Amos Oz and the leap of faith that may be required to secure Israel’s future

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August 8, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith


Over the past few days four people whom I respect for their intellect, genuine interest in current affairs and lack of naïveté have each independently admitted to me that they are just not able any more to accept that the Arab/Israeli issue has two sides. The bombardment of Gaza, multiplied by the bombardment of the media that has taken place in the UK, has together put them in a position where they just feel now there is one side to blame, and that is Israel. They say that they cannot justify in their heads the killing of so many civilians, for whatever reason, and they have decided that one side are the aggressors and one side are to blame for the lack of ability to make peace. That side is Israel. Interestingly, all four of them are fathers of young children, all four of them cite seeing children of their children’s age being so repeatedly punished for the behaviour of Hamas as a major influence on their changed judgement. These four know the history, they have understood the complexities of the issues for years. Before now, none of these four have ever been anti-Israel. But now they are.

I tell this story because it highlights what I have feared most over the past few weeks, that Israel’s behaviour, or at the very least how it has been reported in the UK through the media and social networking, has lost it so much support across the world that even though it is physically and militarily in a stronger position, politically it has rarely ever been weaker. Governments across the world are being put under pressure to come out against Israel, to join the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns, and to put more pressure through the UN for serious sanctions against Israel. It is when people such as the four I mentioned at the top of the article change their position that I think Israel could really be in trouble. I didn’t know what to say to them in the end that could change their minds.

And then I read an interview that Amos Oz, a prominent Israeli peace activist, had with Deutsche Welle, the German a Radio Station. It started like this:

OZ: I would like to begin the interview in a very unusual way: by presenting one or two questions to your readers and listeners. May I do that?
QUESTION 1: What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap, and starts shooting machine-gun fire into your nursery?
QUESTION 2: What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?

For those of you who may think this is yet another justification of the killing of children, Oz is no hawk. As the New Yorker newspaper commented : He is the godfather of Israeli peaceniks: in 1967, right after the Six-Day War—in which he fought—left Israel in control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, he was the first Israeli to call publicly for the creation of an independent Palestinian state in those territories, writing, “Even unavoidable occupation is a corrupting occupation.” He has always opposed the establishment of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and, in 1978, he was a founder of Peace Now. He is a steadfast critic of the policies toward Palestinians of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and, in the Deutsche Welle interview, advocated once again an Israeli deal with the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas. “My suggestion,” he said, is “a two-state solution and coexistence between Israel and the West Bank: two capitals in Jerusalem, a mutually agreed territorial modification, removal of most of the Jewish settlements from the West Bank.”

Oz is convinced that there can be no militaristic solution to this war, but there can be a political one, as long as Israel does not find itself constantly dragged into what he calls “lose-lose situations”. He explains this as follows: “The more Israeli casualties, the better it is for Hamas. The more Palestinian civilian casualties, the better it is for Hamas.” You simply can not solve that militarily.

Oz goes onto explain the political solution: “My suggestion is to approach Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – the ed.] and to accept the terms – which the whole world knows – for a two-state-solution and coexistence between Israel and the West Bank: Two capitals in Jerusalem, a mutually agreed territorial modification, removal of most of the Jewish settlements from the West Bank.When Ramallah and Nablus on the West Bank live on in prosperity and freedom, I believe that the people in Gaza will sooner or later do to Hamas what the people of Romania did to Ceausescu. I do not know how long it will take, but it is destined to happen – simply because the people in Gaza will be very jealous of the freedom and prosperity enjoyed by their brothers and sisters on the West Bank in the state of Palestine. This in my view is the solution, although this solution cannot be implemented in 24 hours or 48 hours.”

Oz feels that whilst Palestinians and Israelis may never learn to love each other, if they could just accept that neither is going to go away, that would be the basis for what he calls an “amicable divorce” on the lines of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Oz suggests that people who aren’t managing to understand Israel’s behaviour should pause to read Hamas’s charter. “This morning I read very carefully the charter of Hamas. It says that the Prophet commands every Muslim to kill every Jew everywhere in the world. It quotes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion [anti-Semitic diatribe] and says that the Jews controlled the world through the League of Nations and through the United Nations, that the Jews caused the two world wars and that the entire world is controlled by Jewish money. So I hardly see a prospect for a compromise between Israel and Hamas. I have been a man of compromise all my life. But even a man of compromise cannot approach Hamas and say: ‘Maybe we meet halfway and Israel only exists on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.'”

He therefore doesn’t agree that Israel should ever turn the other cheek. Instead, he suggests that a massive amount of investment from the Western World, Arab countries and Israel should head Gaza’s way, as well as an end to all blockades, IF they demilitarise. But if they won’t, there is only one solution. “Unlike European pacifists I never believed the ultimate evil in the world is war. In my view the ultimate evil in the world is aggression, and the only way to repel aggression is unfortunately by force”.

But, if Hamas decides to demilitarise, he sees no reason why peace can’t be achieved. But it won’t happen by waiting until the two sides understand and start liking each other. “Enemies with their hearts full of bitterness and hatred sign a peace contract with clenched teeth and revengeful feelings. Then, in the course of time, eventually there may come a gradual emotional de-escalation.”

What Amos Oz wants the world to understand is that the more they pick sides in this, the more they make Israel feel they are alone, the more aggressive Israel will need to be, in the knowledge that no one will help them. He accepts, like me that Israel’s behaviour in the past month has been excessive, but, like me, he is frustrated by the complete refusal of many who have pointed this out to acknowledge that there might be causes of it.

When I think about what could win back public opinion, and what could win back the sympathy, if not the empathy of the four friends I mentioned at the top of this article, I cannot avoid the feeling that Israel will need to take a leap of faith somewhere. Because what they are doing now is not a long term solution.

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