Letters to the editor
By Professor Levin; Little '04, Reichstein '03; Liron '03; Davis '05, Feder '02, Hertzberg '04, Katz '0
Students, faculty respond to letter on Israeli conflict

Israeli actions are a necessary response
I am writing to present a different viewpoint on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from that presented last week in the letter from my colleagues Judith Frank, Deborah Gewertz, Andrew Parker, Austin Sarat and Rebecca Stein ("Israeli occupation must end now," April 24). In the deepest sense, my disagreement with my colleagues is sad and tragic since I believe that we would not differ greatly in the kind of two-state solution to the conflict we could all favor.

Briefly, unlike my colleagues, I believe that the recent Israeli military actions were necessary and legitimate acts of self-defense against an escalating wave of terrorism directed at Israeli civilians, culminating in the Passover bombing in Netanya. I also believe, unlike my colleagues, that Palestinian and other charges of war crimes against the Israel Defense Forces have been vastly exaggerated, though I do not deny that in some situations, Jenin in particular, Israeli efforts to engage armed militants led to some loss of innocent life.

My colleagues refer to "Sharon's actions in the West Bank," but it must be understood that Sharon leads a government of national unity with foreign and defense ministers from the Israeli Labor Party, the Party which sponsored and defended the Oslo peace process in Israeli politics. The support of this unity government, and of the overwhelming majority of the Jewish citizens of Israel, for the recent military actions came from an awareness, which I share, that in the short run Israeli civilians could not be protected from suicide bombers in any other way.

My colleagues argue that "the fundamental issue pitting Palestinians against Israelis is the 35-year Israeli occupation of the West Bank," implying that Israel's best defense against terror is rapid withdrawal to the 1967 lines even if under fire. But context is important. In order to marshal the political will in Israel for such a withdrawal, including the bringing of Arafat's Palestinian Authority into the heart of Jerusalem, a context of actual or even of potential trust and security is necessary. Such a fragile framework of potential trust existed in the summer of 2000 when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made his peace proposal at Camp David. Even if one wishes to argue, as I would, that Barak's offer was insufficient, the Palestinian authority should have exerted every effort to prevent violence, to ensure that the Israeli Labor Party remained in power and to maintain the will and ability of the Israeli center-left to negotiate further. Instead, Arafat's Palestinian authority struck a Faustian bargain with Palestinian militant groups, thereby subtly legitimating and enabling the Al Aksa Intifada which, by the end of 2000, and despite promising ongoing negotiations, had so discredited the Labor Party inside Israeli politics as to ensure the election of Sharon.

Likewise, even if one wishes to argue, as I would in part agree, that Ariel Sharon and the Israel right have successfully created a self-fulfilling prophecy that the Oslo peace process would fail and culminate in Israel being placed in great danger, it cannot be denied that a great danger had come to face the people of Israel as of four weeks ago. It must be understood that in the process of creating Palestine, the 22nd or 23rd Arab state, the security of the one Jewish state should not be put at risk. This is why context is so important in talking about Israeli withdrawal.

The issues involved here are far too complex for a short letter to cover and clearly are worthy of further reflection and debate, perhaps at a teach-in. My own sense briefly on the future is that the Oslo assumption, that Israel will rely upon Arafat's Palestinian Authority to uphold an agreement protecting the security of Israeli civilians, is dead given Arafat's complicity with terror. Israel is now committed to protect itself, certainly in the immediate future. In the absence of a renewed Oslo process, the only path to a two-state solution, I believe, would be an American-led effort to create wide international support around a final peace proposal to be presented to both sides on the model of the proposals made by the Clinton administration at the end of 2000. Such a proposal, offered in the context of relative security inside Israel, and including long term American security commitments to Israel, might revitalize the dormant latent majority inside Israel for a two-state solution. One sided criticism of Israel will not produce an Israeli government willing to return to Barak's approach.

N. Gordon Levin, Jr.
Professor of History

Letter underestimated complexity of the issue
Largely omitted from the professors' letter is a clear understanding of the nature of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle. Their assertion that Israel is waging a "war against the Palestinian people" is curiously inverted, given that Israeli forces take excessive precautions to avoid collateral damage, while the terrorist opposition deliberately targets nonmilitary targets like restaurants and, at the time of this writing, five-year-old girls. The professors' claim that civilian populations are being used as "human shields" is definitely correct-however, they have misidentified the culprits; Islamic Jihad notes on its website, jihadonline.org, that its commander in Jenin, Muhammad Tawalbeh, had prevented civilians from leaving the camp and "thwarted all attempts by the occupation to evacuate the camp residents."

The Intifadah isn't a continuation of politics, it's a denial of political negotiation and the right of an Israeli state to exist. To assume that Israeli concessions will placate terrorists whose stated vision of Palestine extends "from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea" is naive. The Palestinian dream of statehood will only be realized by a Palestinian authority committed to negotiation and compromise. Meanwhile, anti-semitic incidents are increasing at an alarming rate around the world (including the five-college area). This disturbing trend is the product of rumors, half-truths and mistaken accusations that overlook the complexity of the region's history and current situation. We would thus request that the professors direct their attention to known facts, before making blanket pronouncements of blame.

Alicia Little '04
Ari Reichstein '03
Amherst Hillel Co-Presidents

Use a focused approach, not hyperbole
The UN investigation of the events in Jenin, as of this writing, has not yet begun, but five of our most distinguished professors miraculously already have its results. Civilians as "human shields"? "Denied access to medical facilities"? "Forbidden to bury their dead"? My few years experience in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) leads me to believe that, during the planning and execution of this operation, officers and soldiers did everything in their power to prevent harm from and provide help to non-combatants.

The IDF is one of the few armies in the world to extend high priority to the burial of the dead. On the other hand, knowing the tactics of some of the Palestinian organizations involved, I would not be surprised to find out that these made use of the dead and the living with a reaction such as that of our professors in mind. The IDF reports that Palestinians did not bury their dead when given opportunity. What did the "many human rights organizations" mentioned as sources have to say about that? As Jews, I would expect our five professors to be suspicious of media that holds a Jewish military to moral standards not demanded of any other state in the world. I feel confident in claiming that the IDF exceeds the highest standards of any military force anywhere.

The condemnation by Professors Frank, Gewertz, Parker, Sarat and Stein of this military solution is valid and correct. Even if the operation will prove effective in ending violence- which doesn't seem likely-I still oppose it with all my being. The act of war-of any war-is an atrocity and an insult to our dignity. This message should be extended to the overwhelming majority of Israelis who made this operation possible, not only to their prime minister.

Still, I would hope for more rigor and less hyperbole from academicians. A focused demand to end the war and work towards an adequate solution to the plight of the Palestinians would have rung more sincerely without so many anecdotes, adjectives and adverbs.

Tal Liron, '03

Upholding democracy
In a letter to last week's edition of The Student, five professors condemned the state of Israel's recent military actions and called for an immediate end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. While we respect their opinion, we feel that their arguments ignore the realities of the conflict and do not acknowledge the Palestinian leadership's responsibility for the current violence.

The professors argue that "the fundamental issue pitting Palestinians against Israelis is the 35-year Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem." Time and again, however, the Palestinian leadership has rejected Israeli peace proposals that would effectively end this occupation. Most recently, in December 2000, Yasser Arafat refused an offer of well over 90 percent of the West Bank, a capital in Jerusalem and $30 billion in compensation to Palestinian refugees. The Palestinian leadership did not make a counter proposal; instead, they chose violence over the establishment of a Palestinian state. Their actions illustrate that the "fundamental issue" is not "the Israeli occupation," but the existence of the state of Israel itself. Indeed, the Palestinian leadership wants exactly what the PLO charter continues to say it wants: death to Israel.

The professors argue that Palestinian resistance is not equivalent to Al Qaeda terrorism because the Palestinians are "fighting for their very survival." Regardless of the motivation behind the perpetrators' actions, it is unconscionable to kill oneself while trying simultaneously to end the lives of pregnant Jews, Israeli families at a Passover dinner, or teenagers grabbing a bite at the local pizzeria. Unfortunately, the Palestinian leadership, along with the leaders of the Arab nations, have refused to condemn this deliberate killing of innocents and have provided funding and support for the groups which carry out these acts. Suicide bombers are revered as martyrs and children are taught to celebrate their horrific acts. In poll after poll, the vast majority of Palestinians have expressed their support for suicide bombings.

Faced with this threat, Israel has launched a targeted military campaign to eradicate the terrorist infrastructure. Given the Israeli Defense Force's military capabilities, it has shown remarkable restraint. Instead of aerial bombing, Israel has sent ground troops into Palestinian towns, cities and refugee camps, risking soldiers' lives in an attempt to avoid civilian casualties. There, they have encountered an enemy that, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, does not wear a uniform, deliberately confuses himself with civilians, uses ambulances as vehicles of war and enlists the support of women and young children in his pursuit of murder and destruction. While we regret the deaths of innocent Palestinians, we argue that these deaths are almost entirely the fault of Palestinian militants, not the Israeli army.

As criticism of Israeli policy mounts-particularly within academic circles-we feel that it is more important than ever for the campus to hear the voice of conservative and liberal support for the only democracy in the Middle East. We, too, mourn the deaths on both sides, and we too believe that both sides must make difficult compromises in order to ensure peaceful coexistence between them. Before that happens, however, the Palestinian leadership must unequivocally recognize Israel's right to exist and wholeheartedly condemn violence against Israeli citizens. Until then, there can be no peace.

Ethan Davis '05
Eric Feder '02
Theodore Hertzberg '04
Ethan Katz '02
Andy Sagor '03
Eric Schepard '02

Jews silent no more
The last issue of The Student featured a letter entitled "Israeli occupation must end now" by five Jewish professors at the College. I know and respect these professors. But upon reading their letter, I was crushed by their frivolity, naïveté and short-sightedness.

The letter claimed that at the heart of the current war in Israel is the Israeli presence in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Further, it called for Israel to adhere to the "laws of war, as codified in the Fourth Geneva Convention." Of the letter's five authors, who spoke as "voices of Jewish dissent," not one represented the History department. Perhaps that is because any professor (or student) of history knows only too well that the sad, long 20th Century taught us that the heart of the matter is always anti-semitism and the laws of war apply only in peacetime.

These are things we speak about over dinner tables and things we write to newspapers. To my friends and family, I feel safe saying that, as Jews and US citizens, we are compelled to fight for justice for all peoples; our freedom and peace are not secure until Israelis and Palestinians alike enjoy such basic rights. But in a forum as public as The Student-let alone in larger newspapers and media networks-we risk our criticism of specific policies of the state of Israel being used against the people of the Jewish nation. Do you consider the current flaring of anti-Jewish sentiment and acts across European nations and our own college campuses merely coincidental? Or can you acknowledge that, regardless of what Palestinians want, regardless of what Israeli soldiers are fighting for, the world sees this war as one of Jews versus Arabs?

Help me, history majors. Historically, whom has the world chosen? Remind us of what happened so many times throughout the centuries when Europe not only turned its back on, but bared its fangs at the Jews. Tell me what happened to those complacent, high-principled German Jews who trusted in the universal bonds of humanity. If Jews feel safe taking a stand against the only nation that will never rescind its promise to protect us, then we have clearly forgotten the lessons of our past, gleaned from the blood of a history that we just can't escape.

I am disappointed in our five blind professors. I resent that they have shown the world another crack in our Jewish armor, when solidarity is all we've got. I feel shocked by their indiscretion, immodesty and immobility. Surely, there are ways to work for peace that are less detrimental to Jews and more effective for Palestinians and Israelis (Jewish-Arab alliances, for instance, abound) than gallantly offering to speak for the silent "voices of Jewish dissent." To everything there is a season and it seems that the time has come for Jews to speak for our own rights to freedom and peace or to bite our tongues. After all, only a little Jewish blood comes from biting your tongue.

Jennifer Kaufman '03E

Closer examination reveals Palestinian culpability
The professors' letter about the war now being fought in Israel and Palestine describes some of the horror of this war or, at least, the horror alleged to have been inflicted on the Palestinians. There's precious little in the letter about the horror suffered month after month by the Israelis. The central political arguments made in the letter are that the Palestinians are fighting for their survival and that the fundamental issue in the war is the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. The main problem with these assertions, however, is that, notwithstanding the opinions of some liberal-minded American professors, virtually no one in Israel believes them.

Before the beginning of the Al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000, there were two mainstream political opinions in Israel with respect to the Palestinians. The first of these, the left wing view, was that what the Arabs really want is the land that they lost in the war that they started in 1967 and that if they got that land back, the conflict with Israel would be over. The evidence for this view was chiefly in the repeated pronouncements made by the Arabs to the Israelis, the Europeans and the Americans that they would be willing to make peace with Israel if Israel returned the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Arab sovereignty.

The other Israeli political opinion, the right wing view, was that what the Arabs really want is the land that they lost in the war that they started in 1948; that is, the entirety of Israel proper. The evidence cited for this view was, first of all, historical. The Arabs had, in fact, turned down repeated offers to accept a sharing of the land of Palestine tied to a permanent acceptance of a sovereign Jewish state. They first rejected this concept when it was proposed in the UN partition plan of 1947. Then, in 1967, just after the Six Day War in which Israel came into control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israel offered to return that land in exchange for a peace treaty. The Arab response, delivered during a summit meeting in Khartoum, became known as the Three Nos: no negotiation with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no peace with Israel. Most recently, the offer was made at Camp David in the summer of 2000 and, again, the Arabs walked away from what they had claimed was their ultimate goal. The right wing view also finds support in the repeated statements made by the Arabs to each other in Arabic, in their media, in their schools and in their mosques, that the return of the West Bank and Gaza is only the first stage of a strategy whose goal is the eradication of Israel. These statements are readily available on the internet and are widely circulated in Israel. The Arabs go so far as to deny any ancestral link between the Jewish people and the land of Israel, including the denial that there was ever a Jewish temple in Jerusalem.

The Arab insistence on what they call the right of return of Arab refugees is perhaps the most potent evidence supporting the right wing view. This demand is always part of the Arab condition for making peace, right up to the March Arab summit in Beirut. The Israelis understand the right of return in the following way: let's say that the Arabs really are ready to accept a Jewish state and they finally agree to partition the land into the Jewish state called Israel and a new Arab state called Palestine. Now there is the question of the Arab refugees from the various wars that the Arabs started. They have been kept in squalid refugee camps in Arab states for as long as 54 years and have been refused citizenship in their host Arab countries (in most cases), as well as access to normal housing, education, medical care and other social services. They and their descendants now number about four million people. Having agreed in principle to share the land, the Arabs also insist that the Palestinian refugees must be allowed to move, not to the newly created state of Palestine, but to Israel! The Israelis correctly understand this demand as a demographic formula for the destruction of Israel as a sovereign Jewish state.

In the year and a half since the Palestinians launched their Al-Aqsa Intifada, the previously mainstream left wing view has become largely discredited. In the view of most Israelis today, this war is not about the survival of the Palestinians at all, but about the survival of the homeland of the Jewish people, whose residents live on a small fraction of one percent of the land mass of the Arab world and who are surrounded by hundreds of millions of hostile neighbors. Despite the American tendency to view the war as a clash of personalities (Ariel Sharon versus Yasser Arafat), this is not Sharon's war. Israel is, first of all, a democracy. Sharon was elected by the Israeli people and can be removed the same way. Long before Sharon could even have been imagined to be electable to public office in Israel, the Palestinians could have made peace with Prime Minister Ehud Barak or Prime Minister Shimon Peres, both of whom come from a more liberal political tradition than does Sharon. It was the unyielding Palestinian violence that brought Ariel Sharon to power. Of course there is dissent in Israel to some of Sharon's policies. Even today, Israeli public opinion polls repeatedly show that an overwhelming majority of the population is willing to uproot settlements and restore disputed lands to Arab sovereignty, if that would end the conflict permanently. But nobody over there believes that it would.

I would like to add a few words about the accusations of war crimes and human rights violations being leveled at the Israel Defense Forces. These accusations are coming from the same Palestinian spokespersons who told us earlier in the Intifada that Palestinian children were not being used in violent attacks against Israelis and then that the weapons-laden ship seized by the Israeli navy en route to the Palestinian port at Gaza had no connection to the Palestinian Authority, and who told us still more recently that Palestinian ambulances are not being used to transport weapons and explosives for suicide bombers. The Israeli reservists who were engaged in house-to-house combat against a tenacious enemy in a densely populated urban setting, and who saw their friends killed in battle, are decrying a vicious international campaign of lies against them, a new blood libel against the Jewish state. We do not yet know to what extent, if any, those soldiers exceeded their rules of engagement, but we do know at least this much: the Israeli government deliberately placed those soldiers in harm's way on the ground, rather than conduct an aerial bombing campaign, precisely in order to minimize Palestinian civilian suffering.

This conflict cannot be resolved until the Palestinian people, their leaders and the Arab nations find a place in their hearts to accept and live in peace with a Jewish nation in their midst, within whatever borders are finally negotiated. I fervently hope that this day will arrive without delay.

Joe Kushick
Professor of Chemistry

Issue 25, Submitted 2002-04-30 19:23:35