Autumn 2013 Issue 4
‘Peace comes dropping slow,’ wrote the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. And yet, as the people who share the island of Ireland showed us, it does come. The conditions for success in the new round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are the concern of four of our writers. Toby Greene and Hitham Kayali, an Israeli and Palestinian, offer contrasting perspectives on the failure thus far of the Oslo Process, and a common vision of ‘two states for two peoples’ as the basis to end the conflict. Kayali offers a fascinating assessment that is at once sceptical of Israeli political leadership and Arab political culture but resolutely optimistic about what a deal will make possible for both states: ‘the resources available to the Arab nations mixed with Israel’s drive for prosperity and its experience in creating fertile start-up environments, should be the perfect formula; the entire Middle East would look very different under conditions of cooperation – a new regional start up of a unique kind!’
Einat Wilf and David Pollock examine two obstacles to the ‘two states for two peoples’ vision: respectively, the role of the United Nations Works and Relief Agency (UNWRA) in inflating the scale of the Palestinian ‘refugee’ issue until it has become politically irresolvable within the ‘two states for two peoples’ framework, and the role of incitement in official Palestinian Authority media in creating a political culture hostile to the compromises that will be needed if a final status agreement is to secure popular consent.
Another oblique reflection on the prospects for peace is the fascinating dispatch from the South Hebron hills sent to us by Richard Pater. He offers not only a vivid description of a routine IDF patrol but a pained strategic reflection on the future of the Territories: ‘It is also healthy to challenge oneself politically; to witness the occupation up close. There was no consensus among our company, but a majority felt this tour of duty had moved them more to the left. There is a duality, a contradiction, in how many of us regard the fields and hills of Judea. On the one hand, this is the cradle of Jewish civilisation, steeped in meaning and history. On the other, the cost to Israeli society of sustaining our presence in some of the more remote, outlying areas of the Land of Israel is too high. The opportunity cost of investing a similar amount into our own society is too great. I understand and can justify why we are there now, but in the long term it seems untenable.’
Hilik Bar MK is Secretary General of the Israeli Labour Party, the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, and the leader of the Knesset all party group for a two state solution. He spoke to a Fathom Forum in September 2013 about the chances of success in the current peace talks.
Danny Seidemann knows more about Jerusalem and its place in the final status agreement than almost anyone alive. He talked to Fathom about how it is still possible to bridge the differences and secure the city’s future. Bassam Aramin, Rami Elhanan and Shelley Hermon discuss the making of the award-winning documentary Within the Eye of the Storm.
The region is stuffed full of authoritarian regional actors that seek the role of spoiler when it comes to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Hezbollah, one of the most potent spoilers, is the subject of Matthew Levitt’s powerful analysis; the Lebanese Shia Islamist terror group being read here as a criminal network. Rupert Shortt, the author of a careful but politically urgent new book, Christianophobia: A Faith Under Attack is interviewed by Fathom editor Alan Johnson. They explore the historical origins and political consequences of anti-Christian hatred in the region, discuss the danger of the Islamisation of the Palestinian campaign for statehood, and ponder some explanations for the West’s extraordinary passivity in the face of a global wave of assaults upon Christians.
The mending of social divisions within Israel occupies several writers in this issue. Each pays testimony to the powerful sources of democratic renewal in Israeli society that are so often ignored in the West in favour of crude Israel-bashing. Rabbi Dov Lipman MK looks at the tension between secular and ultra-Orthodox Israelis through the spectacles of a ‘modern haredi’. He is appreciative of the varied historical drivers; profound and tragic, contingent and political, that have isolated the ultra-Orthodox population from the worlds of military service and work; and he is alarmed by the consequences of this separatism for Israel. Lipman suggests a paradox: the ultra-Orthodox can best address their future by recovering their past, excavating those Jewish traditions replete with sources which teach the importance of earning a living.
Tali Nir and Marc Grey from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) argue that rights to education, health, housing, employment and social welfare have been downgraded to the status of consumer goods subject to market forces in Israel and that as a result, income inequality is at a record high, and the social infrastructure of the state is crumbling. To repair the frayed social fabric, they suggest, social and economic rights should be enshrined in a new quasi-constitutional ‘Basic Law: Social Rights.’
Yael Shtayim, an artist and activist, reports from Tel Aviv about the exciting new tools that citizens are using to advance human rights in Israel. A descendant of refugees and a social activist at the heart of Israel’s protest movement, Shtayim argues that the formal political process is not always the best way to effect social change.
While the Israeli Declaration of Independence guarantees freedom of religion to all Israeli citizens, official policy has yet to recognise the diversity of Jewish practice. The Western Wall, like almost all religious sites and services in Israel, is governed by an Orthodox administration with a narrow view of Jewish practice. Noa Sattah writes on the struggle of Women of the Wall to pray there and so extend Jewish pluralism in Israel.
Our reviews and culture section carries reflections on the historiography and cultural history of Zionism and anti-Zionism. Steven J. Zipperstein reviews Avi Shilon’s detailed, steadily empathetic biography of Menachem Begin. He applauds Shilon’s willingness to present a contradictory figure, a man who was the architect of the 1973 peace treaty with Egypt but who also by ‘placing Arik Sharon in charge of (feverishly accelerated) West Bank settlement implementation, and then setting him loose to wage the disastrous Lebanon War, solidified ideologically-inspired policies both geopolitically and domestically which have preoccupied – arguably, bedevilled – Israel ever since.
In an important response to the influential intellectual project of Shlomo Sand, who has now added The Invention of the Land of Israel to The Invention of the Jewish People, Israel Bartal, Dean of Faculty of Humanities at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, sharply critiques the propagandist qualities of Sand’s books, while pointing out that, once their rhetorical gloss is put aside, they rarely stray from classical Zionist historiography. Henry Srebrnik offers an intelligent appreciation of Joshua M. Karlip’s meticulously researched and thoroughly documented history of ‘the rise and fall of an ideal: an autonomous Jewish nation in Europe.’
Andrei Markovits celebrates the life of Hank Greenberg, an exceptional Jewish baseball player for the Detroit Tigers and a ‘prototypical shtarker, whose bat showed the world – and his own father in 1950s that Jewish men were not only weaklings and geeks, but could also perform Maccabean and Samson-like physical feats.’ Our film reviewer Yair Raveh continues to map Israel’s cultural renaissance, this time opening up for readers ‘the most surprising, and thrilling, of all trends to have ever emerged in Israeli cinema: the rise of the horror film.’
The German director Margarethe von Trotta has been called ‘the world’s leading feminist filmmaker.’ She spoke to Fathom about her new film Hannah Arendt which examines the controversy prompted by Arendt’s New Yorker articles about the trial in Jerusalem of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann.