Encountering Peace: Israel - a leader among the nations

By
January 19, 2010 10:03

While we ask to see, in all the gory details, the destruction and death on the streets of Port-au-Prince, we wish to see none of the human suffering of our Palestinian neighbors in Gaza.




Search and rescue efforts at the UN headquarters i

Search and rescue efforts at the UN headquarters in Haiti. (photo credit: AP)

Humanitarian disasters around the world bring out the best in Israel and in Israelis. The horrific devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti and the scenes of unbearable human suffering brought about an immediate enlistment of both civilian and public efforts to come to the aid of the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.

The sight of the El Al jet laden with medical aid and almost 200 IDF and civilian personnel brought pride to each and every Israeli and to Jews all over the world. Israel is on the ground in the heart of the disaster and we are making a difference. Our experience and capabilities in providing the world's best humanitarian aid in times of real crisis is something that we can certainly be proud of.

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Unfortunately our skills and expertise were gained in having to rescue the casualties of terrorism in our own streets and homes. But from that need and from the darkness of those experiences, we spread our goodwill to thousands of innocent victims of nature's mysteries in lands far away where we have no military, strategic or economic interest.

This is truly tikkun olam in its purest form. We are there because we are Jews, we are there because we are human beings and we are there because we are a responsible member of the community of nations.

But what about the humanitarian disaster in our own backyard caused in a large part by our own doing? What about Gaza? More than 1.5 million people are living in total poverty, without sanitary drinking water, under an economic and physical siege, locked in what could easily be called the world's largest prison. While we ask to see in all of the gory details, all of the destruction including hundreds of corpses on the streets of Port-au-Prince, we wish to see none of the human suffering of our Palestinian neighbors in Gaza where we literally hold the keys to the end of their suffering.

Not only don't we see their suffering, we simply don't care. Doesn't the concept of tikkun olam extend to our enemies? (Not all of Gaza's 1.5 million people are enemies; many of them, perhaps even most of them would like to live in peace with us.)

THIS PHENOMENON of extending our generous and talented hands to places far away with such positive results is simply not understood by the international community when it sees the suffering we are partially responsible for not even looked at with the minimum sense of humanity. Our efforts in Haiti are so highly appreciated and evaluated by the international community - one UN worker commented that the Israeli teams on the ground are the best, most efficient and most successful of all international efforts to save lives.

Despite what many Israelis think and what our foreign minister and his dubious deputy may practice, the entire world is not automatically against us. The world simply does not understand our completely irrational behavior and policies that don't even seem to serve our own interests.

I had the privilege of witnessing former UN ambassador Dore Gold debate Justice Richard Goldstone at Brandeis University in October 2009. Goldstone was very impressive and made an impassioned and intelligent case backing the findings of his commission. Gold presented an extremely professional and flashy fact-filled PowerPoint presentation making Israel's case against the Goldstone Report. It was a remarkable debate with an impressive degree of academic tolerance and inquiry.

I am one of the many people who were interviewed about the Goldstone Report dozens of times, but one of the few who actually took the trouble to read it. One of the claims of the report which stands out in my mind is the constant reference to the fact that there was no cooperation from the government of Israel.

There were many explanations and excuses given by the government for refusing to cooperate. But the report repeatedly states: We asked the government of Israel for information about this incident or that incident but received no information. We requested from the government to go to Sderot to meet with the victims of Hamas rockets, but we were denied the right to enter Israel.

Following the debate I spoke with Gold and asked him: Why didn't you or the government submit your evidence to the Goldstone mission? If our case is so good, why only make it after the report was issued? Why not remove the claim of noncooperation with the mission?

His answer was "because they wouldn't have listened anyway." He said that a former IDF attorney went to Geneva to give testimony to the Goldstone mission, but that his testimony did not find its way into the final report (except for a footnote reference to it). I asked Gold, in providing the evidence post facto and not to the mission, will the world listen to us now?

When the Goldstone report was issued it demanded Israel do one thing - conduct an independent investigation of what it is accused of doing in the report. As an Israeli citizen, I legitimately demand that the government do what the report demands. I want to know whether or not my leaders and the officers of my army are guilty as charged, and I want an independent commission of inquiry to produce the results.

THIS DEMAND should be made by all Israelis. We want to know the truth based on a full independent Israeli investigation. No army, not even the most moral army, can investigate itself (except for operational purposes). It is in the interest of the people of Israel to comply with this demand of the Goldstone report.

All of our moralizing about the world being against us, and how the Goldstone mission drew its conclusions before its investigation, or how the UN Human Rights Commission has an automatic majority against Israel, or even how UN bodies always focus a disproportionate amount of attention on Israel will not make the Goldstone Report evaporate. This report is not going away, no matter how hard we ignore it.

The whole world is not automatically against us. When we are right and we do the right things, like demonstrating our global responsibility in the professional way we know as verified in Haiti, the entire world recognizes and appreciates Israel. There is no doubt that when a democratic state fights terrorism, especially against nonstate actors like Hamas, there are many moral grey areas that are confronted. Keeping an entire civilian population under siege is not a grey area, it is morally wrong and it is also against Israel's interests.

Our high level of morality demonstrated in Haiti will not cover up our immorality in Gaza nor will it postpone the collision course that we are on with the rest of the world. Only real movement toward real peace, which is the morally right thing to do and also serves our interests, will place Israel where it needs to be and where it can easily be - as a welcome member of the community of nations and even perhaps, as a light unto nations.

The writer is the co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information and an elected member of the leadership of the Green Movement political party.


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