This week, Israel’s ‘leftist’ former Prime Minister Ehud Barak seriously spilled the beans concerning Israel’s 1967 occupation, expressing in no uncertain terms that it is not a partisan right-wing matter, as its critics often like to say. Barak proved that it is something that the ‘left’ is an integral part of. And we heard it from the horse’s mouth – the horse named ‘lightning’ (‘Barak’ means lightning in Hebrew).
In his Haaretz article, Barak was bemoaning the fact that in a recent event celebrating 50 Years to the occupation (marketed with the slogan “We have returned home”), there was not enough ‘leftist’ representation. Barak says that this was not sufficiently nationally representative: “A national ceremony would have emphasized what we agree on and what unites us rather than what divides and separates us”, he writes.
Aye, Barak feels the ‘left’ is left out, and not credited enough for its part in the occupation and settlement project!
“A national ceremony would have noted that the people who built the Israel Defense Forces and led the war to liberate these parts of the land were Yitzhak Rabin, Haim Bar-Lev, Motta Gur and others (who later turned out to be “leftists,” heaven forbid), and that the party that consolidated and led the settlement enterprise for a decade, mainly on the basis of security considerations, was the hated Alignment, the forerunner of the Labor Party”, he writes.
Ha! The irony could not be greater. Barak, in his pathetic attempt to play a central part in everything “national”, actually ends up feeling excluded, as a “leftist”, from the celebrations. In his rant, he ends up confirming that there is no real difference between right and left Zionism – not historically, and not currently.
This is what Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy has been stressing for some time now, and his response came a day later in his piece titled “What Opposition? Ehud Barak Toes the Same Line as Netanyahu and the Settlers”, subtitled ”The stalwart of Israel’s ‘peace camp’ is proud of the number of settlements he built, an annual construction rate that Netanyahu could only dream about”.
Levy notes how Barak is applying the same language as the extreme rightists in government, with phrases such as “We’re proud of our role in returning to every part of the land and in the settlement enterprise that is essential to our security”, and Levy concludes that “This is the left-wing marker of the Labor Party, practically the only opposition Netanyahu has. Yet it’s doubtful Netanyahu would have expressed himself differently.”
Indeed, Barak’s article, as Levy concluded, is “amazing”, and it is one that is to be remembered and noted in the future, as the true face of the Israeli left, with masks off.
Barak goes into detail in his article, to make suggestions concerning which speakers could have been selected, to represent the ‘left’:
“A national ceremony would have included Maj. Gen. (res.) Elad Peled on the dais, a man who liberated Safed at the age of 21, as head of a Palmach unit, and then liberated all of Samaria at age 40, as head of the 36th Division”, he writes.
“Liberated all of Samaria” – got that?
Barak continues on to suggest people such as Dalia Rabin, the daughter of “the IDF chief of staff who presided over the victory”, Isaac Herzog, “leader of the opposition and son of former Military Intelligence chief and President Chaim Herzog, who dispelled the public’s fears before and during the war in special appearances on television – a brand-new medium at the time – and served as the first governor of united Jerusalem”, as well as Hila Elazar-Cohen, “the eldest daughter of Maj. Gen. David Elazar, who demanded the assault on and conquest of the Golan Heights from the very first day of the war, and led it from the fourth.”
Barak then hails the “Allon plan” which came from leftist leader Yigal Allon in the wake of the 1967 war, to retain major swaths of the West Bank and settle them:
“A state ceremony would have lavished praised on the clear-sightedness of the Allon Plan and the internal logic of establishing settlement blocs, building Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and establishing settlements along the length of the Jordan River – the dimensions dictated by a sober security perspective and agreed on by all segments of society”, he writes.
Barak is completely right – the occupation and the settlement project are not things that just happened due to some messianic rightist settlers – it was a premeditated project that both the right and the left have been involved in all along.
Barak’s difference with the rightist settlers is rather pedantic in this respect – it’s about the isolated settlements that are not in the ‘settlement blocs’, which Barak sees as not contributing to security, but rather existing only to observe the religious commandment “to settle the land”. Barak thinks that what would really unite all Israelis, rather than separate them, is “security first, the belief that the unity of the people takes precedence over the unity of the land, and the values of the Declaration of Independence” – as opposed to “a benighted, nationalist agenda tainted with messianism that threatens all of our futures.”
Barak is a man of many myths, and he has been a central part in creating several of them. He has a mythological status as Israel’s most decorated soldier, known as ‘Mr. Security’, a man who reveres ‘security’ as if it was a God. He also created the myth of the “generous offer” he supposedly gave in 2000 to Yasser Arafat – an offer which was essentially tantamount to Bantustans. He simultaneously created the related myth that since Arafat refused this ‘generous offer’, that was proof that “there was no one to talk to”.
Barak’s ‘security’ notion is the classical Zionist notion when it comes to Palestinians – control, ‘autonomy’, encirclement, and most importantly – separation. Separation is the buzz-word for the Israeli left today, and it is lost on many, that Apartheid means ‘separateness’. The effective result of Bantustans and ‘separation’ as Israel applies it is Apartheid, and we’ve been seeing it for so many decades. All that Barak wants, is to maintain the ability to hide it better, and those ‘messianic’ rightist settlers are confusing the ‘security’ claim.
But Barak’s ‘security’ claim is also confused by his own people. His own Foreign Minister in 1999-2001 Shlomo Ben-Ami calls the security claim on the Jordan valley ‘mythical’. Yet the leftist leaders confirm Barak’s wish to ‘legitimize’ the ‘settlement blocs’ which is why left leader Isaac Herzog lamented last year’s UN Security Council resolution 2334 which condemned all settlements (including East Jerusalem) as “flagrant violations” of international law. Herzog was angered by the damage this did to the “settlement blocs” – the damage it did to their legitimacy.
After all is said and done, the only difference between the ‘leftist’ Barak and the ‘messianic’ settlers, is that he seeks to serve Israel’s actual state religion – Zionism – under the more secular notion of ‘security’, whereas the more rightist settlers are more into divine promise issues.
In the end, Barak’s “returning to every part of the land” is not really that different from the “we have returned home” official slogan of the event. His “liberated all of Samaria” is not really that different to Israel’s top diplomat Tzipi Hotoveli’s “This land is ours, all of it is ours”.
Sometimes it does happen: that Israel’s top security people spill the beans like this. One of Israel’s most iconic ‘security’ leaders, Moshe Dayan, did this several times. One of his most serious admissions has been about the 1967 war and the lead-up to it, which was much to do with skirmishes with Syria along the Golan border and demilitarized zones. In 1976 he told General Israel Tal that Syrians on the fourth day were “not a threat to us”, and explained how most of the skirmishes occured:
”I know how at least 80 percent of the clashes there started. In my opinion, more than 80 percent, but let’s talk about 80 percent. It went this way: We would send a tractor to plow some area where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance farther, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was”, Dayan said (as documented by Serge Schmemann in NYT, 1997).
Dayan also explained to Tal, that the real motive behind the provocations and the subsequent conquest was actually just greed – greed for the land:
”The kibbutzim there saw land that was good for agriculture,” he said. ”And you must remember, this was a time in which agricultural land was considered the most important and valuable thing.”
Tal was wondering whether there really was no ‘security’ issue here. ”So all the kibbutzim wanted was land?” he asked.
Dayan, while confirming that they of course “wanted the Syrians to get out of their face”, nevertheless said:
“I can tell you with absolute confidence, the delegation that came to persuade Eshkol to take the heights was not thinking of these things. They were thinking about the heights’ land. Listen, I’m a farmer, too. After all, I’m from Nahalal, not from Tel Aviv, and I know about it. I saw them, and I spoke to them. They didn’t even try to hide their greed for that land.”
The delegation that Dayan describes was sent at the behest of Maj. General David Elazar, Chief of Northern Command at the time of the conquest, as documented in Tom Segev’s 1967, see p. 388. This is the same general that Barak is suggesting would be represented by his eldest daughter.
Barak may be chiding the rightists for being too zealous about “the land”, but he is really just as greedy for it. He’s just hiding that greed as ‘security’, and that’s what Zionists have been doing all along.