Votes Are Not Enough–Hillel Cohen’s “Good Arabs”

Haim Watzman

All too often, Israel’s supporters kill their cause with clichés. One of the most common and problematic of these clichés is the claim that Israel’s Arab citizens have always enjoyed full and equal rights because—and here’s the clincher—they vote for and sit in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.

As Hillel Cohen shows in Good Arabs: The Israeli Security Agencies and the Israeli Arabs, 1948-1967, my translation of which is to be published shortly, suffrage and representation do not in and of themselves guarantee a minority the rights that a democracy is supposed to grant to all its citizens.

In Good Arabs, Cohen continues the study he began in his previous book, Army of Shadows (see my earlier post Good Arabs, Bad Arabs) about the complex relationship between the Zionist movement and the local Arabs in Palestine. As in that earlier work, Cohen eschews the slogans long shouted by Palestinians and Israelis, rightists and leftists. He shows how both Israeli officials and leaders of those Palestinian Arabs who became inhabitants and citizens of the Jewish state adopted a variety of strategies in reaction to real and perceived threats and opportunities.

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Tough Love: The Moral Choices in the Gaza War

Haim Watzman One series of questions posed to Israeli soldiers in discussions of war ethics goes something like this: If you were ordered to blow up a house where a terrorist commander was hiding, and you had reason to believe that enemy civilians were in the house, should the order be refused? If you were … Read moreTough Love: The Moral Choices in the Gaza War

No Happy Endings in Gaza

Haim Watzman I’ve got war refugees in my home today. I mean my daughter’s fellow second-year students from the animation program at Sapir College, located right next to Sderot. The campus is under fire and has shut its gates, so these budding cartoonists are unable to work on their projects or attend their classes. The … Read moreNo Happy Endings in Gaza

Ari Folman’s “Waltz with Bashir” (1) – A National Nightmare on Film

Haim Watzman

Just after seeing Waltz With Bashir at the Semadar Cinema in the German Colony, Ilana and I ran into our 17-year old son, Niot, with two friends. They had been at the pool, at their twice-weekly get-in-shape-for-the-army swim class. “You’ve got to see this film,” I told them. “Every kid who is dying to be a soldier should see it. So should every Israeli who loves his country.”

In Waltz With Bashir, director Ari Folman conducts a personal journey to recover his lost time and lost memories of the first Lebanon War. He knows that in September 1982 he was an Israeli soldier in Beirut. He was there when Lebanese Christian Phalangist militiamen, outfitted in IDF uniforms, massacred Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila, two refugee camps that had become neighborhoods in the Lebanese capital. But, except for an odd vision of himself and two friends swimming naked in the sea at the time of the massacre, he can remember no details—what he was doing at the time, how he felt, who was really there with him.

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Golan On The Table, Gaza In The Sights

In the past, when the press has reported that Israel’s leaders were talking to Syria about returning the Golan Heights for peace, I was skeptical. First Yitzhak Rabin, then Binyamin Netanyahu, then Ehud Barak signalled to Syria that they were willing to contemplate a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for a peace agreement. Yet, when I compared the price to be paid with the possible benefits, it wasn’t clear to me that the deal was a good one. What were we losing by holding on to the Golan, and what would we gain by giving it up?

In contrast, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was clearly debilitating our country, and we obviously stood to gain much by leaving them and allowing the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Today, Ehud Olmert’s government is talking, indirectly, with Syria about returning the Golan Heights in the framework of a peace agreement, and with Hamas about a cease fire in the Gaza Strip. Now the benefits of an agreement with Syria seem obvious to me, while I’m skeptical about a possible agreement with Hamas.

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Misunderstanding Identity: The Left and the Neocons Unite

America is the land of freedom. It is the world’s standard for democracy; its ideals of personal freedom and civil rights are the envy of all enlightened citizens of the world.

If you grew up in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s, as I did, this is what you learned at school.

The myth of American freedom is a strong one, and one reason it’s strong is that it contains a lot of truth. But the democracy of the United States is hardly perfect and it does not necessarily produce enlightened governments, leaders, and policies.

Paradoxically, the myth of American freedom is strongest today in two groups that see themselves as negations of the other—the neoconservatives and that slice of the American left that might be best defined as subscribers to Harpers and The New York Review of Books. The neocons believe that the way to make the world a better place is for America to export its democracy forcefully—and with force, if necessary. The leftists wouldn’t force anything on anyone, but they do think that if other peoples would just be reasonable and adopt the U.S. constitution, war, conflict, and unreason would give way to well-mannered societies much like those in America’s great suburbs.

There’s a textbook example of this on display in the current issue of Commentary, where that magazine’s assistant editor, David Billet, reviews Bernard Avishai’s new book, The Hebrew Republic: How Secular Democracy and Global Enterprise will Bring Israel Peace at Last.

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Up Against the Wall: Back at Gershom

Gershom, you’re right about a number of things in your“Politics of Measurement” post. Science is never free of social, economic, and cultural constraints, even if the scientific method offers, by and large, a good way to minimize those influences and approach the truth. And proving cause-and-effect relationships in politics and relations between nations is a hazardous undertaking. The influences are complex and interlocking, you don’t have a control group, and experiments can’t be repeated.

In the specific case at hand, the separation barrier, you are also correct that it is very difficult to isolate the anti-terror effect of the fence from other factors. As you note, political changes took place in parallel to the construction of the fence. And Israel also conducted an anti-terror offensive, using a variety of military measures.

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Israel’s Separation Barrier: The Best of the Worst

Pretty much everything the critics say about Israel’s separation barrier is true. It causes incredible hardship to the Palestinians; it has been used in many places as a means of annexing Palestinian territory to Israel; and it has caused much environmental damage.

For all that, however, it has achieved its purpose. Since construction of the barrier commenced, deaths in terrorist attacks emanating from the West Bank have dropped precipitously. As I note in my article in the current issue of Orion Magazine,

According to figures provided by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, between 2000 and 2003, Palestinian terrorists carried out 73 attacks, killing 293 Israelis and wounding 1,950. From 2003 to 2006, the period in which the fence was gradually erected, there were 12 attacks, killing 64 Israelis and wounding 445.

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