Nazareth, Asharq Al-Awsat – “When intellectuals shun the ruling regime in their own country, the leaders should consider the path they are following,” said an Israeli Jewish intellectual, describing the current situation in Israel. As the Israeli army bombs Lebanon and continues to wreck havoc and destruction in the Gaza Strip, in retaliation at the kidnapping of three of its soldiers, a significant number of Israeli writers and intellectuals are rising against what they see as “war crimes”. Many feel ashamed at the violence being perpetrated in their name and frustrated because they are unable to bring this conflict to an end.
In spite of this, they decided to make their voices heard and took part in the first demonstration against the war; 400 signed a petition initiated by Yitzhak Laor, a distinguished writer, which is soon to be published as a paid advertisement in the Israeli daily newspaper, Haaretz. The petition said, “Israel is committing extensive war crimes. A country is in ruins, whole communities are being uprooted, thousands of families destroyed, hundreds of civilians killed, and thousands of civilians injured. No excuse can whitewash these crimes. The abduction of two soldiers, the killings in centers of dense population in the north of Israel, cannot cover the barbarity practiced by Israel in Lebanon and at the same time in Gaza. Those crimes must be stopped. Right now!”
The Palestinian writer Salman Natour, one of the pioneers of Arab-Jewish cooperation in Israel and a personal acquaintance of many of the petitioners, said that war in Israel always tested intellectuals. “In the last twenty years, the position of the left and of intellectuals at these critical moments can be divided into two: On the one hand, some are persistently opposed to the government’s policies and consistently stand against Israeli aggression. Others are eager to achieve peace but, in critical moments, agree with the government and the army, owing to their blind trust in the government.” In Natour’s view, cooperation between Arab and Jewish intellectuals and artists is necessary for both Palestinians and Israelis. This, he added, was because Israel tries to marginalize the intellectuals who are opposed to the state. “It tries to suppress them because they are against Zionism.”
Below are some of the views of Israeli intellectuals opposed to Israel policies and warmongering.
Avi Maghrebi, a film director, is one of forty artists who recently sent a message of solidarity to their Arab counterparts at the Arab Film Festival in France. He prefers Israel to become an integral part of its environment and build friendly relations with its Arab neighbors. Avi takes part in every demonstration against the war. Four and half years ago, Avi and a few friends established the “Occupation Club” in Tel Aviv, where a new Palestinian film is showed every month. “My colleagues and I are totally opposed to this war. The return of the kidnapped soldiers should take place through dialogue. Our message to the film festival in France was the first to emerge from Israel and express anti-war views.” Asked about his dreams if peace were to prevail, Avi laughed. “I don’t dream of things that will not come true. I do not believe that I will witness peace one day. This may seem discouraging, but I don’t want to be a liar.”
Shulamit Aloni, a human rights activist and former minister of education, said, “This is a reckless war… The army introduced its ready-made plan while the government didn’t have any plans. In our country, the army is a sacred cow, [people] believe in it blindly, on the pretext that it understands security issues better than anyone else does. I can’t imagine how we can destroy Lebanon for the third time, in reference to the Israeli invasion in 1982 and the Grapes of Wrath Operation in 1996, when thousands fled their homes in southern Lebanon.
“I believe it is possible to find other ways to address the problem. How can a million people live in what is, ultimately, a sealed prison? They live without electricity and their homes and streets are completely demolished. The picture is very bleak.”
Aloni blamed the Israeli army’s superiority and its successes, during the six-day war in 1967, for the current crisis in the Gaza Strip and the war in Lebanon. “I believe the only solution is to negotiate with the Palestinians and to withdraw from their territories, enabling to establish an independent Palestinian state.”
A latecomer to political activism, the novelist Ronit Matalon, said the continued hostilities between Israel and its neighbors made her wonder, “Israel has the right to defend itself if attacked by Hezbollah, which is a terrorist organization. But everyone knows that, eventually, we will sit at the negotiating table and reach an agreement. Why not seek this path from the very beginning?”
Professor Avner Giladi, a resident of the coastal city of Haifa, of which the majority of Hezbollah rockets have fallen, and a teacher of Middle Eastern history at the University of Haifa , said, “The war improvised and impulsive. Our politicians preferred war to dialogue. What is happening in Lebanon is a crime against the Lebanese people. Each time a Katyusha rocket falls on Haifa, I feel angry at my government which has embroiled us [in this war].”
“People in Israel are beginning to recognize the dilemma the government has led in to. The Israeli army is deceiving us. [What is happening] proves that force isn’t only what counts, there must be dialogue. Everyone wants Palestinians to exercise democracy. But when they do, the West rejects the results.”
Since the start of Israeli attacks on Lebanon, the majority of the public has been supportive of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s handling of the crisis. A recently published poll revealed that a staggering 90% of Israelis were in favor of the war. But, Giladi noted, the results were skewed because the questions asked, “Do you support the government in its efforts to get rid of Hezbollah’s rockets?” If, he added, they had asked, “Do you support the bombing and destruction of Lebanon, the answer would have been different.”
Shimon Balas, a prominent intellectual of Iraqi origin and a lecturer at Tel Aviv University said, “This is a dirty war. [Israeli officials] said they want to destroy Hezbollah but, in fact, they are destroying Lebanon . The kidnapping of soldiers is resolved through negotiations. This is natural and we will arrive at negotiations, inevitably, in the end.”
“We have a duty to speak out and rise against the war. It is unreasonable to leave the army to decide our destiny. People are being killed and I don’t know what this war will bring.”