A remarkable Jewish Israeli
woman speaks out

May 2004

this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Salz/2004-05-00.htm
original at http://www.thehandstand.org/archive/may2004/articles/aloni.htm

“I am beginning to understand why a whole nation (the Germans) was able to say:
`We did not know.'” -Shulamit Aloni

Shulamit Aloni was: Founder and Chairperson of the Civil Rights Party/Ratz1 1973-95, Member of the Knesset [Israel's Parliament] 1974-96, Minister without Portfolio for Human Rights 1973-74, Minister of Education and Culture 1992-93, Member of The National Security Council 1992-96, Minister of Communication, Science and Art 1993-96 (Second ranking member of the Cabinet 1995-96). (b. 1929)

This interview was given to Attila Somfelvi of Ynet - the Web site associated with Yediot Acharonot, Israel's largest circulating daily newspaper. It was translated from the original by Sol Salbe, who wrote: "I did use a structure provided by Edith Rubinstein of Women in Black (Belgium) who had in turn used a French translation by Pascal Fenaux."

      Former Meretz2 Leader Shulamit Aloni has established a reputation for her critique of modern Israeli society. Recently, in front of hundreds of supporters of Yossi Beilin, who had just been elected head of Yahad,3 Shulamit Aloni - "Oum Meretz" [The Meretz Mother (in Arabic)] - settled accounts with everyone: stylishly, sharply and in her own inimitable style. No one escaped her acerbic tongue. They all copped it: the government, apathetic Israeli society, the army and even her left-wing colleagues who have fallen asleep at the wheel. "Stop being politically correct!" she lashed out. "It's time to tell the truth to the people, straight to their faces!" Now following the election of Beilin, whom she supported, Aloni has given an exclusive interview to Ynet, explaining why she endorsed him ("he's been consistent on the issue of peace") but why she does not believe that the Left could recover anytime soon ("populists").

      She warns against the disintegration of Israeli society ("gross insensitivity"), and rules out any comeback in politics ("I don't miss it") and states: "I am beginning to understand why a whole nation (the Germans) was able to say: 'We did not know.'"

What do you mean when you say that you understand the Germans?

      These days you meet people around the country who say: "I don't want to know, I have given up reading the papers." Do you know how many people are unwilling to read Gideon Levy and Amira Hass [Haaretz reporters in the Occupied Territories - Haaretz is a major Israeli daily newspaper] because they simply don't want to know what is happening there? They do not deny the accuracy of these two journalists' articles, but they simply don't want to know.

      We have always angrily and justly rejected the Germans' claim that they "did not know". They simply didn't want to know. They worshipped the Fuehrer and their army. We also have people who do not know and do not want to know. What they know is that they must display their patriotism. And what is more patriotic than a war? So now we have the national flag and coat of arms in every classroom and we teach the students the anthem. There is even a fool [religious Likud4 member of the Knesset Leah Ness] who proposed to write "In God We Trust " on our currency. Had she known that the Nazi army's belt carried the message: "God with us", she wouldn't have associated the Jews' God with money. But a patriotic hysteria is pervading here and people just keep quiet.

You do raise quite a complex concept with that comparison.

      Our society is being undermined by gross insensitivity and by adulation of force. I am disturbed by our moral disintegration. I am disturbed by the arrogant and light-hearted way in which we kill and murder Palestinians. I am disturbed that when 4000 olive trees were uprooted in the [occupied] Territories,5 no one was held to account. I cannot find any peace of mind any more when I see this Wall that we are building. We are pillaging the land and destroying the way of life of people who have lived in the same place for centuries. When Arik Sharon's mates had their land expropriated, they received huge compensation. Yet we are busy destroying greenhouses, plantations and the vital infrastructures of three and a half million people, and then pretend that we are the victims.

      I cannot live with the fact that our sharpshooters are killing people. I cannot live with the way we continually wail that we are the victim, and do not examine our own morality. It's important to realise that appalling as suicide bombings are, aerial bombardment kills more. While we feel the pain of our 900 dead, we tend to forget that we have murdered 3000 Palestinian civilians. We are the violent ones; we are the cheats. Our very foundations have been undermined by our adulation of force, and all this is called a democracy. There cannot be democracy when we rule over three million people who have no voice. We simply have to get out of there. We do not even try to understand that what the Palestinians want is sovereignty and human rights.

This gross insensitivity that you keep talking about, where does it come from?

      There's an absolute moral thoughtlessness that stems from the powers that be. When General [Amos] Yadlin, the head of military colleges, writes an article stating that it is moral to kill women and children while carrying out a targeted liquidation, and a moral luminary like Professor Asa Kasher endorses his view, then you have a problem. Israeli Arabs get detained at the international airport and their luggage is taken apart. There are instructions for more and more Left activists to be held up on their way abroad to force them to remain silent. Why? What is happening to us? But people remain silent so as not to get into trouble.

      Things happen here that drive you mad. Why was there no inquiry following the death of the American protester Rachel Corrie,6 who was run over? Why didn't the government condemn it? Why was there no inquiry when journalists were shot, which made it OK to murder left, right and centre? The army uses sharpshooters who practise by shooting Arabs. The moral disintegration of our society is the direct consequence of what is happening in the [occupied] Territories. We are responsible for the shedding of Jewish blood.

What does that mean? Is somebody making sure that Jewish blood gets shed as well?

      In Yediot Acharonot, Nahum Barnea wrote the other day that Sharon had told him (and it wasn't only Sharon) that Jewish blood is the most efficient cement for maintaining a national consensus. When terrorism is on the wane, then people feel free to ask questions, critics can be heard and the spirit of defiance grows. There's no mileage in non-existent terrorism. I ask you, wasn't it obvious that there would be a response to our savage operations in the Gaza Strip? Everyone knew that there would be a response. Who then is responsible for the Jewish blood that is shed? We are. We with all our might continue to hit more and more. They use terrorism and we do the same, only harder. Our strategy is the strategy of force and not of reconciliation. Had we chosen the path of reconciliation we would not have stuffed up [former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister] Abu Mazen during his period in office. These days, everyone agrees that the government and army were wrong in tripping him up. But in our country we treat the army as sacred as if it were a value in and by itself that unites us and is our raison d'etre. There are many who think that it is not the state which has its army, but the army which has its state.

How is this expressed?

      We have just bought extremely sophisticated planes that cost umpteen billion dollars. Who needed them? We could have spent this money on health and relieving poverty. We are at peace with Egypt and Jordan. Syria is seeking peace and is no longer a factor. Iraq is not a threat and Iran is the problem of the whole world. But [Iranian-born Defence Minster] Shaul Mofaz has already jumped and threatened the Iranians, in Persian, that he would bomb their nuclear reactor. What's he getting excited about? For the past 37 years our Jewish paranoia has been stoked by brainwashing. We get told that they want to exterminate us. Who are "they"? We are at peace with Egypt and Jordan and these two countries do not threaten us anymore. So who is going to throw us into the sea, the Palestinians? But this is the kind of paranoia that is being fostered here. The present war is not a war of survival, but a colonial war.

When you say that everyone remains silent, do you include the Israeli Left?

      Yes. It was wrong for members of the Left to lash out against the refuseniks. In a morally degenerated state that forces women to give birth by the roadside, we ought to be praising our refuseniks instead of attacking them. But everyone wants to be careful because everyone wants to show how patriotic they are. I regard myself as very patriotic, but a true patriot is one who voices disapproval of our moral degeneration. I am told that we need to be populists; we have to be popular, grovel to the masses in order to attract them. It's easy to sway the mob There`s a tendency around the world to frown upon nationalism, but in our country we nail it to our mastheads. It's a sin committed by all the political parties. The Left is so besotted with returning to power that it is willing to adapt the Right's agenda to get there.

Will the election of Yossi Beilin as head of Yahad, in reality the Left, change anything?

      I can't see any changes for the moment. I am out of politics and one shouldn't offer advice without accepting responsibility. I supported Yossi because he has been consistent in his struggle for peace. I do not believe that we can renew and rebuild Israeli society on the basis of liberty, justice and peace without first making peace. It's our worst, most festering wound.

Do you think the Left can find a new track?

      I am not a believer. I do not believe anymore. I only hope that the dynamics [of the situation] will push it forward. But those dynamics will only arise when [Beilin's opponent in the ballot, Ran Cohen], Beilin and [Knesset member] Chaim Oron and the whole gang wake up. In recent times the only Meretz voices heard were those of [left- wingers] Zahava Gal-on and Roman Bronfman. But their voices were those of individuals, not of a party. I want everyone to wake up, to relate to the groups that are fighting for peace, to speak out, to attend meetings, to criticise the government. It's time we set up political stalls in the streets. One has to be daring and not be constrained by political correctness. We have to tell the truth; to state that our struggle with the Palestinians is a colonial struggle. We have to declare that what we are doing in the [occupied] Territories is terrible. We have to admit that we too bombed the British people when they occupied us. We must show that we are taking money for the poor and investing it in the [occupied] Territories. The minute there's an outcry on this subject, when there's criticism of resources being wasted, that's when the country will begin to change.

      If it were up to me, I would take the residents of [poor development towns] Dimona and Yeroham to the Territories and show them the settlers' nice houses surrounded by greenery with matching green roofs . Let them see the destruction [of the Palestinian infrastructure], the settlers-only roads and that monstrous fence. Let them see, so that they would never be able to say that they didn' t know. When they see it and remember that they haven't been paid their wages for months, they may stop voting for the Likud.

Do you see yourself making a comeback in politics?

      I do not see myself coming back. I raise my voice, I lecture and I write articles. But I am not coming back. I don't miss politics. The fact that Sharon and Peres are still at it at their age does not obligate me to do likewise. Spain has got a 44-year-old Prime Minster. Tony Blair wasn't quite fifty when he came into power. It's about time we let the new generation develop. Let's not cut them down. Remember what they did to Mitzna.7

Who is an appropriate leader: Barak, Netanyahu?

      Ehud Barak was a real disaster and I hope they never let him set foot in politics ever again. He failed because he was always up to tricks. Barak totally misunderstood people's attitude. When the throngs shouted "anyone but Shas" (a religious party), he did not comprehend what they were seeking. As a result we have the growth of the [secularist but redneck] Shinui. He brought disaster upon disaster on us. He never implemented the agreements [with the Palestinians] that the Israeli government had signed. He even poked fun at Netanyahu who had given [back] Hebron and boasted that in his time in office he had given nothing to the Palestinians. As for Netanyahu, I do not subscribe to his economic policy but at least Netanyahu is a man of action. Barak had nothing but words.

Footnotes

The number of political parties in Israel is quite large. Some of the infomation below is from the site at http://judaism.about.com/library/1_politics/elections/bl_elections2003_parties.htm and some from Eldad Benary <eldad@hvc.rr.com>, a former Israeli now in the U.S., who brought the interview to my attention and generously helped prepare this posting.

1. Ratz, a political party described as centrist-socialist, from a web search.

2. Meretz, a political party, an acronym for the three parties that founded it - left-wing socialist Mapam, centrist-socialist Ratz, and centrist Shinui, from a web search. Its main agenda is human and civil rights and resistence to religious coercion - E.B.

3. Yahad, a political party. Yahad means 'together'. Its main agenda is to struggle for the rights and equality of Israeli Arabs. - E.B.

4. Likud is the largest political party, with about 36% of the electorate. It is currently headed by prime minister Ariel Sharon. Likud means 'unify' - E.B.

5. The term 'territories' refers to the lands occupied by Israel by force (territory designated Palestinian by the United Nations in 1948). Israel does not use the term 'occupied', preferring not to acknowledge that and to refer to them instead as 'disputed', which they indeed are, but they are also occupied.

6. Rachel Corrie. The March 18, 2004 issue of The Guardian has an account, headed "Rachel's war", which begins "This weekend [on March 16] 23-year-old American peace activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by a bulldozer as she tried to prevent the Israeli army destroying homes in the Gaza Strip. In a remarkable series of emails to her family, she explained why she was risking her life." The article is at http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,916299,00.html. A website devoted to her is at http://www.rachelcorrie.org/.

7. Amram Mitzna and Shimon Peres head Avoda ("Labor") and Meimad, a secular, Zionist, left-wing political party, from a web search.


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