Brian Peter George Eno, professionally known as Brian Eno or simply Eno, is an English musician, composer, record producer, singer, and visual artist, known as one of the principal innovators of ambient music.
The following is a letter sent that Brian Eno sent via email to his friend David Byrne, after reading it he shared with his staff and he decided to published in his website. In an attempt to five more forum and audience to this important letter he published entirely along with a response from Peter Schwartz who is Brian’s friend.
Dear All of You:
I sense I’m breaking an unspoken rule with this letter, but I can’t keep quiet any more.
Today I saw a picture of a weeping Palestinian man holding a plastic carrier bag of meat. It was his son. He’d been shredded (the hospital’s word) by an Israeli missile attack – apparently using their fab new weapon, flechette bombs. You probably know what those are – hundreds of small steel darts packed around explosive which tear the flesh off humans. The boy was Mohammed Khalaf al-Nawasra. He was 4 years old.
I suddenly found myself thinking that it could have been one of my kids in that bag, and that thought upset me more than anything has for a long time.
Then I read that the UN had said that Israel might be guilty of war crimes in Gaza, and they wanted to launch a commission into that. America won’t sign up to it.
What is going on in America? I know from my own experience how slanted your news is, and how little you get to hear about the other side of this story. But – for Christ’s sake! – it’s not that hard to find out. Why does America continue its blind support of this one-sided exercise in ethnic cleansing? WHY? I just don’t get it. I really hate to think its just the power of AIPAC… for if that’s the case, then your government really is fundamentally corrupt. No, I don’t think that’s the reason… but I have no idea what it could be.
The America I know and like is compassionate, broadminded, creative, eclectic, tolerant and generous. You, my close American friends, symbolise those things for me. But which America is backing this horrible one-sided colonialist war? I can’t work it out: I know you’re not the only people like you, so how come all those voices aren’t heard or registered? How come it isn’t your spirit that most of the world now thinks of when it hears the word ‘America’? How bad does it look when the one country which more than any other grounds its identity in notions of Liberty and Democracy then goes and puts its money exactly where its mouth isn’t and supports a ragingly racist theocracy?
I was in Israel last year with Mary. Her sister works for UNWRA in Jerusalem. Showing us round were a Palestinian – Shadi, who is her sister’s husband and a professional guide – and Oren Jacobovitch, an Israeli Jew, an ex-major from the IDF who left the service under a cloud for refusing to beat up Palestinians. Between the two of them we got to see some harrowing things – Palestinian houses hemmed in by wire mesh and boards to prevent settlers throwing shit and piss and used sanitary towels at the inhabitants; Palestinian kids on their way to school being beaten by Israeli kids with baseball bats to parental applause and laughter; a whole village evicted and living in caves while three settler families moved onto their land; an Israeli settlement on top of a hill diverting its sewage directly down onto Palestinian farmland below; The Wall; the checkpoints… and all the endless daily humiliations. I kept thinking, “Do Americans really condone this? Do they really think this is OK? Or do they just not know about it?”.
As for the Peace Process: Israel wants the Process but not the Peace. While ‘the process’ is going on the settlers continue grabbing land and building their settlements… and then when the Palestinians finally erupt with their pathetic fireworks they get hammered and shredded with state-of-the-art missiles and depleted uranium shells because Israel ‘has a right to defend itself’ ( whereas Palestine clearly doesn’t). And the settler militias are always happy to lend a fist or rip up someone’s olive grove while the army looks the other way. By the way, most of them are not ethnic Israelis – they’re ‘right of return’ Jews from Russia and Ukraine and Moravia and South Africa and Brooklyn who came to Israel recently with the notion that they had an inviolable (God-given!) right to the land, and that ‘Arab’ equates with ‘vermin’ – straightforward old-school racism delivered with the same arrogant, shameless swagger that the good ole boys of Louisiana used to affect. That is the culture our taxes are defending. It’s like sending money to the Klan.
But beyond this, what really troubles me is the bigger picture. Like it or not, in the eyes of most of the world, America represents ‘The West’. So it is The West that is seen as supporting this war, despite all our high-handed talk about morality and democracy. I fear that all the civilisational achievements of The Enlightenment and Western Culture are being discredited – to the great glee of the mad Mullahs – by this flagrant hypocrisy. The war has no moral justification that I can see – but it doesn’t even have any pragmatic value either. It doesn’t make Kissingerian ‘Realpolitik’ sense; it just makes us look bad.
I’m sorry to burden you all with this. I know you’re busy and in varying degrees allergic to politics, but this is beyond politics. It’s us squandering the civilisational capital that we’ve built over generations. None of the questions in this letter are rhetorical: I really don’t get it and I wish that I did.
And now, Peter’s reply:
Dear Brian and friends,
I am writing to respond to your note about Gaza and how America is responding. It deserves a response. My feelings and the actual realities are complex on several levels; the realities of the Arab-Israeli history and conflicts, global politics and modern American history/demographics. All three levels interact to create the current situation. And to understand the US posture you have to consider the history. Let me say, that, as you know I am an immigrant and child of Holocaust survivors. I am culturally Jewish, but with no religious or spiritual inclinations, an atheist. And I believe that creating the Jewish state of Israel was a historic mistake that is likely to destroy the religion behind it. The actions nation states take to assure their survival are usually in contradiction to any moral values that a religion might espouse. And that contradiction is now very evident in Israel’s behavior. Israel will destroy Judaism.
First, the history has two important intersecting threads, Zionism and the end of the Ottoman Empire. Zionism began near the end of the nineteenth century as a response to a millennium of anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe. An end to the diaspora and a return to the biblical homeland were seen as the only hope of escaping the persistent repression of places like Hungary, the Ukraine, Russia, etc. The British government with its Balfour declaration (1917) and the League of Nations Palestine Mandate (1922) gave impetus to that hope. And of course WWII and the Holocaust sealed the deal. The murder of 6 million Jews was seen as sufficient reason to pursue a Jewish state and the UN granted that wish with the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab States in 1947. The seven Arab states declared war and urged the Palestinians to flee. After defeating the Arab armies Israel made it very hard for them return. Hence we ended up with a large Palestinian refugee population.
Those Arab states themselves were the result of a combination of British/French artistry in drawing the maps of the post Ottoman world as well as the subsequent tribal military campaigns that left the Saudis in charge of the Arabian peninsula (vast oil wealth soon to be found) and the Hashemites driven up into Trans Jordan. Other than the war with Israel, the conflicts and rivalries among the various Arab and Persian factions have shaped Middle Eastern and North African politics ever since then.
Over the subsequent decades following the 1948 war there was a persistent Arab bombing campaign and two more large scale Arab attacks on Israel, 1967 and 1973. Until the mid seventies Israel was seen as having the moral high ground based on the holocaust and Arab behavior. But beginning with the Israeli incursion into Lebanon in the early 80s that moral position began to erode. Israel’s behavior in Lebanon was the first major example of aggressive action and attacks against vulnerable populations. Israel began to develop a more right wing and aggressive political faction of which Netanyahu is the worst current example. The settlements in Arab territory in the West Bank are the direct result of that evolution. (And of course the mass migration of the 1990s mainly from Russia) Suicide bombings and missile attacks were the Arab response. Walling themselves in was yet another ironic Israeli response. Today’s horrors are a continuing extension of those conflicts following a cease-fire of a few years.
Once Israel declared itself a Jewish state in 1948 the Palestinians had only three options; accept a division of the land into two states, accept being second-class citizens in the Israeli state or perpetual conflict because they could not win. The Arab states chose the third option because it is in their interest to maintain unity against their common enemy, Israel. They could even share a common enemy with the hated Persian Shiites in Iran. So rather than helping the Palestinians develop by investing in education, health care, jobs, infrastructure etc. the Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia help keep them poor but well armed. Palestinian refugees would remain a festering sore in the Middle East to remind the world of Israel’s perfidy. And of course any aid that did come ended up in corrupt pockets not in helping development. The obvious counter example was Jordan, which developed itself, with little help from their Arab brethren and eventually made grudging peace with Israel. The difference in Jordan was good Arab leadership that recognized that Israel was not going way and war forever was not a good development policy.
At the geopolitical level several threads played out. The UN became a place where the Israel and Arab conflicts became a symbolic pawn in the Cold War, especially in the Security Council with the US on the Israeli side and the USSR on the Arab side (with exceptions i.e. the Saudis). That hardened the US position and associated in American minds Israel with our side and the Arabs with the other guys.
Even though I have no support for the Israeli position I find the opposition to Israel questionable in its failure to be similarly outraged by a vast number of other moral horrors in the recent past and currently active. Just to name a few; Cambodia, Tibet, Sudan, Somalia, Nicaragua, Mexico, Argentina, Liberia, Central African Republic, Uganda, North Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo, Venezuela, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Zimbabwe and especially right now Nigeria. The Arab Spring ,which has become a dark winter for most Arabs and the large scale slaughter now underway along the borders of Iraq and Syria are good examples of what they do to themselves. And our nations, the US, the Brits, the Dutch, the Russians and the French have all played their parts in these other moral outrages. The gruesome body count and social destruction left behind dwarfs anything that the Israelis have done. The only difference with the Israeli’s is their claim to a moral high ground, which they long ago left behind in the refugee camps of Lebanon. They are now just a nation, like any other, trying to survive in a hostile sea of hate.
We should be clear, that given the opportunity, the Arabs would drive the Jews into the sea and that was true from day one. There was no way back from war once a religious state was declared. So Israel, once committed to a nation state in that location and granted that right by other nations have had no choice but to fight. In my view therefore, neither side has any shred of moral standing left, nor have the nations that supported both sides.
So now let’s at look at why the US behaves as it does with a nearly uncritical support of Israel. You are right to criticize our media in so many ways, but that only makes things worse it does not really explain why. They are simply doing what they think their audiences want to hear. And they are mostly right.
Part of it has to do with post war American evolution and perceptions of Israel and the Arabs. When I was a boy in the fifties, through my teenage years antisemitism was still common in America. If you were Jewish you did not go to work for IBM or GE. You did not join the Navy. You did not go to Harvard, Princeton or Yale. I could not play tennis at my local country club. I regularly heard derisive, anti-Semitic comments from some of my classmates. But by the mid sixties along with the civil rights movement, toleration in general increased and antisemitism declined, almost vanishing. Support of Israel was part of that tolerance and was seen as a noble response to the Holocaust. The Arabs were seen as the oppressors and enemies of the US. That perception was given particular impetus by the oil embargo of 1973 and of course the Iranian revolution, even though it was Persians not Arabs, because Americans don’t see that distinction. (We should never forget that we have a Republican dominated Congress, half of whom do not own a Passport and see ignorance as a virtue.)The Israelis were seen as innovative and benign, people who made the desert bloom. To this was added the growing and ironic support from the US religious right who saw the route to salvation as the Israeli defeat of the Arabs leading to a second coming of Christ. (Of course, we Jews would have to convert to Christianity to survive the second coming.) 9-11 amplified the American antipathy to the Arab world. Seeing the delight throughout the Arab world at the fall of the twin towers did not endear the Arabs to the American people. We can add Saddam, Khaddafi and Osama Bin Laden to the pantheon of iconic American villains. The UN is no longer seen as legitimate and almost always acting against US interests.
So my generation and most of today’s American leadership grew up with the Israeli’s as heroic good guys and Arabs/Persians as greedy bad guys. The younger generation, my son Ben’s age (24) have a much more balanced view. Israel’s behavior in their youth, the last two decades, has destroyed whatever moral standing the Israeli’s had with them. In addition the pro Israeli lobby in America has been very effective in the political arena and their Arab counterparts have been counter productive. So our leaders who group up with noble Israel and evil Arabs and supported by Jewish political contributions are unequivocally pro Israeli while young people are more divided as is at least some of the Jewish community. Eventually demography will win out as a new more skeptical generation comes to power, a generation for whom Israel will not carry the same moral weight as it did for their parents.
I don’t think there is any honor to go around here. Israel has lost its way and commits horrors in the interest of their own survival. And the Arabs and Persians perpetuate a conflict ridden neighborhood with almost no exceptions, fighting against each other and with hate of Israel the only thing that they share.
It is also worth noting that the largest Muslim populations are not Arab and the largest, Indonesia is fairly peaceful. So it is not about religion. The Arabs have been engaged in tribal conflicts for centuries that have been from time to time quelled by Imperial powers like the Ottomans and strong men like Saddam and Ibn Saud. And in those wars they have committed horrors on their own people. Observe the genocidal destruction of Homs by Hafez Assad just to point to a recent example. The Zionists brought another tribe to the war. It is of course a tribe that is also divided, like the Arabs, in to factions, some of which are fanatical and war like and others more moderate. The comments about the racism of the Zionists are fair, but the Arab world does not lack for similar attitudes. One need only see how the vast number of South Asian, Philippine and African near slaves are treated even in the more benign countries like the UAE.
So given that history and current reality and even though I believe the creation of Israel was a historic disaster, I am a member of the tribe, (perhaps its more pacifist, atheist wing) I find objectionable the unique singling out of Israel for condemnation. So if we are prepared to boycott, condemn, shame, etc, the Saudis, the Qataris, the Iranians, the Egyptians, the Syrians, the Russians, the Nigerians, the Taliban, the Venezuelans, the Zimbabweans, the Sudanese, the south Sudanese, the Central African Republicans, and lets not forget the Americans and the British, all of whom are as guilty as Israel, then I will join the demonstration. (Two small things that might help would be if the rich Arab states provided some funding and development assistance for the Palestinians and if the Palestinian government didn’t steal all the aid.)
We find ourselves at a historic impasse. There is no way back. Israel will do whatever it takes to survive. They will not leave. And the Arab identity has become opposition to Israel. It will be centuries, if ever, before they accept the existence of Israel. So both sides will always rightly feel threatened. There will be no other state there but perpetual tribal war with an occasional truce. And in that perpetual state of tribal war there be ample opportunity for horrors on both sides. We can only hope to lower the level of violence, but true peace will remain illusive.
BDS Victory at the Port of Long Beach –
Israeli ship Zim Haifa stopped from unloading
The Israeli owned ship Zim Haifa arrived in Southern California early this morning (Saturday, August 23). The ship was scheduled to be unloaded today at Pier A of the Port of Long Beach. Over 250 people from throughout Southern California took part in the Community Picket at the entrance to the Pier called by the Block The Boat – LA Coalition.
We were there to show strong community support for the recent call by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) asking workers around the world to stand in solidarity with Palestinian workers, particularly those in Gaza who have been targeted so brutally by Israel over the last month, by refusing to handle Israeli goods.
We were asking Dock Workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) to stand in solidarity with their Palestinian sisters and brothers and refuse to unload the Zim Haifa. The picket started at 6:00am and was very colorful and boisterous from the beginning. At around 8:00am port workers began to leave and shortly it became clear that the day shift had been called off, meaning that the Zim Haifa would not be unloaded today.
Our actions today have sent a clear message that the people of Los Angeles and the surrounding counties will not stand for companies that profit from apartheid, colonialism and occupation to do business here!
The Block the Boat – LA would like to thank first and foremost the Palestinian people whose resiliency and strength through more than 60 years of brutal Israeli apartheid and occupation inspired us to take action today.
Thanks also to the members of Local 13 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, our West coast allies from Block the Boat – Oakland and Block the Boat – Tacoma and of course, we want to thank the hundreds of community members who stood strong and sent a clear message to Zim shipping and Israel that they are not welcome in Los Angeles!
As South African apartheid fell, Zionism and Israeli apartheid will fall.
Block the Boat – LA Coalition
BDS-LA for Justice in Palestine
American Muslims for Palestine
US Palestinian Community Network
International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network – Labor
Global Women’s Strike
Jewish Voice for Peace – Los Angeles
Al-Awda (The Palestine Right to Return Coalition)
This statement was circulated by http://ijsn.net/ so I presume it will soon be on their website
Please note, this is a massive BDS win as Long Beach is the largest port in the United States.
Occupied Ramallah, 20 August 2014 – The Israeli Military Governor in the West Bank has signed a military order expelling Palestinian Legislative Council Member and Addameer board member Khalida Jarrar to Jericho for a period of six months, with immediate effect.
Military Judge Advocate General
6 David Elazar Street
Harkiya, Tel Aviv
Fax: +972 3 608 0366; +972 3 569 4526
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
OC Central Command Nehemia Base, Central Command
Neveh Yaacov, Jerusalam
Fax: +972 2 530 5741
Ministry of Defense
37 Kaplan Street, Hakirya
Tel Aviv 61909, Israel
Fax: +972 3 691 6940 / 696 2757
Legal Advisor of Judea and Samaria PO Box 5
Beth El 90631
Fax: +972 2 9977326
If any person, acting through the representatives of the Protecting Power, voluntarily demands internment and if his situation renders this step necessary, he shall be interned by the Power in whose hands he may be.
An open letter for the people in Gaza
This letter is published under the Freedom of Information Act: “Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”
We are doctors and scientists, who spend our lives developing means to care and protect health and lives. We are also informed people; we teach the ethics of our professions, together with the knowledge and practice of it. We all have worked in and known the situation of Gaza for years.
On the basis of our ethics and practice, we are denouncing what we witness in the aggression of Gaza by Israel.
We ask our colleagues, old and young professionals, to denounce this Israeli aggression. We challenge the perversity of a propaganda that justifies the creation of an emergency to masquerade a massacre, a so-called “defensive aggression”. In reality it is a ruthless assault of unlimited duration, extent, and intensity. We wish to report the facts as we see them and their implications on the lives of the people.
We are appalled by the military onslaught on civilians in Gaza under the guise of punishing terrorists. This is the third large scale military assault on Gaza since 2008. Each time the death toll is borne mainly by innocent people in Gaza, especially women and children under the unacceptable pretext of Israel eradicating political parties and resistance to the occupation and siege they impose.
This action also terrifies those who are not directly hit, and wounds the soul, mind, and resilience of the young generation. Our condemnation and disgust are further compounded by the denial and prohibition for Gaza to receive external help and supplies to alleviate the dire circumstances.
The blockade on Gaza has tightened further since last year and this has worsened the toll on Gaza’s population. In Gaza, people suffer from hunger, thirst, pollution, shortage of medicines, electricity, and any means to get an income, not only by being bombed and shelled. Power crisis, gasoline shortage, water and food scarcity, sewage outflow and ever decreasing resources are disasters caused directly and indirectly by the siege.1
People in Gaza are resisting this aggression because they want a better and normal life and, even while crying in sorrow, pain, and terror, they reject a temporary truce that does not provide a real chance for a better future. A voice under the attacks in Gaza is that of Um Al Ramlawi who speaks for all in Gaza: “They are killing us all anyway—either a slow death by the siege, or a fast one by military attacks. We have nothing left to lose—we must fight for our rights, or die trying.”2
Gaza has been blockaded by sea and land since 2006. Any individual of Gaza, including fishermen venturing beyond 3 nautical miles of the coast of Gaza, face being shot by the Israeli Navy. No one from Gaza can leave from the only two checkpoints, Erez or Rafah, without special permission from the Israelis and the Egyptians, which is hard to come by for many, if not impossible. People in Gaza are unable to go abroad to study, work, visit families, or do business. Wounded and sick people cannot leave easily to get specialized treatment outside Gaza. Entries of food and medicines into Gaza have been restricted and many essential items for survival are prohibited.3 Before the present assault, medical stock items in Gaza were already at an all time low because of the blockade.3 They have run out now. Likewise, Gaza is unable to export its produce. Agriculture has been severely impaired by the imposition of a buffer zone, and agricultural products cannot be exported due to the blockade. 80% of Gaza’s population is dependent on food rations from the UN.
Much of Gaza’s buildings and infrastructure had been destroyed during Operation Cast Lead, 2008—09, and building materials have been blockaded so that schools, homes, and institutions cannot be properly rebuilt. Factories destroyed by bombardment have rarely been rebuilt adding unemployment to destitution.
Despite the difficult conditions, the people of Gaza and their political leaders have recently moved to resolve their conflicts “without arms and harm” through the process of reconciliation between factions, their leadership renouncing titles and positions, so that a unity government can be formed abolishing the divisive factional politics operating since 2007. This reconciliation, although accepted by many in the international community, was rejected by Israel. The present Israeli attacks stop this chance of political unity between Gaza and the West Bank and single out a part of the Palestinian society by destroying the lives of people of Gaza. Under the pretext of eliminating terrorism, Israel is trying to destroy the growing Palestinian unity. Among other lies, it is stated that civilians in Gaza are hostages of Hamas whereas the truth is that the Gaza Strip is sealed by the Israelis and Egyptians.
Gaza has been bombed continuously for the past 14 days followed now by invasion on land by tanks and thousands of Israeli troops. More than 60 000 civilians from Northern Gaza were ordered to leave their homes. These internally displaced people have nowhere to go since Central and Southern Gaza are also subjected to heavy artillery bombardment. The whole of Gaza is under attack. The only shelters in Gaza are the schools of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), uncertain shelters already targeted during Cast Lead, killing many.
According to Gaza Ministry of Health and UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA),1 as of July 21, 149 of the 558 killed in Gaza and 1100 of the 3504 wounded are children. Those buried under the rubble are not counted yet. As we write, the BBC reports of the bombing of another hospital, hitting the intensive care unit and operating theatres, with deaths of patients and staff. There are now fears for the main hospital Al-Shifa. Moreover, most people are psychologically traumatized in Gaza. Anyone older than 6 years has already lived through their third military assault by Israel.
The massacre in Gaza spares no one, and includes the disabled and sick in hospitals, children playing on the beach or on the roof top, with a large majority of non-combatants. Hospitals, clinics, ambulances, mosques, schools, and press buildings have all been attacked, with thousands of private homes bombed, clearly directing fire to target whole families killing them within their homes, depriving families of their homes by chasing them out a few minutes before destruction. An entire area was destroyed on July 20, leaving thousands of displaced people homeless, beside wounding hundreds and killing at least 70—this is way beyond the purpose of finding tunnels. None of these are military objectives. These attacks aim to terrorize, wound the soul and the body of the people, and make their life impossible in the future, as well as also demolishing their homes and prohibiting the means to rebuild.
Weaponry known to cause long-term damages on health of the whole population are used; particularly non fragmentation weaponry and hard-head bombs.4, 5 We witnessed targeted weaponry used indiscriminately and on children and we constantly see that so-called intelligent weapons fail to be precise, unless they are deliberately used to destroy innocent lives.
We denounce the myth propagated by Israel that the aggression is done caring about saving civilian lives and children’s well-being.
Israel’s behavior has insulted our humanity, intelligence, and dignity as well as our professional ethics and efforts. Even those of us who want to go and help are unable to reach Gaza due to the blockade.
This “defensive aggression” of unlimited duration, extent, and intensity must be stopped.
Additionally, should the use of gas be further confirmed, this is unequivocally a war crime for which, before anything else, high sanctions will have to be taken immediately on Israel with cessation of any trade and collaborative agreements with Europe.
As we write, other massacres and threats to the medical personnel in emergency services and denial of entry for international humanitarian convoys are reported.6 We as scientists and doctors cannot keep silent while this crime against humanity continues. We urge readers not to be silent too. Gaza trapped under siege, is being killed by one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated modern military machines. The land is poisoned by weapon debris, with consequences for future generations. If those of us capable of speaking up fail to do so and take a stand against this war crime, we are also complicit in the destruction of the lives and homes of 1·8 million people in Gaza.
We register with dismay that only 5% of our Israeli academic colleagues signed an appeal to their government to stop the military operation against Gaza. We are tempted to conclude that with the exception of this 5%, the rest of the Israeli academics are complicit in the massacre and destruction of Gaza. We also see the complicity of our countries in Europe and North America in this massacre and the impotence once again of the international institutions and organizations to stop this massacre.
by Oded Na’aman
I was born in Israel. I served in the Army. Israel is the only home I know. You would think my speaking to students at Hillel would be welcomed. Yet my presentation to students at Washington University’s Hillel in St. Louis last month sparked a storm of controversy.
I had been invited by J Street U and was graciously hosted by Hillel at their beautiful new building. As a member of Breaking the Silence, a group of Israeli combat veterans that collects and publishes the testimonies of soldiers who served in the occupied territories, I was on campus to discuss the practices and principles of Israel’s military rule.
In the days leading to my visit, many in the Jewish community called for the event’s cancellation, claiming our sole goal was to “bash Israel.” Jacqueline Ulin Levey, executive director of St. Louis Hillel at Washington University, backed the event. She did, however, impose certain restrictions, asking that I not show any photographs or mention any testimonies besides my own. Hillel also flew in an Israel Fellow from Yale University to “balance” my talk by debriefing the students before and after.
Despite the constraints, the talk went well, with a long question and answer session. After the event, Lawrence Wittels, the chair of the school’s Hillel board, congratulated me.
But in the days following, the assault on Hillel and J Street U escalated. Eric Fingerhut, President and CEO of Hillel International, subsequently wrote to members of the Hillel community defending the organization’s decision. “While we join with the majority of the community in deeply resenting the actions of the former IDF soldiers in Breaking the Silence, who come to college campuses in America to disparage the IDF,” Fingerhut wrote, “it is, regrettably, part of the broad tent of dialogue regarding Israel.” By housing the event within Hillel, he argued, the staff could control and mitigate an unfortunate debate.
I applaud Hillel’s work facilitating a broad dialogue within the American Jewish community. But Fingerhut and those whom his letter addressed, seem to be more concerned with their own feelings toward Israel — their “tent” — than with Israel. Mention of the actions of the IDF, the values to which Israel is committed, and concern for the well being of Israel’s residents, whether Israeli or Palestinian, are noticeably absent from Fingerhut’s letter.
I don’t doubt Fingerhut’s genuine concern for Israel. I am sure those who called for the event’s cancellation are also sincerely dedicated to my country. But their concern does not protect Zionism. Rather, it threatens it. If Zionism is the dream of Jews to overcome a state of mere survival and forge our own destiny, then claiming that the occupation is necessary, that Israel “has no other choice,” is the betrayal of Zionism. Israel’s rule of force over a civilian population threatens our democratic integrity, moral character, and international standing – in short, it threatens that future.
Israel is a strong and thriving country. We can take responsibility for our actions, hold our institutions and military accountable, acknowledge our mistakes, and correct them. We can forge our own future, but only by ending the occupation.
Naturally, our claims are met with doubt. But we encourage critical debate based on evidence. We have testimony from over 950 soldiers about their service, many of them on film. Incidents we exposed have been confirmed by the Israeli media and we have been invited to speak at the United States Air Force Academy. Carmi Gillon, former head of the Shin Bet, has praised our work.
The testimonies portray a system of control and expropriation of land that is founded on the use of military force. Arbitrary violence is of the essence of military rule, which cannot rely on democratic legitimacy.
Instead of an actual dialogue about our reality and future, they are content to have a conversation about the conversation about Israel. Rather than respond to what they hear, they argue over whether they should plug their ears. This may serve some staff and some donors of Hillel International, but it doesn’t serve Israel. It takes some chutzpah to claim that by silencing our voices you are protecting our own country from us.
Oded Na’aman served in the IDF between November 2000 and October 2003. Since 2005 he has been a member of Breaking the Silence, a group of Israeli veterans that collects soldiers’ testimonies from the West Bank. Oded is currently pursuing his PhD in Philosophy at Harvard University.