Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A powerful speech by Elena Bonner

Elena Bonner, wife of the late Andrei Sakharov, made a very powerful speech in Oslo. Coming from somebody with such impeccable liberal credentials it ought to be compulsory reading for all the Israel-hating lefties. Especially interesting is her comparison of the world reaction to Gilad Shalit's continued incarceration and that of the Guantanamo prisoners. The full text of the speech is at the Jerusalen Post. Here is what she says about Israel:

THROUGHOUT THE YEARS of Israel's existence there has been war. Victorious wars, and also wars which Israel was not allowed to win. Each and every day - literally every day - there is the expectation of a terrorist act or a new war. We have seen the Oslo peace initiatives and the Camp David handshake and the road map and land for peace (there is not much land - from one side of Israel on a clear day you can see the other side with your naked eye).

Now, a new motif is fashionable (in fact it's an old one): "Two states for two peoples." It sounds good. And there is no controversy in the peacemaking Quartet, made up of the US, the UN, the EU and Russia (some great peacemaker, with its Chechen war and its Abkhazian-Ossetian provocation). The Quartet, and the Arab countries, and the Palestinian leaders (both Hamas and Fatah) put additional demands to Israel. I will speak only of one demand: that Israel accept back the Palestinian refugees. And here a little history and demography are needed.

According to the UN's official definition, refugees are considered those who fled from violence and wars, but not their descendants who are born in another land. At one time the Palestinian refugees and the Jewish refugees from Arab countries were about equal in number - about 700,000-800,000. The newly-created state Israel took in Jews (about 600,000). They were officially recognized as refugees by UN Resolution 242, but not provided with any UN assistance. Palestinians, however, are considered refugees not only in the first generation, but in the second, third and now even in the fourth generation. According to the UN Works and Relief Agency's report, the number of registered Palestinian refugees has grown from 914,000 in 1950 to more than 4.6 million in 2008, and continues to rise due to natural population growth. All these people have the rights of Palestinian refugees and are eligible to receive humanitarian aid.

The entire population of Israel is about 7.5 million, of which there are about 2.5 million ethnic Arabs who call themselves Palestinians. Imagine Israel then, if another 5 million Arabs flood into it; Arabs would substantially outnumber the Jewish population. Thus created next to Israel will be a Palestinian state cleansed of Jews, because in addition to the demand that Palestinian refugees return to Israel, there is also the demand that Judea and Samaria are cleansed of Jews and turned over to Palestinians - while in Gaza today there is not a single Jew already.

The result is both strange and terrifying, because Israel will essentially be destroyed. It is terrifying to see the short memory of the august peacemaking Quartet, their leaders and their citizens if they let this happen. Because the plan "two states for two peoples" is the creation of one state, ethnically cleansed of Jews, and a second one with the potential to do the same. A Judenfrei Holy Land - the dream of Adolph Hitler come true at last. So think again, those who are still able, who has a fascist inside him today?

AND ANOTHER question that has been a thorn for me for a long time. It's a question for my human rights colleagues. Why doesn't the fate of the Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit trouble you in the same way as does the fate of the Guantanamo prisoners?

You fought for and won the opportunity for the International Committee of the Red Cross, journalists and lawyers to visit Guantanamo. You know prison conditions, the prisoners' everyday routine, their food. You have met with prisoners subjected to torture. The result of your efforts has been a ban on torture and a law to close this prison. President Obama signed it in the first days of his coming to the White House. And although he, just like president Bush before him, does not know what to do with the Guantanamo prisoners, there is hope that the new administration will think up something.

But during the two years Schalit has been held by terrorists, the world human rights community has done nothing for his release. Why? He is a wounded soldier, and fully falls under the protection of the Geneva Conventions. The conventions say clearly that hostage-taking is prohibited, that representatives of the Red Cross must be allowed to see prisoners of war, especially wounded prisoners, and there is much else written in the Geneva Conventions about Schalit's rights. The fact that representatives of the Quartet conduct negotiations with the people who are holding Schalit in an unknown location, in unknown conditions, vividly demonstrates their scorn of international rights documents and their total legal nihilism. Do human rights activists also fail to recall the fundamental international rights documents?

And yet I still think (and some will find this naïve) that the first tiny, but real step toward peace must become the release of Schalit. Release, and not his exchange for 1,000 or 1,500 prisoners who are in Israeli prisons serving court sentences for real crimes.

Returning to my question of why human rights activists are silent, I can find no answer except that Schalit is an Israeli soldier, Schalit is a Jew. So again, it is conscious or unconscious anti-Semitism. Again, it is fascism.

THIRTY-FOUR YEARS have passed since the day when I came to this city to represent my husband, Andrei Sakharov, at the 1975 Nobel Prize ceremony. I was in love with Norway then. The reception I received filled me with joy. Today, I feel Alarm and Hope (the title Sakharov used for his 1977 essay written at the request of the Nobel Committee).

Alarm because of the anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment growing throughout Europe and even further afield. And yet, I hope that countries, their leaders and people everywhere will recall and adopt Sakharov's ethical credo: "In the end, the moral choice turns out to be also the most pragmatic choice."

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