely be tremendous accomplishment: A democratic, secular state in our shared homeland, A state where Muslims Christians and Jews live as equals. A shared state, a secular democracy, where every vote counts and people raise their children to love their diverse homeland with its multitude of cultures, its rich history and its promising future. It is true that there is a misguided assumption that sharing the land means nations have to be enemies but that is not true. Israelis and Palestinian will join together in their shared homeland and form something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Thank you very much.


The Writing on the Wall

The Writing on the Wall 
Miko Peled, The Electronic Intifada, 12 June 2007 

As I write these words, I realize it is 5 June 2007. I remember that day in June 40 years ago vividly; I was five years old and my father, Matti Peled was a general in the IDF, my brother a lieutenant in the armored corps. We believed that they were part of a long line of Jewish heroes that includes Joshua, King David, the Maccabees and now the IDF; they all had God on their side and were destined to be victorious. Today people around the world talk about the day that the war “broke out,” as though war is an entity with a life of its own. But wars rarely break out; they are meticulously planned and carried out by people with the worst intentions. This particular war completed Israel’s domination over Palestine, domination for which there seems no end in sight. And today, as my father and several other concerned Israelis predicted forty years ago, young Jewish boys who were raised on the principles of the Jewish democracy, willingly carry out the despicable duties of an occupation army.

The difficulty a writer faces in writing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that it is buried in decades of mythmaking. Most writers and readers are still in awe of the Zionist narrative and are either afraid or lack the tools with which to challenge it. Even people with experience in Mideast politics like Zbigniew Brzezinski and Dennis Ross, still claim that if only America pursued the right foreign policy or the Palestinians had different leaders then the Palestinian people would have a state of their own and Israel would be living in a state of peace and security. Clearly they do not see the writing on the wall.

Jamil Hilal’s book Where Now for Palestine, the Demise of the Two State Solution(published by Zed Books) is like the biblical Daniel interpreting the writing on the wall. Thorough and compelling, this book contains eleven illuminating essays with razor sharp analysis on the current state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the demise of the two-state solution. 

“The policy imperatives of political Zionism have been oriented towards occupying land with no, or the minimum of, Palestinians.” Hilal writes, and indeed, from the earliest days of the Zionist enterprise Zionist strongman David Ben Gurion made it clear that this was a zero sum game: Us or them, there will be no compromise on the issue of land. To guarantee the success of his plan to win the land and get rid of its people he orchestrated Israel’s massive military buildup. 

Today’s policies of aggression and expansion are part of the legacy of Ben Gurion, and as Ilan Pappe writes: “occupation proceeds from the same ideological infrastructure on which the 1948 ethnic cleansing was erected.” The last 40 years have provided ample opportunities to move forward with the creation of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, but no Israeli government was ever willing to give up the land. Instead, Israel continues to allocate massive resources to further its military buildup and expand the settlements in the West Bank. Jamil Hilal sums it up when he writes: “Israel’s policy has amounted to a systemic negation of the basic conditions necessary for a viable and sovereign Palestinian state.” As the layers of myth are uncovered we are struck by the realization that it is inconceivable that a Zionist government will be willing to share the Land of Israel. 

The debate regarding the future of Israel/Palestine is becoming more widespread but unfortunately this is happening mainly outside of Israel. In as much as any discussion exists within Israel it is on the fringes of the Israeli left and among Palestinians, but rarely together. The recent debate between historian Ilan Pappe, who also contributed to this book, and veteran peace activist Uri Avneri, is noteworthy. During the debate, Pappe argued that the two-state solution is neither a viable nor a desirable solution and that effort needs to be exerted to create a secular democratic state in Israel/Palestine. Avneri, in an effort to support his claim that Israelis and Palestinians cannot possibly live as citizens with equal rights under one democratic state resorted to the following argument: “The inhabitant of Bil’in will pay the same taxes as the inhabitant of Kfar-Sava? The inhabitants of Jenin will enact a constitution together with the inhabitants of Netanya? The inhabitants of Hebron and the settlers will serve in the same army and the same police force, shoulder to shoulder, and will be subject to the same laws? Is that realistic?” If history has shown us anything it is this: It is not realistic to expect that any Zionist government will ever give up land, so we find the two people living in one state but governed by very different laws. 

To gain control of the enemy and rally its own troops, so to speak, Israel set out and accomplished two major tasks: The fragmentation of Palestinian society on the one hand and the alienation of Israelis towards Palestinians on the other. Sharif Elmusa explains it like this: “Rationalization of the necessity for a Jewish majority in Israel requires the Arabs to be pictured darkly, bent on the annihilation of the Jews, and as culturally incapable of forming democratic, pluralistic systems”. Indeed, recent research by Nurit Peled Elhanan substantiates this claim. She has shown that the trend in Israeli textbooks is to show the “Arabs of Israel” as the Palestinians are called, as poor, uneducated, untrustworthy and bent on killing Jews. 

However, the reality is that the Palestinians in Israel, as in other countries, have always been peaceful, hardworking, educated, and socially and politically active. For decades Palestinian leaders have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to reach a negotiated agreement with Israel; Palestinian democratic institutions have proven themselves effective and representing the people’s wishes both before and after Oslo; and the most striking example to contradict the stereotype of Palestinians in Israel is Gaza: 80 percent of the people live below the poverty line, the government is incapacitated, and with little help from the outside world the literacy rate remains well over 90 percent. 

For several decades Israel has been using extrajudicial assassinations and other, less lethal means to destroy and to delegitimize the Palestinian leadership. One of its biggest achievements in this regard is the Oslo agreement. Karma Nablusi writes that prior to Oslo the PLO represented Palestinians who live within Palestine and those in Al Shatat, outside Palestine. Today there is no representation and no body within which Palestinian voices outside of Palestine can be heard. By containing the PLO within the PA, Oslo succeeded in diminishing the representation for Palestinians outside Palestine and by doing so in effect took the refugee problem and the right of return off the negotiating table. Now the very future of the PA is unclear and Israel is on the verge of yet another victory: the complete destruction of Palestinian political representation.

One point which all the contributors to this book raised is that the so-called peace process, rather than lead to a resolution, is enabling Israel to destroy Palestine. So the question that begs to be asked is what now for Palestine? Hilal writes: “Neither Fatah nor Hammas has put forth a strategy for a national struggle that deals with the situation after the collapse of Oslo.” According to Ziad Abu Amr: “The PA is becoming a facade hiding an actual Israeli occupation, and a tool helping Israel regulate its occupation.” These are serious charges and they are being laid at the feet of today’s Palestinian leadership. Jamil Hilal further suggests: “The Palestinian movement should articulate a detailed proposal for a bi-national state, and begin to canvas for such an idea among Palestinians, and, more importantly, among Israelis.” But, in its daily struggle to stay alive, the Palestinian leadership too fails to see the writing on the wall.

People in the West buy into the Israeli narrative because Israel has created an almost fool-proof system that keeps it in control of the Palestinians and of the media. As Husam Mohamad states: “The present peace efforts lay most of the blame for the violence on the victims rather than the perpetrators.” Israeli violence is never seen as the cause for the impasses. Qassam rockets falling in Israel are terrorist attacks that cannot be tolerated, whereas the devastation caused by Israel in Gaza and the loss of innocent Palestinian lives is reported as justifiable retaliation. As long as the relations between the two sides are characterized by the imbalance of power, there can never be meaningful negotiations. Only once the occupation is dismantled and the continuous threat of Israeli attacks is lifted, can Israelis and Palestinians work together and resolve the conflict peacefully. 

If Israel has its way things will get progressively worse for the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. This book suggests a clear and courageous direction by which both people should move forward together: Dismantling the PA and establishing a democratic, secular state in all of Israeli/Palestine that will protect the national rights of all its citizens and will focus on human rights. 

For sixty years Israelis have been living as occupiers in Palestine. From the day it was established, Israel has been governed by an extremist, uncompromising political movement with a colonialist agenda. In this book, Jamil Hilal and ten other brilliant writers offer Israelis a way to be liberated from the daunting, self-destructive task of policing an occupied nation: “A secular democratic state with no distinctions between citizens according to religion, ethnicity or national origin.”


Shades of Grey: Nusseibeh’s “Once Upon A Country”

 

The recent so-called peace summit in Annapolis, Maryland, reminds me of a time in early 1995. Then, as the cancer was taking over his otherwise perfectly healthy body, my father Matti Peled gave an interview that became the weekend cover story for the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot. The headline for the story was: “Rabin Does Not Want Peace.” This was in the midst of the Oslo euphoria when Rabin was The Man of Peace. This headline sealed the relationship between Rabin and my father, two men of steel who for thirty years had fought side by side, and worked together to build the Israeli army and then in 1967 lead it to the final conquest of the “Promised Land.” Rabin never called to say farewell to my dying father as other comrades in arms did nor did he come during theShiva, the traditional seven days of mourning, to express his condolences. Eight months and three bullets later Rabin himself was dead.

At the time, people were shocked when my father said that Rabin’s government had no intention of allowing the Palestinians to establish an independent state. Some even attributed his words to his old age and ailing body. But that was not the case at all. The Oslo accords were flawed, and he knew it then because he took the time to read them. Arafat agreed to recognize the state of Israel and in return he got an agreement to a step-by-step process towards an objective that was never clearly defined. Arafat’s willingness to agree to this exhibited a great deal of faith and courage for which he never received credit. There were others, like Edward Said, who had read the accords and refused to be blinded by exhilaration of the moment. The bottom line was this: Rabin, the man who swore to break their bones, was not going to let Palestinians establish an independent state of their own.

Sadly, it seems that today Abu Mazen is making the same mistakes as his predecessor: Participating in a process that gives Israel credibility but is ill defined and promises nothing for the Palestinians. In his new historical autobiographyOnce Upon A Country, Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, who many accuse of selling out due to his comments regarding the right of return, shows how Israel never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He shows that neither Rabin, or Barak or any other Israeli prime minister had ever intended to make peace with the Palestinians. Their intention was, and still is, to turn the Palestinian people into “hewers of wood and drawers of water” for the Jewish state that was established on the ashes of a country that, as the book title suggests, once upon a time existed.

In this book, Nusseibeh highlights the shades of grey in a conflict that most people prefer to see in black and white. He writes to the Israelis as much as he writes about them. He sums up his feelings about the Israeli people when he describes his first encounter with day-to-day Israelis: “they were normal people just like us.” His first impression was that there was no reason why he “couldn’t live in the same democratic, secular state with these people who had cut in line for a taxi.” The Israelis, however, want the land for themselves and they see no reason why they should live in a country with him in it.

Nusseibeh’s book makes a strong case for the rights of his people, whose wisdom, traditions and sense of dignity he extols. He writes about the Palestinian existential ties to Jerusalem, which are clear and obvious to Palestinians but in the so-called “Judeo-Christian” world these ties are conveniently overlooked. Little is known in the West and in Israel of the deep historical and cultural ties that Muslims in general and in particular Palestinians have to Jerusalem. Nusseibeh writes: “You see this in our literature, our symbols, and our language, in the city’s architecture, its climate … all of these formed us as a people.” Nusseibeh then summarizes the reality of today’s Jerusalem: “the long term Israeli plan to degrade Arab Jerusalem into a ghetto of a greater Jewish city.”

The book describes the history and the richness of the Arab culture of Palestine and while this too is obvious to Palestinians and to people in the Arab world, it is not at all clear for others. People in Israel and the West know little if anything about the Arab culture and history of Palestine. Israelis for example learn very little about what happened in Palestine in the two thousand years between the destruction of the Second Temple and the establishment of the Zionist movement.

Nusseibeh also illuminates aspects of Islamic thought and traditions that are rarely brought up in today’s discourse on Islam: elements of openness and inclusion. “At the deepest metaphysical levels, Jews and Arabs are allies,” he says and he adds, perhaps alluding to the inevitability of a shared future based on the shared past, “any attempt to separate them is a product of the modern European myth of a ‘pure’ nation purged of outsiders.”

Even on religion, arguably the most contentious of the issues we face, Nusseibeh points to the grey area in which we can find common ground. Contrary to what many in the West think, the violence that plagues our land is not the fault of our respective religions, even though they claim deep ties to the land. As Nusseibeh sees it, the problem lies in the policies represented by leaders such as the former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the one hand, and the slain Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin on the other, both of whom use religious sentiment to their own political ends. Hamas he says, may well “bristle at the thought of the enemy being the source of our identity as Muslims. But the religious fanatics can eradicate the Jews from Jerusalem only by first doing violence to Islam.”

Nusseibeh goes on and confirms our common bond with the story of the Caliph Omar, who conquered Jerusalem but entered the holy city unarmed. Then, with the help of a local Jewish man, Omar found the site of the Jewish temple, which was used as a rubbish dump, and together the two men cleaned the rubbish off of this holy site with their robes.

If religion will have its say regarding the future of the 10 million people who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, then it might as well be part of the solution, rather than the oil feeding the fire. Nusseibeh suggests that “despite Hamas, Islam may well be part of the solution to healing our terribly violated land. The fanatics like to hold up the Koran [sic], they just don’t like to read what it says about the Jews and Jerusalem, Israelis would similarly be wise to read what their own prophets have to say about oppression.” Indeed they would, and indeed between Muslims and Jews there are more bonds than differences.

Another example of the bond that ties our two cultures exists in the story of Abraham the patriarch preparing to sacrifice his beloved son. The story exists in both the Torah and the Qur’an; in the Torah the beloved son is Isaac and in the Qur’an it is Ishmael. But that is less significant; what is significant is that in both holy books, the Almighty God does not allow Abraham to slaughter the boy. In both cultures, the prohibition to sacrificing our children comes directly from God. Whether it is for religion or for land, if we are to fight we would all do better to heed this commandment and use nonviolent means to achieve our goals, rather then send our young to kill and be killed. 

Another aspect of Palestinian life that is rarely talked about, and that is highlighted in this book is that of the Palestinian political prisoners. Although they currently number around ten thousand men, women and even minors, little is said of this remarkable facet of the Palestinian struggle: local leaders and activists who sit in Israeli prisons have been part and parcel of Palestinian political life since the occupation began. Nusseibeh calls them “one of our greatest national success stories.”

The list of Palestinian leaders Israel has murdered is too long to count and that of those wasting away in Israeli prisoners is longer still. Israel has created an entire penal system for the purpose of the so-called “security” prisoners. Through this system, Israel has over the span of forty years violated practically every international law regarding political prisoners, by denying them their rights as human beings and as freedom fighters.

As we look forward, we are faced with two options: as Nusseibeh puts it, from the Palestinian perspective, “Either we get our state or they will have a battle for equal rights on their hands.” Among Palestinians, he writes “readiness for a two-state solution is not a permanent fixture” and if Israel does not act soon to allow an independent Palestinian state “Israelis might have an anti-apartheid campaign on their hands.” Today the anti-apartheid campaign seems almost inevitable.

Either way the future has to be determined by the two sides as equal partners. As long as the occupation exists and the Israeli military has the upper hand there can be no equality. Clearly, it’s going to be an uphill battle to end the occupation, but Nusseibeh’s experience shows that a serious nonviolent campaign can yield results. As he puts it: “Israelis had nothing in their repertoire to defeat a dedicated nonviolent campaign of civil disobedience” and apart from using excessive force, they still don’t.

Our two nations have been manipulated and lied to for a very long time, and the gap is deep as the wall is high. Still, as improbable as it may seem today, what this book suggests is true: what we as Israelis and Palestinians have in common is far greater than the issues that divide us. We now need to join hands, tear down the wall and work together to determine our future as equal partners. As I look back to 1995, I can’t help remembering that among those who called to wish my dying father a speedy recovery was the late Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat.