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by David Levy


The Montréal Review, August 2012



In August 1967, soon after the Six Day War, the Arab League met in Khartoum, three nos the response to Israel's offer to trade land for peace: no negotiations, no recognition, no peace. In June, the Israeli cabinet had agreed to return the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for a peace agreement. It is possible to imagine that with the USA and the USSR busy in Vietnam, the government of Israel saw no option but to annex the conquered territories, including the Sinai, Judea-Samaria, Gaza, and the Golan, to thin out with generous monetary incentives the indigenous Arab population, grant the remaining Arab numbers all the benefits of full citizenship, and to act decisively to stamp out the embryonic Arab guerrilla movement. A greater Israel. No Fatah then, no Hamas and no Oslo later.

A disastrous notion, says an Israeli friend. For one thing the demographics would have turned Israel into an actual apartheid police state. Nothing would have persuaded Arabs to abandon their villages and annexation would have amplified not eliminated militancy. The ambiguity of the current situation, he argued, is easier to deal with, the IDF able to move in and out of Judea-Samaria.

The reference in Article 19 of the Fatah Charter to a monolithic "Zionist entity" ignores both the words and the very existence of my left-leaning Israeli chaver, which is to say the tradition of pitiless criticism of the Jewish state emanating from the country's professor class. Strong clashes of view are a characteristic of Judaic thought, a reality reflected in Israel's complex domestic political scene where one finds a pluralism of orientation that would be intolerable among Israel's Arab neighbours. No individual party can hope to win a Knesset majority. The consequence is government by coalition and political compromise. Israel, said Henry Kissinger, doesn't have a foreign policy, only a domestic policy.

Members of Natorei Karta, an orthodox Judaic sect who live in Israel but oppose the founding of the state without divine intervention spray-painted Yad Vashem, the museum and world centre for Holocaust research in Jerusalem, with slogans that read: "If Hitler hadn't existed, the Zionists would have invented him. Thanks Hitler for the wonderful Holocaust you organized for us! Only because of you we received a state." We do not, their anthem states, recognize the heretical Zionist regime. Sect members have traveled to Iran to stand with Mahmoud Amadinejad in calling for Israel's destruction, some have visited Gaza to express sympathy for the aims of Hamas. "Israel," the Hamas Covenant states, "will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it."

Barbara Kay writing in The National Post, has pointed out that within Israel, virtually daily, "anti-Zionist literature pours forth from Israel's tenured radicals. Every week, an article condemning Israel as an apartheid nation appears. Every month, Israeli academics attend conferences expanding on the evils of the occupation and the moral bankruptcy of the Jewish state. Every year, Israeli historians make their annual pilgrimage to Israel Apartheid Weeks all over the world, including one at Tel Aviv University. The tone of their attacks can't be rivaled outside Israel for viciousness."

Unhappiness over the post-Six Day War decision of the government of Levi Eshkol to cede control of the Temple Mount to the Waqf, the Muslim authority in Jerusalem, persists, responsibility pinned on then defense minister Moshe Dayan: "They say he had one eye and gave away half the country - If he had had two eyes he would have given away the whole country!"

This anxiety is part of the larger concern inside and outside Israel over its boundaries, if not its very existence, the claim that since1967 if not 1948, the Jewish state has occupied Arab-Palestinian land.

Successive Israeli coalition governments helped set the stage for U S president Barack Obama to declare in his June 2009 Cairo address to the Muslim world that the Israeli presence in Judea-Samaria was illegitimate: "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop." 

The legal reality, says t he recently-released Levy Commission report, is that the Fourth Geneva Convention, which relates "to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party," does not apply to Judea and Samaria since "Israel does not meet the criteria of 'military occupation'.[as] no other legal entity has ever had its sovereignty over the area cemented under international law." This is a judgment that is of course subject to challenge in an international court.

On the other hand, there are any number of Israelis who regard the legalistic refutation of the occupation claim as beside the point. One afternoon over coffee in a Jerusalem hotel with a businessman who spends many days of the year assisting immigrants, I heard the case from the other side. A fellow of about fifty, thoughtful, pragmatic, tough-minded: "We must leave the West Bank as we left Gaza," he said, "as much as possible separate ourselves from the Arab population. If we are there, we are responsible for them. Look, here in Israel they are in the hospitals, in the universities. We live with that. Our focus needs to be on practical security, not theological fantasy. Of course, we ought to maintain our presence in the Golan, make it clear to the Syrians that they should forget about the Golan, that we will not evacuate the heights for a peace deal. If I had time, I'd take you there so you could see what I'm talking about. We need to complete the security fence. But to have ten Jews sitting on a mound in Hebron surrounded by thousands of Arabs living in wretched conditions, why do we need to do this? Let's establish ourselves in a State of Israel we can defend without the responsibility for several million Arabs. My response to violence is always to avoid it. I run the other way."

There are reports of gangsterism in the territories, the operation of protection rackets alternating with anti-Israel violence. A man who had spent years in Israeli jails for his membership in Fatah was shot to death in full view of his mother and his wife because the hunt for collaborators led to this sad fellow who was innocent of collaboration but, more importantly, was not well connected to any of the West Bank gangs and clans. What did it matter, a public death however pointless was required. The incident was described by Matt Rees in Cain's Field: ".the gunmen didn't know the identity of any collaborators. That meant that they had to kill someone who wasn't really a collaborator .the gunmen couldn't pick a victim from a prominent, powerful family because the relatives would demand tribal retribution."

Yasir Arafat was ranked ninth on the Forbes list of the world's richest leaders.  At the time of his death, he controlled between $4 billion and $6.5 billion. The monthly allowance of wife Suha, housed in a luxury Paris hotel, was estimated at between $50,000 and $100,000.

* * *

Occasionally Mahmoud and I would meet for a conversation, about cinema, about the Middle East, about things in general. Born in Cairo, where his father had fled from Jaffa in 1948, Mahmoud, an Egyptian, had taken on a Palestinian identity and before long found himself based in Algeria with a unit of like-minded fighters. At some point his view of the Arab-Israeli conflict began to shift. The problem in the region, he concluded, wasn't Israel but the fear of modernization. Not welcome thoughts among his fellow freedom fighters.

Apparently there was a deal between Arab rulers and Yasir Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization. The PLO received financial backing to block the threat of a larger revolution in the Arab world aimed at the ruling families of Kuwait, Saudi, the Emirates. Their young men would be enrolled in universities, kept off the streets. All the various Arab interests were played off against each other, something Arafat did very skillfully.

Mahmoud, suspecting there was an assassination in his future, went to see his commander. Might he visit his sick mother in Egypt, travel home via Italy? Mahmoud reasoned that if he could get to Italy, he'd head for North America, the USA or Canada. We are, said the commander, a terrorist organization not a travel agency. Mahmoud was taken aback; he'd never imagined the fellow had a sense of humour. But the travel request was granted and Mahmoud soon found himself in Italy with a pal. The pal headed for New Jersey, Mahmoud for Montreal...

I made the mistake, Mahmoud said one day, of going into idealism. If I'd gone into business, the diamond business, any business, I would be rich today, he smiled.

One evening he phoned to discuss a shooting that had occurred at the Université de Montreal in December 1989. A student named Marc Lepine had shot and killed 14 women and wounded 13 before turning his Sturm Ruger Mini-14 on himself. His name wasn't Lepine, Mahmoud said, it was Gamil Gharbi. He was the abused male offspring of a violent Arab father and a passive francophone mother. Violent dad passive mom is the common Arab domestic couple, he said. The sons grow up to become unstable men. "You see them downtown, trying to pick up women. They make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. I am the same. I am capable of doing something like that." He recalled his distance from his father, his closeness to his mother. That as an infant his mother held him close, denying sexual gratification to an increasingly angry husband. In the cinemas of Egypt, he said, there is a mandatory scene in which a man slaps a woman in the face, the amplified sound of the slap resounding in the theatre to unqualified male approval.

Mahmoud's attempt at establishing a university-based association of students and professors, the Arab-Jewish Friendship Association, encountered strong opposition from activists on both sides. Among the most stubborn difficult impossible people to try to talk to, he told me, almost worse than the Palestinian hardliners, were the Jews of the left.

The very worst thing to be in the Middle East, he once said, was not a Jew but a Palestinian. In Egypt, Saudi, Syria or Kuwait it was all the same. Arafat's support for Saddam could be explained by the treatment of Palestinians in Kuwait. Never granted citizenship, they work under contract; when the contract ends they are ordered to leave the country. A Palestinian who wanted to do any business in Kuwait, needed a Kuwaiti partner who would receive fifty percent of the profits. In the event of a dispute, large or small, between a Kuwaiti and a Palestinian, the Kuwaiti is right one hundred percent of the time. It could be a minor traffic accident, anything. There was an established procedure in such cases. First, surrounded by armed policemen, the Palestinian would be called the son of a whore over and over again. He would then be taken into custody and receive a severe beating. After being jailed for a period of time, all his possessions seized, he would be expelled from the country, warned never to return.

I was told these things during the first intifada. Mahmoud's original insight, that the Palestinian cause was in reality of little interest to the region's Arab states, that it had been set in motion to shield the Alhambras of the elite from popular resentment by directing that resentment at the Jewish state, has turned out, in light of the recent upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, etc. to have been essentially correct. A secular person, Mahmoud was unable to see the Brotherhood and the Salafists lurking in the shadows of an Arab Spring.


Israeli peace-nowniks, who insist their country's leaders need to understand that negotiation leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state is the only way out of the woods, judge Mahmoud Abbas no more suitable a negotiating partner than was Yasir Arafat. Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh is dismissed as a mullah stooge. Emerging favourites are Fatah's Marwan Barghouti and Hamas's Mahmoud al-Zahar.  Israel, declared Barghouti, "is the worst and most abominable enemy known to humanity and modern history."  Jews, said al-Zahar in November 2010, were destined to be annihilated: "We are no weaker or less honorable than the peoples that expelled and annihilated the Jews. The day we expel them is drawing near....We extended our hands to feed these hungry dogs and wild beasts, and they devoured our fingers. We have learned the lesson - there is no place for you among us, and you have no future among the nations of the world. You are headed to annihilation."  Do not, Israeli fans of negotiation anxiously advise, take these statements at face value; Arabs are inclined to speak in extreme and violent terms; they'll say one thing today, something different tomorrow, Barghouti is really committed to peace.

More to the point perhaps, it seems mistaken to imagine that the issue depends entirely on sitting down at, in U S Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's words, "the damned table" with a supposedly ideal negotiating partner, assuming one can be identified. The British, I am reminded, conducted negotiations with Mau Mau head Jomo Kenyatta. True, but Jomo's Mau Mau was not poised on the border allied with governments armed to the teeth and pledging Great Britain's destruction.

After Jimmy Carter's Camp David (1979) and Bill Clinton's Oslo (1993), it is difficult to see why any Israeli prime minister would be inclined to take a seat at "the damned table" to negotiate yet another foolish pact. Poor Menachem, said Anwar Sadat to The New York Times a year after Camp David: "I got back the Sinai and the Alma oil fields, and what has Menachem got? A piece of paper."

There are reports out of Israel and Egypt claiming that since the end of the Hosni Mubarak regime Egyptian Islamists and their Palestinian allies have been active in the northern Sinai, making raids into Israel and attacking Egyptian army checkpoints .

To combat an Egyptian threat to place restrictions on Israeli ships passing through the Suez Canal an agreement has been concluded with China to build a high speed rail link between the ports of Eilat in the south, and Ashkod and Haifa in the west, thus enabling ships docking at Eilat to bypass the Suez Canal.

Arab leadership in the territories may be convinced time is on their side, that the Jewish state will sooner or later crack under the weight of the end-the-occupation mutter, that all that is necessary is sumud, to stand fast. No surprise rockets keep being lobbed into southern Israel from Gaza.

With the International Olympic Committee rejecting calls for a simple moment of silence at the 2012 London games for Israeli athletes murdered in 1972 in Munich, and the BBC's Olympic coverage initially designating "East Jerusalem" as the Palestinian capital and assigning every other participating nation except the State of Israel a capital city it might in Ramallah begin to appear that total victory is closer than ever.

In Tel Aviv it is not uncommon to see women wearing the hijab. Arabs in the territories who castigate Israel as an apartheid state make it clear they plan to replace the Jewish state with one judenrein, a Palestine without a single Jew, left, right, observant or what have you.

But, however distasteful, might a Jewless Palestine end the conflict and bring peace to the region?

Prof. Lou Beres, a military affairs specialist at Purdue University, does not see that happening, quite the contrary: " No matter who is elected US president in November, a new state of Palestine will likely be carved out of Israel. Whether it is Barack Obama or Mitt Romney in the White House, this 23rd Arab state - with probable support from Washington - will quickly extend itself incrementally, beyond previously agreed-upon borders, and beyond the Green Line boundaries of Israel proper. Strategically, this Palestinian state will have a devastating impact on Israel's survival options, and, more generally, on war in the Middle East. Although widely unrecognized, this ominous impact, together with assorted implications for US security, could include even nuclear terrorism and nuclear war."


It is no secret that there has never been much love lost between the Zionist entity's left and right. For decades a distorted Warsaw ghetto uprising narrative minimized the role of Betar fighters. Ehud Barak, the defense minister, referred to political opponents as "cancers", the same term Chaim Weizmann used in a 1944 reference to the Irgun.

This month, Israeli security forces once again leveled an outpost considered illegal consisting of a few makeshift domestic structures and one synagogue east of Ramallah. We protest this crime, declared residents.

A large cost-of-living protest movement has formed in Tel Aviv. The decision of disabled IDF veteran Moshe Silman to set himself on fire to publicize an injustice done him by officialdom may have been inspired by Mohamed Bouazizi. "We're all Moshe Silman" demonstrators chanted.


David Levy is a contributing editor at The Montreal Review and author of "Stalin's Man in Canada: Fred Rose and Soviet Espionage" (Enigma Books, 2011)



Judy Bachrach, " Revisiting Yasir Arafat's 'Mysterious' Death ," World Affairs, 8 August, 2012

Louis René Beres, "Implications of "Palestine" for Israeli Security and Nuclear War," The Jerusalem Post, 24 July, 2012.

Itamar Marcus & Nan Jacques Zilbertnik, Deception: Betraying the Peace Process, Palestinian Media Watch, 2011.


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