|Israel Resource Review
||10th December, 2004
Defending the Invitiation to
Sari Nusseibeh to Lunch
Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee in Boston
I want to give a full report on the Nusseibeh meeting, because it has caused a firestorm around the country that no one expected.
I suggest that my remarks be sent to all the chapters since we have been receiving frantic e-mails and phone calls from Arizona, Ct. Westchester, et al.
In my strong opinion, there is hysteria afoot in the Jewish world, and the reaction to our invitation to Nusseibeh is a prime example.
AJC prides itself on being a thoughtful and cool-headed organization, and such qualities are in desperate need at this point.
AJC, JCRC, and ADL did not "honor" Nusseibeh on Friday.
We jointly invited him to our headquarters for the purpose of open, honest dialogue. If one insists that inviting an Arab to break bread and talk is, in effect, honoring him, so be it!
Everyone concerned about the future peace negotiations between Palestinians and Jews should know Nusseibeh. He has been speaking out for peace and non-violence for 20 years, both publicly and privately. I had him speak at a breakfast meeting about 7 years ago when he was on sabbatical at Brandeis.
I am sure you know that he is a personal friend of Jehuda and Shulamit Reinharz, and has entered into academic arrangements between Al- Quds University and institutions here in Boston.
If Nusseibeh does not fit the title of "moderate" I simply do not know who does.
If we cannot talk to a man like Nusseibeh then there is not a Palestinian alive worth talking to and we may as well abandon any pretense or hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Shortly before the meeting last Friday, an -mail campaign erupted from Jerusalem from David Bedein, a self proclaimed "Bureau Chief the Israel Resource News Agency" who stated that Nusseibeh praised a Palestinian mother named Uhm Nidal, who "dispatched" her son on a suicide mission that resulted in the killing of 7 young Israelis.
Bedein sent this item, along with other alleged statements made by Nusseibeh, to hundreds of people around the world.
Nusseibeh tells an entirely different story. He was invited on to Al Jazheera to speak his mind, and he grabbed the opportunity, despite his opinion of Al Jazheera as a "propagandistic, deceptive, unreliable, and inflammatory" media outlet. He knew they reached a large audience and he wanted to get his words across to as many people as possible.
Al-Jazheera blindsided him, first by putting him with a Hamas leader, seated in a different studio, and then--even worse--putting on the mother, Uhm Nidal. Nusseibeh described the mother as crying and shouting and wailing and moaning for her lost son. Nusseibeh was asked to comment on the mother's situation. He offered condolence and sympathy and, most likely, Koranic praise for her sacrifice.
Nusseibeh was trapped into saying what he said. Under the circumstances, he had no choice. He made it absolutely clear, however, that he has been opposed to violence against Israeli civilians for many years. He has stated these views repeatedly, and has paid a price as a result. As many of us know, Nusseibeh has been harassed, threatened, insulted, defamed, and physically beaten by his fellow Palestinians because of his anti-violence views. These facts are well recorded by the international media, and need no corroboration.
Nusseibeh was one of the first Palestinians to sign an anti-violence proclamation in 2000. It was Nusseibeh
who got 55 signatures on the June 2003 Proclamation against suicide bombings. No Palestinian had done so before.
It was Nusseibeh who entered into partnership with Ami Ayalon --at Ayalon's request--to draft the 6 Principles,
"two states for two people", adjustable borders, in accordance with security, territorial, contiguity, and
demographic concerns, division of Jerusalem, right of Palestinian return only to the new state of Palestine,
demilitarization of the Palestinian state, and a final end to the conflict.
Nusseibeh is one of the few Palestinians to repudiate the Right of Return
as impractical and futile, and he had the courage to say so in alliance with the former Head of Shin Bet--quite an extraordinary act of courage.
E-mails flooding into our office and the offices of JCRC and ADL, our partners in the Nusseibeh program, have called Nusseibeh a
"snake", a "terrorist", "a wolf in sheep's clothing", an "enemy of the Jewish people".
Bluntly speaking, this is sheer lunacy!
Nusseibeh acknowledges that Israelis and Palestinians are in a state of war and it is extremely difficult for one side to trust the other.
Israelis are justified in not feeling an emotional trust in Palestinians: Nusseibeh admitted that there is a lot of hate being spewed in the Palestinian community today. "This is a real problem and we must confront it. It is in my interest as a Palestinian to confront it!"
He related an incident when he took his young sons to a local mosque. The Imam's sermon was filled with such virulent hate, that Nusseibeh dragged his sons out of the mosque in disgust.
Needless to say, Palestinians also find it hard to trust Israelis.
Nusseibeh stated repeatedly that Palestinians and Jews should enter into dialogue:
"we need to get closer to each other." And he encouraged Muslim/Palestinian-Jewish dialogue in
Boston and around America as well.
In conclusion, Nusseibeh stated, "I have been consistent in my quest for peace and non- violence. Palestinian people know exactly what I think and what I feel. I do not say one thing in English and another thing in Arabic. The Internet can spread inflammatory allegations about my position, but those who know me know what I really think and feel."
Over 150 people jammed the 9th floor of our building for the event. Two policemen were on duty. The interaction was civil. Hard questions were asked, but Nusseibeh was forthright and disarming. He is quite charming, both in manner and physical appearance, and he undoubtedly had a positive effect on the majority of the audience. Hard core ideologues were not convinced, to be sure, but that was to be expected.
Flyers were passed around with alleged quotes made by Nusseibeh, but the meeting did not allow for a point-by-point discussion.
I would not be surprised if Nusseibeh has made disturbing comments in the past, but as he clearly asserted,
"I am not a Zionist!" I doubt if any Palestinian could pass a "Jewish" test.
As Rabin once said"You make peace with your enemies and not your friends." Sari Nusseibeh is the best "enemy" we can hope for under the present circumstances, no matter what Bedein, Naomi Ragen, and others may say.
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The question not asked in Boston:
When Will Nusseibeh Speak "Moderation" on the PBC?
Larry Lowenthal, head of the American Jewish Committee in Boston,
misses the point:
At the December 10th lunch in Boston, Sari Nusseibeh was not asked the key question:
Since Nusseibeh holds a key position in the Palestinian Authority, why does Nusseibeh refuse to convey his "moderate" message on the official PBC TV or radio of the Palestinian Authority?
Since Nusseibeh reported to the group in Boston that he did not approve of the sermon given by the Imam in a mosque run by the Palestinian Authority, why did Nusseibeh not make his dissent known on the PBC?
The American Jewish Committee should have asked these questions, because the AJC is an agency which specializes in ethnicity and conflict management.
One of AJC's cardinal principles in ethnic struggles is that leaders must convey the same message to each other that they convey to the other side.
In other words, it does not matter one iota what Sari Nusseibeh says to Jews in Boston or to Jews in Tel Aviv.
What matters would be if he demanded an interview on the PBC, the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation.
Did the Israeli government, the AJC and other Jewish organizations not make the same mistake with Arafat ten years ago, when they did not insist that Arafat convey a message of peace and reconciliation to his own people on the PBC, preferring instead to ignore that message?
Did the AJC not take out full page ads in the New York Times to show the maps of Palestine which obliterate Israel that the Palestinian Authority has issued in their new PA school books?
Has it not occurred to the AJC that Nusseibeh has adapted the "modus operandi" of Arafat, to convey one message to Israeli and western audiences and yet another message to his own people?
Is it not a tragic moment that an AJC official will swallow Nusseibeh's explanation that he was entrapped into praising a mother who dispatched her son to commit an act of premeditated murder . . . and that he did not know that he was to appear on the panel with a Hamas leader?
Could that AJC official defend Nusseibeh's statement in front of the parents and families of the five boys whose murder he praised?
Would that AJC official have reacted that way if Nusseibeh had praised the cold-blooded murder of five students in HIS community?
This is reminiscent of what occurred last February in Jerusalem, when the AJC invited an official of the PLO to address its delegation. That official endorsed the murder of every man, woman and child who lives and breathes beyond the "green line", from the Jerusalem Tel Aviv road to the Old City of Jerusalem.
Yet the AJC would issue no public condemnation of such a clear endorsement of premeditated murder which was stated so clearly to a delegation of the AJC.
Yes, as my colleague Miri Eisen wrote in the Jewish Advocate of December 10th, "you make peace with enemies", yet only after you defeat them or after they annul their declaration of war.
And the PLO remains at war with the state and people of Israel. Miri should know that. As an officer in the IDF, she was the first Israeli official to review the documents seized from the PLO headquarters in Ramallah.
In only two weeks, the PLO will celebrate its fortieth anniversary, founded by the Arab League with a mandate to continue the 1948 war to destroy Israel.
The clever 1974 a.m.endment to the PLO covenant enabled the PLO to do so in stages
The PBC will once again run festive programs to proclaim that the PLO has not abandoned its war to destroy Israel and those festivities will likely be downplayed in the western and the Israeli media, in the world of wishful thinking and political correctness.
And the PBC will remind their people that the PLO Covenant remains etched in stone.
The time has come to salute the late Prime Minister Rabin, who had the courage to obligate the PLO to change the PLO Covenant before Israel would sign any agreement with the PLO.
On April 24th, 1996, our news agency dispatched the only TV crew to covered the session of the PNC where the PLO Covenant was supposed to be changed and never was changed , despite the false report issued by US Ambassador Indyk and then-prime minister Peres.
It was those false reports which allowed Arafat into the USA on his first official visit one week later, because the US Congress enacted a law which forbid the US to deal with the PLO unless it changed its covenant.
Yes, Abu Mazen and Sari Nusseibeh are more soft-spoken and look better than Arafat, yet their PLO ideology is no different, and their ability to manipulate Jews is not different.
The likes of Abu Mazen and Sari Nusseibeh will now oversee a new wave of murder, while offering sound bytes of "moderation" for the consumption of the western media, the Israeli press, the Jewish organizations and the Israeli government.
Yet there are times when media bytes of moderation belie the truth of a policy.
The question remains: How many Jews have to be murdered by the PLO until those who head the institutions of the Jewish people in the diaspora and Israel will wake up to the reality of PLO policy.
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This is Not a Foreign Land
MK Prof. Arieh Eldad
In the wake of the Feast of Lights, Hanukkah, and mindful of the
confusion and the darkness that appear to have descended upon so
many of us, we would do well to take a good look at the words of
Simon - the last of the Hasmonean Princes to rule Israel during
the Second Temple era. In the Book of the Maccabees, Simon is
quoted as saying: "It is not a foreign land that we have taken,
nor have we set our rule over the property of strangers. This is
the inheritance of our Forefathers, which at one time was
illicitly conquered, and we, when the opportunity arose,
recovered the inheritance of our Fathers."
No doubt the Arabs' greatest victory in recent generations has been the adoption of the concept of "occupation." If it were only at the UN General Assembly that the automatic majority was mobilized in support of this lie; if it gained currency only among the open and the latent antisemites in Europe, or only on the college campuses of North America - that would not be so bad. We are accustomed to holding our own, and fighting back, against the greatest of odds. But from the moment that many among our own people have begun to repeat the occupation mantra - and refuse to listen to the Arabs, who regard us as occupiers throughout the Land of Israel - from that moment on, we really and truly face an existential danger. And from the moment that Ariel Sharon made use of that term to define our situation, he forfeited the right to be considered a Zionist leader in Israel.
Secular Zionism sought to rid itself of the "mysticism" of the Jewish people's connection with its land. "The Jewish people," the political Zionists explained, "has returned to its land because this is its historic patrimony, and everywhere in the Diaspora we are persecuted." These two reasons could serve also the Arabs laying claim to this land - or, at a minimum, won't interest them. Whoever does not understand where this definition of the Jewish people as an occupier in its own homeland will lead us, and thinks this definition is limited to Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District, should have been present at the Knesset debate on the proposal to draft an agreed constitution. There he could have heard the words of the representatives of Israel's Arab community demanding national minority rights.
What are these rights that the Arab minority in the State of Israel claims for itself? For one thing, they demand that the street signs in all the country's cities should include Arabic; they also demand an autonomous educational system; changes in our national symbols, including the replacement of our anthem, Hatikvah, which cannot represent the Arab minority; abolition of the Law of Return and its replacement by an immigration law granting quotas to Arabs and Jews for the attainment of Israeli citizenship; abolition of the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet Leyisrael); and the replacement of the Israel Land Administration by an egalitarian body.
In effect, what is demanded here is the establishment of a third entity side by side with the State of Israel and the State of Palestine. These demands were not aired, let us remember, on the Hizballah Television or Radio Hamas. These demands were heard in Israel's parliament, the Knesset, from the lips of the academic and political representatives of Israel's Arab community and their supporters among the country's Jews, backed up by legislative proposals put forward by Arab Members of the Knesset.
Those who advocate "two states for two peoples" fail to realize that the implementation of this slogan would lead straight to a Palestinian state in the areas of Judea-Samaria and the Gaza District and, adjacent to it, a bi-national state within the Green Line. And even this would be merely an intermediate stage until the demographic factor comes into its own within the State of Israel too. And all of this would be perfectly natural and fully justified, considering that we are "occupiers" in the Land of Israel, albeit "benevolent occupiers" eager to grant the occupied Arabs a state of their own, as well as national rights for those who did not flee the country during the War of Liberation in 1948 and are now trying to seize it from within.
When, 2,147 years ago, Jonathan the Maccabee was captured and executed by the Greek commander Tryphon, Jonathan's brother, Simon, became the last of the Hasmonean brothers to rule Israel. Like his brothers before him, Simon faced a formidable array of enemies, from the Syrian Greeks, and the large Greek minority that had settled in Israel, to the pro-Greeks among Israel's Jewish population - the Hellenists. Fighting for Israel's freedom and independence, and maneuvering among all those arrayed against him, Simon was crystal-clear in formulating the nature of this war over his people's patrimony.
Our situation today is very similar to that one. What is missing is a leader who has not forgotten this simple truth.
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Arafat is dead - Oslo is Back
Dr. Guy Bechor
Special Oped, Yediot Aharonot
after the Oslo process shattered in a tremendous crash, a Likud
government headed by Ariel Sharon has gone back to its
fundamental premises, as if there has been no Intifada, as if we
haven't suffered more than 1,000 dead, as if Israeli society had
not matured since. In other words, nothing was learned.
The fundamental premise of the Oslo accords was that
come here to lead the Palestinians and to combat terror, mainly that of
Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Arafat came, but he never had any intention
of fighting terror. Barring one incident, Arafat took pains to cooperate
Arafat is dead, and Abu Mazen, the successor, goes so far as to air
statements that the armed Intifada was a mistake and that the
Palestinians should have made do with a "non-violent" Intifada. Senior
government officials speak optimistically about how Abu Mazen, once he
is elected, will combat terrorism. Has anyone seen Abu Mazen in the
region lately? He's got elections in another three weeks in the
territories, but he's fled to the Persian Gulf and the Arab countries
(and to the Palestinian eternity, the refugees and the return). Since he
remembers his last attempt to come out against the Intifada, which
culminated in his disgraceful ouster from office, he is probably the
last person who is going to combat terrorism.
The second premise of the Oslo accords was that the supposedly
pro-Israel leadership would win legitimacy by means of the elections.
The elections in early 1996 indeed conferred more legitimacy on Arafat
in his own people's eyes, but that never translated itself into
In the Oslo days, people said we need to engage in negotiations with
the Palestinian side as if there is no terror. And, indeed, negotiations
were held while suicide bombers were blowing themselves up; only later
did Israel realize that there was a Palestinian method to this madness.
It was Ariel Sharon who said that no negotiations would be held until
all terrorism stopped. But now the negotiations are being resumed, this
time using backchannels, there is a sense of a new era dawning, but
terror is still running rampant, mainly in the Gaza Strip.
The Oslo logic called for IDF activity to be restricted and for
Israel to shut its eyes to clear processes of Palestinian military
preparations. And now, once again, the IDF is hesitant to crush the
ever-worsening armed activity in the Gaza Strip, in the eschatological
hope that the Palestinian elections will bring it to an end. In the
meantime, Palestinians in the field are energetically preparing
themselves for the days of disengagement, to strike with renewed ranks
at the IDF and to portray the withdrawal as an act of flight, with all
the impact that will have on the future of the Palestinian armed
And finally, the idea of a new Middle East is back in the arena:
economic development will, by necessity, produce positive political
changes. That theory was proven bankrupt in the 1990s, and it is just as
unrealistic today. It was just this week that Israel gave Egypt an
economic lifesaver in the form of a free trade agreement with the United
States-which is hardly likely to be of any benefit to Israel. More than
90% of the fruit of this agreement will be picked by Egypt, which still
has not explained why three-quarters of the foreign aid it receives from
the United States is used for the acquisition of weaponry and military
equipment. That amassment of military might is aimed only against
Israel. It forces Israel to double its military equipment acquisitions
from the United States, at the expense of welfare and society.
Sharon has proven himself to be Peres's twin when it comes to all the
eschatological beliefs of the Oslo process about Palestinian democracy,
a Palestinian war on terror and regional economic development. Perhaps
that is the logic of having Peres join the government and play a key
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A Message to Europe
|The world is divided into two camps. On one side are those people who
see terrorism as a warning of danger ahead. Unless something is done,
they say, a catastrophe may happen. On the other side are those people
whose lives have been turned upside down, never to be the same again,
because terrorism has struck them, has fallen on top of them, has
brought catastrophe right into their lives.
I want to spend a few minutes looking at the differences between these
two camps, and to suggest some reasons why each camp seems to find it so
hard to understand the other.
By what right do I speak? I am a professional person, a man in his
fifties, educated, informed, with respectable qualifications. Still, I
hold no academic position and no public office. I harbour absolutely no
political ambitions and I take no part in public debate. Of the
different ways there are to define me, the one I prefer - the one which
best represents who I am and what I do - is that I am a husband and a
I brought my family to Israel in 1988 not because Australia was a
miserable place and not because my wife and I were unable to earn a
living. The opposite is true. We came to Israel despite the comfort and
pleasure of life in Melbourne. There, we earned a good living, lived in
a lovely home, had friends, felt safe and were safe. We moved to Israel
to raise our children here because this is the historic home of the
Jewish people, the right place for Jews to be. Our parents and
grandparents and great-great-great grandparents dreamed of doing this
but were not able. We were able, and therefore we did it.
Everything in our lives changed forever when Malki, our middle child, a
delightful fifteen year old girl with a constant smile on her beautiful
face, was killed on 9th August 2001. Malki died like more than one
thousand other Israelis in the last four years - innocent and
unprepared. She was not caught in the crossfire of some battle. She was
not a bystander. She was murdered with fourteen other Israelis in a
restaurant in the middle of the day, in the middle of this city.
The women and children in that pizza restaurant on a hot school-holiday
afternoon were the actual target. The terrorists who planned the
massacre took their orders from a pediatrician and from a minister of
religion in a wheelchair. They picked their target with exquisite care.
The bomber was the son of a land-owning wealthy family. The other gang
members were mainly university-educated and well-traveled. To call them
'desperate', as many journalists have done, is to completely twist the
meaning of the word 'desperate'.
On the day that the joy of life was turned into ashes for my family and
me, men and women in villages close to where we are now sitting danced
in the streets and distributed candies to their children. We have the
I said a few moments ago that I take no part in public debate, but this
is not true any longer. My daughter's murder and the confusion and
ignorance which we have seen around us compelled my wife and me to find
our voice, and to speak and to write at every opportunity. We used to be
the most private of people. Now we feel an urgent need to speak out. We
try to shape abstract ideas for people so they can understand them. We
try to give expression to the agony and the misery of the desperate
families around us - the Israeli families, desperate . . . for peace.
If, like me, you are ready to sit down and listen to Israeli families
who have experienced murder at the hands of the barbarians, I can tell
you what you will hear. Like almost every Israeli I have ever met,
terror victim families want to see the Palestinian Arabs live productive
lives, travel in safety, obtain a good education for their children,
make money, receive good medical care. The miserable reality of their
daily lives is far from what we wish them - and this brings absolutely
no happiness or comfort to our side. The opposite is true. The struggle
between them and us which is asymmetrical in so many respects is
asymmetrical on this point too. If only they would feel protective of
their achievements, if only they felt they have something to lose, if
only they could experience the pride of a Palestinian Arab winner of a
Nobel Prize for physics or literature?
Forty years of a corrupt and incompetent regime has assured that there
is almost nothing of worth which they can lose.
Instead, we Israelis today are obliged to cope with the actual
day-to-day legacy of the Arafat regime and its kleptocratic leaders: the
dozens of crooked men who have grown wealthy on the back of their
people's misery; the teachers of religion who have hijacked a noble
faith and turned it into a tragic parody; the teenage boys and girls,
raised on a diet of racist hatred and on the glorification of violence
In 1977 the great political analyst Walter Laqueur wrote this: "The
disputes about a detailed, comprehensive definition of terrorism will
continue for a long time, they will not result in a consensus and they
will make no notable contribution towards the understanding of terrorism."
He was absolutely right. The United Nations via its many agencies has
still not found the way to agree on a definition of terror. But
terrorism, like pornography with which it shares some characteristics,
is hard to define but not so hard to recognize when you meet it.
The hatred and the barbarism of the terrorists are not a component of
the political struggle between Israelis and Arabs. They are outside
politics, beyond it and largely unconnected to it. Terrorism is absolute
evil. Unless it is stopped by necessary and sufficient force, it will
neither evaporate nor crumble. It will grow, and change form, and expand
and spread. It cannot be appeased, and it must not be understood. We
suffer from a grotesque surplus of understanding, whose price is human
lives. A force which can take deliberate aim at an infant's head and
shoot, a force which can plant a bomb in a pizza restaurant, or in a
railway station, on a passenger jet or in a kindergarten, is a force
I was raised by parents who knew about Hell. My father, who died before
Malki was born, grew up in the Auschwitz death camp. My mother lives in
quiet retirement in Australia today, but she was there too. A month
after her fifteenth birthday, my mother's little Polish town was
over-run by Nazi forces and her father, my grandfather, was arrested for
the usual crime of being Jewish. Before he could be taken away, my
mother threw herself at the feet of a German soldier and screamed for
mercy. Somehow this worked, her father was released and the family
remained together for several more months. My grandparents, like the
grandparents of all of the friends I grew up with, were eventually
murdered. My parents, like all of the Jewish refugees who came to
Australia after the second world war, came with nothing - no parents, no
property, no education. But they brought with them a powerful sense of
history - of their own history, and of the history of the Jewish people.
They established schools, synagogues, social welfare agencies, sports
clubs. They created a new life. They found within themselves resources
of love and mutual concern and support.
Although the shape of their lives was marked by their experience as
Holocaust survivors, hatred was unknown in the life they made for me and
for my generation. They simply had no time for hating - they were busy
building a future for themselves, their children and their community.
This success, I believe, was their revenge over the Nazis.
I mentioned the experience of my mother when she was fifteen. In 1967, I
was fifteen. I remember watching my parents and their friends as they
grew deeply apprehensive about Gamal Abdel Nasser and his open threat to
throw all the Jews of Israel into the sea and destroy the young Jewish
state. For the first time in my life, I could see that there were people
ready to annihilate the Jews. And I could see there were others like U
Thant, the then-secretary general of the United Nations, who might have
blocked Nasser's aggression but chose not to.
Arafat was already in the picture, by the way - he had become the head
of the PLO in 1964 when the number of Israeli occupied settlements and
Israeli army checkpoints was, of course, zero. All of this made a deep
impression on me. Then war erupted, a Six Day War as it turned out, and
Israel was saved. For me, the distance between Jerusalem and Melbourne
grew very small from that moment onwards.
Most of us in this room are parents. We know that fifteen is a young
age. At fifteen we have some of our basic ideas, and the general shape
of our personality is in place. But we still have a lot of growing up to
do. Malki, my daughter, will never reach her sixteenth birthday. We
honour her memory by a fund called the Malki Foundation. Like Malki
herself, the foundation gives support to families who are caring at home
for a severely disabled child. Our foundation has already managed to
support hundreds of such families - Druze, Christian, Moslem, Jewish.
Like my daughter, this work has no political character. Its goal is to
add some light, some happiness to the lives of ordinary people facing an
I had the great privilege of speaking to the first MedBridge group in
Jerusalem a year ago. I introduced myself to the 170 distinguished
politicians and parliamentarians as someone who is not at all involved
in the political process - in fact, as someone who tries to keep himself
and his family as far away as possible from politics and from
politicians. Please excuse my bluntness. I am not among those who seek
truth from politicians, because I prefer to get my disappointments
I spoke then about how life can look very different depending on
whether you are sitting on your sofa watching the television
news, or standing on the other side - living the news. The three
years that have passed since my daughter died at the hands of
terrorists have taught me how different those two experiences
are - how little information is given by the news media about
the victims of terrorism. The frustration, the loneliness, the pain.
In the year since the first MedBridge group came to Jerusalem, I have
met dozens of journalists and my understanding of how they do their work
has gotten a little deeper and wider. The questions I had then, I still
have. I have some additional questions. I'm puzzled by how a reporter
from a serious newspaper or a journalist from an important television
station can arrive at Ben Gurion Airport and know almost nothing about
the history of the Israeli and Arab sides in this terribly long
conflict. I have been asked questions where it's clear to me the person
holding the microphone has almost no ability to understand the context
of the events bring reported. Context is an important thing. Without it,
almost nothing makes sense.
There are many other things about the work of journalists, film editors
and other media professionals which completely baffle me. In fact, it
was not clear to me how large are the questions that informed people
have about the media until I found myself part of the news.
Earlier this year, three friends and I went to a conference in Europe.
This was the first ever conference of victims of terror. Hundreds of
people were in the hall when we arrived - representing the host country,
other European countries, the United States, Latin America, North
Africa. Some weeks earlier, the organizers notified us that citizens of
Israel would be free to take part in this conference provided that we
paid the admission fee and sat quietly in the audience. But as Israelis,
we would not be permitted to speak from the platform, and no steps would
be taken to give official recognition to an Israeli contingent in the
conference. In simple words, the message was "please don't come". So of
course we came.
A few minutes before the start of the conference, one of the officials
in the government of that country, a friend of Israel, approached me and
asked if I would be willing to speak in the opening panel. Though I was
unprepared, I said "of course" and that's when I learned that there were
sitting in that hall, at that exact moment, in the conference of victims
of terror, three special guests - the ambassadors of Syria, Iran and
Palestine. But the organizers did not want an official Israeli presence.
The story is long, but I will make it short. From the panel, I spoke
about the personal experience of victims of terror and it was
immediately clear that many of the widows and orphans in that audience
knew exactly what I was describing.
Hundreds of people spoke with my three Israeli friends and me, all of us
wearing small Israeli flag badges on our clothing. At the end of the
conference, we met by chance with some officials of the foreign ministry
of the host country, and in our polite Israeli fashion, we explained how
really upsetting it was for us to know that they intended for us to be
persona non grata in the conference and despite this, we found
tremendous solidarity from among the participants.
The response was - please come to our foreign ministry tomorrow and we
will have a conversation. So we did, and in this way we met some of the
top officials of the foreign ministry including the deputy minister.
This senior group explained to us that while there is authentic
terrorism in Europe, in the United States, in Latin America, we in
Israel must recognize that ours is actually a political conflict, and
the solution must be a political solution. One of my Israeli friends
objected to this, and expressed some strong personal words, not so
politically correct, about the broad threat to Europe of radical Islam.
My impression is that his comments were brushed aside or not heard.
Three weeks later, most of the people with whom we met in that foreign
ministry were out of a job. Madrid, the capital of Spain and the host of
our conference, discovered in the hardest possible way that terrorism
can take many forms. I was invited back to a second Spanish conference
which took place in June. This time, I was asked to speak as an Israeli.
Many things had changed for the Spanish since March 11th. Your mission,
as MedBridge participants, as political leaders concerned to create a
better world for the people of the Middle East, is a complicated one -
and I wish you the greatest possible success. The mission of my wife and
me, and hundreds of other Israeli families, as people who want to go on
living after our child or husband or wife or
parent or brother or sister was murdered by terrorists, is also
complicated. We want to look to the future, but we can only do this by
understanding the present and learning from the past.
There is, as I am sure you already know, a well-developed sense of
history among us Israelis. We turn to history when we want to understand
who we are, where we belong, what we can expect from others. I mention
this, in closing, because I want to share with you the extreme pain I -
we - feel when we read about certain recent developments in European society.
Last week, a German survey of German-born Germans found that more than
half think there is no difference between Israel's current treatment of
the Palestinian Arabs and what the Nazis did to the Jews. 68 percent of
Germans believe that Israel is waging a "war of extermination" against
the Palestinians. I could give you my theory of how the media in
Germany, in Europe and almost everywhere else contributes to ignorance
of Israeli reality. I could tell you how journalists create, and at the
same time are the result of, an almost total ignorance of what the
Holocaust was. But if I did that, I would also have to point out to you
that Germany happens to be one of the countries in Europe where they do
make serious efforts to understand the Holocaust and the truth of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And yet they do not share our sense that
Israel has been fighting one long defensive war of survival against an
enemy that wants to ethnically cleanse Jews from their historic homeland
for a century.
Also last week, the BBC published a survey showing that barely a third
of young people in Britain have even heard the name Auschwitz and don't
know what it is, where it is or what happened there.
I spoke of my experiences in Spain a few moments ago. A Spanish-born
philosopher, George Santayana who died in the year I was born, wrote
this: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." I
believe this statement carries with it a great deal of wisdom. My
daughter does not belong to the past - at least, she doesn't when we sit
together around the Sabbath table and enjoy one another's company in our
family. We feel her presence. We feel her absence. We are determined to
do whatever we can so that her memory will endure, that she will never
become just another statistic.
As a family, as a society, we are in a perpetual struggle to remember
the past, to hold a vision of a better future, and to do everything we
can so that the fifteen year old children together with their goodness
and their dreams - children on both sides of the sad conflict here in
this land - can grow to productive adulthood, free of the curse of
hatred and of terror
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