Interview With Tanya Reinhart

ISRAEL/PALESTINE: How To End the War of 1948 by Tanya Reinhart
(Seven Stories Press/ Open Media Series 2002, ISBN: 1-58322-538-2) is
available from Booksense.com (the order house of independent
bookstores), Amazon.com, or local bookstores. For the publisher’s
information click on:

1) Can you tell ZNet, please, what your new book,”Israel/Palestine- How to End the War of 1948,” is about? What is it trying to communicate?

Israel  backed by mainstream Western media – describes its war against the Palestinians as a war of defence, a necessary response to Palestinian terror, a noble instance of the global war against terrorism.  It is amazing how still now, after two years of massive Israeli destruction of the Palestinian society, so little is known about the real facts of how this war developed, and what Israel’s role in it is.  The first aim of this book is to bring these facts to light. 

The book follows Israel’s policies over the three years since Ehud Barak became prime minister, until the summer of 2002the darkest period in the history of Israel so far.  Based on information available in abundance in the Israeli media, we can track a shift of policy right at the start of this period – a shift away from the  Oslo conception, which dominated since 1993.  This is, of course, a long story, documented in detail in the book, but let me give you the gist of it.

Ever since the Palestinian territories were occupied in 1967, the Israeli military and political elites have deliberated over the question how to keep maximum land (and water) with minimum Palestinian population.  A simple solution of annexing the heavily populated Palestinian land would have created a “demographic problem” – the fear that a Jewish majority could not be sustained.  Therefore, two basic approaches were formed.  The Alon plan of the Labor party proposed annexation of 35-40 percent of the territories, and either a Jordanian rule, or some form of autonomy for the rest of the land, to which the Palestinian residents will be confined. In the eyes of its proponents, this plan represented a necessary compromise.  They believed it would be inconceivable to repeat the “solution” of the 1948 Independence war, when much of the land was obtained “Arab-free”, following mass expulsion of the Palestinian residents.   The second approach, whose most vocal spokesman was Sharon, strived to get more. In its extreme realization it maintained that it should be possible to find more acceptable and sophisticated ways to achieve a “1948 style” solution.  It would only be necessary to find another state for as many Palestinians as possible. “Jordan is Palestine” was the phrase Sharon coined in the 1980’s.

In 1993, in Oslo, it seemed that the Alon plan triumphed.  This was enabled also by Arafat’s cooperation.  In the past, the Palestinians always opposed the Alon plan, which robs them of much of their land.  But in 1993 Arafat was about to loose his grip on Palestinian society, with endless protest over his one man rule, and the corruption of his organizations. An apparent “smashing victory” seemed the only thing that could save him in power. Behind the back of the local Palestinian negotiating team headed by Haider Abd al-Shafi, Arafat accepted an agreement that leaves all Israeli settlements intact even in the Gaza strip, where 6000 Israeli settlers occupy one third of the land, and a million Palestinians are crowded in the rest.  As years went by since Oslo, Israel extended the “Arab-free” areas in the occupied Palestinian  territories to about 50% of the land.  Labor circles began to talk about the “Alon Plus” plan, namely – more lands to Israel. However, it appeared that they would still allow some Palestinian self-rule in the other 50%, under conditions similar to the Bantustans in South Africa.

On the eve of the Oslo agreements, the majority of Israelis were tired of war. In their eyes, the fights over land and resources were over.  Haunted by the memory of the Holocaust, most Israelis believe that the 1948 war of independence, with its horrible consequences for the Palestinians, was necessary to establish a state for the Jews.  But now that they have a state, they just long to live normally on whatever land they have.  Like the majority of Palestinians, the Israeli majority let itself be fooled into believing that what we were witnessing were just “interim  agreements” and that eventually the occupation will somehow end, and the settlements wiil be dismantled.  With this conception of what is ahead, two third of the Jewish Israelis supported the Oslo agreements in the polls. It was obvious that there was no majority for any new war over land and water.

But the ideology of war over land never died out in the army, or in the circles of politically influential generals, whose careers moved from the military to the government.  From the start of the Oslo process, the maximalists objected to giving even that much land and rights to the Palestinians. This was most visible in military circles, whose most vocal spokesman was then chief of staff, Ehud Barak, who objected to the Oslo agreements from the start. Another beacon of opposition was, of course, Ariel Sharon. 

In 1999, the army got back to power through the politicized generals – first Barak, and then Sharon (the book surveys their long history of collaboration).  The road was open to correct what they view as the grave mistake of Oslo.  In their eyes, Sharon’s alternative of fighting the Palestinians to the bitter end and imposing new regional orders may have failed in Lebanon in 1982 because of the weakness of “spoiled Israeli society”. But now, given the new war philosophy established through U.S. military operations in Iraq, Kosovo, and, later, Afghanistan, the political generals believe that with Israel’s massive air superiority, it might still be possible to execute that vision. However, in order to get there, it was first necessary to convince the “spoiled” Israeli society that, in fact, the Palestinians are not willing to live in peace, and are still threatening Israel’s very existence.  Sharon alone could not have possibly achieved that, but Barak did succeed with his “generous offer” fraud.

By now, much was written already about Barak’s non-offer in Camp David. Nevertheless, a careful examination of the information in Israeli media reveals more about the extent of the fraud, and a chapter in the book surveys all the details.  In fact, Barak’s Camp David was the second round of his mastery of deception of public opinion.  Several months before, he did the same with Syria, letting Israelis and the world believe that Israel is willing to withdraw from the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.  In the polls, 60% of the Israelis supported enthusiastically dismantling all settlements in the Golan Hights.  But the end of this round of peace negotiations was just the same as the later end of the negotiations with the Palestinians. Israelis became convinced that the rejectionist Asad i would not be willing to get his territories back and make peace with Israel.  Since then, the  possibility of war with Syria has been in the air.  Military circles explain openly that “Hezbollah, Syria and Iran are trying to trap Israel in a ‘strategic ambush’ and that Israel has to evade that ambush by setting one of its own… The circumstances could be created during or near the end of an American offensive against Iraq” (Amir Oren, Ha’aretz, July 9, 2002).

On September 28, 2000, Sharon, with Barak’s approval, threw a match into the boiling frustration which was accumulating in Palestinian society, with his provocative visit to Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.  The massive security forces that surrounded him used rubber bullets against unarmed demonstrators.  When these events triggered further demonstrations the next day, Barak escalated the shooting and ordered Israeli forces and tanks into densely populated Palestinian areas.  By all   indications, the escalation of Palestinian protest into armed clashes could have been prevented had the Israeli response been more restrained.  Even in the face of armed resistance, Israel’s reaction has been grossly out of proportion, as stated by the General Assembly of the UN, which condemned Israel’s “excessive use of force”, on October 26, 2000.

Israel defines  its military action as a necessary defense against terrorism. But in fact, the first Palestinian terrorist attack on Israeli civilians inside Israel occurred on November 2, 2000.  That was after a month during which Israel used its full military arsenal against civilians, including live bullets, automatic guns, combat helicopters, tanks, and missiles. 

What is particularly astounding is that most the military plans underlying Israel’s actions in the coming months, had already  been conceived  right at the start, in October 2000  including the destruction of the Palestinian infra structure (“Field of Thorns” plan). The political  strategies aimed at discrediting Arafat and the Palestinian Authority were also ready right from the start. Barak’s political circles prepared a manuscript known as the “White Book”, which announced that Arafat had never deserted the “option of violence”.

Amid the propaganda, a theme that had already emerged in October 2000 was the analogy linking present circumstances to the war of 1948.  Major General Moshe Ya’alon, then deputy chief of staff (and the present chief of staff), explained that “this was Israel’s most critical campaign against the Palestinians, including Israel’s Arab population, since the 1948 war – for him, in fact,  it is the second half of 1948” (Amir Oren, Ha’aretz, November 17, 2000).  After two years of brutal Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the leading military and political circles in Israel that produced this analogy still believe that “the second half” – a completion of the ethnic cleansing that started in 1948 – is necessary and possible.

My second aim in the book is to show that despite the horrors of the last two years, there is still also another alternative open to end the war of 1948  the road of peace and real reconciliation.   It is amazing how simple and feasible would be to achieve that.  Israel should withdraw immediately from the territories occupied in 1967.  The bulk of Israeli settlers (150,000 of them) are concentrated in the big settlement blocks in the center of the West bank.  These areas cannot be evacuated over night.  But the rest of the land (about 90% – 96% of the West bank and the whole of the Gaza strip)  can be evacuated immediately. Many of the residents of the isolated Israeli settlements that are scattered in these areas are speaking openly in the Israeli media about their wish to leave.  It is only necessary to offer them reasonable compensation for the property they will be leaving behind. The rest – the hard-core “land redemptions” fanatics – are a negligible minority that will have to accept the will of the majority.

Such immediate withdrawal would still leave under debate the 6 to 10 percent of the West bank with the large settlement blocks, as well as the issues of Jerusalem and the right of return.  Over these, serious peace negotiations should start.  However, during these negotiations Palestinian society could begin to recover, to settle the land that the Israelis evacuated, to construct democratic institutions, and to develop its economy based on free contacts with whomever it wants.  Under these circumstances, it should be possible to address the core issue of what is the right way for two peoples who share the same land to jointly build their future. 

In Israel, the call for immediate withdrawal is drawing some public support since Amy Ayalon (former head of the security services) has openly called for it, and was joined in February 2002 by the Council for Peace and Security  a body of about 1000 establishment members. To judge by the polls, this plan has the support of 60 percent of the Jewish Israelis.  This is not surprising, as it is the same majority that has been consistently supporting  the dismantlement of settlements since 1993. In a Dahaf poll of May 6 2002, solicited by Peace Now, 59 percent supported a unilateral withdrawal of the Israeli army from most of the occupied territories, and dismantling most of the settlements. They believe that this will renew the peace process, and that this solution is the most hopeful of the options outlined in the survey.  This majority is, of course, not represented at all by the political system, but it is there.

(2) Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?

I began writing the book during the first months of the Palestinian uprising.  It started as columns in the Israeli Israeli paper Yediot Aharonont, and more extended internet articles for Znet and Israel Indymedia, that were following the events as they took place. But I then extended the research into a full coverage of the period. The first draft was completed in February 2002, and appeared in April in French as Detruire la Palestine, ou comment terminer la guerre de 1948  (France: La Fabrique, 2002)  The present English version  covers also the period between April and the summer of 2002, when Israel entered its new and most cruel stage of the destruction of Palestine, with its operation “Defensive Shield,” and the horrors in the refugee camp of Jenin.

My major source of information is the Israeli media.  In the Israeli papers you can find much more about what is going on than in any outside coverage.  One often hears statements interpreting this as signifying that the Israeli media is more liberal and critical than other Western media.  This, however, is not the explanation.  With the notable exception of courageous and conscientious journalists like Amira Hass Gideon Levi, and a few others, the Israeli press is as obedient as elsewhere, and it recycles faithfully the military and governmental messages.  But part of the reason it is more revealing is its lack of inhibition.  Things that would look outrageous in the world, are considered natural daily routine. 

For example, on April 12, 2002, following  the Jenin atrocities, Ha’aretz innocently reported what “military sources” had told the paper:  ”The IDF [Israeli army] intends to bury today Palestinans killed in the West Bank camp… The sources said that two infantry companies, along with members of the military rabbinate, will enter the camp today to collect the bodies.  Those who can be identified as civilians will be moved to a hospital in Jenin, and then on to burial, while those identified as terrorists will be buried at a special cemetery in the Jordan Valley.” Apparently, no one in Israel was particularly concerned at the time about issues of international law, war crimes and mass graves. Israeli TV even showed, the evening before, refrigerator trucks that were waiting outside the Jenin camp to transfer bodies to “terrorist cemeteries”. It was only after international attention began to focus on Jenin that this information was quickly concealed and reinterpreted using any absurd reasoning to explain that nothing of the sort had ever happened.  This is how the respectable analyst Ze’ev Schiff of Ha’aretz later summarized the event:  “Toward the end of the fighting, the army sent three large refrigerator trucks into the city. Reservists decided to sleep in them for their air conditioning. Some Palestinians saw dozens of covered bodies lying in the trucks and rumors spread that the Jews had filled trucks full of Palestinian bodies.” (Ha’aretz, July 17, 2002).

(3) What are your hopes for Israel/Palestine  How to End the War of 1948?  What do you hope it will contribute or achieve, politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?

In the present political atmosphere in the US and Europe, anybody who dares express criticism of Israel is immediately silenced as an anti-Semite. Part of the reason why the Israeli and Jewish lobby has been so successful in forcing this accusation is the massive lack of knowledge about what is really happening.  Without the facts, the dominant narrative remains that Israel is struggling to defend its mere existence. Attention focuses only on the horrible and despicable Palestinian terror, so that if you criticize Israel, you are accused of justifying terror.  My hope, then, is to give the readers the weapons to face such accusations   a detailed knowledge of the facts.

My second hope is to restore hope.  As I said, a sane and rational solution is still possible. People have managed in the past to move from a history of bloodshed into peaceful coexistence, Europe is being the most well known example. After two years of horror, a majority in both the Israeli and Palestinian people is still willing to open a new page. I show this in detail in the book, and I end the book with the story of the many Palestinian and Israeli activists who are struggling together for the only future worth living  a future based on basic human values.  What is needed to give hope a chance is for the people of the world to intervene and stop the Israeli military Junta, which does not even represent the Israeli majority.

Finally, and perhaps most important, I try to  give some picture of the Palestinian tragedy  the best I can from my privileged position as a member of the oppressing society. With the U.S. backing, and the silence of the Western world, there is a serious danger that what we have seen so far is only the beginning, and that under the umbrella of a war in Iraq, the Palestinian people may be destined to a choice between annihilation or a second exile.  Arundhati Roy’s description of the situation in Afghanistan at the time seems so painfully applicable to what the Palestinians are enduring:  “Witness the infinite justice of the new century. Civilians starving to death while they are waiting to be killed.”  My biggest hope and plea is – save the Palestinians! Make ‘stop Israel!’ a part of any struggle against the US war in Iraq. If the governments of the world will not do that, my hope is that the people of the world still can.


Leave a comment