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Israeli Peace Activist Speaks At U-m

Israeli Peace Activist Speaks At U-m image Israeli Peace Activist Speaks At U-m image Israeli Peace Activist Speaks At U-m image
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Month
October
Year
1986
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Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
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Agenda Publications
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ANN ARBOR- On September 15, Israeli peace activist Gideon Spiro spoke to a packed conference room in the Rackham Building on the University of Michigan campus. According to opening remarks by Deborah Ehrlich of the New Jewish Agenda, one of the sponsors of the event, Gideon Spiro was formerly a paratrooper in the Israeli Army who fought in 1956, 1967, and 1973. In 1982, he decided that Israel's invasión of Lebanon was unnacceptable and refused to serve. He was one of the founding members of Yesh Gvul, an organization of reserve soldiers who refused to fight in Lebanon. Most recently, in April of this year, he was found guilty of public criticism of Israeli policy. As a result of the verdict he was fired f rom his 13-year job at the Ministry of Education, lost his entire pension, and is prohibited from returning to a government pos'rtion forfive years. The case is the first of its kind in the Israeli state and is based on a 1959 law aimed at preventing government employees from criticizing the government. The charge s based on some publications, including nine letters to the editor which he sent to Israeli newspapers. In the letters he expressed criticism of the Israeli invasión of Lebanon and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The case is being appealed to Israel's Supreme Court. Spiro has been to the United States a number of times before this trip. In 1967-68, he was a correspondent for the Israeli newspaper, "Al HaMishmar." In 1972, he came on a lecture tour sponsored by the B'nai Brith Hillel Foundation. He was brought to the country then, as now, because he is a major peace activist. He has been very active in the Israeli peace movement through the years. Today, he is a spokesman for the "Committee Confronting the Iron Fist." Gideon Spiro: First of all I would like to emphasize that my English is not Shakespearean English. It is Israeli English. You might hear a lot of mistakes, but I ask you to concéntrate on the content of my words and not on the grammatical mistakes. I hope I will convey my message in an understandable way. I prefer the question and answer system because I believe that by answering questions you can uncover the subject which is better than having a monologue which some people might feel is boring. So, I would really like to make some short opening remarks, then I hope that questions and answers will cover the rest. I want to emphasize that even though my colleagues and I are labled often by other Israelis as "Arab lovers," which is today quite a curse in the Israeli language. I consider myself an Israeli patriot who would like to see his country live in peace and (see SPIRO, page 10) Israel i Peace Activist speaks at U-M (continued from page on e) and harmony n the Middle East. Secondly, I would like to emphasize that universal values, humanist values, democratie values, should be applied equally in every country. Jewish oppression should not be judged differently than any other oppression in any other place in ■the world. As an Israeli who has democratie values, and humanist values, an Israeli who takes seriously the international universal declaration of human rights, I believe that if my country - the government of my country - is wrong, it is my duty to protest and to speak out against it. And since the government of my country is controlling another people for twenty years and there is one and one-half million people who don't enjoy the same civil rights enumerated I still enjoy, I think it is my duty to speak out against it as it is my duty to speak out against every oppression which occurs everywhere in the world. I protest the neglecting of the human rights of the Palestinians in the Middle East and I protest against the oppression and the neglecting of human rights in South America, in the Soviet Union, in Syria, wherever it takes place. I don't think Israel has a special place. Israel should be judged under the same criteria as any other state and government in the world. I believe that the present course of the Israeli government is a collision course which might bring it to catastrophe which will be disastrous not only to Israel but to the whole Middle East. Israel is a nuclear power. Israel is the only country in the world who has nuclear weapons, is engaged in an active military conflict, and did not sign a non-proliferation treaty. I am afraid that the nuclear race in the Middle East, will with time, break the Israeli nuclear monopoly and it is only a question of time until one of the neighboring countries will have an atom bomb.This is a matter which every human being should be worried about because the Middle East is today the only place in the world which faces the danger of a nuclear conflict. I believe that Israel can live in the Middle East only if in peace with its neighbors. An eternal war is a disaster. We cannot fight the Arab world forever. And I believe that to finish the war in the Middle East, there must be negotiations between enemies. This is the wisdom which, unfortunately, a large number of Israelis don't understand, including the Israeli government. In order to finish the conflict you have to negotiate with your enemy. You don't have to like him. You don't have to love him, but you cannot appoint the leaders of your enemy. You have to negotiate. The United States understood after a long involvement in Vietnam, that if the conflict is to be ended you have to sit with your enemy who was killing you, and while he was killing you. That's the reason that finally the United States sat with North Vietnam and with the Viet Cong and negotiated. And finally the French, after a long war with Algeria which caused over one million casualtles, understood that if she wants to stop the war, she has to sit with the enemy and negotiate. The Israeli refusal policy to negotiate with the enemy is, in my judgement, disastrous n the long run. In Israel there is now a generation which was born during the occupation. Twenty years of occupation has left a very ugly mark on Israeli society. People who are born today to their adversaries dont know anything else but the situation where 1.2 million Palestinians are living under military rule and don't enjoy civil human rights. I don't love the Palestinians, but I dont hate them. I only believe that they have the same rights as I have, not more and not less. And therefore I advocate that we should negotiate with them. I advocate that his rights should be recognized as well as my rights should be recognized. I fear that a continuous occupation, which has already brought a dangerous wave of racism in Israeli society, which has transformed a sizeable part of Israeli society to a colonial society, might bring to an end the Israeli democracy which exists today for Jews only. Me and my friends, we believe that Israel should withdraw from the East-West conflict. We believe that Israel should not play any role of assisting oppressive regimes around the world, that Israel should come back to its natural size of a small country of four million people (which is a very respectable size of a country). But it has its limits. I think it is very important that everybody should know these limits. For twenty years Israel has been pursuing a policy of guns and butter and it is possible because Israel is the most heavily financed country in the world. We are getting this year a $5 billion grant from the United States. And if you take $5 billion from the United States, you can in the same year invade Lebanon, and have 800,000 Israelis go abroad for a journey. So you have a war and la dolce vita side-byside. The question is, is there a chance for a change as long as this dual policy can continue? H s important to have aid from other countries, but for the well-being of the people, for economie controls, for social improvement, not for the build-up of a huge military machine which is far beyond the defense needs of the country. We believe that the way to peace in the Middle East could be decided not only in the Middle East, but since Israel is actually the 51 st state of the United States, t will be very much decided here as well. The Washington Post put it very accurately a few months ago when they published a series of articles about Israel. The journalist who wrote it said that Israel is the only state of the United States which has the support of all 1 00 senators. There is something which bothers me: How come the politicians in the United States differ on so many subjeets, liberáis and conservatives who are from different positions on many many things, how come that when it comes to Israel they compete with each other over who will give more support to Israeli refusal policy or peace? Senator Kennedy, who is a liberal, and Senator Helms, who is a conservative, have a lot of discussion among themselves, on a lot of issues, but both of them come with strong support for Israeli policy which refuses to negotiate with ts enemy. I have to admit that as an outsider I don't have an answer. This is a puzzle and maybe you can help me to solve it. But as an Israeli who lives in the Middle East, an Israeli who will have to pay the price of the future wars, I feel it s my duty to do whatever I can in order to direct the present disastrous course to a different one which will lead us to peace. This is actually the main reason why I am here in the United States, to try and convince more and more Americans that they should give a hand to the Israeli peace movement. Q. Frequent critidsm of a negotiated resettlement of occupied territories being returned to Arab control is that the area before 1967 would be too narrow to be secure from any attack from Arabs that weren't satisfied with the agreement. I was wondering if the speaker could comment on the security if Israel returned to its pre-1 967 borders? A. In Israel you can find generáis who will swear that Israel, under the 4th of June borders of '67, one day before the Six Day War started, was not defensible. It is all a question of your political beliefs to find an answer to this question. I believe that the only secure border is a peace border. Every border which is a war border is not secure. That'snumberone. Number two, in '67 Israel had compared to today a very small army. I think it was a thin army - and now it is muscles. But t was far from being as big as it is today. Today we have a huge big army: super-duper modern (as we ■tay in say in Hebrew). We have a larger army, I think, than Britain because of our reserve system. And we have the most modern weapons possible. Even though, in '67 Israel won a war on three fronts with a small army, it lost a war on one front against guerilla fighters in Lebanon with a huge army, a HUGE army. The army which invaded Lebanon was greater than the army which fought the Six Day War. And we lost. Another example is in the 73 war. In 73, the war started on what is in Israel considered the most defensible borders. It was quite a setback to us. We paid a very heavy price in the Yom Kippur War. And the army of the Yom Kippur War was much bigger than the army of the Six Day War. And I am afraid that the next war will be still more disastrous because now there is a very very strong build-up of the Syrian army. And they are seeking what Assad is calling "strategie balance" with Israel. And he is already today able to muster a large number of missiles which can reach Tel Aviv and Haifa. So I am afraid that the next war will be the first war in Israel which will have very heavy civilian losses. So we will destroy Damascus too. But they will destroy half of Tel Aviv and a third of Haifa and who knows what else. And after this war, I am afraid, Israel will give up what t is unwilling to give up Now to remind you that before the Yom Kippur War there was a United Nations ambassador, a Swedish diplomat, who was shuttling in the area to try to negotiate peace. In 72, he was travelling between Cairo and Jerusalem, and he succeeded to bring a declaration from Sadat that if Israel will withdraw from the whole Sinai, Egypt will conclude peace with Israel. Golda Meier, who in those days was Israel's Prime Minister, said "Never!" Israel will not withdraw to the borders of '67, because Israel already started to build settlements on the Sinai and because the Sinai became already a part which Israel was very interested in. It was a place for military maneuvers, it was a place for Israeli tourism (the wonderful shores of the Sinai), it was oil. So we said "never" but of course the reason was defense: This is the only defensible border.' So we fought the Egyptians, actually, to wage a war - in order to break the paralyzed situation. And the Egytians proved to the Israelis that those are primitive dreams - that always for the next 100 years every war will be a journey like the Six Day War- the Egytians proved that they have the capacity to study, to learn from their own mistakes, to improve, and we saw the results after six years. Israel believed that after the Six Day War the Arabs would not recover for the next 100 years. So this 73 War was a terrible shock to the Israelis because it In order to finish the conflict you have to negotiate with your enemy. You don't have to like him. You don't have to love him, but you cannot appoint the leaders of your enemy. You have to negotiate. was completely against their assumption about the capacity of the Arab armies. After the Yom Kippur War, with 3,000 Israeüs killed- 3,000 Israelis killed mind you is comparable to over a half a million casuahies in the Vietnam War for the Americans, and I think that America had 40,000 and look what it caused here in the United States. With 3,000 killed, close to 10,000 wounded, this was a terrible shock to the Israeli future. After the Yom Kippur War, finally the Israelis gave up the Sinai. So I try now to teil the Israelis: "Learn from your own history. Don't repeat the same mistakes. Dont wage a terrible war against Syria and then give back the Golan Heights. Lets negotiate now. Lets at least declare that you are ready to negotiate." So, "defensible borders" is a very tricky expression. Every General and every politician can play with it the way he wants. I believe that Israel, with the borders of the 4th of June, living in peace with its neighbors, is the most secure borders possible under present circumstances. Q. First of all, I want to say welcome to Ann Arbor. The first part of the question, actually a comment, concerns the actual peace that we have with Egypt right now. When Israel made peace negotiations with Egypt, we expected a two way peace. In other words, Egyptian tourists would be able to come to Israel, Israeli tourists would be able to go to Egypt, and people could travel in the Sinai and the Southern part of Israel without being afraid. It has become a sort of one way peace. Israelis go to Egypt and visit, but Egyptians dont come to Israel. There have not beer the cultural exchanges that we all expected and it has been a sort of a cold peace. And I remind you that almost a year ago seven Israelis were massacred by an Egyptian soldier that supposedly went crazy. The question I want to address is that here we are talking about negotiations with our enemy, but a week and a half ago the so called represetatives of the Palestinian people on the West Bank and all over the world, the PLO, claimed responsibility for the murder of 21 people who were praying in a synogogue in Istanbul. I would like to pose a question to you asking how can we negotiate with a people such as the PLO, that represents the views of the Palestinian people in the West Bank, and here they go and murder 21 innocent people who were not even living in Israel and who were not living in occupied terr'rtories? How are we, without them even recognizing the right to existence of the State of Israel, how can we negotiate with a terrorist organization and why should we have to go to them without them even recognizing the right of Israel to exist? A. I want to thank you for your question. It is a very important question. As you can imagine I was shocked about another human being involved in a massacre. Q. And your Arab friends, were they shocked too? A. I don't speak in the name of my Arab friends, only in my name. I dont know what my Arab friends are thinking about every problem but I can teil you that I met a lot of Arabs - because I was out of Israel a few weeks - so when the massacre occured I was already abroad. So I met in Germany, and in Holland, and now here, a number Arabs and all of them - all of them - were shocked by the massacre in Istanbul. Q. In public? A. I want to make one thing clear. I am not a representativo of any Palestinian organization and I am speaking as an Israeli citizen where there I have my share. So I am trying to teil you what my reaction was. Since you have asked the question whether my Arab frionds have expressed sorrow and shock, my answer s yes, they expressed it. Not everyone of my friends is a public figure, so I dont know what they did in public. To me, they expressed their sorrow. And I can teil you something else which you might find interesting. I was talking in front of a group a few days ago in Milwaukee. Among this group were Arabs and the chairman of the committee asked everybody to stand silent for one minute to memorialize the victims of the massacre in Istanbul and not one Arab demonstrated against it. This just for the record. But again, you are not going to hear from me one word of defense f an Arab, any Arab, or any human being, expresses joy at this massacre. First of all I want to teil you that I was shocked like any human being and I want to teil you another fact. I just recently carne back from Auschwitz. I visited Poland, and I visited Auschwitz, where I saw it as a pilgrimage to honor the victims of facism and racism, Jews and non-Jews. Don't forget that there were non-Jews among them too. This was my way to do it. But when I heard the news about the massacre I thought of it as an act which reminded me of the darkest period of the Jewish people. This is what I think of what happened in Istanbul. Now I want to ask you a question. When Israel was bombing Beirut for three months, day after day, and thousands of innocent people - women, children and old people were killed and wounded, with hospitals and countless other buildings destroyed, did you demónstrate against it? This is my question. I demonstrated against it and I demonstrated against what happened in Istanbul - both of them. Jewish blood is not more red then Arab blood. This is what I want you to remember. Q. Are we to deal with the Palestinians when their representativo organization, the PLO, a terrorist organization, as a policy does not recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist? How can we negotiate with people that dont even recognize Israel? A. I will answer you very simply. I think that first of all you have to agree with me on the principie that in order to make peace you must negotiate with your enemy. That is the basic assumption. You want to negotiate with the one who is your enemy; but the Israelis want to negotiate with all other parties and not with the Palestinian people. We are not at war with the others. We are at war with the Palestinians, this is the enemy. "So this man," as Begin once said, "this man, unshaved, who doesn't shave his face," that's the way he referred once to Arafat, this is a man who is your enemy. This is the man who in the end we must negotiate with, if not him, tommorrow somebody else. But this is the man you have to negotiate with and this is what most Israelis do not understand. Now, whether he recognizes me or not, doesn't change my desire to finally force him to negotiate with me. Suppose that you are right and he really doesn't want to negotiate - that he wants to destroy Israel and to push, all the Jews out - suppose this is true. Even then I will make every effort to maneuver him to negotiation. For me the peace is like a beautiful woman I would like to marry. If she once says no, I will try another way. If a second time no, I try a third time. I dont give up so quickly. But mind you, I don't share you evaluation of the readiness of the PLO to negotiate. My evaluation is different. I think that when Arafat was ready to meet Israeli Zionists, including an Israeli General who is a declared Zionist, t was more than a hint to the Israeli government: "Please recognize our rights and we will talk." That is how I interpreted it. But whether it is the correct interpretation or not we will only know when Israel declares that she will recognize the rights of the Palestinians to selfdetermination, that she is ready to talk with the PLO and hear what the PLO has to say. If they say "no" what is lost? But f they say "yes"? I think we are afraid of what would happen if they said "yes." Then you will have to negotiate and when you are negotiating you will have to give up territory. This is today a sign that Israel does not want to give up the control of the territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. When I criticize Israeli policy, 1 does not mean I think the conflict is divided between angels and devils. I don't think that the Israelis are angels and I dont think the Palestinians are the devils or vice-versa. I think f I were a Palestinian I could give you an ugly criticism of the Palestinian leadership. But l'm not a Palestinian, l'm an Israeli. What I ask myself now is "did my government do everything possible to promote or advance peace so I can say 'now we did everything - now the other side has to come." According to my judgement, my government did not do everything possible to advance fhe peace process. That is the reason why I first concéntrate there where I live, there where I am a citizen, there where I have a share in the society. Q. I would like your perception about state terrorism that Israel has supported for I think longer than 20 years and to bring t to recent history - Shatilla and Sabra. Although I have no facts, I an convinced there were Israeli soldiers in there when the Christian Lebanese slaughtered the Muslim Arabs in Shatilla. I feel that the terrorism and killing that was going on in Vietnam was not stopped by the peace negotiations, but by the student and peace movements. I am just hopeful that the same thing can come about in Israel. A. With reference to Sabra and Shatilla, the facts today are widely known. It is known the massacre was done by the Phalangists. It is known that it was done with the help of the Israeli army which was surrounding the place. This was very clearly established in the findings of Kahn committee, which investigated. But I want to say something about why I refused to go to war in Lebanon. I refused to go to war in Lebanon because I could see that the invasión of Lebanon, from the first day, was an Ilegal war. And in this war there was more than one instance of war crimes. That is the reason why I and my colleagues demonstrated and did everything in order to stop this terrible and senseless war. But there was one moment in this war that I was proud to be an Israeli. I have to admit that Israel did not give me a lot of reason to be proud in the last 20 years. But when there was a demonstration in Tel Aviv where 400,000 people demonstrated against the massacres in Sabra and Shatilla, and it was the only country in the Middle East and in the world where such a sizable demonstration took place, this was a small moment when I was very proud. (CONTINUED in next month's AGENDA)

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