Shavit urges end of Israeli occupation
Ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is morally crucial to the country’s survival, but some pro-Palestinian activists overlook key issues about the Israeli perspective on the conflict, journalist Ari Shavit argued in a talk last Tuesday.
Before beginning his talk, Shavit urged the audience to keep Shimon Peres in their thoughts — the Israeli founding father passed away later in the night. Shavit said that he and Peres planned to write a book together, calling him “probably the last great Jewish Israeli of that amazing generation that went through the impossible and created the impossible.”
Shavit, a national correspondent and op-ed columnist for left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz, told the audience that he wrote his 2013 book “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel” to “decipher the Israeli enigma.” He added that he gained “this deep sense of bewilderment of what an amazing miracle Israel is.”
Shavit has opposed the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian settlements his whole life. Zionism’s goal was to create a Jewish democratic state, but oppressing Palestinians is undemocratic, and granting them citizenship would create a non-Jewish majority, he asserted. Therefore, a two-state solution remains the only way to create a Zionist state, according to Shavit.
The settlements are “a suicidal process of the Zionist project. If you want the Jewish democratic state, you cannot do it. And if you are doing this, you are endangering the Jewish democratic state,” he said.
However, onlookers and activists often miss three crucial pieces of context in the ongoing conflict, Shavit said. Firstly, Israel “really tried to give peace a chance” during the Oslo negotiations in the 1990s. “Yasser Arafat, for us, was 100 times more radioactive than Fidel Castro was to you, but under the leadership of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, we took a leap of faith.” The outcome, Shavit said, was “a kind of ongoing 9/11” due to Hamas terrorism. “It did not work because the Palestinian leadership was not really truly willing to end the conflict and accept as legitimate the existence of a Jewish democratic state in the Middle East,” he said.
The Middle East itself is the second layer of context, which Shavit called “the world’s worst neighborhood.” The American media was naïve to describe the Arab Spring as a positive revolution, he said, adding that today, “only in Tunisia there is some hope. … We have four, five failed states that are in terrible condition.” While he said regional instability does not justify Israel’s wrongdoing, “we have 11th-century Europe miles from our border. … If you are not strong in this Middle East, you end up ... being slaughtered.”
Finally, Jews in the 21st century are “victims of their own success,” he asserted. Due to Jewish success in Israel and abroad, Jews forget their dwindling minority status around the world.
Shavit argued against American campuses that accuse Israel of being “a colonialist entity.” He based this assertion on three points: Zionists were returning to their ancestral homeland, not conquering a new land; Jews had an existential need to form a state after the Holocaust; and the indigenous population was not wiped out.
“How is it that there’s no campus where I meet an anti-Australia movement?” he said. “If Australia is legitimate, Israel is definitely legitimate. … Why is it that when the Jews do what other people do, they are treated in such a harsh way?”
However, none of the context “justifies one settlement built,” Shavit said. He worries that it will take many years for Jews and Israelis to create a new, more realistic path to two-state peace. Moreover, Israel itself must be “rebuilt” to respect pluralism and minority ethnic and religious groups, and Israel and the Jewish diaspora need to build a new connection. “We are not the same, we are not one, but we are totally interdependent on each other,” he said. The Israeli far right, he said, threatens Israel by generating internal divides with non-Orthodox groups and alienating the non-Orthodox Jewish diaspora. “They are betraying the mission of Israel,” he said.
Shavit fears that there is less than a decade to overcome these domestic challenges before the conflict escalates. Moreover, failing to overcome one-state ideology now prevents the state from saving itself later on, he said. Yet he remains an optimist, recognizing how his country has overcome past challenges. “But in order to do it,” he warned, “we must wake up.”