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Americans For Peace Now: Snippets of Insanity

Sent to a friend of mine by Americans For Peace Now:

Snippets of the Insanity That the Occupation Is

Dear Friend of Israel,

Who would you least expect to see joining a Peace Now tour of West Bank settlements? Right, West Bank settlers.

Well, guess what: when I recently joined such a tour in Jerusalem, I was surprised to meet several 18-year-old students from the settlement of Otniel, one of the ideological bastions of the settlement movement. Etai Mizrav, Peace Now’s National Activities Coordinator and one of the tour’s guides, told me that it’s not that unusual to see settlers on these tours. “We get Israelis of all kinds – secular, religious, doves, hawks – everyone,” he said. “People are curious. They hear about settlements and illegal outposts, and they want to see and understand what it’s all about. It is that simple.”

These Peace Now tours are indeed simple and honest. They offer the facts. Just the facts. Participants are given a map of the West Bank, and Peace Now’s staff-experts on settlement construction – patiently explain the most complex realities in plain terms. No hyperbole. No spin.

On the way back to Jerusalem, I asked one of the settlers, a smart, well-informed, polite student named Dvir, why he joined the tour. He replied, “In order to hear the other side.” And when asked what he thought of the “other side,” he said that although he deeply disagrees with Peace Now, he appreciates the movement. Peace Now is honest, fair and tolerant, he said. He added, “we, on the right, have much to learn from Peace Now’s civilized discourse. I know the right, and I don’t think a right-wing organization would tolerate ­dissent the way Peace Now does.”

On a hilltop in the large settlement of Ariel, overlooking several Palestinian villages, I had a fascinating conversation with a young woman from Tel Aviv, not a Peace Now activist, who joined the tour after – having a political argument with her husband. The husband is an equestrian, who recently discovered a dude-ranch in a West Bank settlement and fell in love with the beautiful terrain and with the handful of settlers who run the ranch. Salt of the earth, he told his wife. She countered, “your friends may be wonderful people, but their settlement project is undermining the future of the state.” Peace Now’s tour substantiated her argument, she said.

The tour lasted six hours. We traveled from east Jerusalem to the outskirts of Ramallah, and continued north to the outskirts of Nablus. We saw some of the largest, oldest settlements, and we saw some of the new illegal outposts. We saw Ramallah and Nablus on the horizon. We saw roadblocks and an ­incarceration center. We saw the separation barrier, roads for Jews, roads for Palestinians – snippets of the insanity that the occupation is.

I have been to the West Bank hundreds of times, and still I learned a lot from Etai and from Lior Amichai of Peace Now’s Settlements Watch project, the other tour guide. Lior is a 27-year-old university graduate and, like Etai, an IDF reservist. He is relatively new with Peace Now, but he sure knows his stuff.

For people who have never been to the West Bank – or for those who have been there years ago and, like most Israelis, have long been feeling that they have no business going there – these Peace Now tours are indispensable. They are an eye-opening experience. And Peace Now is the only organization that runs such tours routinely.

There is high demand for Peace Now’s tours. The bus that I sat on was almost full. The tours are free – because Peace Now wants to make them accessible to all. But they are not cost free. The cost of one seat on the bus is around $60. Most of the funding for this program comes from contributions that Americans for Peace Now collects here, in the United States, for our Israeli sister organization, Peace Now.

Help our colleagues at Peace Now educate more Israelis about the occupation and about peace. Buy one seat on the next bus to the West Bank, or – if you can – buy two, or five, or ten. Your tax-deductible donation will be ear-marked for this important program.

Thank you,
Ori Nir

My friend – let’s refer to him as  “one moderate Israeli fed up with the snide, cynical, asinine approach APN takes to trying to raise funds by twisting reality into some sort of alternative universe where Israel is always in the wrong.  Oh sorry – that’s Europe and the Muslim world” responds:

First, the highest level: are there no justifications for any of these things?  With terrorists “illegally occupying” our cities and our psyches, in the United States we maintain roadblocks and security barriers, roads for only residents of gated communities and only for Mexicans with permission to enter America; and prisons or detention centers where we ‘incarcerate” those convicted or suspected of violence again innocents or against the government – with legal restrictions and processes.
Where is Peace Now in the US???

But as important, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the absurdity of the language used and claims made – just in the snippet at the top!

1. A “roadblock” does what it says: block the road, allowing no vehicular traffic through.  As I saw all over Saratoga, Florida today, and Palo Alto, California, yesterday.  For various reasons: sometimes for security or safety (a robbery in process, a fire down the street); often for longer periods, for infrastructure work or building.  Point: most road blocks in the disputed territory have been torn down – by PM Netanyahu, in an effort to encourage economic and social interaction and development – at the request of, and in coordination with, Palestinian Authority PM Salaam Fayyad and in collaboration with the PA security services.

2. Further to “roadblock”, of which there are very few, it appears the writer refers to “checkpoints” – a much better and more accurate word, and one to which we all can relate (who doesn’t hate those ‘checkpoints’ in America – locations where we’re ‘checked’ for weapons – at airports or when visiting government buildings and the like?  (Now even in major companies we’re “checked” at the “point” of entry – no longer a reception desk where we’re welcomed and met by our hospitable colleague but rather where we’re heavily scrutinized and signed in – often with an ID number or biometric information.  Of course in Israel, and in America and throughout Europe, Jewish institutions like synagogues and schools undergo ‘check points’ as rigorous as that of the White House – defending apparently against the very same (mostly fanatical Muslim and Jihadi Islamist) crazy terrorists… but Peace Now doesn’t seem to feel this is relevant to the drive towards peace.

3. What is an “incarceration center”?  Other than a few references to a new and humane approach to treating prisoners in Connecticut – and I presume this reference was not intended – I can only find and naturally think of some terrible Bosnian or Colombian or Burmese or Japanese or pre-Saddam Iraqi type of facility, without due process and practicing horrific tortures and the like.  Presumable Nir is referring here to some of the prisons and detention centers they may have passed by, or even visited.  I wonder if the did, though: visit, that is.  Because beside the loaded word “incarceration center” (why not “prisons? That’s not bad enough?), what’s missing here is a reference to (1) just why Palestinians are held in prison, and (2) just what the conditions are in that prison.

This isn’t the place to review either of these points: suffice to say for our purposes that almost all the 5000 or so (of a population of between 3.5-4.5 million) Palestinians in prison today in Israeli jails have been convicted of a serious crime, from shooting to throwing molotov cocktails to lobbing boulders onto cars to membership in a terrorist organization targeting civilians (as defined by the US and Europe, not only Israel) – with representation, with the right (and practice) of appeal, etc.  Just 300 at any one time, or so, are held under “administrative detention” a practice used by the US in Iraq and the UK in Afghanistan, just two examples, about which reasonable people in the legal and political communities do argue regarding just when and in what circumstance a democracy can and should use the practice. 

And lastly, as one who’s served as a combat medic at one of these military prisons in the territories, I can say from first hand that the treatment exceeds that offered to most IDF soldiers, let alone many Israeli citizens – in terms of speed of care, frequency of care, availability of medicines, professionalism of care-giving, even compassion for the patient, let alone expense made to transport patients to central hospitals for minor and major issues – including self-inflicted wounds resulting from terrorist bomb-making activities!  So the epithet “incarceration center” seems to be chosen for its shock value, not accuracy.

4.”Roads for Jews, roads for Palestinians” is such a lazy, inaccurate, damning turn of phrase.  First, anyone driving on those roads (Nir, APC and their passengers in particular) can see there are Jews, Arabs, Muslims, Christians, Armenians, Americans, Europeans, Circassians, Druze, Bedoiun, Maronites, foreign workers, Samaritans, did I mention Muslims and Jews and Christians? who travel the Israeli roads all the time.  And there are Jews and Israelis, let alone all the other groups listed here (including foreign diplomatics and NGO members) who travel on Palestinian roads.  The roads in question are distinguished in an amazing way: Palestinians (a national identity associated with violence against Israeli, Jewish, Christian and other civilians) are restricted from Israeli roads in order to protect innocents under Israeli jurisdiction harm.  Israelis (a national identity including Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and many other cultural/religious/ethnic and even competing nationality groups) are restricted from traveling on Palestinian roads by Israeli authorities to protect their innocent lives.  The PA neither restricts travel on their roads, nor enforces traffic laws let alone laws against public violence aimed at civilians; in fact the PA’s factions are actively trained and continue to carry out attacks on those roads on – you guessed it – Jews, Israelis, Arabs, fellow-Palestinians, foreign workers, diplomats, Christians, Europeans and others.

Here’s the actual, factual difference: non-Israeli citizens, whose governments (including the PA, by word and by deed if not by treaty) have declared themselves at war with the state of Israel, are permitted to travel only on certain roads – though many exceptions are made.  Unfortunately in a time of violence and war, this is true: in Bosnia, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and elsewhere.  But the lack of context here is appalling and purposely misleading: no mention of why those extra roads for Israelis – not Jews, Israelis – were deemed necessary, and built at great expense, in response to Palestinians’ attacks on innocent cars driving through the countryside – driven by Jews and Arabs, Muslims & Christians, Israelis and foreigners. 

Of course it’s not at all unusual in western democracies to limit travel on certain roads for security purposes.  If you’re not a resident of a ‘gated community, you have no right to drive your car there: regardless of your color or religion – even if you’re an American citizen!  Is this Apartheid?  Non-US citizens cannot drive in certain areas along the Mexican border in order to ensure public security and combat smuggling and terror.  France clamped a curfew down in certain neighborhoods restricting movement by certain minorities, to preserve public order; democracies sometimes must restrict some freedom – like assembly – to promote public welfare – and protecting innocent lives is more important than the right to drive on any road one feels like.

5. Which leads last to the use of the phrase “insanity of the occupation”.  Again two crucial facets to recognize here: First, the implication, very much in keeping with Peace Now and their American supporters.  Like Tom Friedman’s ideas of “tough love” or “friends don’t let friends drive drunk”, the term “insanity” makes a not-so-subtle but specific point. And that is that as opposed to a policy disagreement (“Should we bail out the banks? Should we support South Korea military? Should we repeal Roe & Wade?”), here we have a black-and-white, clinical diagnosis: Israel’s presence in the disputed territories – areas in which international law has given them standing for almost a century, irrespective of politicians’ use the world over of the term “illegal” to describe Israel’s presence there – and those Jewish communities there, similarly demonized as “illegal” when only a very few neighborhoods can be said to be built on private land, are not merely mistaken, not merely politically or morally wrong, as some say… but are evidence of a mental illness in the Israeli leadership (and a majority of the body politic as well – a sizable majority).

And what follows from this ‘diagnosis’ is clear: insanity must be treated, and naturally by outside intervention: only an objective therapist can help a patient see his/her illness, and sometimes the patient must be forced into following the “objectively” prescribed treatment – for his/her own good.  If this was merely a policy dispute, Peace Now would have to try to win on the merits of their often specious arguments – which they clearly cannot. (Although their humanitarian concern for people – at least for people who identify as Arab Palestinian people – and for historical justice and law – at least under non-western, non-American concepts of history and justice and law – does stand them in good stead: they are indeed acting on a set of values they see as important and appropriate.)

If only Peace Now would adhere to their own standards – of rhetoric, honesty, liberal democratic progressive humanistic perspectives on historical events – perhaps we could have a civilized discussion over policy.  This document, on the other hand, points directly to everything which is wrong with Peace Now today: ignoring realities on the ground which point to increasing conciliation on the part of Israel and increasing hostility, rejection and violence on the part of the Arab and Muslim world and Palestinian society; castigating reasonable defensive measures to protect a democracy’s citizens – as well as legal communities set up by successive Israeli governments with perfect legality under domestic and international law – as somehow immoral or crazy (though all other democracies pursue similar policies); parroting extremist Arab, Muslim and Palestinian leaders’ anti-Israeli rhetoric rather than helping the public and policy-makers to understand the complexities of the issues in this region.

“Honest” – clearly not.  Based on “just the facts”?  Not at all.  “No Hyperbole?” “No Spin”?  Do me a favor.  Shame on Peace Now and on Ori Nor: the only way we’ll have peace in our region is if Israelis and Americans, policy-makers and the public, have the real facts to hand, not this sort of one-sided propaganda which can only lead to more animosity on the part of the Arabs and Palestinians and by their American and European supporters who, believing the misrepresentations of those like Peace Now and J Street, don’t recognize that Israel’s actions in the territories actually, when viewed objectively, uphold their most cherished values of liberty, fairness, truth, justice and respect – and peace – far more than as portrayed by fund-raising claptrap like this.

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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