Israel Refocused: The shift to a diplomatic process - or not... - New Israel Fund Australia

Israel Refocused: The shift to a diplomatic process - or not...

Gaza event

The effects of what became one of Israel’s longest wars — the loss of life, especially civilian life, destruction and hatred which has permeated both Palestinian and Israeli societies — are beginning to emerge.

We have brought together a number of articles and interviews which highlight the role that human rights organisations play in a time of war; some interesting views on possible diplomatic approaches; and some commentary about the change which will be required in Israel to address some of the major social conflicts and divisions that emerged or became more apparent during the war.

Last week, we hosted an event with three of our partners in Israel, B’Tselem, NIF and Shatil under the title, “The Gaza conflict: human rights lessons, and the day after”. You can watch video of the event on our website.

Liam Getreu (Executive Director) and Dani Miller (Project Officer)

The shift to a diplomatic process — or not...

Gaza border: Photo by IDFThroughout Operation Protective Edge, there were hints that a new diplomatic channel may open, at the urging of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and others.

At the time, Barak Ravid wrote in Haaretz that the key to such a move would be to use the crisis to “strengthen the more moderate forces and perhaps provide an opening for progress in the peace process.” The guiding principles would include a demilitarised Gaza Strip and a more involved Palestinian Authority in the area. Given that the IDF’s efforts have considerably weakened Hamas and provided sufficient deterrent, Livni’s argument went, the most important post-war element would be to take the opportunity to advance negotiations with Israel’s most obvious negotiating partner, the PA. There was also predictably strong opposition to the position — the right-wing members of the cabinet vehemently opposed such a move.

In the wake of the war, the Israeli government made an announcement declaring 1,000 acres of the West Bank as ‘state land’, the precursor to a brand new settlement. This has generated significant diplomatic and political opposition. Moves like this from the Israeli government not only harm the long-term prospects of peace, but actively inflame tensions and undermine the moderate Palestinian political groups which have been willing to negotiate with Israel, including President Mahmoud Abbas.

Further reading

Remembering Human Rights in a Time of Conflict

Gaza - Photo by UNWith the ceasefire holding, attention in Israel will turn to understanding how the war was fought, the effectiveness of the operation on long-term strategic goals, and the impact the war had on Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

Just as after previous wars — for example, the Kahan and Winograd commissions after both wars in Lebanon, and the Turkel commission after the flotilla incident — Israel’s State Comptroller has already announced an investigation into the war. These independent investigations are important and effective. In the past, the IDF praised the work of Israeli human rights organisations for their investigative work.

NIF grantees such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), B’Tselem and Rabbis for Human Rights and others were active during the war. As part of a consortium of a dozen groups, they wrote letters to the government expressing concern for the impact on civilians in Gaza, requested humanitarian corridors, raised the issue of tactics used by the army, demanded that free speech be protected and individuals not be punished for their views.

In times of war, whilst these voices are sometimes the most difficult to hear, they are also the most crucial. Ensuring open debate in times of crisis safeguards democracy. The Israeli government recognised this when they provided a permit to allow a pro-ceasefire rally to take place. Similarly, when B’Tselem’s participation in the national civil service program was revoked because of its work during the war, the Justice Ministry stepped in to ensure human rights organisations were not kept out of the minds of the public.

Further reading:

What happens the day after the war ends?

"Dangerous processes are taking place in Israel. Because of the desperation and anxiety, nationalism and racism broke out at once. We are losing our home to self-hatred." These words were spoken by Israeli author David Grossman to the 10,000 Israelis who came together in support of peace in Tel Aviv a couple of weeks ago. These words echo those of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s famous commitment, “to fight terror like there’s no peace, and make peace like there’s no terror.”

In the weeks leading up to the war, horrible hate crimes were perpetrated against three Israeli teenagers, and a Palestinian teenager, and it is distressing to read the views of many commentators and activists that racism continues to be a real and pervasive problem in modern Israeli society.

Light Tag / Tag MeirIn the Times of Israel, former NIF president, and former Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, Naomi Chazan, wrote of the two wars Israel in which was engaged — one with Hamas, a battle for the security of the state; and the second, an internal war against racism and incitement.

The recent marriage in Jaffa of couple Mahmoud Mansour and Morel Malka is a worrying example. The wedding was threatened with protests by “Lehava - the Organisation for the Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land”, an act condemned by new Israeli President Reuben Rivlin: “There are many difficult disputes within Israeli society, but there is no room for violence, incitement and racism in the Jewish and democratic State of Israel. Racist expressions undermine the foundations of a joint Jewish and democratic society.” Horrible instances of racism like this need to be exposed and opposed, in the interest of a truly inclusive and tolerant Israeli society.

During the war, much of NIF’s work has been around cooling tensions between Jews and Palestinians inside Israel. NIF distributed more than $100,000 in emergency grants over the two months, particularly supporting organisations like Tag Meir and the joint Jewish-Arab school Hand in Hand. Ensuring that all Israelis are able to come together after the war to build a functioning and harmonious society will be crucial to reducing the likelihood of similarly devastating flare-ups going forward.

Coming in November: Talia Sasson

Talia Sasson

Save the date:

  • Sydney: Sunday November 23rd at 7pm, Shalom Institute, UNSW
  • Sydney 20s & 30s: Monday November 24th at 7:30pm, Waverley Park Pavilion, Bondi Rd
  • Melbourne 20s & 30s: Wednesday November 26th at 7:30pm, Caulfield Park Pavilion
  • Melbourne: Sunday November 30th at 7pm, Monash University, Caulfield, Room K.321