In the 2012 documentary, The Gatekeepers, Avraham Shalom, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet from 1980-1986, reaches the conclusion that Israel’s occupation of Gaza, Samaria and Judea has changed the character of the Israeli people. He says: “We’ve become cruel, to ourselves as well, but mainly to the occupied population, using the excuse of war against terror.”
Shin Bet is the Israeli intelligence organization responsible for Israel’s defense against terrorism. It conducts anti-terrorism and intelligence operations in the West Bank and Gaza. In The Gatekeepers, filmmaker Dror Moreh interviews six men who headed the organization from 1980-2011. They all agree that an end to the occupation is the only way to bring about peace and Israeli national security. They also say that negotiations with Israel’s enemies are necessary.
Shalom argues that Israel ought to talk to any and every one for the sake of peace.
“I said everyone, so it includes even Ahmadinejad, whoever. I’m always for it. It’s a trait of a professional intelligence operative to talk to everyone. Things get clarified. I see you don’t eat glass. He sees I don’t drink petrol. That’s how it is.”
Peace can only come if Israel and the United States talk directly with Hamas and all the relevant parties in the conflict. Secretary of State John Kerry faces criticism in Israel for supposedly being too close to nations who talk to Hamas. They say his cease fire proposals favor Hamas’ position. I say Secretary Kerry has not gone far enough. The Israeli government has not gone far enough to make a just and lasting peace. Both ought to be in a room this very minute talking directly with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. They should stay until a peace agreement is reached.
Avi Dichter, head of Shin Bet between 2000-2005, says:
“You can’t make peace using military means. Peace must be built on a system of trust, after, or without using military means. In the end you must build it on a system of trust. As someone who knows the Palestinians well, I claim that there should be no problem building a system of trust with them, a genuine one.”
When we look at the current conflict, we see a tragic Catch-22 preventing peace. Hamas sends rockets into Israel because it wants an end to the siege on Gaza that keeps basic goods and material out. Israel will not lift the siege until the rockets stop. Israel says Hamas is a terror group that refuses to recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. Hamas considers Israel an oppressive occupying power, and it will never recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state because to do so makes every non-Jewish citizen of Israel, by definition, a second class citizen.
National Public Radio reports that 8 in 10 Jewish Israelis support military operations. Meanwhile, the world looks on in horror as the civilian casualties among Palestinians in Gaza mount daily. Israel rains down bombs on UN facilities that shelter homeless Palestinians. We hear time and time again: “Israel uses rockets to protect its citizens. Hamas uses its citizens to protect is rockets.” However, when we see the rubble and the misery and the suffering of Palestinian children, this sounds hollow.
We see overkill in Gaza. We witness cruelty. In documentary, Avraham Shalom says overkill is stupidity:
“Overkill! It’s security stupidity! It’s military stupidity. I don’t know what to call it, but it makes no sense that to kill the most important man in Gaza you have to drop a one-ton bomb on a house surrounded by homes with families and children.”
He says further:
“That can’t be moral. It’s ineffective militarily and it’s certainly not humane. Is it just? Not that either.”
This is what peaceniks such as myself have been saying since forever. Now the former heads of Shin Bet are saying the same thing. Will the Israeli public and government listen, or have fear and cruelty changed the character of the nation beyond recognition? The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel says in part:
“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights of all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the Charter of the United Nations.”
The Israel that is killing Palestinian civilians is a very far distance from the freedom, justice, and peace proclaimed by the prophets of Israel. Not unlike the Declaration of Independence of the United States, the words, the document, expresses an ideal that is beyond those who wrote it to achieve. The hope is that a country will move closer to the ideal, not further away from it. Israel does not conduct its affairs according to a morality based on justice and righteousness that the prophets proclaimed. It practices an idolatry of the state, worshiping the military apparatus of the state as a god who will protect. Isaiah 40: 28-29 reminds us of a God who takes the side of the weak:
“Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the LORD,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary,
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might
He increases strength.”
Not only does the Israel we see today worship the power of the state rather than the power of the God of the prophets, but it also does not honor the Charter of the United Nations. In its preamble, the UN Charter says in part:
“We the people of the United Nations determined. . . to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom, . . .”
The Israeli siege of Gaza does not show a respect for the human dignity of Palestinians. Attacks upon UN facilities show a disregard for the United Nations. Settlements on the West Bank are illegal according to most UN reports. Yaacov Peri, head of Shin Bet from 1988-1994, says that when successive Israeli governments looked the other way while illegal settlements were built in the West Bank that such disregard could extend to other illegal activity. Peri says that after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin there have been no good faith negotiations on either side.
And so, here we are again watching tragedy unfold in the holy land. However, at least one organization in the United States is calling for an end to US military aid to Israel. The Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom-US says in its statement on Gaza:
“WILPF US demands that our US government immediately suspend military aid to Israel, and instead use our tax dollars for humanitarian aid to Gaza.”
I say we ought to stop all aid to Israel as long as it keeps building new settlements and as long as it refuses to negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians, including Hamas.
Ami Ayalon, head of Shin Bet from 1996-2000, reminds us that victory in any war is to create a better political reality. I say that goal is too small. The purposes of peace are to create sustenance and joy for the peoples on both sides of the conflict. At the end of the day, two-state solution or not, Israelis and Palestinians will never know peace until they make a positive peace, a peace where neither side no longer wants to destroy the Other. This can only happen through trust and friendship.
No amount of bombs, drones, tanks, rockets or tunnels will get to this end. Cruelty on both sides only corrodes the souls of everyone, including the souls of those of us who watch from a distance, and whose tax money helps to finance the misery. It is time, way past time, to lay down the weapons of war and to be about the business of sustenance and joy for the entire human family, for all the peoples of the earth.
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.