Wednesday, February 28, 2007

[ePalestine] NYT: Seeking New Israeli Settlers, Synagogue Draws Protesters

New York Times
February 26, 2007 

Seeking New Israeli Settlers, Synagogue Draws Protesters 


TEANECK, N.J., Feb. 25 — As several dozen people screamed at one another across West Englewood Avenue on Sunday, waving Palestinian flags, Israeli flags and clenched fists, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky stood inside Bnai Yeshurun synagogue, smiling. He proclaimed the day a success. 

Hundreds of Jewish families from New York and New Jersey had just gathered at a real estate fair at the synagogue that was anything but typical. 

It was an attempt by an Israeli group to entice American Jews to buy and perhaps move into moderately priced homes in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Homes that the buyers did not want to live in would be rented to Jewish settlers. 

“We’re fulfilling a biblical commandment,” Rabbi Pruzansky said in an interview after the fair. “God commanded us to settle the land of Israel. This is a very natural step,” 

“There is an ideological motivation, but we also believe we might be able to attract prudent investors,” he said. 

Under the 2003 “road map” to peace drawn up by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, Israel agreed to halt all settlement growth in the West Bank and the Palestinians agreed to disarm militant groups there. 

But the plan stalled shortly after it was introduced. The Israeli government has argued that normal population growth in existing settlements should be acceptable. 

The United States calls West Bank settlements obstacles to peace, since they are on land the Palestinians hope to turn into their state. 

“Peace is an illusion already,” Rabbi Pruzansky said. “By having Jews live there, we are strengthening the land, adding a safeguard.” 

The Israeli government has all but cut off money for new homes, forcing those who support the settlements’ growth to look elsewhere for financing — including to Jews in the United States, who would own the homes from afar. 

The real estate fair was criticized by pro-Palestinian groups and by Amnesty International. Protesters gathered across the street from the synagogue, hurling chants of “Racists, racists, racists.” 

“The major point in our minds was that we saw this as an event that was racist in its very nature,” said Samer Khalaf, a member of the executive board of the New Jersey Chapter of the Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. 

“That’s what, in essence, we were protesting — that you have a group taking land away from Palestinians, Muslims and Christians and giving it to Jewish people from all over the world.” 

Aliza Herbst represented the Israeli housing group, the Amana Settlement Movement, which held the fair and which would build the homes and rent them to settlers. 

She said the homes would be built on land owned by the Israeli government that is designated for settlement. 

Yitz Stern, a member of the Bnai Yeshurun congregation who attended the fair, said he and his wife had been thinking for years about moving to Israel, but until yesterday’s presentation they thought they could not afford to do so. 

“Living in Jerusalem proper has become very cost-prohibitive,” he said. “I’m a normal middle-class guy, and I don’t have that kind of money.” 

According to Ms. Herbst, homes in some West Bank settlements cost only $117,000. Mr. Stern said, “I know from our friends, acquaintances and neighbors that there are many people that are looking to have a piece of the rock in Israel.” 

The fair’s organizers “made a seriously compelling argument for buying a home there,” he said, adding, “I’m going to think about it.” 

Mr. Stern said he believed that the contested land was part of Israel and that Jews had a God-given right to it. 

“I can see why some would be upset, but if we’re talking about these physical developments, I don’t see anyone being displaced, and if that’s the case I don’t see what the big deal is.” 

Rabbi Pruzansky said he was pleased with the way the fair turned out. Asked if the protest had soured it, he said, “I think what they did was give us some free publicity.” 

PHOTO CAPTION: A real estate fair in Teaneck, N.J., seeking Americans to buy homes in the West Bank met some opposition.  (Dith Pran/The New York Times) 


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Friday, February 23, 2007

[ePalestine] Just when you thought you've seen it all...stolen property for sale in NJ!!

An open house in Teaneck, NJ (USA) to convince American Jews to buy houses in the West Bank, the Occupied Territories...!!!

Please CALL 911  and advise that STOLEN FOREIGN PROPERTY is being traded at this house.  

Makes one sick, 


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Thursday, February 15, 2007

[ePalestine] OCCUPATION: In your face

Dear friends,

It has been a while since I've been able to write.  So much is happening.  I've been overwhelmed with work for starters.  We are now clearly in a resistance economy mode, similar to where we were pre-Oslo, only on a larger scale and with a few longer term developmental projects being worked on.  We are no where near the level of economic activity to sustain proper development and absorb the current labor force, let alone the growing population needs.  This situation can be attributed mainly to the US-led sanctions on Palestinians for practising democracy and the inability of the world to end this Israeli occupation.

More to the reason why I have not had the mind-set to write has been a human tragedy that took place here last week.  An accidental explosion at a gas station a few kms from our home brought wholesale death to our city on a busy Thursday (last work day of week) afternoon.  The accident happen as repairs were being made to the diesel tanks.  T he lives of 10 people were lost, many of them children, and over 20 injured.  A friend of mine lost her son, sister and nephew in this tragedy (see attached).  The entire community came out for the funeral and Ramallah went into a deep collective mourning.  A unique sense of community bonding brought people from all walks of life to pay their respects.  What hurt most was that, not only was the accident avoidable, but that the civil defense were unprepared to rescue the trapped and all of the licensing and oversight systems in place failed!  Accidents happen everywhere and are no less tragic, but here, layers of irresponsibility and the cloud of being trapped in an occupied cage linger overhead...deep inside, everyone is starting to feel that our society is tearing at the seams, and the prolonged state of crisis is a powder keg ready to explode, promising no less death and destruction than that at the gas station explosion.

As I write now, the Palestinian Prime Minister resigned as per the unity agreement that was reached in Mecca with President Abbas, thus paving the way for a new Palestinian gov't to be formed.  Minutes later the US announced that they will "shun" all gov't members unless full submission to the US (aka international) demands are met.  The US is lighting the match next to this powder keg...will the real international community have the power to stop them before it's too late?  Secretary Rice is on her way here on Monday...let's see how much more damage she can make before being held accountable for prolonging this debacle.

While we wait and see...below are two pictures of what occupation looks like from a Palestinian daily vantage point...notice the perfect US English!

Yearning corporate responsibility, even under occupation, for the sake of last week's victims,



On tape: Palestinians harassed in Hebron ‘cage’

(VIDEO) Tape obtained by B’Tselem shows heated argument between Palestinian family in Hebron and woman Jewish settler; quarrel just one example of suffering we endure on daily basis, head of Palestinian family tells Ynet. Settlers’ spokesman: Claims exaggerated


British film crew threatened by drunken settler in Hebron 

(WARNING: Marked as: Mature, Featured) 

Tel Rumeida is a small Palestinian neighborhood deep in the West Bank city of Hebron. Palestinian families from whom these settlers occupied lands, live directly next to these settlers and are often virtual prisoners in their homes, subject to the settlers' violent attacks and destruction of property. 



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Monday, February 12, 2007

[ePalestine] Just like life under Pinochet


Last update - 23:07 11/02/2007 
Just like life under Pinochet
By Nir Hasson 

"The Palestinians' lives under the occupation are reminiscent of the lives of Chile's citizens under the dictatorship," says Chilean Judge Juan Guzman, who is visiting Israel, last week. "There, too, people who thought differently were considered enemies: They were imprisoned, tortured and killed. There, too, people couldn't move from place to place, they didn't have freedom and they didn't have equality before the law. But here it's harder. It has been going on for longer," he added. 

Guzman, 68, became known at the end of the 1990s as an investigative judge pursuing Augusto Pinochet, Chile's military dictator between 1973 and 1990. Guzman waged a long legal battle against Pinochet. Despite the former dictator's immunity, Guzman succeeded in filing several indictments against him and bringing him to trial. Pinochet's trial was never completed because of his health, and he died two months ago at age 91. 

Last week Guzman came to Israel as a guest of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and the Alternative Information Center (AIC) to examine indicting Israelis responsible for house demolitions in European courts. Thus far, legal proceedings have been initiated only against military officers. The committee wants to indict civilians as well. 

ICAHD has a list of three officials from the Civil Administration, the Jerusalem municipality and the Interior Ministry who ordered the demolition of houses. It is seeking to submit investigation requests against the officials in a European country where the courts have the authority to address international human rights violations. Guzman is slated to give the international seal of approval to the move. If such an investigation is opened, presumably arrest orders will be issued against the three and they will encounter difficulties in visiting Europe. 

Guzman's great antagonist, Pinochet, died on December 10, International Human Rights Day. "I did not feel satisfaction, but I wasn't sad either," he says. "Chile lost a historic opportunity to rebuild itself," he says. "After the justice system was destroyed during the 17-year-long dictatorship, this was an opportunity to demonstrate its independence and to prove to Chile and to the entire world that no one is above the law, that even Pinochet can be tried." 

Guzman disagrees with the Chilean Supreme Court, which ruled that Pinochet was not mentally able to stand trial. He says Pinochet was lucid until his last day. 

Guzman has been a judge for 36 years. In January 1998, when he was serving as a judge in the Supreme Court of Santiago, he was chosen to investigate human rights charges filed against Pinochet and his officers. Guzman received 98 cases involving Pinochet. He traveled throughout Chile and conducted a comprehensive investigation into Pinochet's crimes. 

Several months later, Pinochet was arrested in London by order of a Spanish judge, over Spanish citizens killed under the dictatorship. Pinochet returned to Chile a year and five months later, after a British court ruled that because of his poor health, he could not be extradited to Spain. Soon after that, Guzman field his first indictment on charges of responsibility for the "death squad," a secret police unit that murdered 75 regime opponents. Guzman also ordered the house arrest of the former dictator. The decision aroused a storm in Chile: Rightist elements and military officials took Pinochet's side, whereas the left took to the street to celebrate. 

"It was no simple matter to bring Pinochet to trial," explains Hebrew University political science professor Mario Sznajder. "For some of the country's inhabitants, Pinochet was considered the nation's savior from the Communists." In addition, Pinochet enjoyed immunity after appointing himself a senator for life, and by virtue of the "amnesty law" he legislated. This law granted "automatic amnesty" to anyone who committed crimes before 1978, but Guzman circumvented this in a sophisticated way. 

"I proved the law does not cover disappearances (the fates of more than 1,000 regime opponents are still unknown - N.H.). Thus, as in cases of kidnapping, this is a matter of a crime that did not end in 1978, but rather is ongoing, and until we find out what happened to those people, even if the amnesty law covers part of the crime, it does not cover all of it. The Supreme Court accepted my opinion," Guzman says. 

In 2001, the Chilean Supreme Court ordered the proceedings against Pinochet cancelled due to his mental unfitness. Two years later, Guzman came across an interview Pinochet gave a Cuban television station in the United States on the 30th anniversary of the military coup. 

"He spoke about 158 different subjects and appeared to be in very good and lucid shape," recalls Guzman. In the wake of the interview, which proved the dictator was fit to stand trial, Guzman reopened the investigation. The Supreme Court again revoked Pinochet's immunity, and Guzman filed another indictment against him, this time for Operation Condor - the South American military regimes' cooperation in persecuting opponents, which resulted in hundreds of murders. 

Guzman went to Pinochet's home and interrogated him. "He could tell the difference between good and evil, and he could also tell the difference between what was convenient for him to answer and what was not convenient," relates Guzman. "This time he was less nice to me than he had been the first time. He understood I was prosecuting him. But he did not insult me and he was not aggressive." 

Half a year later Guzman succeeded in filing yet another indictment, this time for what was called Operation Colombo, during the course of which 119 Communist activists disappeared. Their bodies were never found. These legal proceedings, like others opened by other investigative judges, were not completed by the time Pinochet died. "These investigations did the country a great favor. They openly showed what had happened during the time of the dictatorship," says Guzman. "Many Chileans did not believe things like that had indeed happened, and thought they were an invention of the Communists. But when the investigations began, they started to believe. I believe that thanks to those investigations, my country will never again fall into a dictatorship. In Spanish we say nunca mas - never again." 

Professor Sznajder agrees. "Guzman's importance was that he tried to get to Pinochet, not as a journalist or as a political opponent, but rather by virtue of the authority of democratic law. He contributed to eliminating Chile's black hole, to erasing the second version of what had happened during those years. He touched upon the most painful things, opened wounds, uncovered facts and brought about a change, even if no verdict was obtained." 

Guzman has no doubt that like Pinochet's officers and officials, Israeli officers and officials will pay the price of the crimes he believes are being committed against the Palestinians. "If we learn from history, it appears that ultimately those who commit crimes against humanity and violate human rights are judged, whether by a special international court or in a country. Sooner or later, human right violations come to court," he says. 

During his trip, Guzman visited two Palestinian families whose homes in Issawiyeh and A-Tur were demolished. One of the families has been living in a tent near the ruins for two weeks. 

"I saw them crying. Every home demolition is the demolition of a person's dignity and intimacy, and is prohibited by international law. I have also seen the wall built in occupied territory. I don't understand this, and I don't believe it is connected to security. It isn't logical. I am certain there are other ways to protect the Israelis, and at the same time, the Palestinians must be protected. 

"I admire the Jewish people for the suffering it has endured and for its achievements in science, literature and music," he continues. "I identify with the Israelis, but my heart is with the people living under occupation and whose rights are being violated. Israel feels it is the victim of terror, but when you are here, you realize that what the Palestinians are doing is resisting occupation. The Palestinians are the victims, they are being exploited, their homes are being demolished, they are being detained under administrative orders, their property is being damaged, they need permits to move from place to place and their cities are becoming large prisons. There is no doubt they are the victims." 

Guzman does not make any commitment that indictments will be filed against those responsible for demolishing homes. "I will study the issue, I will consult and I will see how the process can be advanced," he says, "but there is no doubt that with respect to international law, civilians directly responsible for human rights violations can be indicted, just like soldiers." 

Meir Margalit, the field coordinator for ICAHD and the person who invited Guzman to visit Israel, says he has despaired of the Israeli justice system. "We feel we have exhausted the option of an Israeli investigator. Salvation won't come from here, and things are getting worse. Every year, about 400 houses in East Jerusalem and the territories are demolished." 

"I am here on a peace mission," says Guzman. "I want my activities to awaken discussion of whether what is happening here is justified. From the Chilean experience, we know activity like this can cease human rights violations. I implore the Israeli government to stop the house demolitions, for the sake of its good reputation and for the sake of the good reputation of the entire human race." 


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Friday, February 09, 2007

[ePalestine] NYT: Noted Arab Citizens Call on Israel to Shed Jewish Identity

Note: To access full report mentioned in this NYT's article visit:

New York Times

February 8, 2007 
Noted Arab Citizens Call on Israel to Shed Jewish Identity 

JERUSALEM, Feb. 7 — A group of prominent Israeli Arabs has called on Israel to stop defining itself as a Jewish state and become a “consensual democracy for both Arabs and Jews,” prompting consternation and debate across the country. 

Their contention is part of “The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel,” a report published in December under the auspices of the Committee of Arab Mayors in Israel, which represents the country’s 1.3 million Arab citizens, about a fifth of the population. Some 40 well-known academics and activists took part. 

They call on the state to recognize Israeli Arab citizens as an indigenous group with collective rights, saying Israel inherently discriminates against non-Jewish citizens in its symbols of state, some core laws, and budget and land allocations. 

The authors propose a form of government, “consensual democracy,” akin to the Belgian model for Flemish- and French-speakers, involving proportional representation and power-sharing in a central government and autonomy for the Arab community in areas like education, culture and religious affairs. 

The document does not deal with the question of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where an additional three million Palestinians live under Israeli occupation without Israeli citizenship. The aim of the declaration is to reshape the future of Israel itself. 

The reaction of Jewish Israelis has ranged from some understanding to a more widespread response, indignation. Even among the center-left, where concern for civil rights is common, some have condemned the document as disturbing and harmful. On the right, Israeli Arabs have been accused of constituting a “fifth column,” a demographic and strategic threat to the survival of the state. 

Rassem Khamaisi, one of the Future Vision participants and an urban planner, said: “The document reflects the Arab public’s feelings of discrimination. We should be looking for ways of partnership.” 

Many Israeli Arabs say they are second-class citizens who do not get the same services and considerations as Jews and face discrimination in employment, education and state institutions. 

Last month, a Muslim Arab legislator from the Labor Party, Ghaleb Majadele, was named a government minister, the first in Israel’s history. That development has been criticized as unhelpful by other Israeli Arab politicians, who mostly boycott the mainstream Zionist parties, running for Parliament on separate Arab lists and sitting in opposition. 

In an interview, Mr. Majadele distanced himself from the new document, saying that pragmatic political action would help the Arab sector more than any ideological program. “The fact is that Israel is a Jewish state, a state with a Jewish majority,” he said. “Can we change that reality with words?” 

Yet Mr. Majadele said that he, too, felt uncomfortable with national symbols like the flag, with a Star of David, and the anthem, which speaks of the “Jewish soul” yearning for Zion. 

“These were made and meant for the Jews, and did not take the Arab minority into account,” he said. “If Israel wants to integrate us fully, then we need an anthem and flag that can do that. We and the state must think deeply if we want to take a step in that direction. But it must be by agreement, with the involvement of both sides.” 

Many of the Future Vision participants are affiliated with elite Israeli academic institutions. For example, Asad Ghanem, one of the document’s principal authors, is head of the Government and Political Theory Department at Haifa University’s School of Political Science. 

As such, both Jewish conservatives and liberals have been taken aback by some propositions in the document. Many are angered by its description of Israel as the outcome of a “settlement process initiated by the Zionist Jewish elite” in the West and realized by “colonial countries” in the wake of the Holocaust. 

Jewish critics argue that the Future Vision report negates Israel’s legitimacy and raison d’être as the realization of Jewish self-determination; further, they say it undermines the idea of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, since that implies the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish one. 

In January, the senior fellows and board of the Israel Democracy Institute, a generally liberal independent research group that has worked on projects with some of the same Arab intellectuals, wrote a response expressing “severe anguish” over the document’s contents. 

Prof. Shimon Shamir, a former Israeli ambassador to Jordan and Egypt, published a letter in Al Sinara, an Arabic weekly in Israel, stating that even among Jews who are generally sympathetic to Arab concerns, the Future Vision document “evokes a sense of threat.” 

The document has exposed some raw nerves. Israel’s Declaration of Independence promises full equality in social and political rights to all inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex, and Israel’s Arab citizens participate in the country’s democratic process. 

Over the decades, however, Jewish-Arab relations in Israel have been marked by mutual suspicion and resentment. From 1948 until 1966 Arabs here lived under military rule. A 2003 government report acknowledged discrimination by state institutions, and a recent report on poverty published last year by Israel’s National Insurance Institute indicated that 53 percent of the impoverished families in Israel are Arabs. 

And it is clear that the vast majority of Israel’s Jews consider the very essence of their state to be its Jewish identity. 

Traditionally, Arab parties in the Parliament have focused on peace and equality, but the Arab public has become frustrated with the lack of results, leading to a lower voter turnout. Most Arab Israeli politicians have rejected the Future Vision document as unrealistic, exposing divisions within the Arab community. 

Arab parties hold 10 seats in the 120-seat Parliament and are sometimes accused by the Jewish establishment of provocations. During last summer’s Lebanon war, some Arab legislators were perceived as sympathizing with Hezbollah. 

Now there are signs of growing assertiveness and extremism on both sides. Avigdor Lieberman, head of the hard-line Yisrael Beiteinu Party, which has 11 seats in the Parliament, wants to reduce the number of Arab Muslim citizens in Israel by eventually transferring some populous Arab towns and their inhabitants to a future Palestinian state. 

A few Jewish Israeli liberals have welcomed the Future Vision document. Shalom (Shuli) Dichter, co-director of Sikkuy, a Jewish-Arab organization that monitors civic equality in Israel, has hailed the effort as opening a serious dialogue about the terms for genuine Jewish-Arab co-existence though he, too, took issue with the historical narrative adopted by the authors. 

In January, 30,000 copies of the document were distributed to Arab homes with weekend newspapers. 

According to a poll of Arab Israelis by the Yafa Institute, commissioned by the Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation, only 14 percent of respondents said they thought Israel should remain a Jewish and democratic state in its current format; 25 percent wanted a Jewish and democratic state that guarantees full equality to its Arab citizens. But some 57 percent said they wanted a change in the character and definition of the state, whether to become a “state for all its citizens,” a binational state, or a consensual democracy. 


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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

[ePalestine] The Independent: British Jews break away from 'pro-Israeli' Board of Deputies

The Independent 

British Jews break away from 'pro-Israeli' Board of Deputies 

By Martin Hodgson 
Published: 05 February 2007 

A new organisation to represent British Jews is to be launched today in response to a perceived pro-Israeli bias in existing Jewish bodies in the UK. 

The founders of Independent Jewish Voices, IJV, which will include such luminaries as the Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter and the historian Eric Hobsbawm, say that the group is being established as a counter-balance to the uncritical support for Israeli policies offered by established bodies such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews. 

More than 100 high-profile British Jews have already signed the group's founding declaration: "Those who claim to speak on behalf of Jews in Britain and other countries consistently put support for the policies of an occupying power above the human rights of the occupied people." 

Other signatories include the film director Mike Leigh, human rights lawyer Geoffrey Bindman, fashion designer Nicole Farhi and the actors Stephen Fry and Zoe Wanamaker. The initiative was born out of frustration with the assumption by non-Jews that Jewish opinion in the UK is monolithic in its support for Israel's policies. 

Professor Hobsbawm told The Independent: "It is important for non-Jews to know that there are Jews ... who do not agree with the apparent consensus within the Jewish community that the only good Jew is one who supports Israel." 

Supporters hope to create an opportunity for Jews of different political affiliations to express opinions "without being accused of disloyalty or being dismissed as self-hating", said a spokeswoman. "The idea is to create a platform for critical debate about the situation in the Middle East that until now has not existed." 

IJV is not positioning itself as a replacement for the Board of Deputies of British Jews, but its charter includes an implicit rebuke for the Board. "The broad spectrum of opinion among the Jewish population of this country is not reflected by those institutions which claim authority to represent the Jewish community as a whole," it says. 

Founded in 1760, the Board of Deputies has long been seen as the established mouthpiece for British Jews. But its unstinting support for Israel has drawn censure from critics of the country's tactics in the occupied territories. The psychologist Susie Orbach, who has also signed the IJV declaration, said: "As a Jew, I feel a particular duty to oppose the injustice that is done to Palestinians ... The Israeli government does not speak for me." 

Mr Bindman said: "The easy assumption that all Jews support Israel and its ill-treatment of Palestinians is an insidious form of racism. I, like many Jews in and outside Israel, am appalled and disgusted by the illegal occupation by Israel of Palestinian territory and its brutal treatment of Palestinians." 

At the height of the bombardments of Lebanon and Gaza last year, the Board of Deputies organised a rally to support Israel. 

David Goldberg, the author and emeritus rabbi of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, said: "When Israel's Jewish supporters abroad don't speak out against disastrous policies, that neither guarantee safety for her citizens nor produce the right climate in which to try and reach a just peace with the Palestinians ... then they are ... acting against Israel's own long-term interests." 


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Saturday, February 03, 2007

[ePalestine] CSM: What 'Israel's right to exist' means to Palestinians (By John V. Whitbeck)

The Christian Science Monitor
from the February 02, 2007 edition

What 'Israel's right to exist' means to Palestinians  

Recognition would imply acceptance that they deserve to be treated as subhumans. 


Since the Palestinian elections in 2006, Israel and much of the West have asserted that the principal obstacle to any progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace is the refusal of Hamas to "recognize Israel," or to "recognize Israel's existence," or to "recognize Israel's right to exist." 

These three verbal formulations have been used by Israel, the United States, and the European Union as a rationale for collective punishment of the Palestinian people. The phrases are also used by the media, politicians, and even diplomats interchangeably, as though they mean the same thing. They do not. 

"Recognizing Israel" or any other state is a formal legal and diplomatic act by one state with respect to another state. It is inappropriate – indeed, nonsensical – to talk about a political party or movement extending diplomatic recognition to a state. To talk of Hamas "recognizing Israel" is simply to use sloppy, confusing, and deceptive shorthand for the real demand being made of the Palestinians. 

"Recognizing Israel's existence" appears on first impression to involve a relatively straightforward acknowledgment of a fact of life. Yet there are serious practical problems with this language. What Israel, within what borders, is involved? Is it the 55 percent of historical Palestine recommended for a Jewish state by the UN General Assembly in 1947? The 78 percent of historical Palestine occupied by the Zionist movement in 1948 and now viewed by most of the world as "Israel" or "Israel proper"? The 100 percent of historical Palestine occupied by Israel since June 1967 and shown as "Israel" (without any "Green Line") on maps in Israeli schoolbooks? 

Israel has never defined its own borders, since doing so would necessarily place limits on them. Still, if this were all that was being demanded of Hamas, it might be possible for the ruling political party to acknowledge, as a fact of life, that a state of Israel exists today within some specified borders. Indeed, Hamas leadership has effectively done so in recent weeks. 

"Recognizing Israel's right to exist," the actual demand being made of Hamas and Palestinians, is in an entirely different league. This formulation does not address diplomatic formalities or a simple acceptance of present realities. It calls for a moral judgment. 

There is an enormous difference between "recognizing Israel's existence" and "recognizing Israel's right to exist." From a Palestinian perspective, the difference is in the same league as the difference between asking a Jew to acknowledge that the Holocaust happened and asking him to concede that the Holocaust was morally justified. For Palestinians to acknowledge the occurrence of the Nakba – the expulsion of the great majority of Palestinians from their homeland between 1947 and 1949 – is one thing. For them to publicly concede that it was "right" for the Nakba to have happened would be something else entirely. For the Jewish and Palestinian peoples, the Holocaust and the Nakba, respectively, represent catastrophes and injustices on an unimaginable scale that can neither be forgotten nor forgiven. 

To demand that Palestinians recognize "Israel's right to exist" is to demand that a people who have been treated as subhumans unworthy of basic human rights publicly proclaim that they are subhumans. It would imply Palestinians' acceptance that they deserve what has been done and continues to be done to them. Even 19th-century US governments did not require the surviving native Americans to publicly proclaim the "rightness" of their ethnic cleansing by European colonists as a condition precedent to even discussing what sort of land reservation they might receive. Nor did native Americans have to live under economic blockade and threat of starvation until they shed whatever pride they had left and conceded the point. 

Some believe that Yasser Arafat did concede the point in order to buy his ticket out of the wilderness of demonization and earn the right to be lectured directly by the Americans. But in fact, in his famous 1988 statement in Stockholm, he accepted "Israel's right to exist in peace and security." This language, significantly, addresses the conditions of existence of a state which, as a matter of fact, exists. It does not address the existential question of the "rightness" of the dispossession and dispersal of the Palestinian people from their homeland to make way for another people coming from abroad. 

The original conception of the phrase "Israel's right to exist" and of its use as an excuse for not talking with any Palestinian leaders who still stood up for the rights of their people are attributed to former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. It is highly likely that those countries that still employ this phrase do so in full awareness of what it entails, morally and psychologically, for the Palestinian people. 

However, many people of goodwill and decent values may well be taken in by the surface simplicity of the words, "Israel's right to exist," and believe that they constitute a reasonable demand. And if the "right to exist" is reasonable, then refusing to accept it must represent perversity, rather than Palestinians' deeply felt need to cling to their self-respect and dignity as full-fledged human beings. That this need is deeply felt is evidenced by polls showing that the percentage of the Palestinian population that approves of Hamas's refusal to bow to this demand substantially exceeds the percentage that voted for Hamas in January 2006. 

Those who recognize the critical importance of Israeli-Palestinian peace and truly seek a decent future for both peoples must recognize that the demand that Hamas recognize "Israel's right to exist" is unreasonable, immoral, and impossible to meet. Then, they must insist that this roadblock to peace be removed, the economic siege of the Palestinian territories be lifted, and the pursuit of peace with some measure of justice be resumed with the urgency it deserves. 

• John V. Whitbeck, an international lawyer, is the author of, "The World According to Whitbeck." He has advised Palestinian officials in negotiations with Israel. 


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