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It's Come Time to Say: We Israelis Took Part in the Tragedy of the Palestinians

Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat
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Shimon Sheves
Shimon ShevesCredit: Dan Keinan
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

When Shimon Sheves was the chairman of the Golan Heights Settlements Committee, he announced that he had 745,000 signatures on a manifesto calling for imposing Israeli law on the Golan (he actually didn’t have 745,000, but who’s counting). Afterwards he contacted Shimon Peres, then chairman of the Labor Party, and informed him that he had organized hundreds of people for a demonstration in front of the Labor Party office, demanding support for the law.

In response Peres asked him not to bring all of them, but a maximum of only six demonstrators. Sheves had a problem: Where would he find another three? When he was contacted by Israel Radio correspondent Shalom Kital, he was on his way to the bathroom – but that didn’t stop him from saying on a live broadcast that he was in the midst of a “very tumultuous” meeting with leaders of the Golan settlements.

To use present-day terminology to describe the past, Sheves was in effect a hilltop youth, but instead of skipping from one hilltop to another and harming Palestinians and their property, he skipped from one corridor of power to the next. In both cases, on either end of the time machine, the objective of the youth was identical: to steal someone else's land.

His fascinating book “Haver” (“Friend”) (Yedioth Ahronoth, 2020), about his memories from his days with Yitzhak Rabin, is of particular relevance now in these times of rising political violence. His cry after Rabin’s assassination “I lost the country,” now calls for an in-depth examination of what happened afterwards in Israel.

Sheves is similar to the new forces holding key positions in the current government, headed by the Hardali (ultra-Orthodox religious Zionist) stream. Sheves and others of his generation have to ask themselves whether the path of the Hardalim wasn’t also the path of the Labor movement from time immemorial – “a dunam here and a dunam there.”

Apparently old age causes youthful mischief to be forgotten. When members of Sheves’ generation resorted to subterfuge to establish settlements on land belonging to others, and their predecessors expelled over 700,000 Arabs, they “stole the country” from wonderful people who wanted a normal country and worked towards the goal of living in peace with the Palestinian people.

Every generation steals the country from the preceding generation, and expellers are replaced by expellers. Here lies the tragedy: While on the one hand the first generation oppressed the other nation, on the other hand they were concerned about the quality of Jewish society. Today their successors are concentrated solely on the job of expulsion, and the quality of the society in which they live doesn’t interest them at all.

At the moment the former feel cheated, but what can you do, even the fruit of your loins, your own son, is no longer yours after his birth. He belongs to his environment, and interprets the legacy you left him in his own unique way.

In his book Sheves describes how Uri Ariel, who was the executive director of the Amana settlement organization, the secretary general of the Yesha (Judea, Samaria and Gaza) Regional Council, and later an MK and a government minister, cruelly rubbed salt into the wound and told him: “We have patience, we’ll conquer you, and you won’t exist. Our thesis is changing. We’re no longer attending the hesder yeshivas [which combine military service and Torah study]. We’re educating our children to be officers and commanders in the army, senior officials in the Shin Bet security service, members of the Mossad, and politicians.” All the elements of Ariel’s prophecy are coming true, in both the coalition and the opposition.

Less than a year ago I published an article entitled “It’s not enough to be sorry, you have to apologize” (Haaretz, August 2021). Apparently the readers thought that I wanted them to apologize for the sake of the Palestinians. Well, the apology is an important stage in reconciliation with the Palestinians, but its benefit is mainly for the Jews. Let them desist from the pathetic attempt to square the circle, and to think that the expulsion in 1948 was all right whereas the policy of ethnic cleansing in Area C, which is administered by Israel, is not acceptable.

If the ethnic cleansing isn’t acceptable now, then the same was true in 1948. The time has come to demonstrate courage and to say: “We admit our part in the tragedy of our neighbors.” Otherwise, more and more generations will feel cheated, and we will experience more and more tragedies.

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