Passover 2002: An open letter to American Jews

A peace-supporting Jewish organization called Tikkun published an advertisement in favor of us, the Israeli reservist ‘refuseniks’, and was immediately bombarded with hate mail and phone calls from American Jews.


Most interesting is that other Jews who consider themselves supporters of peace denounced the Tikkun ad, causing some Tikkun Advisory Board members to resign, to minimize the damage to themselves.


This has so saddened, alarmed and angered me, that I find myself setting aside half a day on the eve of Passover to write this open letter to you all.


Most of the ‘civilized’ attacks were seemingly aimed at details of the Tikkun ad.


Over the past two months, I’ve heard and read many arguments about aspects of what we did. They range from petty nit-picking to the plainly ludicrous, and each and every one of them can be refuted to dust in a matter of minutes.


But the moment you refute them, new arguments sprout up like mushrooms. It is clear that there is something very general and non-specific behind all this criticism.


The general theme is tribal. A very loud voice (and in Israel nowadays, it is the only voice that is allowed to be fully heard) keeps shouting that we are in the midst of a war between two tribes: a tribe of human beings of pure good – the Israelis – and a tribe of sub-human beings, of pure evil – the Palestinians.


This voice is so loud that it has even found its way onto the op-ed pages of The New York Times.


To those who find this black-and-white picture a bit hard to believe, the same voice shouts that this is a war of life and death. Only one tribe will survive, and so even if we are not purely good, we must lay morality and conscience to sleep, shut up and fight to kill – or else the Palestinians will throw us into the sea.


Does this ring a bell for you? It does to me. As a child growing up in Israel under Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan, all I heard was that the Arabs were inhuman monsters who wanted to throw us into the sea. They understood only force, and since our wonderful IDF had won the Six Day War they knew not to mess with us anymore – or else.


And of course, we had to keep the Liberated Territories.


Then came the Yom Kippur war, and for a child of seven it was the perfect proof that indeed the Arabs want to throw us into the sea. And what a great opportunity it was for our glorious IDF to teach them a lesson.


I prayed for the war to continue to its natural and final end – the complete surrender of all Arab armies.


I was too small to evaluate, then, how the war really ended; all those cease-fires and talks were too complicated and boring, much more boring than a war.


And it seemed humiliating that WE should withdraw in these cease-fires. I remember that the re-opening of the Suez Canal was portrayed in our mass media as a kind of defeat.


A few years passed and a funny thing happened: those throw-us-into-the-sea Arabs came to talk with us, and in exchange for all of Sinai they agreed to sign a full peace.


The IDF chief of staff (the late Motte Gur, later a Labor Party minister) shouted that it was a hoax, that we should not believe President Anwar Sadat. But the politicians had to sign.


Already a teenager, I went and protested against the withdrawal from Sinai. It seemed strange to me that most of the demonstrators were orthodox Jews. After all, it was a purely logical issue: the Arabs are not to be trusted, that’s what we’ve learned from day one.


Well, lucky for the country, the government and the majority of the people employed a different logic, and the peace with Egypt was not missed.


But the throw-us-into-the-sea paradigm immediately found new fields for play. There was an inconvenient reality on the Northern border, and even though the forces on the other side (Palestinians! Phew!) had strictly adhered to a secret ceasefire for about a year, they were Arabs and therefore could not be trusted.


So we talked ourselves into invading Lebanon and setting up a friendlier regime there.


The mastermind of the invasion was Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, and Shimon Peres, then head of the opposition, voted together with his party in favor of the invasion.


Only later, when it turned sour, and after many ‘refuseniks’ sat in jail, would the main opposition turn against the whole affair.


For me at 16 it was also a turning point. When I understood that the government had lied to me in order to sell me this war, I turned from ‘center-rightist’ to ‘leftist.’


Sadly enough, it has taken me almost 20 more years, in a slow and painful process, to understand how deeply the lies and self-delusion are rooted in our collective perception of reality.


When Peres withdrew most of our forces from Lebanon in 1985, the Arabs could still not be trusted. And so, to soothe our endless paranoia and suspicion, we created that perpetual source of death and crime ironically known as “the Security Zone”.


It took many years, and a lot of blood to finally pull us out of Lebanon. In a long, hard process, we learned that even the Lebanese are human beings whose rights must be respected.


But not the Palestinians. Because the Palestinians are too painfully close, like a rival sibling (and, may I add, because they have always been so weak), we have singled them out for special treatment.


Having them under our rule, we’ve allowed ourselves to trample them like dirt, like dogs. We’ve been doing it even to our own Palestinian citizens (especially before 1966), but we have perfected our approach in this strange no man’s land created in 1967 and known as ‘the occupied territories’.


There we have created an entirely hallucinatory reality, in which the true humans, members of the ‘Nation of Masters’, can move and settle freely and safely, while the sub-humans, the ‘Nation of Slaves’, have been shoved into the corners and kept invisible and controlled under our IDF boots.


I know. I’ve been there. I was taught how to do this, back in the mid-1980s. I did and witnessed, as a matter of fact deeds that I’m ashamed to remember to this day.


Fortunately for me, I did not have to witness or do anything truly dreadful, as some friends of mine experienced.


Since 1987, this cruel, impossible, unnatural, insulting reality in the territories has been exploding in our face. But because of our unshakeable belief that the Palestinians are monsters who want to throw us into the sea, we have reacted by trying to maintain what we have created at all costs.


This has meant, of course, employing more and more force, with the natural result of receiving more and more force in return.


When a fledgling and hesitant peace process tried to work its way through this mess, one major factor that undermined it and voided its meaning was our establishment’s endless fear and suspicion of ‘The Other’.


To resolve this fear and suspicion, we chose the insane route of demanding full control of ‘The Other’ throughout the process.


When this ‘Other’ finally decided that we were cheating him out of his freedom (and having too many mental disorders of his own to accommodate ours as well), violence erupted, and all our ancient instincts awoke.


There they are, we said in relief, now we see their true face again. The Arabs want to throw us into the sea. There’s no one to talk with (‘no partner,’ in our beloved ex-PM’s words), and they understand only force.


And so we responded as we know and love, with more and more force. This time, the effect was that of putting out a fire with a can of gasoline.


And that is the moment when I said to myself, ‘No, I’m not playing this game anymore.’


But what about the existential threat, you may ask? Well, I ask you, have you not eyes? Don’t you see our tanks rolling down Palestinian streets every other day? Don’t you see our helicopters hovering over their neighborhoods choosing which window to shoot a missile into? What type of existential need are we answering in trampling the Palestinians?


Prevention of terror, I hear you say. Let me use the wonderful words of my friend Ishay Rosen-Zvi: “You are ‘fighting against terror’? What a joke. The Israeli government, in its policies of occupation, has turned the territories into a greenhouse for growing terror!”


We have sown the seeds, grown them, nurtured them – and then our blood is spilled, and the centrist-right-wing politicians reap the benefits. Indeed, terror is the right-wing politician’s best friend.


You know what? When you treat millions of people like sub-humans for so long, some of them will find inhuman strategies to fight back.


Isn’t that what the Zionists, and other Jewish revolutionaries, argued about 100 years ago in order to explain the questionable strategies of survival that Jews used in Europe?


Didn’t our forefathers say: “Let us live like human beings, and see how we’ll act just like other human beings?”


So here’s the deal. I hope that the first part of this letter made it clear that I don’t buy the ‘they want to throw us into the sea’ crap.


It’s just a collective self-delusion of ours. But more importantly, I don’t see tribes. I see people, human beings. I believe that the Palestinians are human beings like us.


What a concept, eh? And before everything else, we must treat them like human beings without demanding anything in return.


And no (to all die-hard Barak fans), throwing them a couple of crumbs in which they can set up pitiful, completely controlled ‘Bantustans’ in between our settlements and bypass roads, and believing it to be a great act of ‘generosity,’ does not come close to answering this basic requirement. This requirement is not negotiable; moreover, in a perfect demonstration of historical justice, it is a vital requirement for the survival of our own state.


After that, I do believe that the Palestinians will calm down, and that the elusive ‘security’ and peace will finally come upon us.


Assaf Oron is an IDF reservist who has refused to fight against Palestinians in their intifada against Israel.



Leave a comment