Dear Mr Netanyahu, this does not accord with the truth

Open Letter to Netanyahu from German Jewish Forum posted at JfJfP:
Press Release

To the Prime Minister of the State of Israel,
Mr. Benyamin Netanyahu

Shalom, dear Prime Minister,

In your address to the General Assembly of the United Nations, on 23 September 2011, you expressed your sincere wishes to extend your hand in peace. Since you stated that you were doing so “on behalf of the Jewish people” which well includes us, we feel invited to comment on your speech. Some of us were involved in sending a Jewish signal of peace to the people in Gaza in 2010 by means of the Irene (which means ‘shalom’), the Jewish boat to Gaza. This boat is still being retained in Israel. Thus, before commenting on your talk given at the General Assembly, we would like to ask you to release the “Irene” that is still being expected in Gaza, thereby giving a small signal of good will.

Here are some concerns we would like to discuss with you:

You stated that Israel has “extended its hand in peace from the moment it was established 63 years ago”. Unfortunately, in our view, this does not conform to historical truth. Rather, instead of following the advice of eminent intellectuals like Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt, Yeshayahu Leibowitz and others who argued for reconciliation with the (then called) “Arab population”, and against the political will of leading Zionists like Moshe Sharet, Chaim Weizmann and Nahum Goldman, Israeli statesmen decided to pursue a belligerent solution with the intentional and unintentional destruction of Palestinian society.

You stated that Israel has been “unjustly singled out for condemnation” by the General Assembly. Maybe Israel has indeed been singled out. Yet this was not “unjust”, but rather a logical consequence of the fact that Israel has shown constant disregard of international law and of resolutions of both the General Assembly (which you called “the theater of the absurd “) and of the Security Council, even though Israel owes its very existence to these institutions, at least on the formal level.

You stated that “peace must be anchored in security”. While sharing Israel’s justified concerns for security, we at the same time know that peace can never be secured when our opponents’ feelings, their sufferings and longings, are neglected. Peace must be anchored in empathy and respect.

You stated that “so far Palestinians have refused to negotiate”. This is true for the last months. However, the Palestinian side has negotiated with Israeli delegations for more than twenty years and is still ready to do so. They have been negotiating although the respective area has already now diminished to 22% of original Palestine (as defined 1921 by the League of Nations). Moreover, the Palestinians are confronted with the fact that the remaining isolated territories are surrounded by Israeli settlements which are not only illegal in terms of international law, but will also preclude the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Thus, the Palestinians’ insisting on an immediate stop of settlement construction is more than understandable because otherwise any negotiations are senseless.

You stated that, in 2000, Israel did “make a sweeping peace offer that met virtually all of Palestinian demands”. Let us suppose for a moment that this indeed applies. (As you probably know, serious doubts have been raised against this interpretation.) Then, it may be asked: If Prime Minister Barak’s offer expressed the aspirations of the Israeli people, why wasn’t the offer repeated by the following governments?

You stated that the Israeli side withdrew “from every inch of Gaza in 2005”.This is true. Indeed, the Israeli settlements were removed, although without even trying to coordinate the removal with the Palestinian authorities. Importantly, however, you implied by your remark that Israel is not Gaza’s occupying power any more. This implication diverges from the obvious evidence that, by closing Gaza off and keeping the “prison keys”, Israel still occupies essential parts of Gaza, such as the sovereignty over the airspace, its seashore and thereby its trade possibilities. Israel prohibits any economic development, impoverishes people by banning fishing, by impeding agricultural and industrial work in wide areas, by preventing infrastructure from being reconstructed, and thus impedes any healthy development towards peace in general. Thus, the withdrawal from Gaza cannot be called a “bold act of peace”.

You stated that “instead of peace we got war”. It is true that thousands of missiles have been shot from Gaza to Israeli territories. But there had been chances for an extension of the armistice. These prospects were not pursued. Rather, the Israeli army attacked Gaza, leaving more than thousand people dead and a multitude wounded, physically and psychologically – and has bred new hate and longings for revenge.

In spite of this, a chance for peace still remains.  We believe that peace should, and indeed can, be pursued both by small steps and by big steps. Releasing the Irene that we mentioned above might appear as a small step. But it would immediately turn out as a big step if being accompanied for instance by the Israeli prime minister’s sincere plea to the Palestinian side for forgiving all the injustice and suffering imposed by the Jewish side on the Arab side, starting with the expulsion of the Palestinian population in 1947/48 and continuing until the present day. Such a “unilateral” advance step might stimulate the other side to make a similar step with regard, e.g., to suicide attacks. One side has to start – the stronger one.

We hope to hear about both the small step and the big step by next month.

Yours sincerely,

Ruben Frankenstein,  Margalith Pozniak,  Jochi Weil-Goldstein