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Passover Message: FREE PEOPLES - Yesh Tguva*


This is the eve of Pesah 5766 - Passover 2006. We have witnessed two sets of elections. Their outcomes have set the scene for the future of two peoples for possibly a decade. Neither of them are free.

Like many in this corner of politics - that is the violently moderate, peace-believing, peace-seeking corner of the centre left - I am daunted by the echoes of the past, the slogans of a now no-longer Prime Minister of Israel translated by his military men into "hit them and hit them and hit them again", which I quoted in a letter published in 2004 by both The Guardian and The Independent about the IDF's bombardment of Rafah. And in laying out his plans for unilateral withdrawal and convergence almost Prime Minister Olmert is enabling his military men to keep the echoes sounding across the Gaza Strip. Did the Palestinians ask for it? Well firing a Katyusha at Israel a day before the elections and several more Qassems since certainly provided pretexts. But did innocent children have to die as a result?

You won't find many in Israel from right or left advocating negotiations with the new Palestinian government of Hamas, except the former secret service chief Efraim Halevy who told a bemused Mark Urban on BBC 2's Newsnight that "Israel must talk with Hamas." Halevy said it as I quote him, complete with the full stop and a pause for breath thereafter. Only after dropping this bombshell did he go on to qualify it by adding the preconditions of recognition and an end to violence. Halevy's comment resonates with the plea in 2003 by a quartet of former Israeli security chiefs to end the occupation. One of them said in the joint interview in the Israeli tabloid Yediot Ahronot "there is another people which is suffering and towards which we are behaving shamefully."

Two weeks or so ago, we were treated to a swinging attack on Israel's lobby by two American Professors, one from Chicago and the other from Harvard. I read the original and found it to be profoundly flimsy. What is ironic is that the authors Mearsheimer and Walt, are, according to Ned Lazarus in Haaretz (The Irony of Great Power Politics 11/04/2006) leaders of the school of "Realists" in power politics. These men propounded a simple theory, according to Lazarus: "It's a jungle out there. All the important animals are states, and states are all animals...it's every state for itself ... Military supremacy isn't everything - it's the only thing." And in 2001 the same two scholars opined: "conquering and controlling land, remains the supreme political objective in a world of territorial states".

To me, translated into pre-1948 realities and post-1967 map lines, this is another way of describing The Iron Wall philosophy that has dominated the defence postures of virtually all Israeli Prime Ministers.

As with so much written these days there is a given - that the Palestinians did themselves no favours by electing Hamas, that they have only themselves to blame if international aid is cut off, that they are not a partner to any peace with Israel. The problem with making any comparison between this isolation of the Hamas leadership and that of the PLO, which Israel scorned for decades, is that Hamas comes with an Islamic imprimatur. Religion mixed with politics, as any Israeli will tell you, is a volatile mix, best avoided, or limited to very small doses. The results of the recent Israeli elections reflect a certain ennui with Israeli religious parties and a distaste for those who once championed the settler cause. Ehud Olmert's victory speech pretty well laid to rest Greater Land/Biblical Israel dreams. Would that a strong secular Fateh could do the same to Hamas' dreams of destroying Israel and of replacing Israel with a Palestinian Islamic Republic.

What differentiated the two elections was the attitude to "the other". Both peoples would rather the other wasn't there. Hamas was overt in what it wanted for Israel. Israelis, if the Israeli press is to be believed, voted in a referendum on Olmert's plans for Israel's future borders. But they voted as if the Palestinians had already disappeared, supporting a proposal that would draw borders of a peculiarly 'temporary-final' nature without consulting with 'the other' at all. And they believed Olmert's vision - an end to occupation, a withdrawal of a huge number of settlers and settlements - as if by magic the occupation would really end and the settlers would all really leave.

The cynical answer to "Where is the Two States For Two Peoples solution?" is that conveniently the Palestinians have now added their own formaldehyde to the peace process, by voting for Hamas. Interestingly, recent Hamas pronouncements for a Two States solution had the same credibility as the late Ariel Sharon's, favouring the creation of a Palestinian state. There is a dangerous 3-way impasse emerging between Israel, Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas, in which each seek to play each other off against each other, but all the time Israel has the whip hand militarily. Of all the expertise on which Israel can draw for good or ill, it is its military prowess rather than its political capability that guides it. With that come the conquer and control elements of Mearsheimer and Walt's earlier maxim. This is also that part of the Zionist discourse with which I am the least comfortable. What defines my version of Zionism is the will for the continuation of a Jewish state called Israel. I am equally convinced that for it to be strong and endure it cannot continue in control of the Palestinian people - whether through settlements inside Palestinian heartlands or along borders or with settlement blocs cutting into those heartlands.

In synagogue several weeks ago I found a prescient footnote in the Pentateuch - The Five Books of Moses. Whether the illustrious editor Rabbi Hertz himself or a contributor were responsible for this I don't know. It read: "... those who have been downtrodden repeatedly, frequently prove to be the worst oppressors when they acquire power over anyone." The edition I read was produced in 1937.

This is Pesah - Passover. One writer on Jewish history described our Exodus as the beginning of Jewish peoplehood. In the Haggadah - the book from which Jews recite every Pesah, and before the now legendary Mah Nishtanah - the Four Questions - always asked by the youngest present - is Magid - The Recital. It is a paragraph in Aramaic. I always stumble over it, my Aramaic not being what it should be. It's one of the oldest sequences in the Haggadah and believed to have been thought up before the destruction of the Temple, but composed in Babylon during the exile there. It speaks of the Bread of Affliction, it recalls the slavery in Egypt, and it hopes that we will be free next year. I want that freedom very much for all of us - Israelis and Palestinians. I do not want us to continue to be 'worst oppressors' or conquerors and controllers of another people and I believe that we cannot be the truly free people we want and deserve to be until we free ourselves.

Paul Usiskin

* Yesh T'Guva is the Hebrew for the opposite of Ain T'Guva - No Comment

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Replies: 2 comments

The Oracle of the American Republic (so-called by James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, and studied by George Washington for the 2nd Constitutional Convention) is Charles de Secondat, the Baron of Montesquieu.

The right wing never mentions this, and often tends to try to dismiss him, because he sometimes discusses things like equality and the redistribution of lands.

Anyway, in his greatest work, The Spirit of Laws, Volume II, Book XXV, which is entitled "Of the Laws in Relation to the Establishment of Religion and its External Polity", in Section 9, called "Of the Pontificate", Montesquieu writes:

"It is a principle that every religion which is persecuted becomes itself persecuting; for as soon as by some accidental turn it arises from persecution, it attacks the religion which persecuted it; not as religion, but as tyranny."

The Spirit of Laws is the fundament of American Constitutional theory, and the Left ignores all history and the Right pretends it doesn't exist.

Posted by JS Narins @ 04/24/2006 09:04 PM CST

PREDICTION: A VIEW OF NEW YORK AT 11th SEPTEMBER 2015 http://www.alah.hu/

Posted by Bíró Zoltán @ 05/08/2006 01:47 PM CST

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