Voices for peace on both sides are increasingly being drowned out by those of hatred.
You could hear the heartbreak in his voice. The shattered dreams of reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, the lost opportunities for genuine global solidarity with that gallant cause – it was all there in Yossi Klein Halevi’s voice.
“It’s over. I’m reminded of that every day. I can see it from my front porch. The wall. You can’t get away from it. The wall reminds you that it’s over.”
“The wall” is what Jerusalemites call the especially grim and forbidding portion of Israel’s separation barrier that rings their city, which is otherwise mainly a complex of fences, motion sensors, trenches, and concertina wire that snakes its way around ancient Judea and Samaria, enclosing the West Bank. Israel built the barrier as a defence against the Palestinian suicide bombers who were obliterating hundreds of Israeli civilians during the final years of the 20th century. In Jerusalem, it’s an eight-metre-high concrete blight.
I met with Halevi in Jerusalem three weeks before the May 31 high-seas Mavi Marmara calamity. Nine dead at last count. A flotilla had set out from Turkey and Cyprus to challenge Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Israeli commandos intervened and things went badly. The hysteria billowed around the world, from the usual anti-Israel protesters carrying “Gaza Genocide” placards in cities across Canada to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan accusing Israel of a “bloody massacre.” But it is Halevi’s quiet voice, with its weary timbre, that I can still hear the loudest.
An Israeli journalist and author, Halevi came to prominence in the mid-1990s with a memoir that chronicled his break with Jewish extremism. In 2001, his At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land, explored the brave idea that affectionate bonds of faith might be forged across the great monotheisms that meet at their ancient intersection of Jerusalem.
But just as Halevi was settling into the role of peace-camp activist and intellectual, al-Qaeda plunged two airliners into the World Trade Center in New York, the Euro-American left decided that Zionism was the most foul of all the plagues upon the world, and the peace process that began with the Oslo Accords, which had laid the groundwork for a free Palestine thriving alongside Israel, was in shards. The al-Aqsa intifada set off a cycle of suicide bombings, reprisals, and repression that left nearly 6,000 Palestinians and Israelis dead and a massive wall running through Jerusalem.
Nothing seemed to matter or make sense. Unilaterally evict all 9,000 Israeli settlers from Gaza for the sake of peace and the next thing you know Hamas has turned the place into a Khomeinist-sponsored crackpot statelet severed from the West Bank by a fratricidal civil war that has so far cost about 2,000 Palestinian lives. And there were still thousands of rockets being fired into Israel from Gaza every year. That’s what Israel’s mainstream doves had to show for themselves. That, and abandonment by their erstwhile counterparts in Europe and North America. “It was the total collapse of the Israeli left,” Halevi said.
Israel responded to Gaza’s rockets with Operation Cast Lead, which took at least 1,200 Palestinian lives, and outrage billowed across the globe again. Now the howls for Israel’s isolation and punishment are mounting once more with the botched and bloody interception of the latest multinational flotilla of “peace activists” bound for Gaza. As protesters in Ottawa chanted their drearily comical “From Iraq/Afghanistan to Palestine, Occupation is a Crime,” I was reminded of another voice I heard in Jerusalem.
“They show up wearing the kaffiyeh and shouting, and they just want to say Israel is bad, war crimes, apartheid, that is all. But that doesn’t make you pro-Palestine,” the brave Palestinian journalist and Jerusalem Post correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh told me. “That doesn’t make you pro-peace. Instead of organizing Israel Apartheid Week, they should be helping with human rights under Hamas, women’s rights under Hamas. A free press.”
Toameh savours the richly bitter ironies that abound in what passes for “progressive” global activism in aid of the Palestinian cause, but is in fact in aid of Hamas. “They should bang on the table with the Palestinians instead. Produce a free media. No more incitement on Palestinian television. But they are funding the same propaganda machine that is indirectly calling for their death.”
To Sara Miller, a senior editor with Ha’aretz, Israel’s small but highly influential centre-left daily newspaper, there’s something unmistakeably sinister about the hysterical antipathy towards Israel that has become so prevalent in Europe and North America in recent years. “Something is seriously wrong. I never thought of myself as one of those Jews who would cry anti-Semitism about things like this,” she told me, “but a phenomenon crops up every 40 or 50 years. What other word is there?”
Three weeks after we spoke, it was all but impossible to pick up a newspaper anywhere in Europe or North America that did not describe the debacle aboard the Mavi Marmara as anything less than a bloody assault launched by the Israeli Defence Forces in order to prevent peace activists from delivering much-needed humanitarian supplies to the desperately oppressed people of the besieged Gaza Strip, whose sufferings are solely the fault of Israel.
There’s no lack of cause to slag off Israel for the blockade. Cutting off Gaza has meant a lot of suffering among ordinary people there. But neither is there a lack of evidence that the Foundation for Human Rights & Humanitarian Relief (IHH), the Turkish charity that partnered with the Cyprus-based Free Gaza Movement to launch the flotilla, has a history of shadowy ties with some of the world’s most bloodthirsty terrorists. The IHH is openly affiliated with Hamas, and is also part of an umbrella coalition headed by Muslim Brotherhood leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who says suicide bombing is wrong except when it targets Israelis, and even pregnant Israeli women are fair game.
You have to look hard to find these facts reported anywhere unless they are presented as merely claims that Israel is making, but you will spend a much longer time looking for any reports at all that reveal just what the flotilla’s other big sponsor, the Perdana Global Peace Organization, is all about.
The New York Times disclosed that Perdana helped the Free Gaza Movement buy two yachts and a cargo ship for the flotilla, but even the Times noticed only that Perdana “describes itself on its Web site as opposed to war.”
Perdana’s founder and guiding light is the deranged former Malaysian strongman Mahathir Mohamad, who was harping on about “hook-nosed” Jews as far back as 1970. Up to the days immediately before his retirement in 2003 he was still carrying on about how “the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.”
Only a few months ago, Mohamad proclaimed that European Jews “had to be confined to ghettoes and periodically massacred. But still they remained, they thrived and they held whole governments to ransom … Even after their massacre by the Nazis of Germany, they survived to continue to be a source of even greater problems for the world.”
Nice bosses these “peace activists” have found for themselves.