End the Silence

Jeff Epton

How does this sound?
By the 1880s, most Indians had been confined to reservations, often in areas of the West that appeared least desirable to white settlers.
Or this?
But the more the colony developed into a modern state with a strong military organization, the more the whites tended toward a policy of land annexing and the subjugation of the black population.
Or this?
Beijing’s new policy of population transfer into Tibet threatens the very existence of Tibetan culture, religion and national identity.
Or, finally, this?
In the first decade of the 21st Century, the state launched a campaign to further isolate and disenfranchise the Palestinian population. In the Occupied Territories, the campaign included a wall that put nearly 15 percent of Palestinian territory on the Israeli side and encircled 12 Palestinian towns, making passage in and out dependent on the approval of the authorities.
The first three actual quotes describe campaigns in the United States, South Africa and China aimed at displacing and dominating indigenous populations. The paragraph that refers to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not yet entered into recorded history. But if a different story is to be told, Americans, both Jews and non-Jews, must end their silence about Israeli policies and the use of American aid to support the occupation.

Over the next three years, the United States will give Israel about $18 billion in loan guarantees and military and economic aid. American Jews provide hundreds of millions in additional support that allows private agencies to build thousands of housing units for Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories. (Ironically, American money builds more affordable housing in the West Bank than in any of this country’s largest cities.)

The conflict is careening toward a conclusion that may well include the destruction of the Palestinians as a people and the wreckage of the historic Jewish commitment to justice.

On November 14 in an interview with the newspaper Yedioth Aharonoth, four former directors of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, called on Israel to end the occupation and to pursue a peace policy that would include negotiations with the Palestinians without first requiring an end to terrorism.

Avraham Shalom, head of Shin Bet from 1980 to 1986, put it this way: “[The Fence] creates hatred, it expropriates land and annexes hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to the state of Israel. The result is that the fence achieves the exact opposite of what was intended. … We must once and for all admit that there is another side, that it has feelings and that it is suffering, and that we are behaving disgracefully. Yes, there is no other word for it: disgracefully. … We have turned into a people of petty fighters using the wrong tools.”

The statements of the former security chiefs, whose service covered the years 1980 to 2000, should reassure American Jews and others that opposing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s hard-line policies is the best way to reduce the danger to Israelis and Israel.

We should not feel powerless in this situation. There are numerous paths to meaningful action. Ask your representatives in Congress to cut military aid to Israel. Redirect your charitable contributions to joint Arab-Jewish peace and development projects. Learn more about the situation by consulting sources that reject the occupation as the path to peace and security such as the Jewish Peace Lobby, B’Tselem or Gush Shalom, or, for a more secular perspective, try the Middle East Research and Information Project.

If we do not act, who will? For Palestinians and Israelis alike, the situation is deteriorating. The Palestinian economy has collapsed. The Israeli economy is failing. Every index of social distress, including crime, homelessness and hunger, is climbing on both sides. If a meaningful peace is not established soon, the occupation will lead to even greater catastrophe.

Jeff Epton is the former publisher of In These Times.
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