Mideast Turmoil Produces Calls for Israel to Move toward Peace with the Palestinians

Article excerpt

The current turmoil in the Middle East has produced calls for Israel to move toward peace with the Palestinians and withdraw from the occupied West Bank, and for the creation of a viable Palestinian state. These calls have come from many long-time friends and supporters of Israel.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal March 1, Andre Aciman, who teaches comparative literature at the City University of New York and is the author ofOut of Egypt: A Memoir, noted that, "Israel...cannot afford to wait and see which way the wind blows as rebellion sweeps through the Middle East. Rather, it should seize the moment and show that it can bring about changes as momentous as those witnessed elsewhere in the region today. That means striking an honorable deal with the Palestinians, vacating areas whose occupation is unjustifiable and allowing the Palestinians to have a country with a capital Israel learns to share. Israel must show its Arab neighbors that it can up the ante on their revolution and produce the long-awaited miracle of peace in the Middle East."

At J Street's February conference in Washington, DC, Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy emphasized that "The hatred of Israel will not end until you start treating Palestinians with freedom and dignity. This is the time for Israel to sit down and make concrete concessions."

Even before the recent and historic Arab uprisings, however, criticism of Israel's role in the West Bank and Gaza had been growing on the part of many thoughtful Jewish observers.

Toward the end of 2010, a small book by a 93-year-old man unexpectedly reached the top of the best seller list in France. Indignez-vous ("Time for Outrage!") by Stéphane Hessel sold more than 600,000 copies between October and the end of December.

Hessel has lived an extraordinary life. His father, Franz Hessel, was a German Jewish writer who emigrated to France with his family in 1924. The younger Hessel served in the French army during the Battle of France and became a prisoner of war. Following his escape from a POW camp, he joined Gen. Charles de Gaulle and the Free French resistance. He parachuted into occupied France in advance of the Allied invasion of 1944 to organize Resistance networks. The Gestapo captured and tortured him. He was transported to Buchenwald and Dora concentration camps-then, while being transferred to Bergen-Belsen, escaped.

After the war, Hessel became a diplomat and was involved, along with Eleanor Roosevelt, in drafting the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He received the 2008 UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of Culture and Human Rights. His book is a testament to his belief in the universality of rights, as his defense of Palestinians under Israeli occupation and of illegal immigrants in France attests.

Regarding current violations of human rights, Hessel writes: "Today, my strongest feelings of indignation is over Palestine, both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The starting point of my outrage was the appeal launched by courageous Israelis to the Diaspora: you, our older siblings, come and see where our leaders are taking this country and how they are forgetting the fundamental human values of Judaism. I went to Gaza and the West Bank in 2002, then five more times until 2009. It is absolutely imperative to read Richard Goldstone's report of September 2009 on Gaza, in which the South African judge, himself Jewish, in fact a self-proclaimed Zionist, accuses the Israeli army of having committed 'actions amounting to war crimes, possibly crimes against humanity' during its three-week 'Operation Cast Lead.' I went to Gaza in 2009 in order to see with my own eyes what this report described."

Hessel and his wife also visited the Palestinian refugee camps established after 1948 by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, where more than three million Palestinians live-the descendants over the past 40 years of the 750,000 driven from their homes, first in l948-9, then in l967. …

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