Iqbal Jassat: To Give or Not to Give

By Iqbal Jassat
Special to

Has it ever been known that a victim of hijacking loses rights to demand back stolen loot? Or conversely: Can a thief present demands – preconditions or any other terms – to the owner of the property he has robbed?

According to Gideon Levy, a Haaretz journalist, Israelis who bear the guilt of stealing land from the Palestinians along with their fundamental human rights and humanity, should be terribly troubled by the answers to these questions.

In a hard-hitting rebuke titled “Demands of a thief”, Levy complains that though this is the primary core issue accounting for the Occupied Palestinians “living under a brutal boot for 40 years”, Israeli society is not talking about morality anymore. And worse, justice has also become an archaic concept, a taboo that has deliberately been erased from all negotiations.

Invoking the Shakespearean question “to give or not to give”, Levy distinguishes “giving” anything to the Palestinians as a baseless and distorted discourse for it is in sharp contrast to “returning”. Palestinian demands revolve around “return” – return of their stolen land; return of their homes; return of refugees; return of prisoners; return of self-respect; return of justice!

“Lawyers, philosophers, writers, lecturers, intellectuals and rabbis, who are looked upon for basic knowledge about moral precepts, participate in this distorted discourse”, says Levy. And goes on to ask what will they tell their children – after the occupation finally becomes a nightmare of the past – about their role in this in the period they wielded influence?

He cites the example of Israeli students manning checkpoints brutally deciding the fate of people and then rushing off to lectures on ethics at university, forgetting what they did the previous day and what is being done in their names every single day.

Levy views the publication of petitions “to make concessions” or “not to make concessions” as a diversion from the core issue. So too does he believe are the debates about corruption – whether Olmert is corrupt – while there is silence on a discussion of the ultimate question: Isn’t the occupation the greatest and most terrible corruption to have taken root here. Overshadowing everything else? 

Here in South Africa, this silence seems to be endemic in many circles including so-called progressive think tanks as well as media. Fundamental questions emanating from whether Israel possesses any moral right to continue the occupation have to become the main anchor of any future discussion on Palestine.

Will it or will the discourse be distorted by questions of Israeli security?

We recently had the farcical dialogue between the Chief Rabbi [of SA] Warren Goldstein and the Muslim premier of the Western Cape Ebrahim Rasool, ostensibly to build bridges of understanding between the two faith communities on a moral platform. A glaring omission however from Rasool’s side was his failure to challenge the rabbi and his flock to take a principled position on the indivisibility of universal justice.

The tragedy was further compounded by the fact that Goldstein, known for his Zionist leanings and strong support of Israel, initiated this diversionary farce by planning in advance to hold it on the day the rest of South Africa’s solidarity groupings met to commemorate the Nakba. Rasool fell for the joke yet in defence sought to use the Peres line of “making peace with enemies”, while ignoring the glaring reality of Palestinian suffering condoned by his hosts. 

Levy’s frustration with Israeli society’s refusal to ignore the results of the Nakba, which has been documented by eminent historians such as Ilan Pappe, is not surprising. It is similar to the type of frustration that ordinary Muslims express whenever Jewish leaders like Goldstein seek to dismiss Palestinian quest for justice as no less than a threat to Israeli security.

As Levy explains, the question of whether ending the occupation would threaten or strengthen Israel’s security is irrelevant. There are not, and cannot be, any preconditions for restoring justice.  

The post-Annapolis acknowledgement that the Maryland conference lacked integrity is finally now beginning to dawn on those who foolishly embraced the false euphoria whipped up by spin-doctors belonging to Bush, Olmert and Abu Mazen. And the bursting of the balloon is all due to a calculated enforcement of an agenda that pointedly ignored core issues.

The most significant manifestation of Annapolis’ huge failure is contained in the itinerary of the Bush tour. That even he lacks the confidence to follow-through on the circus where he was the ringmaster is evident in the fact that he will be meeting Olmert and Abbas separately – not in a 3-way summit!

What this points to is the utter disregard of an obligation to compel the thief to return stolen goods and properties belonging to its owner as the conscientious commentator Gideon Levy has consistently called for.

– Iqbal Jassat is the Chairman of the South Africa-based Media Review Network:    

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