Rabbibrian's Blog

A Voice for Justice and Peace in Israel/Palestine

Time for America to stand firm

Posted by rabbibrian on March 21, 2010

Eight days ago, I cheered as I watched Hillary Clinton’s CNN interview in which she criticized the government of Israel for insulting and undermining vice-President Biden on his visit to Israel with the announcement of a plan to build new housing units in Ramat Shlomo.  Finally, America was taking a stand against continued Israeli expansion in Jerusalem.  Finally, America was calling the government of Israel on deliberately making announcements, such as the one about Ramat Shlomo, to greet  American leaders who come here to pursue a peace settlement.   Just two moths ago, when George Mitchell came to Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu greeted his visit with a tree planting in Maaleh Adumim where he proclaimed that Jerusalem would always be the “eternal, united capital of the State of Israel.”

Much has happened over the past week since Clinton’s interview on CNN and Netanyahu is now in the U.S. about to appear before adoring fans at the AIPAC convention.   The most important question  that will determine whether this “crisis” in Israel-U.S. relations actually moves the Israelis and Palestinians towards peace, rests on the ability of the American administration to stand firm.   If the Administration insists on  an end to the massive building of Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, and an end to the creation of Jewish enclaves in Palestinian neighborhoods, it will advance the prospects for peace.  If not, Israel will continue on its path of continued occupation and violence, that is counter to American interests and values and that, according to General Petraus, actually puts American lives at risk.

Unfortunately, AIPAC, the Israel Lobby and major mainstream American Jewish organizations are the main countervailing force to America standing firm on this issue.  Nine months ago the Obama Administration correctly called for a complete freeze on settlements in the West Bank.   The mistake of the Administration was to back off from its demand and to settle for a temporary freeze with several conditions.  If the Administration backs down again now, and there are signs that it may do so, it will leave the situation worse, than if it hadn’t raised the issue in the first place.

Most people don’t understand the realities of housing in Jerusalem.  Avigdor Lieberman dishonestly compared the American demand in relation to building homes for Jews in Jerusalem to a hypothetical scenario where Jews are not allowed to build houses in New York.   The hypothetical scenario that  Lieberman describes is in no way analogous.  In Jerusalem the problem is not that Jews are not allowed to build houses. In Jerusalem it is Palestinians who cannot build.  Thousands of houses are built for Jews every year, while Palestinians cannot even get a zoning permit to build an addition to their homes or to build a new house.

A closer analogy would be if hundreds of houses and entire neighborhoods were built with public money for one segment of the American population in New York, let’s say Jews, while another segment of the population, let’s say non-Jews, were not allowed to build or to expand housing.   The overwhelming majority of American Jews would oppose such discrimination even if it were to privilege Jews.  We would correctly argue that any form of discrimination is a violation of core Jewish and American values.   Many American Jews were and continue to be involved in the struggle against housing discrimination in America.  How come so many Jews are committed to fair and equal access to housing in America but are unwilling to support this basic principle of equality here in this holy city?

Much of the Palestinian housing in Jerusalem is illegal because Palestinians cannot get permits and because there still is no building plan for Palestinian neighborhoods. These illegal Palestinian homes,  a significant percentage of all Palestinian homes, are all under threat of demolition.  Every year close to one hundred Palestinian homes are demolished, ensuring that all Palestinians fear demolition.

My wife and I went on a tour of East Jerusalem with Ir Amim, a organization dedicated to an equitable Jerusalem, the week of vice President Biden’s visit.  We saw huge Jewish neighborhoods built since 67 encircling East Jerusalem: from Pisgat Ze’ev in the North to Gilo and Har Homa in the South.  All these neighborhoods have been built for Jews and not even one new Palestinian neighborhood has been created during this period of time.   In 1996/7, the last time we spent several months in Jerusalem we attended protests against a new proposed settlement in Har Homa.   On the Ir Amim tour we drove though the neighborhood of Har Homa, now home to several thousand Jews.  There was a lot of construction including a new neighborhood being created adjacent to Har Homa.

Not only have vast Jewish neighborhoods been built, extreme right wing Jews with the full support of the State of Israel, have have created Jewish enclaves in Palestinian neighborhoods such as the Ras El Amud, Sheikh Jarrah and others.

On our tour we drove through Ras el Amud, a Palestinian neighborhood around 1:00 p.m. on Friday as Palestinians were returning from prayers and saw the Jewish settlement in the middle of Ras el Amud that is sponsored by Irving Moskowitz, an American Jewish millionaire.  In the middle of this Palestinian neighborhood there is a heavily guarded series of apartment complexes with huge Israeli flags and there are plans to build a bridge that will join this enclosed area with a former Jordanian police post that will also be turned into housing for Jews.

While Jews justify the creation of settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods on the basis of Jewish ownership of the these homes before  48, Palestinians, who own thousands of homes in Jewish areas in Jerusalem from before 48, have no right to claim these homes.

This is the reality of Jewish building in Jerusalem.  A freeze on building in Jerusalem would not mean the end of new homes for Jews in the city. Homes could be built for Jews in West Jerusalem and in areas west of the city. The building in East Jerusalem is politically motivated in an effort to prevent the Arab population from outnumbering the Jews in Jerusalem.

What is happening in Jerusalem and on the West Bank is a nightmare for Jews and for all who care about the moral tradition of our people.   It is a recipe for continued conflict and violence.  It threatens the possibility of a negotiated settlement to the conflict.  If President Obama and the American administration still believe in a two state solution the time to stand firm is now.  If Israel refuses to end the settlement policy, America should bring maximum pressure to bear, including the cutting of aid to Israel.

The Administration must stand firm.  As I write this, the signs are that it will not and that Netanyahu will again be successful in rejecting the fundamental American demand to end the continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank and in Jerusalem.

If this happens many in Israel may celebrate Netanyahu as a strong leader but it will only intensify the conflict threatening everyone in the area, Jews and Arabs, and American forces who will bear the brunt of Muslim outrage at American support for a blatantly discriminatory policy.   It is time for America to become an “honest broker” in this conflict and the time is now.

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11 Responses to “Time for America to stand firm”

  1. Jan said

    Yes, Brian! One hopes the US will not only stand firm but offer threats (like withdrawing loan guarantees.) But it seems ironic that Hillary is upset at the projected building project, given her response last fall when Netanyahu announced there would be a ten-month building freeze in the settlements but continued building in E. Jerusalem. Her response at the time was to call this offer “unprecedented.” Now they are doing just what he said they’d do and she finds it unacceptable!

    Thinking of you all, glad you’re writing this.
    Jan

    • rabbibrian said

      Thanks, Jan. They don’t have a clear principled position and therefore make contradictory statements. All the time they are taking one step forward and then two steps backward as they face resistance from the Lobby. Even now, Clinton, says that Netanyahu’s response is “productive.” He refused to agree to their basic demand that the building stop. Not only that, he has made, clear, passionate statements that it won’t end under any circumstances. What is “productive” about this response? His promise to be nice to the Palestinians by making some conciliatory gestures?

  2. YBD said

    RabbiBrian says:
    ————————————————
    While Jews justify the creation of settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods on the basis of Jewish ownership of the these homes before 48, Palestinians, who own thousands of homes in Jewish areas in Jerusalem from before 48, have no right to claim these homes.
    —————————————————-

    This, of course, is quite true. But RabbiBrian neglects to mention that the war in 1948 WAS STARTED BY THE ARABS in defiance of the UN Partition Resolution, with the EXPRESSED aim of committing genocide against the Jews of the country. Fortunately, they lost, and many Arabs fled or were expelled JUST LIKE THE Germans of Sudetenland and other places in Eastern Europe that were the victims of German agression, such as Poland and Russia which expelled the German civilian population from Silesia, Pomerania and East Prussia. No one claims the Germans should be able to come back and it is the same with the Palestinian Arabs who attacked the Jews in 1947-8. The Arabs also brought about the Six-Day War through their threats to annihilate Israel in the waiting period which preceded it, which brought the Jews back to their property in eastern Jerusalem.

    Regarding the RabbiBrian’s suggestion that the US cut aid to Israel, I could only welcome the proposal. The US would be doing Israel a favor by ending the aid. Israel doesn’t need it, it is given for political reasons and most of the aid money “given” for defense is actually spent in the US for things like jet fighter aircraft, combat rations, combat boots and other weapons and supplies. By ending the aid, these could be produced again in Israel, as they were in the past, creating jobs in Israel (do you think Obama wants to create more unemployment in the US with the current economic conditions?).
    The “aid” is also given to twist Israel’s arm regarding things like forcing El Al to buy Boeing commercial aircraft even though Airbus made better offers in the past. Israel could buy Russian MIG fighter planes and upgrade them, but can’t because of the aid.
    So I only pray that the US stop the aid. There is one negative factor in an unilateral act by the US to cut the aid as “punishment”….it could be interpreted by hostile forces, including the Iranians through their proxies in HAMAS or HIZBULLAH or possibly the FATAH forces in the Palestinian Authority to attack Israel thinking that by “punishing” Israel , the US is cutting Israel loose. This would be a dangerous situation. Do you want that to happen.

    Everyone in Israel (well, let’s put it at 90% of the Israeli Jews) KNOWS that division of Jerusalem means THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM. There is NO WAY Israel can give up security and political control of eastern Jerusalem. Division of the city would mean the resumption of Arabs firing into Jewish parts of the city, just like when Israel pulled out of Beit Lehem and Gilo came under fire, until Israel reasserted security control on the Arab side.
    Division of the city means returning to the anti-sniper walls, checkpoints, minefields and barbed wire that scarred the city before 1967. Division of the city means that, even should the Palestinians give “guarantees” about Jewish access to holy sites like the Western Wall, in practice it will become difficult, if not impossible for Jews to visit these places, just as happened at Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem (Nablus) which the Palestinian Authority pomised to protect and to allow Jewish access but which, in the end, was burned down by an Arab mob.
    We will not allow such a situation to return to Jerusalem. The city will NOT be divided.

  3. ARTH said

    It is always time for America to stand firm..but it never does….

  4. Tony Gaenslen said

    Thanks for this courageous reporting, Brian. Israel’s policies concerning new construction in Palestinian areas jeopardizes the long term peace and security of both Jewish and Palestinian peoples. It destabilizes the area and, long term, will end in disaster. Thank you for standing up for genuine Jewish values.

    Tony Gaenslen

  5. Amy Eilberg said

    Beautifully said, Brian! Your words are powerful, cogent, and undeniable. I pray that their logic and power will be heard, even over louder voices.
    with love,
    amy

  6. Cotton Fite said

    Thanks, Brian. I have just returned from nearly four weeks in Israel/Palestine. After talking with Arabs residents of Sheikh Jarrah evicted from their homes, talking with scores of Palestinians who, as you report, are living in homes under demolition orders because of a discriminatory policy of issuing building permits, seeing first hand the lack of services in Arab neighborhoods, I am again impressed at the success of Israel and AIPAC in selling a massively distorted picture to the American people. Because of people like you, Brian, and many others, we have less and less of an excuse for buying the distortion. I trust that if people of good will, people of all faiths and of none, recognize how these policies and practices violate the moral values we hold in common, we will turn this thing around. To the everlasting benefit of Israel and the Palestinian people.

  7. Nancy Leah Dudwick said

    The only situation to this problem would be two states; Israel and a Palestinian nation. After all,both peoples have the right to exist and have their own nations. Innocent people on both sides are dying because of this unending conflict which doesn’t solve the situation.

  8. Gerald Coles-Kolsky said

    Considering Obama’s foreign policy — e.g., expanding the war in Afghanistan, continuing the war in Iraq, increasing the war budget to the largest ever, increasing unmanned missile attacks on civilians in Afghanistan, refusing to sign the international convention banning land mines, etc., etc. — I see little evidence or hope that the U.S. administration will do anything but follow this nation’s long-standing imperial policy, which includes unchecked, continued support of Israel’s state policies.

    If Obama wanted to really play his “bipartisan” card, here would be the time to do it. He could announce that he is taking a page from that shining model of Republican morality, George H.W. Bush, who withheld loan guarantees to Israel in order to stop settlement growth. Obama should explain how he’s reaching across the aisle to restore H.W.’s policy, one that would have considerable effect toward achieving a peace settlement because these guarantees help prop-up the Israeli economy.

    In addition, Obama might consider a Sabbath Peace Policy, i.e., just as Jews rest and engage in spiritual renewal every seven days, Obama should deduct 1/7th in military aid in order to give Israel a similar hiatus from warfare and settlement expansion, and the opportunity to engage in further spiritual renewal. (This proposal is, of course, a joke……..but there’s no question that were the U.S. to withhold just this 1/7, Israel would quickly change it Eretz Israel assumptions, policy and actions.)

    • rabbibrian said

      Gerry,

      Thanks so much for your comment. I fear you may be right, but there are signs that Obama is going to push Israel much more than he has over the past year. The Israeli TV news tonight started with a very worried Israeli reporter in Washington saying that America is pushing Israel and demanding a written commitment to 8 basic demands. I think we should join with all who are encouraging Obama to hold the Israelis to ending all settlements, in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and to entering into real negotiations with the Palestinians. For years the “peace process” has been a sham, a deception by which Israel bought time to build more settlements, to confiscate more land and to make a peace settlement impossible. America has played along with this sham, yielding to the domestic pressure of the Israel Lobby. I think now that the American military is telling us that the continued conflict endangers American soldiers, the pressure on the President, Congress, the Administration and our Jewish community is much more intense. This is all for the good, in my opinion. I hear your pessimism about Obama given his actions in Afghanistan, Iraq etc. but I feel a little optimism tonight about the possibility that he may act courageously in regard to the conflict here.
      I definitely support any initiative that would make any portion or all of American aid to Israel contingent on Israel ending the settlement policy and negotiating in good faith.
      This year we are slaves, next year may all be free!

  9. Gorky Gorkadinsky said

    Hey gang, just what the world needs right now, yet another militant Muslim state in the middle east!

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