December 9, 2008
Olmert: Shame sans substance
Linda Heard | firstname.lastname@example.org
The outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is all peace and love nowadays. One might even be driven to think he has developed a conscience. On Sunday, he told his Cabinet that he felt ashamed of the attacks by Jewish settlers on their innocent Palestinian neighbors in Hebron and went as far as equating the anti-Palestinian violence with “a pogrom”.
Indeed it was. Settlers bent on taking revenge when some of their members were evicted from the A-Ras neighborhood of Hebron by the government, shot a father and son, set fire to Palestinian homes and vehicles, scrawled graffiti on mosques, shattered windows and hurled rocks at passersby.
For most Jews in Israel and throughout the Diaspora “pogrom” is a word evoking violent persecution of Jews, driven by anti-Semitism, evoking Oradea, Krakow, Odessa and Minsk. The word itself is Russian meaning, “to wreak havoc, to demolish violently”.
“We are the children of a people whose historic ethos is built on the memory of pogroms. The sight of Jews firing at innocent Palestinians has no other name than pogrom. Even when Jews do this, it is a pogrom,” Olmert said. If he were brutally honest, he should have accused the Israeli Army of complicity as by all accounts they stood back allowing the violence to occur and ignored advance warnings.
Olmert should be applauded for his straight talking but why didn’t he speak out before? Telling the truth when he’s just about to leave office with little hope of returning to the top job is too easy. He no longer has to care about the reaction of Israeli voters to his words and he will very soon be in no position to prevent repeat performances of the Hebron atrocity.
So called “settlers” — a euphemism for religious extremists who believe in a Greater Israel and who reject the peace process — have been responsible for attacks on Palestinians for years; most of which go unnoticed by the international media. These are people emanating mostly from the US and Europe who relocate to Israel not in hopes of bettering their lives but rather on a mission to ruin the lives of Palestinians by ousting them from their land.
The world witnessed their fanaticism when they were evicted from Gaza when they turned on the IDF, threatened mass suicides and laid siege to buildings. Few know that they have shot at Palestinian children, killed farm animals, poisoned wells and destroyed olive groves and orchards.
The Hebron “pogrom” may have gone unnoticed too if it wasn’t for a camera distribution project launched by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, which “provides Palestinians living in high-conflict areas with video cameras, with the goal of bringing the reality of their lives under occupation to the attention of the Israeli and international public, exposing and seeking redress for violations of human rights”.
B’Tselem says it has succeeded in getting incriminating material garnered aired on major Israeli and international news networks “exposing global audiences to the previously unseen”. Unfortunately, though there is little outrage either within Israel or outside for the suffering of Palestinians existing under a harsh occupation. It’s almost as though we have been indoctrinated to believe that Jews are always victims in a way that excludes the possibility of Jewish terrorism.
If the Israeli prime minister can delve deep into his conscience perhaps it’s time we should re-evaluate our own and dissect any knee-jerk prejudices that we might unknowingly harbor.
Having said that, we should also wonder why Olmert’s sudden apparent softening of heart or resurgent morality doesn’t extend to Gaza where 1.5 people are being held prisoner without fuel, food, potable water and essential medicines, vulnerable to Israeli bombs and the extrajudicial assassination of their leadership.
Is the war of attrition that Israel is waging on Gaza any less of a pogrom than Hebron? In reality, it is much worse. People there are dying a slow painful death in literal terms as well as metaphorical without freedom, without income and without hope. On Sunday, the Israeli government thwarted an attempt by Israeli Arabs to sail to Gaza bearing medicines and food. Last week, a Libyan vessel carrying 3,000 tons of aid was turned back. Olmert’s statements concerning Hebron, therefore, have a hollow ring while he continues the blockade of Gaza, rejecting appeals from the United Nations to open the borders. “Hypocrisy” is a word that comes to mind.
In the latter part of his premiership, Olmert has also been verbally promoting a two-state solution. Last year, he told the Israeli daily Haaretz that if “the day comes when a two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished”.
Absolutely right! Then why on earth wasn’t he proactive in progressing peace? Why didn’t he do his utmost to bring a Palestinian state into fruition? Similarly, he has been pursuing indirect talks with Syria, saying, “I’d like to know if there’s a serious person in the State of Israel who believes that we can make peace with the Syrians without, in the end, giving up the Golan Heights.” Syria has been receptive, so what has stopped him going ahead?
Sadly, what Olmert says and what he does are disparate. He will leave office under the shadow of corruption having achieved nothing. He will leave behind nothing but the echo of empty words. In the end, he will be known as someone in power with the right ideas but without a backbone to implement them. He is a politician who missed his chance of greatness. We can only pray that the void won’t be filled by someone even worse.