Page last updated at 10:03 GMT, Monday, 16 February 2009

Jerusalem Diary: 16 February

Talia Sasson
Talia Sasson acknowledges that left-wing Zionism is fighting the tide of history

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem


"The thing about Israelis," said Oron - and then paused, as he searched for the right words.

He was helping pack the wine that I had just bought from his shop close to the Jaffa Street.

It was two days after the election. Oron had voted Labour. His vote had helped the Labour party to limp to 13 seats - barely one-in-10 of the Knesset.

He picked up: "The thing about Israelis is: they like to slaughter sacred cows."

Labour used to be one of Israel's most sacred cows. When it was a group known as Mapai, it won every election from Israel's establishment until 1969.

In this election, it was knocked into fourth place, behind the hard-right Yisrael Beiteinu party.

But the numbers do not tell the entire story. Some Israelis are questioning whether the left exists at all.

Labour's leader, Ehud Barak, prosecuted the war in Gaza, as defence minister. He is reported to have offered to build a large new settlement in occupied territory to house settlers from Migron, the biggest unauthorised outpost (illegal even under Israeli law) in the West Bank.

I think there is some historical process that we can't change... I'm not sure we have anyone brave enough to challenge the stupidity
Talia Sasson, Meretz party
It was four years ago next month that Talia Sasson wrote her report on unauthorised outposts. She was a government lawyer, and was commissioned to investigate the issue by the then Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon.

Her report detailed how Israel's officials actively colluded in the establishment of dozens of outposts across the West Bank.

We met for a coffee, on a bright morning, in a cafe across the street from the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem.

It was three days after the election. Talia Sasson, no longer a civil servant, had stood for the small left-wing Meretz party.

She had not been elected: she was seventh on the list, and Meretz had ended up with a measly three seats.

Was there a way for the left to clamber out of the hole? Or had Israel simply moved on, and away?

Time and again, Talia Sasson took refuge in what she believed was the iron logic of removing settlements from the occupied territories.

"I think that the one which is not Zionist is the right-wing," she insisted.

"Because where they take Israel to is to a single bi-national state."

But how does the left end up not just talking to itself? There was a long pause. Listening back to my recording of our conversation, the silence lasted for a painful 12 seconds.

Eventually: "I think there is some historical process that we can't change," she said, quietly. And then, later: "I'm not sure we have anyone brave enough to challenge the stupidity."

Talia Sasson said she did not know whether she was cut out for politics.

This was her first campaign, at the age of 57. As it is, she is still living with the threats and the intimidation which followed the publication of her report into outposts. But she says she also fears that time is running out for Israel.

A couple of miles away, in the wine shop, Oron takes a more relaxed approach, perhaps built on the patience of someone used to leaving bottles in a cellar.

"Israel will come to its senses," he says. "Maybe in about 200 years."

Here is a selection of your thoughts on Tim Franks' diary:

The continued illegal settlements will increasingly cost Israel the goodwill of the world. The day is soon approaching when their actions will be seen by all except a very narrow minority for what they really are; racist policies similar to apartheid and enforced ghettoization.
Rob, Seattle, US

Arabs must come to terms with the fact, that just because they invaded Israel 700 years ago, doesn't give them the right to exclude Jews from any single part of the tiny but holy land to which the Jews have the right. There is nothing wrong if Arabs want to live there as righteous people, but they must forget this nonsense of trying to exclude the Jews who have lived in Israel uninterrupted for 4000 years. The proof: Israel and Jerusalem and Be'er Sheva and Hevron and Kiriat Arba and many other places in Israel are quoted continuously in the holy Torah. Where in the Qu'uran does it mention Palestinians or Jerusalem? God created the world, and he gave Israel to the Jews.
Allon, London

Israel voted for the peace process, just one anchored in reality, not the Madrid conference, the "window for peace" just after we were prevented from reacting to Iraqi missiles because that would destroy the coalition, not the myths of Oslo based on some mythic love affair with an enemy which made no concessions and expected us to accept the victims of peace as its negotiating tactic, but a peace based in hard reality, more like a divorce from people who can't abide us and our sympathy for whom has been bombed out of existence.
Miche Norman, Hod Hasharon Israel

Ahmadinejad said: Israel should be wiped out. Everybody knows there is not any possibility of realization for such ridiculous words. Palestinian could not be wiped out either. A two-state solution did not work; a three-state will not work either. But a single bi-national state had worked for centuries; I can not understand why it should not work now
Hasan Hamoon, Tehran/Iran

I am always amused by comments such as Ibrahim's and Aristide Atlass's which object to Israel existing as a predominantly Jewish state but probably have no objections to Pakistan, which was at the same time created by partition as a Muslim state. The creation of Pakistan caused far more refugees. Those who object to Israel as some sort of colonial state, conveniently overlook the fact that there was a sizeable Jewish population in Israel in 1948 on land that was bought and the number of Palestinian refugees was matched by a similar number of Jewish refugees who had lived in Arab countries (including large sections of my mother's family). The refugee problem in its current form would probably have never happened if the Arabs had accepted the partition plans. I believe in a two state solution, but that will take compromises on both sides.
Jeremy Woolf, London UK

There is no such thing as leftist policies in Israel when they relate to the Palestinian, the non-Jew, the "gentile". Leftist Zionism is an oxymoron. It is an ideology that competes with the "right" in promoting racism and discrimination. There are great Israeli thinkers, activists, and ex-politicians who are now ex-Zionists promoting a one binational state. That is the vision of the future any true Israeli left should embrace and work to uphold.
Rabie, Beirut, Lebanon

It seems to me that people have a very short memory. Several posts called the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza strip a compromise! Guess what? Their occupation of the Gaza strip was illegal in the first place (according to international consensus indicated by the yearly security council vote on the issue). And for Israel to stop some of its illegal activities is NOT a compromise.
Muayad, New York

My late Grandfather was a Zionist, and he wasn't a religious person or a racist. He left Lithuania in 1928, and came to the Land of Israel. Sometimes I'm thankful that he cannot see how some people have managed to destroy this country. I'm only 23, and I feel there is no hope. People (both Israelis and Palestinians) are blinded by hate and fear, and the future seems bleak. In Israel, like in South Africa, that is still trying to overcome the effects of Apartheid, mending the damage that years of occupation, intolerance and hate have caused, is going to take a very long time. But right now, the hard thing to do is to get to the point where people in Israel see that change is needed.
Iris Theys, Tel Aviv/ Cape Town

Politics here in Israel, on both sides of the divide, are profoundly influenced by the non-negotiable demands of the prevailing religions: Islam and Judaism. That explains Sasson's perceptive remark, after 12 seconds of silence, that "there is some historical process that we can't change". Perhaps this also explains why, to those who live in the UK, where 'religion' has almost disappeared from the public realm, the situation here is so unfathomable. Only by paying attention to the end-time beliefs of Judaism and Islam will the spiritual tensions be understood and the limits of politics become clear.
Yochanan Ben-Daniel, Jerusalem

After Israel disengaged from Gaza in August 2005 making 9,000 Jews homeless, Hamas and its followers transformed Gaza from an agricultural paradise, where the best herbs and flowers were grown and exported, to a launch pad for Qassam missiles. The people of Sderot, Israel have been living in their air raid shelters for years and people are sick of it. That prompted the war in Gaza. Because of all this Israelis are leaning away from left wing policies and are seeking a government who will lead the way in keeping the Israeli people safe and secure.
Nicolette, NW London/Tel Aviv

Ms. Sasson is correct in understanding that Zionism cannot be right wing. The question of security rests in mutual need not mutual hate. The outposts do not represent mutual need. When Israelis no longer receives unfettered support from the US, their attitude will change. To drop 40,000 lbs of munitions on the Gaza Strip in a week is not cheap.
Carl Maas, Seattle, WA, USA

Since 1977 Israeli governments have built more and more settlements and - crucially - have humiliated the "moderate" Palestinian leadership. This was a cynical strategy to achieve the result that we all now see, namely, an enraged, Islamicist Palestinian leadership that really DOES want to exterminate Israel.

So now, Yisrael Beitanu, "Bibi" Netanyahu and the settlers can smile and say "See? We don't have anyone reasonable to negotiate with". But they never WANTED to negotiate seriously, in the first place. They wanted dominance by force and settlements, all financed by the US. As a friend of a democratic, Jewish Israel, I despair for what has become of the country I once knew.
The Angry Left, Toronto, Canada

A few generations lived with the illusion that Zionism could be conciliated with humanism and progressive ideals. Time has passed, and the truth is obvious. Zionism is a variation of colonialism, mixed with racism, and religious intolerance. Through a "God given" justification, a religious group claimed the right to conquer a territory and expel the majority of its inhabitants. The bet was that Palestinians would merge with populations in surrounding Arab countries. Zionism has lost that bet, and can only survive now through ongoing military oppression. Israeli voters are right: the survival of the Jewish state in Palestine requires iron fist and state terror.
Aristide Atlass, Brussels, Belgium

The reason the Left has become irrelevant in Israel is that time has proven their strategies to be wrong. It's all very well to have a desire for "peace", and the theory of "land for peace" works with certain other countries (e.g., it's worked with Egypt). However, with the Palestinians, all compromises and withdrawals have led to only more terrorism. Gaza has proven that. Unfortunately, Israel can only depend on force to survive in this uncompromising hostile environment, just as has always been the case in 1948.
David Sherman, Toronto, Canada

Zionism itself should be in question. The practice of taking someone else's land, removing the indigenous population and replacing them with immigrant settlers is not one we should be supporting. The people who have been forced out of their homes must be allowed to return. It is not the left nor the right wing that are keeping out these people, it is Zionists who want a Jewish state whatever the cost, even if the cost is morality and international law.

The ideas peddled by Ms. Sasson and the Israeli left have been given 20+ years to work. Sadly, they have only led to more conflict. It seems to be endemic to Israel's left to carp about democracy only when it suits their needs. When the democratic will of the Israeli electorate is expressed, it's chalked up to "stupidity". What, exactly, are you saying Ms. Sasson? Perhaps Israel should be run by a small group of enlightened leftists who know better than us stupid Israelis what is good for our country?
David Scott, Jerusalem, Israel

The people here encountered endless violence as a response to peace. Israel withdrew from Gush Katif (in Gaza area) and yet Terror followed. Israel compromised on many principals down the years but the Palestinian side is still demanding the same thing: the elimination of Israel.
Tal Kopel, Shoam, Israel

Compromise , Concession and Dialogue have been the mantra of the left, and it's Labour party. It sounds noble and all, but in the face of aggressive dogma and murderous ideologues, it is supremely naive, and finally the majority of Jews are returning to the realities of Ben Gurion and Golda, with the cries of "No More".
Thomas Watkins, Benton, Illinois, USA

There is a saying in the US: "Better to be tried by 12 (jury members) than carried by 6 (pall bearers)". I do not think that that is a stupid attitude. That is what the Israel voters have chosen. Leftist policies from Oslo on have resulted in far more dead Israelis (and Arabs, by the way), by giving the terrorists the ability to strike from close up instead of from Tunis. Leftist policies promoted by the international community have been shown to be dangerously flawed in the extreme. I think it is the Israeli Left that is stupid or suicidal. Instead of trying to defeat the terrorists, they give them or their brothers lethal weapons and the chance to use them!
Israel Dalven, Emanuel, Israel

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