Israel 2016: A house divided

Israelis who still adhere to such concepts as democracy, or human rights, or simply common decency, increasingly feel beleaguered and threatened – and not only left-wingers.

June 1, 2016 21:13
3 minute read.
An Israeli settler puts up an Israeli flag over a house in Hebron

An Israeli settler puts up an Israeli flag over a house, which is disputed between Palestinians and Israelis, in Hebron. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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A hundred and fifty-eight years ago, an American politician named Abraham Lincoln, running for the Senate, made a famous campaign speech: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.

I believe this government cannot endure permanently, half slave and half free. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it on the course of ultimate extinction – or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, North as well as South.”

Our own Israeli house became divided, its government “half slave and half free,” in that week of glorious victory in June 1967. Since then, inside the Green Line we have an elected government, issuing from reasonably free multi-party elections. On the other side of the Green Line, the same government is a military dictatorship. It rules by force over millions of disenfranchised Palestinians, making no pretense that its rule there is based on anything remotely resembling the consent of the governed.

This was supposed to be a strictly “temporary” measure, pending unspecified negotiations at an unspecified future time. Forty-nine years later, Israeli military rule over the Palestinians is still an overwhelming reality, not substantially changed by the creation of a powerless “Palestinian Authority.” Nor was the essential fact of Israeli domination changed by the “disengagement from Gaza,” whereby direct military rule was replaced by a harsh siege, strangling Gaza’s economy and effectively making it a huge open-air prison.

Come Knesset elections time, a polling station is placed at the heart of Hebron. Entitled to cast their votes there are about a thousand Israeli settlers. Excluded from the vote are some 200,000 Palestinian Hebronites.

These 49 years of Israeli military rule have seen the relentless advance of the settler movement, spreading in ever greater numbers over the West Bank and taking up still more Palestinian land. Religious-Nationalist Messianism, which burst on the scene in those euphoric days of June 1967, is becoming ever more militant, ever more powerful and dominant.

Israelis who still adhere to such concepts as democracy, or human rights, or simply common decency, increasingly feel beleaguered and threatened – and not only left-wingers.

Moshe Ya’alon, defense minister until a week ago, a peace skeptic and outspoken supporter of continued military rule, still had some scruples about the outright killing of a disarmed prisoner. His place is being taken by the blatantly brutal Avigdor Liberman – guaranteed free of such squeamishness.

The Israel of 2016 is getting increasingly out of tune with the international community. It is also getting out of tune with a growing number of Jews worldwide – especially the younger generation of Amercian Jews, deeply imbued with those same democratic values which are under threat in the Israeli society. It is strange and unsettling to Israelis who have not given up the hope of peace to find that we can rely on the government of France rather than on the government of Israel.

A year from now, Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians will be 50 years old. It is common to call a 50-year anniversary “a jubilee” – a word which is derived from the Hebrew “yovel” and from the Jewish scriptures. There, it denotes far more than the simple passage of 50 years.

A Jubilee was supposed to be a very special kind of year – a time when slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and alienated land returned to its owners.

Inspired by this biblical verse, American Civil War soldiers sung “Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the Jubilee!” when marching to set slaves free.

“You shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. You shall make the fiftieth year holy, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants” so says the Book of Leviticus. Shall we still live to see the coming of the Jubilee to our land?

The author is Gush Shalom’s spokesperson.

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