Questions a Commission of Inquiry Will Ask

Questions a Commission of Inquiry Will Ask

By Shaul Arieli, Haaretz

25.07.14
Translated by Geneva Initiative staff
 
The shock waves of the explosions from Operation Protective Edge have not yet been silenced, the protests of Palestinians and Israeli citizens have not yet died down and the tombstones for the casualties have not yet been laid. Yet, the call for a committee of inquiry into recent events will soon be heard. We, the Israeli public, should precede the inquiry, and ask ourselves the genuine questions; stand in front of a mirror and take a real look at our character as it is really reflected.
 
The first image to be reflected in the mirror, will be those who refuse to allow space for others: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Economy Minister Naftali Bennet. In fluent English and fiery Hebrew they state that there is no war of choice more justified than 'Protective Edge'. We, therefore have the obligation to ask ourselves who it is that decisively marched us to the war's start line?
 
It is true that Hamas, since its founding a quarter century ago, has been one of the key saboteurs of the peace process. However, in the time that has passed we should have understood that even if Israel has the capability to win a military victory, a diplomatic, economic or moral victory cannot be achieved this way. Has the time not come to include and 'melt' the Hamas through a diplomatic process? Who are the opponents to a diplomatic option led by Mahmoud Abbas, which is based on the idea of compromise? Who contributed to the diplomatic freeze, to the insane settlement building, to the thwarting of Abbas' attempt to include Hamas in his government which opposed terror, to the lack of hope for Palestinians and Israelis? Will the commission of inquiry's answers be different from the Israeli public's, which feels that they 'cannot understand' why the Palestinians have not accepted Israel's 'generous' offer: immediate Israeli sovereignty in the settlements, annexing of Area A and Jordanian citizenship for Palestinians?
 
As we look in the mirror we will need to understand what happened in Israel before the operation. Will we want the commission of inquiry to explain why the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem rioted, indeed most Israelis are certain that there is no good reason for these violent outbreaks, given that the Jerusalem residents receive national insurance payments from Israel. What do they care that 20% of them found themselves on the other side of the separation barrier? That Israel built in East Jerusalem 53,000 building units for Jews and just 600 for Arabs? That their children lack thousands of classrooms? That 82% of their children are under the poverty line? That they can't leave the city for more than six years or they will lose their status as residents of the city?
 
Will the inquiry accept Netanyahu, Lapid and Bennet's position, that the committee shouldn't evaluate the issue of Jerusalem, since it is united forever? While it push to understand whether the border police's checkpoints sit on an imaginary line, or on the actual line that divides the Jewish and Arab neighborhoods, which lead almost completely separate existences.
 
Will our deep self-examination include questions about the actions of Jewish terror on the events? As the Israeli government understands it, the murder of the teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir didn't create a feeling amongst Palestinians in East Jerusalem that Jewish extremists were free to engage in a punishment spree. "So what" asks right wing MK Ayelet Shaked, if the IDF and Israel Police didn't use the full power of the law in the 'price tag' attacks. Will we Israelis want to know why the police did not defend Israeli anti-war protesters in central Tel Aviv and didn't prevent a handful of thugs from cursing and beating them?
 
During this difficult process of self-examination will we want the committee to evaluate the connection between the anger among Israeli-Arabs and the statements made by Israel Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has for many years publicly called for them to be moved, with their cities, from Israel to Palestine, or to the connection between their anger and Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon who called them terrorists?
 
Will we want to know what was the impact of the media on the Israeli public and decision makers – the media which for two straight weeks aired broadcasts that where empty of information on the three Israeli teens who were murdered, but were full of anger, which was channeled in an obsessive but baseless fashion by Netanyahu and his ministers against Hamas and even against Abbas? How did the media – which like Netanyahu repeatedly compares Hamas to Nazi Germany and Operation Protective Edge to the Second World War – turn every rocket into the aerial 'Blitz' on London, and every long range Fajr into a strategic threat? A media that was offended when Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai asked it to stop scaring the public.
In the end of the complex process of self-examination, we will all agree that the apathy was a kind of Garden of Eden, ignorance was a crazy dance party, and self evaluation is a dangerous trip. We will all agree that extremists from both sides succeeded in defining the atmosphere, while most of the public was inwardly focused.
 
Indeed, we thought that the internal disagreement in Israel was only about the occupation and the settlements, and then we suddenly discovered that the battle is actually for the very shape of Israeli society, its government and future. We suddenly understood that religious influences in the army, extremist Jewish terrorists in their different forms, much of the settlement enterprise, the persecution of peace and human rights organizations, and a series of discriminatory laws in the Knesset – all these are not marginal or passing episodes, but reflections of an ideological and religious world view – which sees Israeli society and the State of Israel in a completely different way to secular Zionism. The killers of the Arab teenager experienced an atmosphere that prepared their hearts for murder. MK's can incite Jews against Arabs, because they have voters.
 
Those who were sure that the settlements would begin and end with the reestablishment of the Jewish community of Kfar Etzion which was destroyed in 1948 would be astonished to discover that 140 settlements and hundreds of thousands of Israelis live over the green line, many with religious motivation.
 
The use of the two systems - political and military – by Israel's religious extremists to implement their religious vision, while exhibiting racism, discrimination and violence, sadly testify to the deep erosion of the genuine Zionist vision and the opposite of the fulfillment of Herzl's prophesy. In his book, Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), Herzl promised that " We shall therefore prevent any theocratic tendencies from coming to the fore on the part of our priesthood. We shall keep our priests within the confines of their temples in the same way as we shall keep our professional army within the confines of their barracks. Army and priesthood shall receive honors high as their valuable functions deserve. But they must not interfere in the administration of the State which confers distinction upon them, else they will conjure up difficulties without and within."
 
We Israelis have not kept our part of Herzl's prophesy. We have let the extremists shatter the mirror which could give us the real and painful answers to our questions.
 
Shaul Arieli is the former Head of the Israeli Peace Administration in the Barak government and a member of the Geneva Initiative.