Mention boycott in a discussion of Israel, and chances are you'll find yourself the butt of vicious attacks. Israeli professor Neve Gordon elicited just such denunciations when he published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times last Thursday in support of the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
How would you feel if you found out that an American school, paid for with your tax dollars, was bombed and completely destroyed by a US ally? This happened in Gaza just a few months ago, during Israel's now-infamous Operation Cast Lead.
I've been touring Gaza for the past three days as part of a Code Pink delegation, and the concrete rubble and twisted rebar of the American International School in Gaza is just one of the many horrifying images we've seen on this trip. The school, which taught American progressive values to Palestinian kids in grades K-12, was bombed by US-supplied Israeli F-16s in early January. The Israelis claimed, without supplying evidence, that Hamas fighters had fired rockets from the school. Now several hundred kids have not only lost the school they dearly loved; they have been given a very different lesson in American values, one no doubt unintended by the school's founders and teachers.
The people of Gaza suffered immensely from the Israeli assault, which not only killed some 1,400 and injured 5,000 but destroyed or heavily damaged mosques, schools, hospitals, universities, and industrial and other business establishments, in addition to thousands of private homes. Dr. Marwan Sultan, who practices at Kamal Adwan Hospital in Beit Lahiya, told me his hospital was so damaged they had to send all patients to al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City--which was itself damaged. The bombing of one school in Beit Lahiya killed about forty kids and injured a hundred, Sultan told me. He saw scenes of death and mutilation that still give him nightmares. Thousands are living in tent cities all over the Strip, and the entire population of Gaza is being strangled to this day by a blockade that is choking off any possibility of reconstruction or recovery.
It is an assumption almost universally acknowledged among the liberal American intelligentsia that while the Israeli occupation is repressive and abhorrent, Israel itself is an open, fully democratic state with a lively, argumentative and very free press.
Perish the thought. After spending three months in Israel on a fellowship, I can say that nearly every member of the liberal Israeli intelligentsia I've talked to says something quite different: that their country's media are seriously diseased, failing to provide the minimal level of fair reporting and serious critical inquiry that are crucial pillars of an open society.
Americans who don't read Hebrew or watch Israeli television news may get a skewed view of the spectrum, assuming that Ha'aretz, the smaller-circulation daily read mostly by intellectuals and the political classes--and foreigners, who devour its English-language edition online--is representative, and that critical columnists and reporters like Gideon Levy, Akiva Eldar and Amira Hass are sprinkled throughout the Israeli media. It isn't, and they aren't. The larger-circulation dailies Yediot and Ma'ariv, as well as the Jerusalem Post and television news, are tilted much more to the right--just like the mainstream US media, which certainly have nothing to teach Israel in this regard.
In the days leading up to Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington, Yisrael Beiteinu, the far-right party led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, announced that it would seek a bill in the Knesset banning Palestinian citizens of Israel--now 20 percent of the population--from commemorating the anniversary of the Nakba (catastrophe), their way of marking the founding of Israel, which involved the expulsion or flight of some 750,000 Palestinians.
Thousands of Palestinians--in the occupied territories, in Israel and in refugee camps all over the Arab world--ignored Yisrael Beiteinu's bluster and turned out for Nakba Day rallies, insisting on the right of refugees to return to their homes, a demand that is anathema to the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews. In a speech in the stadium at the northern Israeli city of Kafr Kana, Raed Salah, the chairman of the northern branch of Israel's Islamic Movement, declared, "We are the ones who will remain on our land; it is the occupation that will soon disappear." Speaking of the occupation, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to seek a peace deal with the Palestinians in the territories as soon as possible, as any delay would bring about a binational state, which she called "a strategic threat, no less menacing than any other threat."
The fact is that even aside from the occupation, Israel is already a binational state--increasingly, a multicultural state--albeit one that is dominated by one ethnic/religious group. What if, instead of talking past one another, Jews and Palestinians were to take a step toward admitting this reality by acknowledging the other's historical narrative and trying to live together? It turns out that some are doing this, and in very interesting ways. I recently attended the sixth annual "Independence Day/Nakba Day" gathering near the northern city of Haifa, a two-day workshop organized by Arabs and Jews "designed to respect and commemorate the pain and loss on both sides." Sponsored this year by Beyond Words, a nonprofit organization that empowers Arab and Jewish women to work for social change and peace, the event featured a history lecture, recollections of the 1948 expulsion from Ramle by a Palestinian who experienced it and of the Holocaust by a survivor, personal testimonies of loss in a common grieving ritual, and breakout workshops, as well as music, dance and prayer.