The Israeli "iron fist "policy in the territories elicited negative response on the part of a number of American Jewish leaders. They were concerned with Israel's international image as daily newsreels were bringing the intifada to the homes of hundreds of millions of television viewers all over the world. Among those who wrote to express the growing reservations over Israel's policy was Rabbi Alexander Schindler, the head of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (the reform movement). In his reply, the president of Israel explained the circumstances under which the IDF was operating and suggested that before Israel is blamed, viable alternatives should be proposed President Herzog was convinced that everything was done to preserve both Israel's security, law and order and the upholding of Jewish ethics and morals. But the key point was the need to defend oneself from mortal danger. Text:
Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler
President Union of American Hebrew Congregations
838 Fifth Avenue New York, N.Y. 10021 U.S.A.
Thank you for your cable dated 23rd January, 1988 in which you express your reservations about Israel's policy arising out of the unrest in the territories.
I appreciate and understand your concern. The instructions issued to our security forces have been clarified following the public discussion which they evoked. There certainly was no order to beat indiscriminately and if there were divergences and irregularities I am advised that steps have been taken to ensure that they do not recur. I trust and hope that the situation will stabilize and quiet down, and that the political debate on the issue of the peace process will resume.
The question that I must ask you is, what do you see as the alternative? Not one of our critics so far has come forward with such an alternative. Not one of them, indeed, can point to the solution of similar situations in other countries without resorting to force. I hate the idea of our boys using force against Arabs, and I speak as one who is only too aware of the fact that he is President of 17% of our citizens who are Arab and Druze. I write as one who has exercised all the authority available to him to defend the rights of our Arab population against a peripheral group which is the proponent of a hateful racist philosophy.
The immediate alternative facing us today, especially in the volatile atmosphere of the Middle East, is not between the current outbreaks on the one hand and sitting down to political negotiations on the other hand. The alternative facing us today, and, indeed, our neighbors such as Jordan and Egypt, is between suppressing these riots or allowing them to develop into a new Teheran or Beirut. The situation is fraught with danger, not only for us and for the bulk of the Arab population living with us, but for our neighbors in Jordan, Egypt and elsewhere. What is at stake at the moment, in my view, is whether or not the wave of Khomeinism, which threatens our area, will spread or not.
I do not deny for one moment that the issue of the administered territories in Judea, Samaria and Gaza is a major one. The different approaches to the peace process are the subject of political debate in Israeli society and will, doubtless, figure large in this year's elections. But we are viewing a situation which has been exacerbated by the sweep of fundamentalism backed, incidentally, by money from Saudia Arabia, which has made life intolerable for the ordinary Arab citizen in Gaza. Other countries in the area have reacted decisively to stem the onslaught of this fundamentalist wave. The world media seem to have accepted this as self evident. Thus I read in the press that when more than 2000 students demonstrated in favour of the Palestinians last week at the university in Fez, in Morocco, the security forces interfered, leaving in their wake two male students and one girl student dead and 80 wounded, half of them seriously wounded.
Incidentally, was this portrayed on television in the U.S.?
Again, a couple of months ago, according to the reports published here, some 30 Palestinians students demonstrated on the campus at Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan. The university was declared a military zone and the security forces intervened, leaving eight dead students in their wake. Was this shown on your television screens?
You are doubtless aware of the public steps taken by the Egyptian authorities to quell demonstrations mounted by fundamentalist fanatics.
In Israel there is a debate as to the political solution in the territories. But on one issue there is agreement, and that is that there can be no negotiations without the prerequisite of the restoration of law and order.
If you criticize our methods of achieving law and order, as many in Israel do, you should at least advise us what the alternative is. Should we resort to the methods used by the British Security and Police Forces in Northern Ireland, or during the racial rioting in London and other principal cities in Britain?
I believe that intellectual honesty requires that anybody who condemns us for what we are doing should suggest a proposal for alternative action.
You know as well as I do that so far the Arabs have turned down every proposal for compromise, including Mr. Begin's offer of autonomy, as agreed upon at Camp David. You know that we cannot negotiate with an organization which is unwilling to renounce terror and retract the paragraphs in its charter calling for the destruction of Israel and the expulsion of its population. You know as well as I do that despite the desire of many Palestinians to do so, not one of them has dared come forward to negotiate with Israel because of fear of assassination. You know as well as I do, as you point out, that most Arab countries have betrayed the Palestinians and have kept them in sordid refuge camps for 40 years, in order to use them as political pawns. After all, a few days' oil production in the Arab countries could solve the entire Palestinian refugee problem at least from the physical and humanitarian aspects of the problem. The only country in the world that has rehoused, so far, 60,000 Arabs from the Gaza refugee camps in decent housing, has been Israel. And yet, annually, the entire world, as reflected in the U.N., including all Western countries with the opposition of Israel and the abstention of the U.S. and two of three more countries, calls for the return of the rehoused Arabs to the squalid camps. You know, as you so rightly point out, that every proposal by governments, international organizations and Israel itself, has been rejected for four decades.
You must surely be aware that against the background of developments in the Middle East, including a war in which a million people have been killed, a civil war which has destroyed Lebanon and an ongoing threat to the stability of every regime in the Middle East today, the issue is a far wider one than that of Israel's image. It affects the future of Israel and of its neighbours.
All that I have written is obviously without reference to the current debate in Israel on the political issues. If you were to follow the Israeli press and the political debates in the Knesset, you would be aware of a serious and constant consideration of the issues at stake and the peace process and a readiness to draw conclusions from possible mistakes.
The weight of public opinion in one way or another as expressed in the media, in the Knesset and on all public occasions, reflects the late Golda Meir's statement that the cannot forgive the Arabs for forcing our children to shoot at them. Unfortunately, the picture as reflected by the all too simplistic presentation on the television screens abroad, evades the issues.
After all, Jewish ethics and morals which you evoke are very clear as to one's duty to defend oneself when facing possible mortal danger.
I am sure that everything possible will be done by all responsible parties in Israel to ensure that the steps taken to preserve law and order are commensurate with the threat, and are legally and morally justifiable. I believe that we can rely on an alert Knesset and a vigilant press to ensure this. But let us at no stage ignore the basic issues at stake, even if some of your media tend at times to do so.
The interest, solidarity and intimate sense of involvement of American Jews and their organizations in Israel's problems and dilemmas are a priceless source of strength to our nation. It is in that spirit that I respond seriously and frankly to the serious and frank expression of your views.