Opinion

Needed in Israel: An Arab-Jewish Front to Combat Annexation

Without cooperation between Meretz, a virtually all-Jewish party, and Joint List, which is virtually all Arab, a solution to end the occupation and block annexation will be impossible to promote effectively

The joint Memorial Day ceremony for Israelis and Palestinians in 2012.
Alon Ron

Israel’s Independence Day marked the opening of the festival of hypocrisy marking 50 years of the occupation that began in 1967. The climax will come on Jerusalem Day, marking the city’s unification, which in fact denotes the establishment of Israel’s version of Soweto, the townships outside Johannesburg which became the symbol of apartheid.

Over these 50 years, the Israeli occupation has become an unbridled campaign of colonization and settlement in the limited space left for the Palestinians. Besides the most tragic result of that war, namely the ongoing occupation and injustice Israel is inflicting on the Palestinians, there is another story: This is the 50th anniversary of the struggle against the occupation. This struggle has seen different phases, often being ridiculed by the doubtful, which include people calling themselves leftists. From the right, this campaign has been met by a flood of hatred, incitement and violence.

Due to the right’s deep-seated fears of the few opponents of the occupation, which include several courageous activists from organizations such as Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem, Yesh Gvul, Machsom Watch, Combatants for Peace, Ta’ayush and others, its spokesmen employ a wild and inflammatory style in their every mention of these Israelis, viewing them as traitors and a fifth column. Such incitement is often reminiscent of language heard in the early days of the Nazi regime.

Among the most prominent people using this style were Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman who, in their ignorance, did not realize they were repeating words used by spokesmen of the German regime in 1933, in which they called on people to fight internal and external enemies of the state. Then, these targets were mainly the Soviet Bolsheviks and German Jews. Here, such language is addressed at Hamas and organizations opposing the occupation.

It’s not surprising that this analogy did not evoke woeful cries, similar to those that followed an article by Yossi Klein in Haaretz. Breaking the Silence can be likened in public to Hamas, hinting that members of both groups deserve to be killed. But God forbid that someone make a comparison, as Klein did, between fascist, religious, messianic expressions to Hezbollah.

‘Enemies from within’ – echo from Nazi Germany

The historical similarity should not come as a surprise. Those who oppose the occupation are a small and politically powerless minority, whose existence depends on solidarity between several groups in this society, those that are not in thrall to the waves of incitement, and international groups. However, in both present-day Israel and Germany in those days, the “enemies from within” are the symbol that proves to the world that what the state is perpetrating is patently illegal and immoral. They express the conscience of a society that has lost its conscience, and their actions are the antithesis to the regime of persecution. This is what makes them so dangerous and threatening.

Despite entrenched hostility towards Arabs, feeding on a bloody conflict with Arab resistance organizations that adopted methods of murderous terrorism against innocent victims, committed activists have managed over 50 years of opposing the occupation to instill in Israel’s consciousness an awareness of the need to end it. First it was individuals such as conscientious objectors Giora Neumann and Gadi Algazi, writers Uri Avnery, Amos Keinan, Dahn Ben-Amotz, Hanoch Levin, Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz and others, as well as small groups such as Matzpen, Siach, the Movement for Peace and Security, Hadash and Ha’olam Hazeh – New Force.

The torch is now carried by young females such as conscientious objectors Ta’ir Kaminer, Tamar Ze’evi, Tamar Alon and Atalia Ben-Abba. Their conscientious objection contains a new component which was mostly missing among opponents of the occupation 20 or 30 years ago. Refusing to serve in the army was always a problematic issue, since even opponents of the occupation believed this was a reversible situation, and that serving in the army was a civic duty one has to fulfill. However, this is not the case anymore. Fifty years after the Six-Day War, the occupation has become a brutal colonial annexation, creating an apartheid regime in the West Bank and a closed ghetto in Gaza. Under these conditions the path chosen by these young women in not only legitimate, but is morally justified.

Only two anti-occupation parties

These steps are a far cry from raising hopes for the arrival of a broadly based movement opposing the occupation. After 50 years of a courageous extra-parliamentary struggle, one must consider a sensible way of utilizing intra-parliamentary tools. Currently there are only two Knesset factions that uncompromisingly oppose the occupation – Meretz and the Joint List. They are the only two that place at the top of their agenda the struggle against the biggest existential threat lying on Israel’s doorstep – it’s evolving into a violent, racist apartheid state. The problem is that each of these two factions is supported by members of only one of the two national and religious groups living here. Without cooperation between the representatives of these two nations, it will not be possible to effectively promote a solution that will end the occupation and block annexation.

Meretz and the Joint List agree on most issues that top the social agenda of this country. Their representatives are partners in many social welfare campaigns and in attempts to protect Israel’s collapsing democracy. Erecting a joint front around the issue of the occupation won’t mean agreeing on everything. In the past, groups opposing the occupation knew how to join hands on occasion despite disagreeing on some issues. Since 1967 the need for forming such a front has never been greater, before annexation takes place and the nationalist, colonial and messianic settlement enterprise drives Israel to commit even worse war crimes.

Jewish history can serve as a lesson to occupation opponents who hesitate to form a common front. At the end of the 1930s, Jewish parties in Poland debated whether to cooperate against rising anti-Semitism in that country. Such cooperation seemed utopian, since these groups included the ultra-Orthodox, Zionists, socialists and anti-socialists, members of the Bund who were vehement opponents of Zionism and other groups with diverse interests. Despite all their disputes the Jewish public there managed to join hands and oppose the existential threat to their community.

Regrettably, a similar Arab-Jewish coalition for combating annexation has not yet arisen here. People such as Meretz leader Zehava Galon and Joint List leader Ayman Odeh could be the ones to establish such a partnership and lead it. A bold decision on their part could drive away from this new coalition dissatisfied elements in their parties, but it will have an enormous potential to bring in new people from both peoples, breathing new life into this struggle.

Moreover, such a coalition could form the basis for organizing against a great danger lying just around the corner: an attempt by the right to turn Israel into a state with tightly concentrated powers that will erode democracy, dismantle opposition groups and promote even more criminal actions in the occupied territories. This will require all forces who oppose this to make a decision such as the one made by Abraham Lincoln in 1861, when he bravely told his nation that there are times in a nation’s history in which a rupture and civil war are preferable to submission and concession to a spirit of false unity, one based on inhuman values. Ultimately, is the existential risk to both nations, resulting from annexation, less dangerous that the one facing Polish Jews due to the rising wave of anti-Semitism in the 1930s?

Prof. Blatman is a historian at Hebrew University.