The crisis over Beit El's Ulpana Hill neighborhood and Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner's attack on a Danish protester have something in common. Both controversies reveal the Israeli government's weak spot. Both demonstrate that the Jewish mind has not succeeded in inventing a magic glue that can fuse occupation and settlements to human rights and democracy.
The settlers know how to steal the lands of Palestinian farmers. But the mighty who lord it over the weak are helpless against "settlement detectives" like Dror Etkes (formerly of Peace Now ) and Hagit Ofran (currently of Peace Now ), who reveal the crimes of the settlers, their military partners and their political admirers. A state whose legal system would validate the wrongdoing at Beit El and aid in purifying Migron cannot call itself a democratic, law-abiding country.
They say the Israel Air Force can carry out a pinpoint strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, yet the Israel Defense Forces loses its cool when confronted by a small group of bicyclists armed solely with cameras. The Shin Bet security service knows how to locate terrorists and assassinate them, but has no clue how to cope with nonviolent civil disobedience.
During the first intifada, one man who preached nonviolent resistance to the occupation drove the Israeli government crazy. That man, Dr. Mubarak Awad, condemned violence and organized tax strikes, demonstrations and tree-plantings on land the settlers had stolen from Palestinians. Then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres decided to deport Awad on grounds that he was a provocateur. The Awad case reached the White House and put the occupation in the headlines worldwide.
At the height of the Arab Spring, Awad spoke to me by phone from his office at American University in Washington, where he gives workshops on nonviolence. He said the right way to end the occupation would be a nonviolent civil revolt by the Palestinians that would make Israelis' lives so difficult that they would demand their government reach a peace settlement. "The key to change is in the hands of the oppressed, not in the hands of the oppressor," said the exiled psychologist.
The Israeli government has so far been lucky that the government of the oppressed in Ramallah, rather than press for change, has preferred to maintain grand homes, new cars and positions that help their family businesses.
The chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who calls himself "president," runs hither and yon in his suit and tie, expecting the world to do his dirty work for him. He comes home with a sackful of promises, and perhaps some donations (on a good day ), until the next takeoff, or the next whiny interview with a local newspaper.
In September he'll go back to the United Nations. Oh, sorry, I meant December. U.S. President Barack Obama swore to him that if he would agree to postpone his request to the United Nations to recognize Palestine until after the American elections, during his next term in the White House everything would be different.
Meanwhile, Abbas flies to Cairo to advance the reconciliation with Hamas and set up a unity government - if not today, then for sure tomorrow. He also sent Saeb Erekat to Jerusalem with a belligerent letter for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the picture distributed by the Government Press Office, we could see exactly how distressed Netanyahu was by the Palestinian threat to return to the United Nations. Another letter like that and Meretz will surely take over the government.
Eisner was removed from his post because there was no choice, and Ulpana Hill may yet be vacated, but Palestinian laborers will continue to ask the Civil Administration for permits to build the settlements. The Israelis say to themselves, perhaps justifiably, that if the Palestinians had it so bad they would turn Manara Square in Ramallah into Tahrir Square. We've seen that Arabs know how to fight for their rights. If Abbas was really so fed up he would replace his tie with a kaffiyeh and lead the masses in a protest march.
The Oslo Accords have turned the Palestine Liberation Organization into the mechanism for maintaining the Israeli occupation. It's about time the Oslo generation of Palestinians admits the failure of the diplomatic option, hangs up its suits, weans itself from the pathetic honor it has accorded itself, and takes to the streets.
If our founding generation had waited in the offices of the "Israeli Authority" until the British would graciously agree to leave, we would not be celebrating 64 years of independence.
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