Soon after I came to this country 25 years ago, I learned that among my
relatives, “Tali” was the real Arab-hater, the most extreme right-winger in the
family. “For Tali, the only good Arab is a dead Arab, right?” one of my cousins
ribbed her one Friday night. “Wrong,” she said. “For me, dead isn’t good enough
– he’s got to be buried 40 meters underground, too.”
She was exaggerating
for comic effect, but Tali really did have it in for the Arabs. So one day I
asked her which political party she voted for, thinking it would be Tehiya or
one of the small, far-right parties of the time, or at best
“Labor,” she tells me. I was amazed. Why Labor? “Look,” she
explains, “I don’t want to live with the Palestinians, and we can’t get rid of
them, so the only thing to do is divide the land, let them live in their country
and I’ll live in mine.”
I think of Tali and that remark when I hear this
country’s mouthpieces going on about how Israelis, starting with the prime
minister, are ready to accept a Palestinian state, how poll after poll shows
that two-thirds of the Jewish population is in favor of trading land for
The implication of this hasbara is that Israelis have become so
liberal, so dovish, so open-minded about the Arabs. Oh no we haven’t. In 25
years, I have never seen this country so blindly contemptuous of everybody and
everything Arab, so drawn to confrontation, so intractably closed-minded.
Israelis haven’t come around to the idea of a Palestinian state because they
realize the Palestinians have rights, too, or because they think there’s
something immoral about the occupation and the settlements.
Israelis thought they could get away with expelling the Palestinians from the
West Bank and Gaza and the Israeli Arabs from Israel, they’d support it. But
they know they can’t, so they want to put as much distance and as high a wall
between them and the Arabs as they can.
If this is your idea of peace,
then the cliché “all Israelis want peace” is true.
YOU CAN say it doesn’t
matter why the public has accepted the idea of a Palestinian state, the
important thing is that it has. But this is a misunderstanding of Israeli public
opinion. People here accept the idea of a Palestinian state in theory, but
they’re so antagonistic toward Arabs, so determinedly mistrustful of anything
any of them says that in practice, Israelis are dead set against any move that
might actually help bring a Palestinian state into being.
The lifting of
West Bank checkpoints, the so-called settlement freeze and, most recently, the
easing of the siege of Gaza – all these were done grudgingly by Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu and accepted grudgingly by the public, and only because the
Americans forced us into it. If it was up to us, we’d let the Palestinians stew
and crack them over the head if they complained too much. Two-thirds of Israelis
may tell pollsters they’re in favor of trading land for peace, but this country
will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into actually giving up land
because nothing on earth can convince us that the Palestinians will give us
Since I’ve lived here, there’s only been one period when Israelis’
minds were open to the possibility that Arabs weren’t inveterate killing
machines, that maybe we weren’t entirely innocent in this conflict, and that we
should give them a chance. That period began when Yitzhak Rabin was elected
prime minister in June 1992, and it ended in March 1996, after three suicide
bombings in nine days killed nearly 60 Israelis.
From that point on,
trust was finished. Yasser Arafat could do no right, even though he finally
cracked down on Hamas and brought terror under control for years. We like to say
Israel offered the Palestinians a state at Camp David and again in the Annapolis
talks, but the fact is that the more land Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert offered the
Palestinians, the more hopelessly unpopular they became at home. Imagine if
Arafat had said yes to Barak, or if Mahmoud Abbas had said yes to Olmert – would
the Knesset and public have supported the uprooting of 75,000 or 100,000
settlers, along with the redivision of Jerusalem? Unthinkable.
them Gaza, we say, but it was a fluke. The one and only Israeli leader who could
have gotten the public behind him for that move was Ariel Sharon, and again, the
disengagement wasn’t done for the sake of justice and reconciliation, it was
done to get the goddamn Arabs out of our sight, and accompanied by a popular,
Sharon-style parting assault on the enemy. Since then, our vindictiveness toward
Palestinians has only deepened.
IT DOESN’T come out of nowhere. It comes
from traumatic bouts of violence and bloodshed at the hands of Palestinians who
don’t accept the Jewish state by any means. Israelis have a right to be
Up to a point, though. Cynicism that closes their minds to the
violence and bloodshed – not to mention colonial tyranny – that we’ve visited on
the Palestinians is going much too far for anyone’s good.
keeps people frozen in the past, that blinds them to progress when it’s
happening, that won’t allow them to say or hear a good word about Arabs –
And except for the short period between Rabin’s election and
the suicide bombings of early 1996, this has been the Israeli mind-set
long as I can remember. (I wasn’t here for Anwar Sadat’s visit and the
treaty with Egypt, which briefly broke the mold.) Israelis today are as
safer than they’ve ever been, the Palestinian leadership in the West
everything we’ve ever asked for, yet I cannot remember a time of such
against Arabs, and against anyone who criticizes how we treat them.
they want peace, but they resist with all their might any suggestion
possible, that there are things we can do that we’re not doing to bring
No, Israelis are not ready to change, they’re not ready to free
the Palestinians, they’re not ready for peace. That is, not unless you
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