In July 2006, I wrote an article in reaction to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Part of that article was published on my blog under the title Israel: The Right to (Self) Defend and not to (Collectively) Punish. However, I never got around to publishing the other part of the article which was a more personal perspective of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; it joined scores of other articles that I have never completed or published for one reason or the other.
As Israel’s 2014 ground offensive in Gaza continues unabated, I have gone back to my archives to unearth this long forgotten article which I am now sharing with my readers – unedited – exactly eight years after I wrote it. Needless to say my views remain unchanged by events of the last eight years and by the ongoing offensive in Gaza. Read on:
By Dibussi Tande
It was at a very tender age that I began to marvel at Jewish resilience in the face of tremendous odds. I was enthralled by those Sunday School bible stories of the Israelites who were always beating the odds and pulling back from the brink - Moses successfully leading the Israelites out of Egypt; David felling the great Philistine Goliath with a mere sling; Sampson being ensnared by the beautiful temptress Delilah and then taking the ultimate revenge against his Philistine captors by bringing down the temple and killing himself and thousands - probably the first recorded account of suicide killing... Even the story of Jesus dying on the cross, then rising from the dead, is in line with the theme of the Jewish resilience.
These stories shaped my early perception of the modern State of Israel and Israelis long before I ever heard of the Jewish Diaspora, Theodor Herzl and the Zionist movement, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the famous Balfour declaration, and the Holocaust and its aftermath, which paved the way for the birth of the State of Israel.
During my early secondary school days, one of the most popular books on in school, alongside the unavoidable James Hardley Chase thrillers, was William Stevenson's Ninety Minutes at Entebbe which chronicled the daring 1976 Israeli commando raid to free Israeli hostages held captive by PLO hijackers at the Entebbe airport with the blessing of Ugandan President Idi Amin. The Israeli commandos led by Colonel Yonatan "Yoni" Netanyahue, who incidentally was the only Israeli soldier to die in the raid, were our heroes. Yonatan was the brother of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, one of the most ardent cheerleaders of Israel’s current Lebanese campaign and who does not miss any opportunity to wax lyrical on TV about Hezbollah war crimes…
Before those secondary school days, I had been greatly intrigued by the story of Russian Jews, particularly celebrated Russian dissident Anatoly Sharansky, who was a constant thorn in the flesh of Soviet authorities. At the time I could not understand how Sharansky and other Jews ended up in the Soviet Union and not in Israel, why the Jewish community was constantly being persecuted by Soviet authorities, and why the Soviets refused to grant Sharansky an exit visa to go to Israel.
When Sharansky was jailed in 1977 for allegedly spying for the US, I bought the issue of Newsweek magazine with his picture on the cover - the first news magazine that that I ever bought. Not that it helped much in my quest to understand the Russian angle of the Jewish story. I was still a Primary school kid at the time…
Egypt’s Anwar Sadat was one of my heroes because he was courageous enough to go for a “peace of the brave” with Israel, even at the cost of his own life. As he declared in the Israeli Knesset on November 20, 1977:
I have chosen to come to you with an open heart and an open mind. I have chosen to give this great impetus to all international efforts exerted for peace. I have chosen to present to you, in your own home, the realities, devoid of any scheme or whim. Not to maneuver, or win a round, but for us to win together, the most dangerous of rounds embattled in modern history, the battle of permanent peace based on justice.
And one of the most devastating days for me was on November 4, 1995 when Yigal Amir assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin “on God’s orders”. As I watched the footage of that act on TV and heard interim Prime Minister Peres vow to continue the Peace Process, I knew deep in my mind that the party was over, that the enemies of peace had won – Madrid, Oslo and the White House handshake were merely a mirage; a brief lull before the chaos. By the time Sharon made his defiant march on the Al Aqsah mosque years later, Rabin’s legacy was all but dead and buried.
Violence erodes the basis of Israeli democracy. It must be condemned and isolated. This is not the way of the State of Israel...it is possible to make peace, that peace opens the door to a better economy and society; that peace is not just a prayer...There are enemies of peace who are trying to hurt us, in order to torpedo the peace process. Rabin's Last Speech.
My fascination with Israeli history rooted in those early Christian teachings continues to this day.
However, my perception of the state of Israel is not what it once was. That perception began to change with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and the massacre of about 1500 Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp by Christian Phalangists - under the watchful eyes of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), and with the blessing of Ariel Sharon. It crystallized with the brutal Israeli response to the first Intifada of the late 1980s.
So with the passage of time, I became more acquainted with the other side of the Israeli story – the story of the dispossession and exile of Palestinians, of the illegal settlements, of the ignored UN resolutions, of the policies of massive retaliation and collective punishment which wreaked havoc in the occupied territories, etc. Yes, the creation of the State of Israel was one of the most momentous events in 20th century, and Ben Gurion’s Proclamation of Independence was the culmination of centuries-old dreams of Jewish homeland - but the human and material toll of that creation on the region and on the Palestinians ultimately made it a less than stellar fairy tale, a pyrrhic victory of sorts – in the end, it became the story of the eternally oppressed gradually becoming the oppressors …
Back to the story of Anatoly Sharansky the Soviet dissident.
Anatoly Sharansky was released from prison in 1986 in a prisoner exchange with the West and he setttled in Israel where he now goes by the name Nathan Sharansky. He eventually became the Israeli Minister for Social and Diaspora Affairs in Sharon’s Government and leader of Yisra'el Ba'aliyah, the Russian immigrants' party in Israel. Sharansky was a beneficiary of the Jewish right of return; a right denied millions of Palestinians who wallow in Refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Once in Israel, Sharansky became a zealous advocate of the most oppressive, repressive, and hostile policies against the Palestinians, and rabidly supported the unrestricted implantation of illegal Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories, at whatever cost, In fact, in 1991 the first President Bush suspended $10 billion of loan guarantees for resettling Russian immigrants in Israel after Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir rejected his demand not to settle these immigrants on the West Bank, and to stop expanding Jewish settlements. Some have argued that by being firm with Israel, the senior Bush paved the way for the Madrid accords. But that is another story for another time…
Nathan Sharansky - the Anatoly of my childhood - the dissident who once stood tall against Soviet authoritarianism and who was once hailed by human rights activists around the world as a "symbol of the struggle for human rights", has turned full circle. His perception and treatment of Palestinian people is no different from that of his erstwhile Soviet tormentors of Soviet Jews. This is another example of that Jewish paradox - now on full display in Lebanon - which has so baffled and infuriated even those who are sympathetic to the Jewish story, to the Jewish experience.
Photo: Smoke and debris rise after an Israeli strike on the Gaza Strip seen from the Israeli side of the Israel Gaza Border, July 9, 2014. Ariel Schalit/AP Photo