Truth Commission

7 Adar 5776  Jerusalem   Hanoch Ne’eman (c)

Below is my paper for an assignment for one of my classes at the University this Fall, a class about the International Criminal Court, taught by Dr. Ruti Teitel of NYU Law and Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the former Chief Prosecutor of the ICC.

The Truth Commission

Is there good that can come out of the meeting of the ICC and Israel? As Roy Schondorf noted in his visit to our class, in the space of six years, various groups tried three times to bring Israel to the ICC. I realized later that this ratio is coincidentally the same ratio of times to years that Israel was forced to go to War in Gaza since the withdrawal in 2005 (wars in 2008-9, 2012, and 2014). This is more times than any other country was tried to be brought to the ICC, as Roy said. Of course I find this most sad, and wrong, because I believe Israel is a very moral country in its behavior.

I could spend time outlining where I think the ICC and OTP were legally off-base, such as when, in its November 2014 Report on the Flotilla Episode, it suggested Israel was guilty of willful killing on board the ship.

However, as a Jew and Israeli, what is more important to me than proving I am right, is being understood. And also important to me is that I and my fellow Israelis, as well as others, should understand what our counterparts may be thinking when they relate to us.

Transitional Justice seeks to create a healthier dynamic for coexistence. Understanding is an important element of that dynamic.

Luis Moreno Ocampo (LMO) said that when the Palestinians came to him at the OTP, he proposed a joint Israeli-Palestinian Commission to investigate the issues themselves.

Though that Commission did not take place, in that spirit I propose and attempt here, in the court of our imagination, an Israeli-Palestionian Truth Commission. Its goal and mandate is to help all parties better understand what the other may be thinking. It is authorized to call any and all individuals to appear and give testimony, and its jurisdiction is so wide it is authorized even to call witnesses from the world of the departed.

Serving as mediators will be a tribunal of the three well known legal personages, Luis Moreno Ocampo (LMO), Ruti Teitel (RT), and Robert Howse (RH). The proceedings will be published in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

Call to Order

RH: Please everyone have your seats. Today’s session will deal with the so-called Israeli Security Wall. As is known, this security barrier winds its way through several hundred kilometers of Israeli territory. As is also known, The ICJ issued an advisory opinion in 2004 in which they criticized Israel’s building of the wall.

Mediator: The Court calls to testify Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Mr. Barak, what is your relationship to the Wall?

Barak: Well I ran in 1999 for Prime Minister and one of my campaign slogans was, “Us here, Them over There”.

Mediator: What did you mean by that?

Barak: I meant that we had to separate from the Palestinians, that we had to create a border and each stay on one side of it. This was the position of my mentor, Yitzchak Rabin, as well.

Mediator: So you supported the building of the wall?

Barak: Yes, and later, as Defense Minister I thought we should withdraw all Israeli Jews behind the wall.

Med.: Would anyone like to cross-examine Mr. Barak?

Strauss: Yes, I would. My name is Anita Strauss and I am Jewish woman from Elad. Mr. Barak, where do you live?

Barak: I currently live in Tel Aviv.

Anita: Is it true you sold one of your residences in a Tel Aviv high rise in 2012 for 26.5 million shekels?

Barak: Yes, my wife has done well in the cellular communications business and we have lived in some luxury apartments.

Anita: Do you think all Israelis should live in the Greater Tel Aviv area? Do you think we can all afford it? What do you think of people like me who live in a suburb near the West Bank?

Barak: If you want to live there, that is your choice. I, as a leader of the Labor Party, was a vice-President of the Socialist Internationale, and I have always supported working people.

Mouhmad the Cabbie: I would also like to question Mr. Barak. My name is Mouhmad and I am a Tel Aviv cab driver who lives in the adjacent city of Jaffa.

Barak: Yes, I know Jaffa, I can see it from my penthouse apartment.

Mouhmad: Sir, when you ran for office back in 1999 and your campaign posters were all over the city with that slogan, “Us Here, and Them There”, how do you think that made me feel as an Israeli Arab?

Barak: Well, I wasn’t referring to the Israeli Arabs, I meant the Arabs in the territories.

Mouhmad: Well I have a lot of family and friends in the territories. When you said that, it just made me feel unwelcome and offended. Why did you not propose building a wall between Tel Aviv and Jaffa?

Barak: I do not think that is necessary. And it would make it hard for me to frequent the restaurants I like in Jaffa.

Mediator: The court calls to witness Selawa Zatar, resident of the Arab city of Qulqilya.

Selawa: My town has been under Israeli control since 1967, though local control was handed over to the Palestinian Authority in 1995 under the Oslo Accords. In 2002, Israel started building the Barrier Wall, which now surrounds us on three-plus sides. Our city is known for our Zoo, the largest in the West Bank. But I myself often feel like I am living in a cage. I can’t see the horizon.

Israeli army official: We needed to build that wall because so many attacks were coming out of the city.

Selawa: Listen, I know how the terrorists think. They do not see the Israelis as serious. Do you think they care about sitting in jail? If you would have arrested the families of the terrorists, and kept them in prison or deported them, you would not have had any more attacks. Why did you have to punish all of us, the other residents of Qulqilya?

Day Two: Gaza

Ruti Teitel: Today we will discuss the issue of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza. Israel controlled the Gaza Strip since 1967, and many older Israelis can still remember going there to have their cars repaired. Gaza was controlled by an Egyptian Military government from 1948 to 1967.

Jamall: I used to work in Israel, in the construction industry. We would get up early, while it was still dark, and wait in lines of vehicles to go into Israel to work. This continued some time after the Oslo Accords, but eventually the Israelis started closing the border, out of fear of attacks they said. Our boss in Israel started using foreign workers from Asia.

I joined the Fatah organization because they gave me work. We built tunnels to smuggle weapons into Gaza from Egypt. A lot of the funding came from European donors. I preferred working in Israel, but I did not have many other options or job skills. When the fighting broke out between Fatah and Hamas in 2007, known as the Gaza Battle, my younger brother Ihsan was killed by Hamas. They threw him out a window. I would like to get out of Gaza and take my family to the West Bank or Canada, but I can’t get visas from anyone.

Clerk: The Court calls to the stand Mr. Ariel Sharon, former Prime Minister of Israel.

LMO: Hello, Mr. Sharon. Thank you for joining us today from the Great Beyond, in order to help us try to reach the Truth, if possible.

Sharon: Glad to help Luis.

LMO: When I was CP at the OTP, we had a lot of questions addressed to us regarding Gaza, and Israel’s control of it. Tell me, why, as PM, did you choose to leave Gaza?

Sharon (munching some snacks): Well Luis, I always prided myself on being someone who got things done. That is why both my friends and even enemies nicknamed me “the bulldozer”. When I was Defense Minister during the first war in Lebanon, I felt we had to take Beirut, though I did not exactly make my plans clear to the PM. Anyway, getting back to your Gaza question, the reason I left Gaza was I thought it would give us good political credit with the United States. In fact, my friend the US President George W. Bush gave me a letter, the “Bush Letter” as it is known, on April 14, 2004, in which he said that the United States recognizes that Israel has a right to keep, long-term, many of its major settlement blocks in the West Bank. This letter was a quid pro quo for our withdrawing from Gaza. I thought this was a good deal and wise.

Rob Howse: But Mr. Sharon, President Obama, in his speech at the State Department, said The US does not recognize any Israeli towns in the West Bank as necessarily permanent?

Sharon: Who is President Obama?

Clerk: The Commission calls to the stand Mr. Josef Caper, former resident of the Gush Katif community of Neve Dekalim, on the Gaza Coast.

Josef: I lived in Neve Dekalim for about 18 years. I worked in the fruit packaging plant there. I and my family were evacuated by the Israeli Army in 2004.

LMO: What was your life like there?

Josef: Bucolic, except for the mortars. We loved the warm weather and smell of the sea. Starting in the late 90’s the number of mortar shells fired at us from Gaza steadily increased. We felt abandoned by Israel in many ways; we felt we were protecting the border, but they were not protecting us. We used the mortar shells we collected as garden decorations – a sort of Jewish black humor. When we were evacuated we really felt betrayed. What did it get us? Peace? No, a Hamas government and more attacks.

Kalil: My name is Kalil and I am from the Khan Yunis Refugee Camp, located near Josef’s former town of Neve Dekalim. We always resented the red roofs of the Jewish city nearby. In the camp, most of the families had been there since 1948, when Egyptian radio told us to temporarily flee our homes in Palestine while the Holy Arab Armies drive the Jews into the Sea. We hate the Egyptians too for never letting us move into their country. And here were Jews, not in the Sea but living 2 kilometers from it in their tidy red-roofed homes. We felt like we were used by our fellow Arabs.

Rabbi Sam Miller: I was the Rabbi of Netzarim, another evacuated Gaza Coast Jewish town. I do not blame Kalil for his feeling bitter toward the world. In fact, I think a lot of Arab-Jewish problems are not from politics, but stem from long-term feelings of bitterness. I mean going way back. I think we see that tension already in Biblical times, with Ishmael feeling like the snubbed one. I think many of the Arabs harbor that resentment in their hearts, that feeling that no one wants them, that the only way they can get attention is through being problematic. Ishmael thinks, “Why am I the outcast here? I was born before Issac. I also had a circumcision, when I was thirteen! I have a connection to this land too.” Hagar put Ishmael down to die in the desert, since she did not have water to give him. She went a bow-shot’s distance away, so she would would not have to see him die. Ishmael never forgot that feeling of abandonment, and has often shot a lot of arrows at the world to remind them of it.

Kalil: That is right; we exist! You can’t pretend we don’t. We won’t let you.

Day Three: The West Bank

Shari: I am a resident of the Jewish town of Bet El, just north of the Palestinian city of Ramallah. I moved to Bet El in 1993. Back then, the road to Bet El went through Ramallah. It was before Arial Sharon pushed for building a bypass road around the city for the Jewish motorists. Sometimes the local youth would throw rocks at our cars as we drove home. My husband would sometimes stop, get out, and throw rocks back at them to deter them. Now there are signs around Ramallah saying it is forbidden for Israelis to enter Ramallah as it is under Palestinian Authority control and is dangerous to enter. What type of message do you think that gives to the young Arabs who see it?

Rajiya: My name is Rajiya, and I study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I speak Arabic, English and Hebrew. I come from a village in the West Bank. Sometimes it is hard to go to school because the PA calls a general strike to protest some Arabs getting arrested. I like studying at the University. I am the first woman in my family to go to college. I was offered to study at Birzeit University near Ramallah, but I chose Hebrew U. instead. Birzeit does not even allow Jews from outside Israel to participate in conferences on their campus. I believe in tolerance and don’t want a Palestinian State. I am happy to enjoy civil rights in Israel. My family is from Turkey originally. We came here because we had enough of the Ottoman rule and thought we would be better off under the British. We did not flee in 1948 like many of our neighbors.

Wahida (Rajiya’s neighbor): You are not a real Palestinian.

Rajiya: And what are you? Your family is from Libya.

Wahida: All of this area belongs to the Arabs. Certainly not to these Jews who came here from outside.

Menachem: I live in Bet El. I grew up in New York. I think these two ladies are raising an important point. A point which a lot of Jews don’t appreciate enough either. And that is that there is a difference between National rights and Civil rights. I believe that in the Land of Israel, only the Jewish People has National rights. Meaning, they are the only ones allowed to make a country here. Within that country we welcome non-Jews living here to fully participate in building a beautiful society with us, with full civil rights. That appeal was made in our Declaration of Independence in 1948, and it has stood since then. That’s what my family enjoyed as Jews in America – full civil rights, and we were grateful for that. Especially coming from Czarist Russia where we were denied civil rights. But the Jews in America do not have national rights; they can not, for example, demand the State of New York as a Jewish Homeland.

Akeem: I am an Arab Israeli dentist who currently serves in the Knesset representing an Arab Party. I would like to ask you Menachem, if you know so much about rights, what do you think of the illigal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and its effect on the Palestinian Right to Self-Determination?

Menachem: I disagree with your calling it an illegal occupation. Why should the Jews not occupy their country – just as the French occupy France or the Ukrainians occupy the Ukraine?

Rob Howse: Actually occupation is a technical legal term for when one country takes control over territory of another country during war. That is what happened when Israel occupied the West Bank from Jordan. Occupation is legal in international law. However, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank has gone on for much longer than most other occupations, for example the American occupation of Japan which lasted from 1945 to 1952.

LMO: I was born in 1952.

Jacob: I am an anesthesiologist from the Haifa Medical Center. I would like to just urge everyone to calm down. Regarding Akeem’s question about the Palestinian right to self-determination, I believe that any such claims have to be subject to a rule of reason. What makes a people? Secondly, claims need to take into consideration other claims to the same land. We Jews just have one country where we can make a Jewish State. You are welcome to live here with us, but not take it away from us. There was never a Palestinian State here before, and it is is disingenuous to try to make one now when we have begun our country.

Akeem: Can I have your card? My son is studying anesthesiology in Haifa and is looking for an internship.

Jacob: Well I don’t know. Can my daughter who is a dental assistant work in your clinic in East Jerusalem?

Akeem: Let’s speak privately outside after the hearing.

RT: Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for participating in our truth commission here this week. There are hundreds, or even thousands of more individuals from many places and sides which want to talk. I suggest we break up into smaller groups. Some of the lessons I am hearing from the proceedings here are that there are no magic answers. Palestine – Israel is a region which has been transforming and will continue to transform, and the only thing we can count on to stay constant – is change.

In the field of Transitional Justice we aspire to help societies which have suffered from conflict to find ways to move ahead with some sort of modus vivendi. Recognition of the other’s feelings is an important part of that. When the ancient Israelites lived in Eqypt, before the Exodus, they lived along the Nile. Since then, some say, they have been living in de Nile (denial)! Seriously, … I hope that these commissions can help us all see the picture a little broader, and remember that many different people are going to be living in this region for a while.

LMO: Yes, so let’s all split up into smaller groups and we will meet back here in the Conference Center in two hours! Choa.

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