Israelis and Palestinians inseparable enemies
"Netanyahu fell into the trap set by Hamas"
Hamas’ bloody frenzy. The powerful settlers holding the PM in check. Israel’s mistakes. Through the eyes of Amos Oz, a great author, who has not lost hope for peace and co-existence
di Wlodek Goldkorn
6 agosto 2014
Amos Oz sets a condition to talk about the ongoing war between the state of Israel and Hamas, "which is an unconventional one, but the current times are exceptional", he explained. "I would like to begin the interview by presenting two questions to your readers and listeners, and by answering them”, he said, his voice reflecting the emotional state of a 75 year old usually quiet and extremely rational gentleman, who has been now for decades at the forefront of the struggle for peace, for a compromise with the Palestinians. Oz ranks among the most read and famous authors in the world.
"The first question is the following: What would you do if your neighbor across the street sat down on the balcony with his little boy on his lap, and started to shoot machine-gun fire into your nursery? And the second question is: What would you do if your neighbor across the street dug a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?”
And what is the answer, Mr. Oz? "Well, in those circumstances you call the police. But there is no police force in this case. Unfortunately, there exists no international police force". Oz, who is still recovering from surgery ("Minor issues"), returned only recently to his home in Tel Aviv (a comfortable, but not at all luxurious house — the one an engineer or a doctor could live in after thirty years of work — where he moved from the Negev desert to be closer to his grandchildren. The family and the relations between neighbors have always been at the center of his narrative universe and life. The use of a metaphor that just mentions the family and neighbors to talk about the current events in the Holy Land is therefore no coincidence. And in fact, he himself tirelessly keeps repeating that Israelis and Palestinians are very similar, that the conflict is a tragedy because both sides are right. And that to continue living side by side without killing each other there is a need for a "divorce by mutual consent" that will allow both parts to live together "separated within the home, with the physical room divided through negotiation and reciprocally accepted, and the hope to one day be able to resume civilized relations".
Little can be called civilized these days. There is blood and death, and, above all, the idea that Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government is using disproportionate means (leading to over a thousand victims and entire neighborhoods flattened to rubble) to respond to Hamas’ challenge (hundreds of rockets fired at the cities of the Jewish state and attempts to penetrate into Israeli territory to kill civilians and soldiers). To put it clearly, this is how all of this is perceived: prime minister Netanyahu behaves as if the time horizon of the Jewish state was just a few years away, as if he would not believe in Israel being a well-established and legitimate entity, as if he wanted to buy a few more years time without any thought about how Israeli grandchildren and great-grandchildren will live in 30-70 years from now. The fact is that the bubble of hatred keeps growing with each bombardment.
Oz reacted harshly: "One should not forget how the fourth article of the programmatic Charter of Hamas goes: it tells that irrespectively of the Palestinian issue, it is the duty of Muslims to kill Jews anywhere in the world." And he added: "The same document mentions the Protocols of the Elders of Zion "(an anti-Semitic pamphlet of the early Twentieth century, Editor’s note), and asserts that the Jews rule the world as to economics, from within the international organizations, and that WWI and WWII came about because of the Jews." He kept silent for a minute. His voice steadied to calm he finally smiled and said: "Now we can talk politics and Netanyahu."
We started once more addressing the issue of an international police force: its lack was felt in former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, and it is missing in Syria and Libya. But since there is none, what to do with Israel and Hamas? "Try asking what he wants to do to someone who is falling from the roof while he plummets along the eighth floor." And so? "One of the parties or both will eventually become exhausted." So there is no hope? "Not at all," Oz lightened up. "There is a way out, albeit still hypothetical as of today.” There was no need to get to this point. The Palestinian National Authority needed to be talked to reopening a dialogue with Abu Mazen. That can be done again. One can still offer him a peace agreement. The contents? These have been known for years, for decades: end the occupation, two states, Israel and Palestine, with Jerusalem as the capital of both." Oz went on: "Had a prosperous and peaceful Palestinian state existed in the West Bank, Gaza residents would have seen how their brethren in Hebron and Nablus lived, and would have behaved with the Hamas leadership like Romanians did with Ceausescu."
We then talked about Netanyahu. The political career of Israel’s prime minister relied entirely on addressing Israelis’ fears, and never their hope. Oz voice raises again: "The man and the right wing are an anachronistic phenomenon. They do not belong to the 21st century, and not even to the 20th century. They are men and women of the 19th century. Their idea of the nation and of patriotism, and even their hysteria, belong to that period." Oz paused and said, "My fear is that Netanyahu fell into a trap set by Hamas. Hamas’ philosophy is quite plain: it is ok to kill Israelis, but it is even better if Israel kills the people in Gaza. Hamas wins in both cases, killing Israelis or letting Israelis kill Palestinian civilians. Make no mistake," he went on, "the reason we are in this terrible situation is the Israeli Prime Minister not wanting to sign a peace agreement with Abu Mazen."
This brought up the issue of the settlers. There are about 300 thousand settlers living in the Occupied Territories. They are armed, and oppose any idea of ??a Palestinian state or a compromise on the territory. The murder of Yitzhak Rabin, the general who became prime minister in 1993, and who signed the first recognition agreement between the Jewish state and Yasser Arafat’s Organization for the Liberation of Palestine, grew in this environment. The settlers hold Netanyahu hostage. "Of course," was Oz’s answer. "But his thinking is the same. Being a man of the 19th century, he strongly believes that the larger the territory, the stronger the country. And he also believes that the sacred sites need to be kept to Israel. This too is anachronistic. However, I would add that Hamas is even more anachronistic, they speak a language of the 6th century."
Oz elaborated on this thought. "This is madness. The aim of Zionism was not to conquer biblical cities, or the tombs of the prophets, but instead to give the Jews a country in which to live as free men and women with the responsibility of their own fate and their own future." Pronouncing carefully every words as if he were speaking at a rally, Oz said: "Like millions of other Israelis, I am willing and ready to fight for my freedom and for my life, but I am not willing to fight, kill and die for the holy sites." Furthermore, a year ago, Oz and his daughter Fania published a book, The Jews and the words, in which he explained how the Jewish identity is to be found in the texts, in food, in celebrations and in the legacy of the many words within families along generations, and not so in the sacredness of sites. He then touched back upon Rabin's assassination in 1995, a point of no return for the Israeli society: "We all know that Rabin was condemned to death form within the settlers’ community, we also know who the rabbis are who ruled (religiously, Editor’s note) on him as being a ‘traitor’. Besides that, fanatics and neo-Nazis exist everywhere. Israelis no different from this point of view."
You see those fascist squads today attacking Arabs on the street, and trying to disrupt demonstrations of those who do oppose the war in Gaza. But Israel is a democratic society. What will happen after the war? "It's too early to tell," was the author’s answer. "But take a look at the numbers, in the last election, a year and a half ago, the Likud block, which is supported by the settlers and the religious groups, won 61 seats in the Knesset. The parties in the center and in the left combined won 59 seats. Every scenario can come about. The Israeli society is divided in two, but it keeps moving." Put in other words, Netanyahu, according to polls, gathers a robust consensus. And one would hardly wonder. "Let us not forget that we face an enemy, Hamas, which aims at genocide," Oz said. However, the experts point also to the fact that wars in Israel usually end with probing commissions, sudden resignations of governments and political changes.
In fact, some unrest within the top ranks of the armed forces is being signaled these days. Some in the military leadership appear to be dissatisfied with the much too burdensome task requested by the government, both from a military point of view and in terms of the number of civilian casualties among Palestinians.