Jul. 28, 2006

What Should Israel Do?

A couple of posters to the comments have asked, basically, what can Israel do?

With an earnest wish that the people of the Middle East, all of them, Israeli, Lebanese, Palestinian, Jew, Arab, Shiite and indifferent find a way to live their lives in peace and harmony; if I were in a position to be able to talk straight to the Israeli leadership and people, here is what I would suggest;

1. First and foremost, stop lying to the world and possibly to yourselves. The number one cause of all the trouble is the occupation of the territories conquered in '67 and all it's attendent evils; walls, apartheid roads, curfews, home-demolitions and most of all the intrusion of settlers. Israel is principally to blame for the situation and is therefore in a unique position to solve it. Stop portraying yourselves as victims, it ill becomes you. Arab terrorism has come about because of Israel's policies; it is a result, not a cause.

2. Start talking to your Arab neighbours instead of bombing them. The Council of Arab States proposed a sensible settlement in 2002, which Israel has so far ignored. Basically it is the old formula of land for peace. It is at least worth talking about, isn't it?

3. Israel should announce it's own goal of achieving a just peace, and hold up the offer of giving back the Occupied Territories. And this should be a genuine offer, to get out of all the West Bank. None of these carping caveats about keeping "major settlement blocs." The settlements are illegal and have no business being there in the first place. (And before anyway says Oslo was such an offer, they should read up on it a bit more.)

4. Israel should demonstrate good faith by immediately announcing a total freeze on new settlements. Further unilateral gestures could include opening all of the West Bank to free internal movement (no checkpoints except at the border with Israel) and withdrawal of the IDF from all areas not absolutely essential to security. Mostly, find ways to make the lives of ordinary Palestinians a little less hellish.

5. Open an international conference to discuss the eventual disposition of Jerusalem as some kind of international zone with protection for all religions.

6. Recognize the democratically elected government of the Palestinians, Hamas or not, and start talking to them.

7. Eventual peace would mean total withdrawal from all occupied territories. All the settlements must go unless the settlers are willing to become Palestinian citizens, and live under Palestinian rule and protection. Israel would still have something like twenty percent more Palestinian land than allowed for by the partition of 1947, but I think the world is willing to wink at that. If any land must be retained for the purposes of secure frontiers, then the Palestinians must be compensated with transfer of other lands; likely from the Galilee which was supposed to be theirs anyway.

With sixty odd years of bitterness behind them, it may be difficult for the parties to easily agree. But the alternative is an endless cycle of violence. The stark fact is that Israel can never in a thousand years fight it's way to lasting security. Negotiation and a willingness to right past wrongs is the only hope for the Jewish state in the long run.


Rodrigo no la vaca said...

Well said, and I suspect that many right-minded Israelis would agree with you. Unfortunately, the policies of Israel are not just determined by Israel but also by a bunch of so-called religious fanatics in the US, therefore such words have their limitations.

It may seem somewhat out of place to call the US the Evil Empire, particularly as most of us have friends there who are far from evil. However, if you collect together all the most fanatical Islamic groups on the planet then they still do not match up to the evil of the threat posed by the so-called Christian evangelical fanatics who influence US and Israeli policies.

The Islamic fanatics, not so many in number, want to take over the whole world, whereas the evangelicals want to Waco the whole planet so that their god can create a new paradise; a new Disneyland or Las Vegas perhaps without colored people or foreigners, with all the first picks of their young virgins going to the religious leaders. Such people appear to follow a religion lacking in morality and compassion, as they openly recommend the murder of those whom they dislike, and quite a few of them have in fact committed murder. Surprisingly, they are classified as religious instead of terrorists, or more correctly, completely insane.

If the majority of Arabs are prepared to agree to 1967 borders and leave it at that, then you would have to recognize this as a more than generous gesture towards a bunch of people who took the land by terrorism. This, by any standards, could be looked upon as a good deal for the descendants of a bunch of Armenians who left their homes thousands of years ago in search of a better place to live.

Most likely, they will follow their usual and completely predictable habit and get themselves and even the decent ones among them wiped out once again. All because of a lack of morality; having respect for life, and not speaking like snakes with forked tongues, which, when you consider all the other more difficult things in life that people have to deal with, unfortunately makes them more like cattle (goyem) than human beings.

Anonymous said...

Exactly right Bhikkhu. It is fully Israel who are the real terrorists.
They say it was Muslims who beheaded the Buddhist monks in Thailand, who blew the bombs in Bali etc etc.
But we all know it must be the Jews, as Islam is the religion of peace. And of course if USA simply bombed Israel out of existence everything in the world would be peaceful and we could have a nice land like when the peaceloving, freedom loving Taliban ruled Afghanistan.

Anonymous said...

I read some more of your blog and can see you also don't support the USA so I guess asking them to bomb Israel is out of the question.
I think the best thing is if Russian, USA and China all gave their nuclear weapons to a some of the peace loving countries of the middle East , like Iran and Saudi Arabia. We can be sure the world would be properly procected then.

Phil K said...

The Bhikkhu’s knowledge and expertise in historical analysis has allowed him to present what is primarily a political approach in helping to suggest what Israel could do in its circumstances.

He addresses some practical psychological changes, suggesting that Israel stop trying to delude the world, to stop maintaining that the deception that militarists insist be a part of their war arsenal should prevail at all times, during war or not. The decades of Israel’s wars and militarism may have reinforced a trait within an original national character born from WWII holocaust, terrorism, and colonialism, a trait that rationalizes ends justifying means—particularly violent or immoral means. There would be a clear distinction that could profitably be drawn in this regard between a warrior’s code of honour and the immorality of uniformed gangsters with weapons, a distinction that would not ignore international war law and human rights norms. Be that as it may, though possibly overwhelmed by the propaganda pervading the news media, we are not fooled by it. Israel could benefit by the world being able to believe even-handed Israeli statements. If the neo-Jacobin ethos of “justifiable lies by elite leaderships to benighted masses” pervades governments more deeply, such state truthfulness will be difficult or impossible to achieve.

The Bhikkhu also suggests that Israel talk to its neighbors. Of course! How could it be that the Jewish tradition of the humility of the dialectic is so callously discarded and Israel can see itself as the sole regional possessor of truth and of merit? Israel is not now dealing with the extreme hostility that the manner of its birth engendered in the region, except mainly now insofar as its own actions reinforce that enmity. Modern negotiation techniques, such as those developed by the Harvard Negotiation Project—GETTING TO YES; GETTING PAST NO; BEYOND EMOTIONS, working within existing Jewish tradition would likely ease stressful, complex, and difficult cross-cultural situations that resorting to arms can never improve. Direct discussion, through ordinary civil contact, would diminish dehumanization of the Other that has allowed Israel’s crimes of human rights to become Israel’s international signature. Neighbors, seen as subhuman, have no human rights and can be sacrificed or brutalized without the perpetrators feeling criminality. A political part of the psychological shift would be to abandon the pundits and leaders who have espoused, openly or covertly, the strategies and ramifications of the neo-Jacobin study document, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.”

But, besides truthfulness and dialog, the Bhikkhu’s clarity of thought and knowledge are requested to assist in addressing deeper aspects of practical psychology. Decades of state and non-state brutalization have taken their toll on all parties. Questions arise about truthful depiction of events, extent of criminality and accountability, what to do with the guilty, monetary reparations, cultures of blame, and so on. In other locales, where similar conditions existed, as in Chile, El Salvador, South Africa, Guatemala, Germany, Sierra Leone, and elsewhere, the establishment of truth commissions, or truth and reconciliation commissions, has helped to heal mass psychological trauma. These commissions have taken different forms in each instance but have generally assisted in recovering from physical repression and injustice to move toward functioning civil societies.

How would truth commissions work in the case of Israel and its neighbors? What would be their format? Their scope of inquiry? Could they function while armed hostilities persist; could they help to foster an end to that? What would be the role of civil society apart from the state? Many questions would form part of discussions leading to their middle-eastern inception.

A book by Priscilla B. Hayner, UNSPEAKABLE TRUTHS: FACING THE CHALLENGE OF TRUTH COMMISSIONS, Routledge, 2001, offers valuable insight. Although I have not studied the entire text nor others on the topic, I venture to provide several extracts from the Introduction.

Speaking of her interview with a Rwandan government official, Hayner writes: “He hesitated. ‘We must remember what happened in order to keep it from happening again,’ he said slowly. ‘But we must forget the feelings, the emotions, that go with it. It is only by forgetting that we are able too go on.”

And of her interview with an El Salvadoran man: “He paused, ‘It’s painful to remember. But it is important to fight for the rule of law.’”

“Remembering is not easy, but forgetting may be impossible. There are a range of emotional and psychological survival tactics for those who have experienced such brutal atrocities. .... Only by remembering, telling their story, and learning every last detail about what happened and who was responsible were they able to begin to put the past behind them. In South Africa, time and again I heard survivors say they could forgive their perpetrators only if the perpetrators admitted the full truth.”

“...I soon saw firsthand what anyone might imagine: that such widespread abuses by the state leave behind a powerful legacy. The damage goes far beyond the immediate pain of loss. Where there was torture, there are walking, wounded victims. Where there were killings, or wholesale massacres, there are often witnesses to the carnage, and family members too terrified to fully grieve. Where there were persons disappeared, kidnapped by government forces without a trace, there are loved ones desperate for information. Where there were years of unspoken pain and enforced silence, there are often a pervasive, debilitating fear and, when the repression ends, a need to slowly learn to trust the government, the police, and armed forces, and to gain confidence in the freedom to speak freely and mourn openly.”

“When a period of authoritarian rule or civil war ends, a state and its people stand at a crossroads. What should be done with a recent history full of victims, perpetrators, secretly buried bodies, pervasive fear, and official denial? Should this past be exhumed, preserved, acknowledged, apologized for? How can a nation of enemies be reunited, former opponents reconciled, in the context of such a violent history and often bitter, festering wounds? What should be done with hundreds or thousands of perpetrators still walking free? And how can a new government prevent such atrocities from being repeated in the future? While individual survivors struggle to build shattered lives, to ease the burning memory of torture suffered or massacres witnessed, society as a whole must find a way to move on, to recreate a livable space of national peace, build some form of reconciliation between former enemies, and secure these events in the past.”

“...can a society build a democratic future on a foundation of blind, denied, or forgotten history? In recent years, virtually every country emerging from a dark history has directly confronted this question.”

“...does truth lead to reconciliation? Or, to state it another way, is it necessary to know the truth in order to advance reconciliation? This is perhaps the most oft-repeated notion in the territory of truth-seeking, and it is possible to point to evidence and to quote survivors to show that it is true; sometimes it is, for some people or in some circumstances. Yet it is easy to imagine that the opposite might sometimes also be true, or, more important, that reconciliation, as hazy a concept as that can be, may be more affected by other factors quite apart from knowing or acknowledging the truth about past wrongs. For example...true reconciliation might depend on a clear end to the threat of further violence, a reparations program for those injured; attention to structural inequalities and basic material needs of victimized communities; the existence of natural linkages in society that bring formerly opposing parties together; or, most simply (although often overlooked), the simple passage of time”

“In the course of my many interviews around the world, where I have had the chance to speak in detail with the commissioners and staff of many past commissions, as well as with victims, advocates, and policymakers who have watched or participated in these processes, a few general points have stood out. First the expectations for truth commissions are almost always greater than what these bodies can ever reasonably hope to achieve. These hopes may be for rapid reconciliation, significant reparations to all victims, a full resolution of many individual cases, or for a process that results in accountability for perpetrators and significant institutional reforms. ...few of these expectations can be fulfilled by most truth commissions. ....

“Second, many of the most difficult problems confronted by truth commissions seem to be almost universal to these kinds of inquiries, as each new commission stumbles on many of the same questions and false assumptions. There is much to be learned from past exercises that might improve the models of the future. ....

“The third fact, which is becoming apparent only in recent years, is that these truth bodies can have significant long-term consequences that may be entirely unexpected at the start. This is especially true, it seems, in the realm of justice and accountability. Specifically, in recent years, the archives and reports of several truth commissions from long ago have been relied on heavily in efforts to prosecute accused perpetrators in the international arena. Suddenly, the usefulness of having a well-documented record of the crimes of a previous regime has become clear, even where domestic trials are out of the question.”

The book has a good index, footnotes to many sources and further reading, and several appendices of charts of summary information. Short-circuiting the profit of weapons manufacturers that drives much global strife, reconciliation, based on truth, is a more fruitful course for Israel and its human neighbors than armed conflict.

Phil K said...

Error Correction: the third book I listed from the Harvard Negotiation Project is properly titled, Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate.

Lauri said...

Bhante, I feel your entry is, for me as a Jew, flinchingly true. I have always felt that Israel was using its international connections to continue and be supported in inexcusable behavior. I can't help but think though that doing all that you suggest would still not satisfy a people that has as its mission the destruction of the state of Israel. The fact that Jews continue to occupy any part of Israel will always be, I fear, an irritant to Muslims in that region.

I always feel that I have to mention in these conversations that according to a book I read several years ago Palestinian land was greater than what is now Israel. Other Muslim countries now have land that used to be considered Palestine, however, we never hear about those parts, only Jewish occupied areas.

Thank you for your thoughts during this latest round of atrocities.

Anonymous said...


Religion and politics don't mix.

You are very naive.

A fellow Buddhist

Phil K said...

Re: "The fact that Jews continue to occupy any part of Israel will always be, I fear, an irritant to Muslims in that region."

This could be true. By historial analogy, however, when North American first nations peoples negotiate with governments, they don't generally harken back to past genocidal practices fostered by those governments against their ancestors, they are more interested to improve present living conditions. Using this practical approach could offer ways around the potential difficulty lauri alludes to.

My point is that a sincere, skillful, and determined path of negotiation and discussion can lead to benefits, whereas armed conflict can only lead to increased misery. The value of revenge cannot be greater than that of mercy.