In April 1968, Elyakim Haetzni and a hundred friends rented an Arab hotel in Hebron and held a Passover Seder. This was the first Seder in Hebron in 40 years. The 1929 massacre ended centuries of continuous Jewish settlement in the ancient city, but Hebron was now under Israeli control as a result of the Six Day War. The group stayed in Hebron after Passover, and eventually established a Jewish neighborhood, which they called Kiryat Arba. This was the early days of the Israeli settlement movement.Now 91 years old, he sits down with The Jerusalem Report to share his observations of the period since then. “I think in a 50-year range,” he explains, noting that he has been living in Hebron for nearly that long. Having forged friendships and business contacts with the local Arab community, Haetzni has a unique perspective on developments in both Palestinian and Israeli societies.Haetzni was born in Germany and was a child when the Nazis gained power. He moved to Palestine in 1938 and served in the Knesset in the1990s as part of the rightwing Tehiya party. He is considered to be one of the most prominent intellectuals of the Israeli Right and is highly respected across the political spectrum as a person with integrity.
Haetzni claims that a patronizing attitude towards Palestinians is a core feature in the current conflict, stating that many Israelis and Westerners still view Palestinians as a primitive mob that can be easily incited by their leaders. This, while ignoring deep changes and the modernization of Palestinian society. “People make generalizations, which are based on patterns that existed decades ago,” he explains. “This is common in human history. A man lives in a bubble of terms. Reality changes, but this man still lives with the perceptions of yesterday.Human consciousness of our environment tends to trail reality.”Haetzni believes that such a misperception of the local reality leads to a fundamentally wrong approach to peace. “The Israeli Left’s measure of success is to make the Arabs sign a document. They tell the Arabs ‘Let’s replace 1948 with 1967. We will give you the 1967 lines, and you will agree to give up claims to the 1948 lines. We will give you Hebron and you will give up claims to Jaffa and Haifa.’ That is emotionally impossible,” he argues.Haetzni asserts that most Palestinians are pragmatic. “It is clear to the Palestinians that Jews are not going to evaporate. Hence, their preference is to do business with the Jews. But Haetzni is quick to add, “As long as the Palestinian does not sign away his claims.”He says that this applies to Israeli Arabs as well. “Take an Arab from Jaffa who feels Tel Avivian, feels Israeli, maybe even serves in the Israeli army. Here comes the left-winger and tells that Arab,‘Forfeit your right to Jaffa!’ Such a left-winger is a sadist.”Haetzni’s criticism is not only aimed at the Left, but at the overall approach Israel and the West have taken to peace. “They tell the Arab, ‘You have the merchandise, now give me the packaging.’ Why is Israel so focused on the package?” He points to a surprising test case for a better approach – Jerusalem. “In Jerusalem, we are making a laboratory experiment of industrial proportions. We have a group of 300,000 Arabs. We did not negotiate with them. We did not sign any agreement with them. There was nothing de jure, only de facto.”Haetzni argues that it is necessary to separate de facto realities from de jure fantasies.“Jerusalem has no packaging. Its Arab residents did not agree to forfeit any claims, compromise any of their principles nor give up any of their dreams.”Unlike the West Bank, east Jerusalem was annexed by Israel following the 1967 Six Day War and its Palestinian population was given Israeli residency status. Haetzni claims that Hebron and other West Bank Palestinians would be happy to have a similar status. “You get Israeli social security, you get access to Israeli hospitals, you can go to the beach in Tel Aviv and anywhere you want in Israel. In exchange, we demand one thing – that you do not engage in terrorism,” he says.“The Arabs in Jerusalem fully internalize that.”Haetzni says that the “laboratory experiment” is going well. “Let’s look at the last 50 years in Jerusalem since the annexation.So far it has succeeded; there is real coexistence.The media and the Left try hard to find faults with the Jerusalem model, but they cannot. They reported heavily during the wave of stabbings, but who were those knife terrorists? An individual here, an individual there.”Haetzni experienced firsthand such de facto coexistence when he was hospitalized for a leg injury. “The deputy director of the hospital was an Arab. He was a great person and a great doctor. Does it matter that he is an Arab?” Haetzni claims that Jerusalem hospitals are forerunners for de facto coexistence, where Arab and Jewish doctors, nurses, and patients all mix. “If you open your eyes, you do not see the conflict. You see coexistence.”Haetzni believes there is a deliberate attempt to downplay such realities, and not just by the media. “The far-right does not want to tell stories of coexistence, because they have dreams of the Arabs leaving. The far-left does not want to tell such stories because they want Jews and Arabs to separate. It interferes with their notion that the Arabs want us out.”Haetzni applies to Jerusalem the notion that human consciousness trails reality.“Arabs prosper as a result of the mixed society, not in spite of it. This is problematic for the current logic of peacemakers and of the Left.”Current misperception by the outside world reminds Haetzni of the origin of the conflict, which in his view was shaped to a large extent by two foreign powers. According to Haetzni, the British who arrived in 1917 deliberately sabotaged decades of peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs.“The British Generals did not want the Balfour Declaration and did not want the League of Nations mandate. In 1920-1922, they incited the Arabs against the Jews in an effort to reverse the Balfour Declaration and derail the approval of the mandate.”Haetzni rejects the conventional wisdom that Palestinian violence was simply a natural reaction to the arrival of the Jews.“There is nothing in the Arab gene or character that makes him radical. There was an awful process here that was detrimental to the Arabs – horrible British policies, [the Mufti of Jerusalem] Amin al-Husseini, and the Nazis.”But the ultimate mistake that doomed peace, according to Haetzni, was not perpetrated by the British, the Germans or the Palestinians. It was committed by the Israelis.“The Oslo Accords delivered a punch in the face to coexistence. Oslo destroyed Israeli-Arab friendships,” he states.Referring to the 1993 agreement between Israel and the PLO, which led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, Haetzni reflects, “Oslo separated Jews and Arabs. It was supposed to be about openness, but it created barriers.” Pointing to the violence that followed, he adds, “Arabs used to enter Kiryat Arba freely. Now there is a roadblock. Ninety percent of Hebron is no longer accessible to Jews. And this is not called apartheid?” The Oslo agreement was also followed by the growing involvement of European and Western governments and organizations, and eventually contributed to a steep escalation of European negative attitudes toward Israel. Haetzni takes strong note of that. “What the Europeans are doing is absolutely astonishing, but it is also very painful.”HAETZNI WITNESSED, as a child, Europe rising against the Jews, and now for the second time in his life, he is witnessing Europe doing the same. “We saw in Europe during Hitler’s time very extreme expressions of sentiment. Hitler did not create those emotions, he just identified them.”Haetzni admits that Israelis have a soft spot for Europe and an admiration for European culture, but he concludes, “What was proven to me again is that antisemitism is deeply embedded in the European persona.”Haetzni immediately clarifies that most Europeans are not antisemites as he attempts to rationalize the unleashing of European animosity against the Jews yet again. He believes that even though many Europeans are now atheists, such animosity stems from a derivative of an old theological concept, which the Church itself has long moved away from.“The Jew was meant to stay humiliated and weak; cursed and punished for his sins. Suddenly, this Jew returns to his land and establishes a state.” According to Haetzni, this refutes the theological residue of the European atheist. “If the Jew has a weak and struggling state, it can somehow be contained by Europeans. But the 1967 victory and the rising strength of Israel cannot be tolerated by the European.”Haetzni points to the ultimate source of frustration for Europeans. “Jews controlling Jerusalem is the epicenter of European intolerance.”Haetzni believes that European anger with the American Embassy announcement has much to do with such frustration. “Jerusalem was the scene of the crime. Europeans could tolerate Jews living there, but it is impossible for Europeans to accept Jews controlling Jerusalem.”Haetzni views such European opposition to Jerusalem in clear terms. “There is a bright side – Jerusalem shining in its glory, the Jewish renaissance, the revival. But there is also a dark side – the resentment in Europe.”Being the only Jew in his first-grade class when Hitler came to power, he remembers this European dark side as his friends and neighbors united around a tangible symbol of hate.“What is today’s European symbol of Jew-hatred?” he asks.“The keffiyeh! You see it in anti-Israel demonstrations and as the sign of the BDS movement. For Europeans, the keffiyeh is the modern swastika.”Haetzni ties this to the politically correct revolution in Europe. “Since the Holocaust, you can no longer say that you are antisemite because that would be politically incorrect.The European discovers the Palestinian and says ‘we have a solution!’” That solution lies in what Haetzni sees as a strong wave of anti-Israel sentiment in Europe. “You can no longer say that Jews use the blood of Christian children, but you can say that Jews kill Palestinian children.You can no longer say that Jews are thieves, but you can say the Jews steal Palestinian land. Even more so, you do not even need to say a Jew, you can simply say an Israeli.”And that is further evidence for Haetzni that attempts at a de jure solution to the conflict are unrealistic. Not only do Europeans need the conflict, as an outlet for their embedded Jew-hatred, but according to Haetzni, so do the Palestinians.“Once the Palestinians say that Israel is no longer stealing their land and killing their children, they would lose their distinction.The only thing that makes the Palestinian different than other Middle Eastern Arabs is that their misery is of interest to the world.”This, Haetzni believes, is where lack of deep thinking leads to false assumptions by Western peacemakers. “The Palestinians have a golden egg,” he states. “They would lose all their power if they sign away their claims. They would be insane to give that up for a piece of paper.”Noting the massive funding Palestinians receive and the passionate embrace by the UN, Europe and much of the world, Haetzni remains optimistic about the prospects of coexistence, but has no illusions about an end to the conflict. “The conflict is to Palestinians what oil is to the Saudis,” he concludes.