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Rabin memorial makes clear Israel's peace camp stuck in the 90s

Nearly 20 years after Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, the Israeli peace camp is still talking about annexation and separation.

At the opening of Saturday night’s rally marking 19 years since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, a video of the slain prime minister’s final speech was aired on giant screens, alongside shots of the protesters from that same night in November 1995. At the end of the segment, the screens showed an aerial view of last night’s actual protest. Were the protest not significantly smaller than the one in 1995, it would have been difficult to tell the two apart.

The opening symbolized the general atmosphere of the rally. The speeches, the crowd, the chants, the messaging – everything looked like it had been frozen in time since that fateful night. It was as if it wasn’t yet clear to the crowd how much damage the Oslo Accords had caused. As if those same people who led these rallies both then and now didn’t go along with the concept that “we have no partner.” As if they didn’t participate in a coalition of death and war or support the disastrous Gaza disengagement. As if we didn’t just participate in a war that ended with 2,300 deaths. As if Jerusalem isn’t burning. None of these issues were even mentioned.

The crowd at Saturday's memorial rally for Yitzhak Rabin. (photo: Haggai Matar)

The crowd at Saturday’s memorial rally for Yitzhak Rabin. (photo: Haggai Matar)

One after the other, the speakers (Shimon Peres, Haim Yalin, Gilead Sher and Yuval Rabin) got up and recycled the same old slogans: peace is made with enemies, being Jewish means searching for peace, we must separate from the Palestinians so as to preserve the Jewish character of the state, negotiations are the only way to peace, etc. Not one bit of introspection regarding the error of their ways. Not a sign that 20 years have changed their minds even in the slightest, or even raised the need to start talking about the details of a proposed peace plan that goes beyond the same statements that even Netanyahu and Liberman know to declare by now.

The only speaker who presented a concrete vision was Gilead Sher, a political ally of Rabin and Barak, who today leads the organization “Blue White Future.” Sher was the only person who spoke about setting a clear border for the country. And which border? The separation barrier. For years Sher has championed the annexation of lands and settlements that are located “by chance” to the west of the barrier, which itself was established solely for security reasons – as per the state’s promise to the High Court – but unsurprisingly ended up as the border that most in the center-left think is worth living with.

Thus, Sher’s vision of peace starts with the annexation of ten percent of the West Bank, as well as its bifurcation into two parts through a barrier that would swallow the Mishor Adumim area near Jerusalem. Thankfully he didn’t speak about Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley or Palestinian refugees.

Shimon Peres speaks at a rally in honor of Yitzhak Rabin, Rabin Square, Tel Aviv. (photo: Haggai Matar)

Shimon Peres speaks at a rally in honor of Yitzhak Rabin, Rabin Square, Tel Aviv. (photo: Haggai Matar)

Twenty years after Oslo, and the logic of separation has remained the dominant mode of thinking among Rabin’s successors. As if the state can simply be “Jewish and democratic” with a large Palestinian population that does not intend on giving up on the struggle for equality.

As if the economic system, the infrastructure, the resources and the regime of both societies haven’t been so deeply intertwined after nearly 50 years of occupation, that it is simply possible to disconnect the two. As if a real Left can only be Jewish, without cooperation with the occupied who are struggling for independence. One protester who came to the rally with a Palestinian flag was stared down by those around him, as well as some of the organizers.

There were, however, two moments of hope. One was a performance by “Women for Peace.” Nineteen women, Jews and Palestinians from different backgrounds and different areas of the country, got up on stage. Together, with a range of voices and opinions, they spoke of the need to stop the war and take the power from the men who have a monopoly over the state. This is a new group – neither political enough nor unified enough. But something in their presence on stage gave a feeling of change and hope.

Women for Peace speak at a rally to commemorate Yitzhak Rabin. (photo: Haggai Matar)

Women for Peace speak at a rally to commemorate Yitzhak Rabin. (photo: Haggai Matar)

The second moment was when Michael Biton, who heads the Yeruham local council, got up to speak. Biton described the social aspect of peace, which somehow has almost always absent from the Zionist left’s peace events. Biton spoke about social gaps as a security threat, and talked about his mother, a cleaner, who once enjoyed excellent health benefits. Today, no cleaner can even dream of those kinds of conditions, Biton said, emphasizing that the struggle for a just society must be more clearly connected to the struggle for peace – that one cannot exist without the other.

The crowd was rather quiet during most of the rally. The only moments of excitement came when people spontaneously yelled “Bibi, go home!” during Sher’s portion, when the Women for Peace spoke, and of course during Shimon Peres’ ceremonious speech. The lack of enthusiasm only emphasized a lack of direction, as well as the feeling that the rally was actually more of a journey into the past, from which it could not return.

I believe that many of the attendees came with good intentions. Most of them probably would say that they oppose the occupation, and maybe even the siege on Gaza. And there is value in talking about peace and about a vision for ending the occupation – a word that was not uttered even once in all the speeches I heard.

But without going beyond the boundaries of Rabin Square, without Jewish-Arab partnership, without fighting for social justice, without actively opposing useless wars, and without proposing a detailed and clear alternative based on the need for full equality, freedom and democracy for all residents of this land, including a solution for Palestinian refugees, this peace camp will remain stuck in 1995 forever.

On democracy: There’s nothing “left” about the Zionist left
What went wrong? Learning from the mistakes of Oslo
An agreement on indefinite occupation: Oslo celebrates 19 years

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    1. Ben Zakkai

      On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Right sucks, but the Left’s not much better. You’ve got your self-described “Left Zionists” who theoretically support ending the Occupation and accepting a two-state solution, but the severely truncated and powerless “state” that they’re actually willing to offer the Palestinians couldn’t possibly provide the basis for a fair and lasting solution; then there are one-state dreamers, most of whom live abroad and have little understanding of local conditions, who somehow imagine that a unitary Jewish-Palestinian state, despite stark linguistic, religious and cultural divisions and mutual hatred and distrust built up over 100+ years of conflict, would not be hell on earth; and then you’ve got special-interest leftists, like feminists who want to append an anti-Occupation struggle to their battle against the (largely imaginary) patriarchy, or socialists who want to do something similar re the prices of dairy products. Let’s face it, if the Left had more positive and realistic visions, most of the public wouldn’t have deserted them so thoroughly.

      Reply to Comment
      • Utemia

        I am for one Jewish-Palestinian state, because it de facto already exists. You may call it what you will, it doesn’t really matter. Even if Palestine was to be an independent state as of tomorrow because of aliens, it’d still be intricately intertwined with Israel just for the banal reason of the close proximity.

        What you have to do is to start working on the “stark linguistic, religious and cultural divisions and mutual hatred and distrust built up over 100+ years of conflict” and find solutions for those. Getting to know each other is a good start, human and civil rights and so on.

        How about integrating the schools in the West Bank? Settler kids and Palestinians going to the same mandatory secular schools? I’d start with that, and do the same in Jerusalem. All schools should be bilingual.

        You are acting like it’s an impossible task, but it really isn’t. Israel has to stop being so ethnoreligious nationalistic, because history has taught that that is really a bad bad path to be on, and is kind of ridiculous anyway because 20% of Israel’s population isn’t even jewish. Seperate Religion and State, add more secularism, increase the hurdle for parties to get a seat in Knesset fromr 2% .. just look at the Weimar Republic to figure out why a basically non existent threshold is a bad idea, limit the disproportionate political influence of minority fringe interest groups, and join the modern world.

        As for a motivating example look to Northern Ireland. Curiously there are a lot of parallels, and before the Belfast Agreement was signed in 1998 peace was just as inconcievable because of all the history of hatred, cultural and religious disputes, war and death between the English and the Irish as it seems to be between the Jews and the Palestinians.

        And yet.. it happened. Anything is possible, you just have to work on it instead of recycling racist prejudices of “they just want to kill us all”, and look toward the future instead of living in the past.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben Zakkai

          Well, look: I’m no genius or prophet when it comes to differentiating between the possible and the impossible. I’m scratching my head like everybody else, trying to balance what I want against what I think I can get. I would love to live in the Israel-Palestine you describe, complete with church/state separation; integrated, multi-lingual schools, neighborhoods and national service; and many bicycle paths. Heck, if the whole world could be like that, we wouldn’t need countries anymore! I just think that that outcome is vanishingly unlikely, and Israel-Palestine the state is much more likely to resemble the Lebanese Civil War. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s necessarily impossible to evacuate many or most of the settlers from the West Bank, although it will not be fun or easy; and the Jewish and Palestinian states that result would function better than the unitary state proposed by some. Then, after 50 or 100 years of peace, Israelis and Palestinians could decide whether and how they want to relax their national boundaries, European-Union-style.

          Reply to Comment
          • Utemia

            Ben, it isn’t impossible. The road toward that goal is long, but there are people on both sides that are sick of the way things are now and are willing to change things. Not every Palestinian is a staunch supporter of eternal war with Israel and votes Hamas. Most, just like everywhere, would just like to live their lives, go to school, find a good job or work their land, raise a family, and have civil rights and health care benefits and live in a functioning society.

            The trick is to get people on both sides to realize this simple universal fact that they are all human and that the things that they have in common outweigh the things that seperate them. And it isn’t just some feelgood unattainable idea either, there are many very concrete things that could be done to start in this direction. Babysteps, if you will. But a lot tiny steps will get you somewhere, and anywhere is better than the current place.

            There are already active groups on both sides that try to foster friendships with football camps, billingual secular schools for jews and arabs (they do exist already). Those things might seem like a drop in the ocean, but the great deluge was made up of lots of drops as well if you think about it.

            Haaretz published an oppinion poll that said that like 40% of Israelis have never even met a Palestinian, and it is easy to wage eternal civil war on a people that you don’t even know and never see, and who are always demonized as terrorists from the day that they are born. The same is true from the palestinian perspective – how easy would it be to instill kids to hate Jews when they grow up under occupation and have their civil rights abused daily, and they can’t correct their oppinion and make up their own mind because the two groups never intermingle anymore.

            Getting to know each and teaching children cooperation and friendship would go such a long way, because a two state solution where the settlers leave the West Bank .. that is a pipedream by now. Palestinians and Israelis live together, and will continue to live together in close proximity, and yet not in the same world.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben Zakkai

            I admire your sentiments. If you had chanced to read past comments of mine, you’d know that I agree with many of your premises and that you’re preaching to the choir. Yes, most Israelis and Palestinians are not hate-filled fanatics, and they just want to live normal decent lives. Yes, getting to know people in other groups is the key to recognizing their humanity and getting beyond prejudice and fear. However, even all that is not generally a sufficient basis for a viable nation-state, which tends to require a certain level of homogeneity when it comes to shared history, culture (which often includes religion), and, most crucially in my eyes, shared language. France and Germany today have achieved admirably peaceful, prosperous and cooperative relations with one another after centuries of terrible conflict, but they are still not one country. Belgium and Canada, despite being model nations in many respects, have endured decades of political dysfunction and near-dissolution because of linguistic and related cultural divisions. Even the U.S. is suffering strains as it tests the limits of multiculturalism and multilingualism. Switzerland is perhaps the exception that proves the rule, its people having learned to love their diversity over the course of 700 years or so; but just about none of the Israelis and Palestinians that I know think and feel like the Swiss. They’re much more tribal in their outlook. So despite having supported one-state solutions in the past, I’ve come to think that they’re just not feasible, not today and not for the foreseeable future. And if I understand you correctly as saying that removing settlers from the West Bank is impossible, I’d encourage you to reserve judgment on that question. If one day the Government of Israel announced that the IDF was leaving all or most of the Occupied Territories forever, and that settlers there would receive homes elsewhere within Israel and/or compensation if they evacuated quickly and voluntarily (but otherwise not), I think we all might be pleasantly surprised at the result. Think Algeria 1962.

            Thanks for the nod, Greg, and for your contributions to this site as well.

            Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn8

          “How about integrating the schools in the West Bank? Settler kids and Palestinians going to the same mandatory secular schools?”

          BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! Oh that is soo good. I love it. How about having the Jewish kids getting kidnapped and murdered every day? Sounds like a brilliant idea. That will really open up peoples hearts to see each other as loving and friendly human beings. Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that? OMG. That is just hilarious.

          Israel “has to stop being” blah blah blah. The Israeli people and not some German will decide what Israel will be. In other words, butt out.

          Also, in case you missed it, to the great consternation of 972mag Israel raised the electoral threshold to 3.25% this year. You must have missed the discussion since such a measure was labeled as being anti-Arab and anti-democratic by the brilliant minds at 972mag.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Utemia

      Palestinians and Israelis live together, and will continue to live together in close proximity, and are yet not in the same world.

      The challenging goal is to create a common world for everybody where Palestinians and Jews are equal.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Very good writing, Ben and U, exactly what the right nationalists want to drown in the comments section–and their really good at doing so, too.

      Reply to Comment