How many more rallies will it take?

The following speech was delivered at the 22 July 2006 rally organized by Australians for Justice and Peace in Palestine held at Garema Place, Canberra:

How many more rallies are we going to have before world leaders become convinced that there is something very, very wrong with Israel? I, and others like Ilan Pappe and Uri Davis from the Israeli peace movement, have warned the world repeatedly that there is nothing to expect from Israel other than more violence, more aggression, more oppression and more bloodshed. All we can expect is for Israel to continue to go around and around in circles and in the process continue to destroy, kill, maim and traumatise.

As a former Israeli, this whole situation touches me in a very personal way. It brings back memories from 1982 from when I was in the military, when Israel invaded Lebanon the first time, and from my entire 27 years in Israel. It is distressing but not surprising to see that there is nothing new.

When I was at university in Israel at age 25 studying political science, I attended a special forum with the young leaders of the two major parties, Labour and Likud. The Labour people had a plan, they talked about negotiating with the Palestinians and saw a two-state solution as the end goal. It wasn’t perfect but they offered something.

The Likud on the other hand, had nothing. They offered no constructive ideas about how to deal with the occupation and the conflict with the Palestinian people, and they wouldn’t even consider the idea of a two-state solution. They believed — and still do — in a philosophy of greater Israel, which means that apart from Gaza, they want it all. I walked away from this forum with a depressed feeling, realising that the only future the Likud party was offering us was of a life by the sword forever. It was the prospect of this bleak future that helped me make up my mind to leave Israel for good.

And Israel’s rightists has been nothing but consistent. They have kept their word. A two-state solution is not on the agenda now, and never will be. The aims are simple and clear. They want to eliminate the ‘Palestinian problem’ by breaking Palestinian resistance once and for all. This is their grand plan, this is as far as their vision extends. This is what the invasion of Lebanon was about in 1982, and the present invasion is more of the same.

Israelis think only about the discomfort that the Palestinian liberation movement is causing Israel. They are not interested in looking at the real reason for it, which is of course the occupation. I know that the Likud party is not the one in power at the moment, but the party that Ariel Sharon created just before he had his stroke was another Likud with a different name. We are dealing with the exact same people and exactly the same mentality and politics. Perhaps Sharon thought that by creating a new party he could con world leaders into believing that he intends to deal with the Palestinian issue constructively. Well, it appears that he succeeded. The fact that the world indulged Sharon and legitimised him, treating a full-fledged war-criminal as if he is a ‘man of peace’, was always beyond my comprehension.

When the Germans occupied France during the second World War, they called the French resistance ‘terrorists’ and they treated them as such. The rest of the world saw them then, and still sees them now, as heroic freedom fighters. Did they do bad things? Of course they did.

I don’t condone violence of any kind, but when you take away the hope of an occupied people, when you give them no other choice, when you play psychological games with them, when you make them realise that they are trapped indefinitely under a power that they are no match for, when they have little or no support from anyone else in the world, they will try to empower themselves in any way they can. One of these ways is the way of extremism and violence.

Why are people surprised that violence breeds violence? It is simple and basic human psychology that trauma breeds trauma. You only have to look at Israel itself. The violent and paranoid state of Israel is a direct product of Jewish trauma. A traumatised people that refuses to heal does not have what it takes to create a peace-loving and friendly state.

Israel’s actions in the past and the present have created and nurtured Palestinian resistance, some of which resorts to violence. There is a massive non-violent resistance movement in Palestine that we never get to hear about. Israel hopes that their own violence will eventually lead to submission, but where the human spirit is alive, it will try to resist. However, with enough killed and traumatised, and with enough power and violence, it is possible to break the spirit of even the most resilient human beings. This is the future we can look forward to if we leave things in Israel’s hands. I have been so impressed with the courage of the Palestinians and how they refuse to give up. Israel on the other hand, is not impressed — it is just pissed off.

Israel, and quite frankly the rest of the Western world, has only themselves to blame if Hizbolla turns to countries like Iran and Syria for support. When no one else even listens to you, let alone support you, you do your best to find someone who will. What else are you supposed to do? Just lie there and die? I honestly believe this is what the Israelis really want the Palestinians to do. They just want them to stop being a problem, somehow disappear. And don’t buy Israel’s line that it is so-called terrorism they object to. Israel has been doing everything it can, systematically, to destroy Palestinian identity and resistance in all its forms. Israel controls what they teach in Palestinian schools in Israel, it even controls the appointment of teachers. Palestinians are not allowed to teach or learn their own history, not allowed to celebrate it. Teachers or students that go against this get dobbed in and arrested. Israel has been destroying cultural centres, schools and universities, anywhere where Palestinian identity is kept alive.

There is a sinister war going on under the surface, below the levels of bombs and obvious violence, below what the world can easily see on TV screens. Palestinian identity and spirit are tied to the land and Israelis know it. Since they want all the Palestinians to leave and give up their land, they need to destroy the spirit that connects and binds them to it. The Palestinians have always known that they are fighting for their very soul, not just their physical survival. It’s time that the world realises it too.

There is a sinister war going on under the surface, below the levels of bombs and obvious violence, below what the world can easily see on TV screens. Palestinian identity and spirit are tied to the land and Israelis know it. Since they want all the Palestinians to leave and give up their land, they need to destroy the spirit that connects and binds them to it. The Palestinians have always known that they are fighting for their very soul, not just their physical survival. It’s time that the world realises it too.

I have said repeatedly in the past that it is psychology not politics that we are dealing with in this conflict, wishful thinking and fantasies rather than a serious, pragmatic approach. Israel has no solution and no constructive goals. They will drag this on for as long as the world will allow, for as long as the Palestinians still have any spirit left and for as long as there are large enough numbers of Palestinians left in Palestine.

Negotiations won’t work. For true dialogue both partners have to have equal power. Otherwise, the more powerful partner will use the so-called dialogue to strengthen their control and humiliation of the weaker side. To simply ask the Israelis to stop out of compassion won’t work either. To ask Israelis to empathise with the suffering they are causing to the Palestinians every day and every moment is pointless and irresponsible. Can a perpetrator really empathise with the pain he or she is inflicting on their victim? I don’t think so. If they could, they would have stopped the abuse already. Israelis have always been careless with the lives of Palestinians, and since 1982, also with the lives of Lebanese citizens. I can tell you as a former Israeli and a woman of Jewish background, that Israelis honestly believe Jewish blood to be more precious than anyone else’s. The policy of ‘ten of them for every one of us’ is not new, I grew up with it. And if there is a hierarchy of a sort in the mind of Israelis, the Palestinians are at the very bottom of the ladder.

Don’t let Israelis bluff you into believing that they are the only democracy in the Middle East, or that they are an innocent, peace-loving country. They are as democratic and as peace-loving as the old South Africa was with its Apartheid. Israel’s actions since 1948 have not been consistent with a peace-loving mentality. Israeli society is profoundly paranoid and racist. You cannot negotiate with someone who sees reality in a crazy way. Even in counselling, my profession, you don’t placate or empathise with the actions of a perpetrator. You confront the perpetrator. You try to get him/her to take responsibility but even before you do that, you do everything in your power to protect their victim.

All perpetrators insist that they are the real victim. How long will the world buy the victim act from a country that has always been the most powerful in the region, that is armed to the teeth, that controls every aspect of the situation? Why is Israel treated as if it is a reasonable country? What reasonable country keeps an entire people under occupation and terrible military, economic and cultural control for decades without a solution in sight? Whose interests does it serve to allow Israel to continue its out of control genocidal behaviour? Why doesn’t the suffering of the Palestinians matter?

And Australia? Australia is supporting the wrong side in this conflict. Why? Whose interests does it serve?

How many more rallies will it take, how many more lives lost and destroyed before the world wakes up to reality and starts to act?

I call for sanctions against Israel to force them to stop the occupation, and I call for immediate international intervention to save the lives of Palestinians and of Lebanese people.

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Avigail Abarbanel is a former Jewish citizen of Israel. She is a psychotherapist/counsellor in private practice in Canberra Australia. She is an activist for Palestinian rights, a supporter of a one-state solution and the Canberra (Australia) Director of the international human rights organisation, Deir Yassin Remembered