The Michigan Daily - Monday, March 11, 2002 - 5A
Retired Israeli Air Frc Brigadier General Relik
S Shafir sekrwas the keynote spae t"Israel Under Acdmcthe
Lens: An Conference" part of the Caravan
for Democracy, ropan advocacy g upsponsoring speakers
regarding Israeli democracy. After the conference,
Shafir sat down wit The Michigan Daily for an
exclusive "Interview. Excerpts foill:
By David Enders RS: The bad thing about democracy is
Daily Staff Reporter that things evolve very slowly. The good
thing about it is that if enough people reach
The Michigan Daily: You have called a conclusion or see things my way, if people
what's going on in Israel now a 'sine wave like myself are able to put forward an offer
of violence.' Does this get worse before it which is palatable, then it would create
gets better? pressure on the government. I would think
Relik Shafir: 'Sine wave' in the sense most Israelis - don't ask them tomorrow,
that we are in the high tide part of violence. during this emotional phase - most Israelis
I should expect it will spend itself; at a cer- would be willing to abide by what we talked
tain time, I would expect the Palestinians about - to take down settlement without
and ourselves should revert to different compromising security to a great degree.
types of conflict resolution than killing TMD: How do you view the Israeli
each other. retaliation to the suicide bombings? Is it
TMD: Is there a foreseeable end to the fair?
current violence? RS: Where you stand is where you sit.
RS: I hope the Palestinians will realize That is, if you are a native of Natanya, and
that the Israelis are resolute in their will to you have people blowing up or attacking
live and that violence and terrorism will not you in a coffee shop, you will have a hard
get their ambitions fulfilled. I think the time refraining from retaliation. This is an
Israelis will realize that we should use tac- emotional response that is natural, but it
tics other than military strength. will probably never end, it just brings more
TMD: You said essentially that the rela- animosity. It takes courageous leadership to
tionship between (PLO leader Yasir) offer something else.... Make a trust-build-
Arafat and (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) ing maneuver that will not look like (it was
Sharon is irreparable. What do you do made from) a position of weakness ... that
until there are new leaders? will give the Palestinians a reason to con-
RS: I would say it's difficult at this point trol the terrorism. I hope Arafat will prove
in time to envision a true brinkmanship himself a partner in that. He hasn't proven
between these two individual leaders. That himself that in the past, but we should hope
does not mean they can people as go- we can at least build something with his
betweens, but on a one-to-one level I do not peers.
think they would strike a harmonious tune. TMD: What sort of trust-building steps
TMD: What about the current Arab should be taken?
proposal? Are the 1967 borders some- RS: Sharon recently said we will talk
thing Israel would ever concede to? about a cease fire under fire. In the past he
RS: I think as dialogues go, certainly as said six weeks of complete quiet before sit-
the eastern part of Mediterranean, one does ting down to talk, and then he said seven
not expect to fulfill 100 percent of their days, and then he said he would speak even
wishes. I think the proposal is a good start- though there is violence because he knows
ing point, and I can envision a situation in it is not stopping. He certainly shows signs
which each side gives in to one another on of flexibility Maybe he could make.big-
strategically important points. I can envi- ger step, but he is certainly not as adamant
sion a situation in which both sides are as he was conceptualized before.
equally dissatisfied. I think the 1967 border TMD: Do you think Arafat is capable
is a starting point. of stopping Palestiniatiterrorism in
TMD: Can the Saudi deal be seen as a Israel?
springboard to further negotiations? RS: I think he's afraid of trying. We have
RS: The Saudis have their own agenda, a saying that he has released the tiger from
both on the internal scene and the struggles its cage, and he is riding on the back of the
for power. ... We understand that they have tiger. If he gets off the back of the tiger, he
their own agenda, but I would not use that might be eaten up. It's a good question
it is in the best interest of the western
Israel is a small part of it. They didn't
attack Kuwait because of Israel, they didn't
attack the Iranians because of Israel, they
didn't fire 39 scud missiles at Saudi Arabia
because of Israel, and they didn't in fact
fire 39 scud missiles at Israel because of
Israel, they did it to break up the Arab
coalition. ... If the Iraqis attack Israel, than
I think we will use our prerogative to attack
Iraq in, of course, coordination with the
U.S. at that point in time. Let's hope we
don't get there.
TMD: How would Arafat react to a U.S.
attack on Iraq?
RS: I think at that point in time, he would
refrain from doing something at all. I think
that this is such an obvious mistake. I think
that this now stems from mistakes he has
made in the past year and a half.
TMD: Do you think he would stay neu-
tr al? Since Se pt. 11 he has been very
much endearing himself to the U.S.
RS: I think in the question of Iraq, he
will have a problem being too outspoken for
the Americans, because the perception is
that they danced on the roofs during the last
war. We can at least analyze why they were
happy. I think that he will not want to
against what he sees as the feelings of his
TMD: What about the Yesh Gvul move-
ment - Israeli soldiers are saying 'this is
n ot an issue o f security a nd we d on't
want to be involved.' How does this inter-
nal dissent play out in termst of wvhat
Israel is doing.
RS: Let's put the record straight. About
250 out of 170,000 Israeli reservists have
signed the petition that you have alluded to.
TMD: Criticism of Israel revolves
around it being called a poor democracy,
that it is apartheid, even tyrannical. How
would Israel respond to these criticisms?
RS: I think if you take one of the oldest
democracies in Europe, Muslim girls are
not allowed to go to school with their heads
covered. In Israel, they are much more
respected than they are in (that) European
country, where they speak French. ... Of
course there could be criticisms as there is
in other contries, but there is internal criti-
cism in Israel and it is much stronger than it
is in the outside world. Arabs and other
denominations don't have to sit in different
places on buses or planes or in theaters
such as you might have found in the past in
democracies. Going to court for civil rights
is very easy in Israel, it costs a very small
amount of money.
TMD: How divided are Israelis? What
are the things that people agree on, and
where do the dichotomies begin?
RS: I think all Israelis agree about Israel
being a Jewish democracy and about the
borders of the pre-1967 war. You would
find adhesion to that view at a minimum.
The disagreements go to where would the
border go and how many of the settlements
should come down. There are about six mil-
lion Israelis; you could draw about six mil-
TMD: In terms of college campuses, at
least liberal college campuses, Israel is
painted as the oppressor to the Palestin-
ian oppressed. How do you feel about
calling what Israel is doing an illegal
occupation? First, how do you feel about
calling it an occupation, and second, that
RS: I take the occupation for what it is, it
is an occupation. A lot of Israelis will tell
you that Hebron is the foundation of our
forefathers; that being true, realistically
speaking and practically speaking, it is an
occupation. About the illegality, Israel did
not come to occupy Judea-Sumeria by some
accord, it was a result of the Six Day War,
where we were attacked by the Jordanians
who occupied it before us, and before the
Jordanians occupied that area, the British
occupied that area, and before the British
occupied that area, the Turks occupied it for
several hundred years.
Israel under attack
By Manish Raiji
Daily Assoc. Editorial Page Editor
Israel is suffering.
This sounds odd, given the common percep-
tion of Israel as an aggressor, an occupational-
ist who tramples on the rights of the
Palestinians who desire nothing more than
their land, their autonomy. Certainly a nation
so violent, a nation so vehemently opposed to
its Arab neighbors, a nation whose Jewish her-
itage demands a negation of the rights of other
ethnic and religious peoples cannot be suffer-
ing. After all, Israel is likened to the inter-war
Germany, a surprising reversal of roles. Such a
nation cannot be suffering.
But Israel is suffering. And the perception
that it has gotten - of an evil entity - only
adds to its suffering.
Israelis are suffering not only from terror-
ism, violence and constant fear, but also from
a poor perception in the eyes of various differ-
ent factions. Arab nations in general - and
Palestinians particularly - refuse to even
acknowledge its very existence. In fact, Pales-
tinian textbooks teach children that Israel does
not exist as a state and is instead a remnant of
British imperialism; a gift of land that the
British did, not own in the first place and
therefore did not have the right to give away.
Israel's very statehood is threatened by this
Arab perception. "Israel will not compromise
on its existence," said Relik Shafir, the retired
Brigadier General of the Israeli Air Force.
But this is not cause to lose hope. "Books in
Egypt are not sympathetic to Jews either, and if
you read books from Nazi Germany, or even the
rest of Europe at that time, you see a lot of Anti-
Semitism." The historical perception of Jews
and the current perception of Israel isn't a rea-
son "to discourage us from trying." Israel is
ready for peace - it has been ready for peace
- as long as its own security is guaranteed.
Though the more extreme Arab opposition to
Israel rests on the idea that Israel shouldn't
exist, there are certainly Palestinians who would
accept Israel (with varying degrees of reluc-
tance) if Israel would stop exacerbating the
problem with its presence in the West Bank.
Israel's violent military presence, coupled with
the dispersion of Palestinians from their homes
in order to build Israeli settlements, is certainly
aggravating the seemingly irreparable ties
between Israelis and Palestinians ... right?
"We should set the record straight," says
Shafir. "Essentially all the lands that the settle-
ments are built on were bought off of Palestini-
ans." Though he personally opposes the Israeli
policy of settlement building, he recognizes that
the perception of strong-armed Israeli armed
forces barging into innocent olive trees and
slaughtering Palestinians is simply wrong -
though it does provide for a compelling fable as
to why Palestinians turn to terrorism.
"When the intifada started, it was not
because of a settlement. It started because
Camp David failed. It started because Arafat
thought he could improve his bargaining posi-
tion by resorting to terror." An interesting
political relations sleight of hand is being
played out by Palestinians and Palestinian
supporters - one that is effectively painting
Israel in an unfortunate light.
The perception of Israel in the media has
been impacted by the liberal reflex: If anyone
up by the media as signs of Israel's indiscre-
tions toward Palestinian rights. Another inter-
esting role reversal - Israelis as a whole get
painted as opposed to the idea of a Palestinian
state (even though 90 percent of Israeli citizens
support such a state), while Arabs get painted
as respectful of a two-state compromise (even
though the majority of Arab states and Pales-
tinian people loathe the very idea of Israel). It's
a clever deception, to say the least.
The importance of security is tangible to
Israelis, for whom every goodbye is particular-
ly meaningful - this trip to the grocery store
may very well be your last. The idea that Israel
should negotiate away its strategic safeguards
is absurd-though both sides do, needtos
bend. The West Bank, after the Six-Days War
of 1967, was seen by Israel as "cards for the
bargaining table," according to Shafir. "Unfor-
tunately, for different reasons - mostly the
Arab unwillingness to compromise with us -
we forgot to look at things that way. It took a
full cycle of the violence that we (have been)
at for 30 years for people to realize that these
are bargaining cards." Not exactly a confession
that one reads about - or one that Palestinians
like to hear. It's easy to win the PR war against
a country opposed to negotiations; it's another
thing entirely to win the PR war against a
country who wants nothing more than to nego-
tiate a secure peace.
Besides the perception of Israel amongst
Arabs and amongst the media, Israel is suffer-
ing from its perception on liberal college cam-
puses - including and especially this one.
Terms like apartheid and segregation get
thrown around in the same sentence as Israel.
These pseudo-academic arguments demand
that Israel hold itself to a higher standard of
democracy. Certainly, the argument goes, a
nation where Arab citizens get treated as sec-
ond-class is not worthy of our - the right-
eous, the moral, the educated - support.
"Those who are citing apartheid and so on are
using half truths and a distorted, out of context
picture in order to prove their points. And half
truths are worse than lies." Israel is not a perfect
democracy by any means. But it is not only
unfair to compare Israeli democracy to western
democracies - it is also intellectually dishonest.
Israel is an attacked democracy, one that has
been under attack with only brief moments of
respite for its entire existence. "Democracy is
tested in times of peril," says Shafir.
Israel is certainly not a stellar example of a
democracy; its population is not treated with full
equality. But it has managed to uphold some
semblance of democratic values - above and
beyond its "angelic" neighbors. "The western
media is not really appreciative enough of the
fact that democracy is tested in Israel perhaps
more than anywhere else. I think that perhaps
countries with a less strong democratic back-
ground would curtail news media, reporting, dis-
senting views, whereas in Israel, you can write
anything, say anything; the Arab-Israelis can
speak out loud with anti-Israeli rhetoric, which
they couldn't anywhere else in the Middle East."
Israel is being held not only to a different and
higher standard than its incredibly non-demo-
cratic opposition, but also being held to a differ-
ent and higher standard than democracies at
peace. The debilitating contradiction here
should be self evident to everyone who claims
to be righteous, moral and educated.
"There are about six million Israelis; you could
draw about six million borders."
as a pretext not to take it seriously.
TMD: And what do you think the Saudi
RS: After 54 years of Israel's existence,
they are ready to put their ideas in the cen-
ter of world press, and be subjected to criti-
whether he can do that. Some people say
that not only is he not ready, but that he is
not able to move into a statesmanship posi-
tion and that he is still a warrior, a micro-
TMD: What happens if the U.S. attacks