July 19, 2011

The resolution will create problems for Benzi Gruber and his fellow settlers, whose houses will be within another country. Israeli insistence on the idea that its forces are occupying “disputed territories” must vanish, because the land will not be disputed in the world’s eyes. It will be a country called Palestine, whose independence the world will be as obliged to protect as it did the borders of Kuwait when Iraq invaded it in 1990. That same world must also accept UN Resolution 181’s first state, Israel.

Last Friday, a couple thousand Israelis and Palestinians marched from the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem’s old city to Sheikh Jarrah, an Arab neighborhood where settlers have been taking over houses.

Their banners said, “Marching to Independence.”

One Israeli told the Washington Post, “The struggle for Palestinian independence is also a struggle for freedom for Israelis.” His statement was no exaggeration, particularly in light of last week’s Knesset law that made it a crime for anyone to call for boycotting the settlements. Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Mideast and North Africa, Philip Luther, said, “Despite proponents’ claims to the contrary, this law is a blatant attempt to stifle peaceful dissent and campaigning by attacking the right to freedom of expression, which all governments must uphold.”

Preserving and expanding settlements requires legislation and behavior that no democratic state can impose while remaining democratic. Holding onto a country called Palestine in defiance of the world and of international law will increase demands outside Israel for the kind of boycotts Israelis themselves will be prohibited from supporting.

As much as I try to see it from Benzi Gruber’s point of view, I suspect that for him to live in Israel and in healthy relations with the Palestinians next door is safer and better than relying on his tanks to keep the Palestinians down. Many people are leaving Israel itself—not in protest, but out of weariness with international isolation, repressive legislation, and the waste of tax money on settlements and armed forces to protect them. Half a million Israelis have the insurance policy of American passports, with another quarter-million applications in the pipeline. Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz that Germany—“of all places”—granted 100,000 passports to Israeli Jews. In one year alone, 650,000 Israelis left the country.

For Israel to survive as a democracy, it should heed the wise words that Giuseppe di Lampedusa put in the mouth of his Prince of Salina in The Leopard. Advising his fellow Sicilians to vote for unification with Italy, he reminded them, “Things will have to change in order that they remain the same.”



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