Monday 25 March 2019

Where Israel is concerned it's always Groundhog Day

Departing Israeli ambassador Boaz Modai says instant amnesia undermines a true understanding of his country

‘Two states for our two peoples — Israelis and Palestinians is the only solution for our conflict’
‘Two states for our two peoples — Israelis and Palestinians is the only solution for our conflict’

Boaz Modai

It is five years since I arrived in Ireland with my wife Nurit and our two boys to represent the state of Israel. This month, my term as ambassador, and that of Nurit as my deputy, draw to a close.

During our years here, my family and I have visited most parts of the country. We leave Ireland with fond memories of the beauty of its landscapes and of the hospitality of Irish people. Everywhere we went we were touched by the genuine warmth of the reception given to us.

The theme of remembering prompts other thoughts of a more sober kind relating to our mission in Ireland. The 24-hour news cycle and the saturation news coverage made possible by advances in media technology have downgraded the role once played by memory in political and diplomatic discourse. Historical events, even recent ones - highly relevant to discussion of today's news - are often consigned to oblivion within a few months. It seems we live in an age of instant amnesia.

By chance, our leaving Ireland this month coincides with three important anniversaries. These give us a chance to recall three highly significant events now seldom mentioned in the media when Israel is discussed.

It is exactly 10 years since Israel's 2005 unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip, when not only its military but all the Israeli residents, even down to the Jewish cemetery, were evacuated at a cost of $7bn to the Israeli taxpayer. There was no Israeli blockade, although Hamas rockets had been falling on southern Israel since 2001. Yet when we arrived here five years ago, the media air was thick with accusations of "occupation" and "siege" as if the withdrawal had never happened.

It was necessary to explain that the hopes for a new way forward to peace had been dashed when, immediately after the withdrawal, Hamas dramatically escalated its rocket attacks, staged a violent coup in Gaza in 2007 and turned the enclave into a terrorist base camp. The weapons blockade on Gaza dates from that time.

The blockade, also imposed by Egypt, is far from being a siege. This year, 15,000 to 17,000 people are entering Israel from Gaza each month while an average of 600 trucks each day carry food and humanitarian supplies the other way. Still, however, it is possible to hear those slogans of "siege" and "open-air prison" being repeated.

It is exactly 15 years since the collapse of the 2000 Camp David summit between US President Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the PLO leader Yasser Arafat. Mr Barak had agreed to the Clinton Parameters that would have given over 91 percent of Judea-Samaria (the "West Bank") and all of Gaza plus part of Jerusalem to form an independent Palestinian state. Mr Arafat walked away from the offer, causing President Clinton to tell him: "I am a failure, and you made me one".

A later offer in 2008 from Prime Minister Olmert that would have increased the total area, including land swaps, to 99 percent of Judea-Samaria plus Gaza was rejected by Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Yet, when current discussions turn to the "two-state" solution which everyone claims to desire, it is as if those earlier Israeli bids at a solution never happened. The Palestinian rejections are never analysed or questioned; it is Israel that is expected each time to begin again at Square One. Where Israel is concerned, it seems it is always Groundhog Day.

It is very nearly 20 years since the signing of the second phase of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO. Under this 1995 agreement, the most populated areas of Judea-Samaria, containing 96pc of the Palestinian Arabs, are now under the autonomous government of the PA. It is often necessary to remind people of this fact when mantras like "Israeli- occupied West Bank" are recited. Amnesia rules again.

In December 2008, Israel was forced to defend its people with a military operation in Gaza against Hamas terrorists, rocket launch sites and stockpiles. Since then, there have been two more such operations - two more occasions on which Hamas dragged the people of Gaza into wars that Israel did not want.

Again, the processes of forgetting are already at work. Media routinely report the Palestinian death toll figures, but stripped of any context. An uninformed person might even think that Israel, one day last summer, inexplicably decided to launch an unprovoked assault on a defenceless people.

In fact, the 4,258 rockets and countless mortars fired by Hamas into Israel over 50 days plus the 32 terror tunnels prepared for the massacre and abduction of Israeli civilians were met with Israeli air strikes targeting rocket launch sites and Hamas infrastructure, plus a limited ground invasion to destroy the tunnels.

Those who wish to demonise my country find it easy to get a platform in the media to repeat non-specific charges such as "Israel's treatment of the Palestinians". The more extreme ones speak of "genocide". Has amnesia progressed so far that some people have forgotten the meaning of a word like "genocide"? One-third of the world's Jews wiped out in the Holocaust - that was genocide. One million Tutsis eliminated in Rwanda that was genocide.

Palestinian Arabs, on the contrary, enjoy the highest life expectancy and the lowest infant mortality in the Arab world. When they did live under Israeli occupation, the number of their universities increased from one to nine; the diseases of polio, tetanus, whooping cough and measles were eradicated.

As we say farewell to Ireland, I am happy that we have done something to communicate the truth about Israel to fair-minded people throughout the country. Thousands have seen through the misrepresentations and libels and many of them are willing to stand up publicly for the truth.

And let me conclude with a short message to our Palestinian neighbours: This is not a zero-sum game! Two states for our two peoples - Israelis and Palestinians - is the only solution for our conflict: one that guarantees your aspiration to have a sovereign state and dignity as a people, but at the same time guarantees the security of my people and ensures that there will be no more violence between us.

From such a solution, both our peoples can benefit hugely. I know there will be peace between us sometime; let us do our utmost to enjoy it in our generation.

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