WASHINGTON, September 28, 2015 – In a previously unpublicized recording of a 1976 interview, Israel’s fifth prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, can be heard calling the still-nascent West Bank settler movement “comparable to a cancer,” and warning that Israel risked becoming an “apartheid” state if it annexed and absorbed the West Bank’s Arab population.
The recording is being publicized for the first time in the documentary of Rabin’s November 1995 assassination by a right-wing Jewish extremist who opposed Rabin’s efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians.
Among those leading the campaign against Rabin at that time, was the current Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Rabin’s widow, Leah, says that she holds Netanyahu responsible for creating the atmosphere of hate which led to the assassination.
According to The Times of Israel,
“Rabin’s imperturbable monotone betrays increasing anger as he complains about the settlements growing in number and size…’I see Gush (“The Bloc of the Faithful,” the ideologically driven founders of the settlement movement) as one of the most acute dangers in the whole phenomenon of the State of Israel…Gush Emunim is not a settlement movement. It is comparable to a cancer on the tissue of Israel’s democratic society. It’s a phenomenon of an organization that takes the law into its own hands. I don’t say with certainty that we won’t reach (the point of) evacuation, because of the (Palestinian) population, I don’t think it’s possible to contain over the long term. If we don’t want to get to apartheid, a million and a half (more) Arabs inside a Jewish state.”
Now, the settler movement Yitzhak Rabin abhorred is an essential element in Israel’s current government. On the West Bank, Jewish settlers have the full rights of citizenship, while millions of Palestinians living beside them have no rights at all, but are living under military occupation.
Israeli peace activist and former member of the Knesset Uri Avnery states that,
“The official designation of Israel as a ‘Jewish and democratic state’ is an oxymoron. A Jewish state cannot really be democratic, since the definition denies equality to non-Jews, especially Arabs. For the same reason, a democratic state cannot be Jewish. It must belong to all its citizens.”
Many Israelis are concerned about their country’s drift away from democracy. In a column about what he calls Israel’s “Jewish majority” obsession, Gideon Levy, writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz (Sept. 13, 2015), argues that,
“It’s all based on an obsession. Israel must be a Jewish state at any cost. Just or unjust, good or not good, flourishing or not flourishing—the main thing is that it be Jewish. And as with any obsession, few can explain why and no one is allowed to doubt it. On the day Israel shakes this obsession and becomes a country like any other, a democracy like any other, it will become a safe and more just place. For the time being we have a major stumbling block.”
Levy notes that,
“In most enlightened countries, no one dares ask what a person’s religion is. In Israel it’s key. When Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai says his goal is for ‘the percentage of Arabs in the country not to rise,’ he’s expressing the height of Israeli political correctness. There are countries (and Israel should be one of them) where such a statement would be one’s last as a legislator. But when the name of the game is Jewish majority, such harmful words are no problem. Israel must stop busying itself with its ‘Jewish character’ and Jewish majority all the time. It must start worrying about progress, justice, morality and values…And what can we say about the Jewish majority if it’s a majority for fascism, racism and hatred of Arabs and foreigners? Why should a liberal Israeli want to live in a country with a Jewish majority based on settlers and nationalists? Wouldn’t it be better to establish a community of democratic, liberal, secular people fighting the fundamentalists, anti-democrats and nationalists.”
In an editorial, “Israel Is Destroying Its Own Freedom,” written on the occasion of the Jewish New Year, Haaretz (Sept. 13, 2015) declares:
“The last colonial state which today celebrates the 48th Rosh Hashanah of the occupation, continues to believe that controlling another people ensures its victory. This superstition, which in the past vanquished great powers such as France, Britain and the Ottoman Empire, was shaken a few days ago by a terrifying symbolic picture. In the small village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah, an armed and masked Israeli soldier set upon Mohammed Tamimi, a 12-year-old boy with an arm in a cast. His mother and additional female relatives then set upon the soldier, trying to free the boy from the soldier’s choke hold.”
Haaretz continues: “If there is a symbol that summarizes and distills the reality of the State of Israel in the territories, it is the photograph from Nabi Saleh, which spread around the world like wildfire. In Israel some people were angry that the soldier did not shoot the boy, and some were astounded at the humanity of the soldier who decided, on the basis of either his conscience or the presence of television cameras, not to shoot.
This is a distorted dichotomy, which would not exist if Israel understood that occupation and morality, occupation and heroism, occupation and democracy, cannot coexist….As long as Israel persists in the occupation, it condemns itself to destroying the freedom of the Palestinians and of itself.”
Cited in this editorial is a quote from George Orwell in “Shooting An Elephant.” He wrote:
“I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the ‘natives’ and so in every crisis he has got to do what the ‘natives’ expect of him.”
Extremism in Israel is growing. One group, known as the Revolt, seeks to foment unrest to bring about the collapse of the State of Israel and establishing a Jewish kingdom based on the laws of the Torah. Non-Jews would be expelled, the Third Temple would be built and religious observance would be enforced. A leader of this group is thought to be Meir Ettinger, the grandson of Meir Kahane, the slain American-born rabbi considered the father of far-right Jewish militancy.
Another extremist, Moshe Orbach, is considered the author of a manual with instructions on how to set fire to Palestinian houses. It states:
“Stock up with a petrol bomb, preferably of a liter and a half; a lighter; gloves; a mask; a crowbar/hammer; a bag to carry it all. When you get to the village, search for a house with an open door or window without bars.”
This text was publicized on July 29, two days before the deadly arson attack in the West Bank village of Duma that killed a Palestinian toddler, Ali Dawanbshein, and severely burned his parents and his 4-year-old brother.
Israeli and Palestinian critics have long contended that the Israeli authorities treat Jewish perpetrators of violence far more leniently compared with the harsh measures taken against Palestinians suspected of similar crimes against Israelis. When Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin spoke out against “the flames of hatred” threatening Israeli democracy, right-wing Jewish protestors, incensed that he dared criticize Israelis and sympathize with Arabs, called him “traitor,” “terrorist” and “president of the Arabs.”
Criticizing Prime Minister Netanyahu for his failure to confront Israeli terrorism, columnist J.J. Goldberg, writing in the Jewish newspaper The Forward (Aug. 14, 2015) declares:
“There’s all too much room in Israel for these creeps. As the Shin Bet security agency is now acknowledging, settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, largely discounted for years, is becoming a crisis. Property vandalism, burning of fields and cutting down olive trees have long been endemic. Most perpetrators are never caught. Most of those arrested are let off with a slap on the wrist or less. Now, though, the agency says it is morphing into an armed conspiracy. Law enforcement authorities recommended stepped up measures a year ago, but Netanyahu vetoed them.”
Yitzhak Rabin warned that Israel, if it did not withdraw from the occupied territories, was in danger of moving toward apartheid.
Some Israelis believe it is already there. Columnist Bradley Burston recently wrote an article with the headline, “It’s time to admit it, Israeli policy is what it is: Apartheid” (Haaretz, Aug. 15, 2015). He states that,
“What I’m about to write will not come easily for me. I used to be one of those people who took issue with the label of apartheid as applied to Israel. I was one of those people who could be counted on to argue that, while the country’s settlement policies were anti-democratic and brutal and slow-dose suicidal, the word apartheid did not apply. I’m not one of those people any more, not after the last few weeks.”
“Not after terrorists firebombed a West Bank Palestinian home, annihilating a family, murdering an 18-month old boy and his father, burning his mother over 90 per cent of her body—only to have Israel’s government rule the family ineligible for the financial support and compensation automatically granted Israeli victims of terrorism, settlers included. I can’t pretend any more. Not after Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, explicitly declaring stone-throwing to be terrorism, drove the passage of a bill holding stone-throwers liable to up to 20 years in prison. The law did not specify that it targeted only Palestinian stone-throwers. It didn’t have to. Just one week later, pro-settlement Jews hurled rocks, furniture and bottles of urine at Israeli soldiers and police at a West Bank settlement, and in response Benjamin Netanyahu immediately rewarded the Jewish stone-throwers with a pledge to build hundreds of new settlement houses.”
In the end, laments Burston,
“This is what has become of the rule of law. Two sets of books. One for us, and one for them. Apartheid. We are what we have created. We are what we do, and the injury we do in a thousand ways to millions of others. We are what we turn a blind eye to. Our Israel is what it has become: Apartheid.”
We, as Americans, with our massive, no-strings-attached financial aid to Israel have been enablers. We have enabled it to occupy the West Bank, a policy which every American administration. Republican and Democratic, liberal and conservative, has viewed as illegal and in violation of international. We have let a friend drive drunk, hardly an action which is in its long term best interests.
Yitzhak Rabin warned that apartheid would be the result. Hopefully, Israel can still change course and move toward peace with the Palestinians. Unfortunately, its current government is moving in the opposite direction. Yitzhak Rabin would be sad about these developments, but he would not be surprised.