Israel: The Complex Story is Never Thoroughly Told Merely by Looking at the Surface

I had so much fun attending USC’s Hillel JAA Speaker’s Series: “Israel Today: A Geopolitical Update” and listening to the speaker, Charlotte Korchak, Director of International Student Programs for StandWithUs and alumna of USC.

I immediately felt like she was part of my mispachah (family). She did what I do (speak about Israel in a positive light) while still acknowledging it’s a complicated mess, both sides have a right to be there and everyone needs to learn to get along for the good of all.

Since I am Jewish, and also an alumna of USC I felt right at home. Charlotte is an Israeli citizen, Israeli activist and she gave an in-depth presentation on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In my case however, I’m an American, an outsider so I have less skin in the game. My family isn’t threatened daily and I’m grateful for this. When people look at the conflict, it’s important that they put themselves in the situation and ask themselves how they would fair when they send their kids off to school and they don’t know if their children will return at the end of the day to enjoy their after-school snack.

The talk was very informative and I was grateful to learn about Israel from an Israeli educator’s perspective. Charlotte graduated with a BA in Middle Eastern History from USC and works for StandWithUs. She covered many topics: the status of working on Peace, anti-Semitism, Trump’s new policy changes, what is UNWRA anyway, and the fact the world is beginning to notice some absurdities in PA policies.

I smiled as she encouraged us to tell our stories as I’m working through the last edits of my book, “Blasted from Complacency: A Journey from Terror to Transformation in Israel.” It’s the tale of our Israeli adventure in July 2014 when we found ourselves touring incredible historic sites and cowering in bomb shelters. Interwoven throughout are the many amazing facts we learned about the conflict as bombs exploded in the air above us. Shall we say it got my attention and provided me with a new life? My ultimate goal is to work on Peace within and in the world, specifically on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Charlotte recounted the lack of progress in the Peace process. The Palestinians repeatedly refuse to compromise or sometimes even to talk with Israel regarding Peace negotiations—whether it was at Camp David or Trump proposing his own new plan. It doesn’t seem to matter, she says, even if Israel was willing to give up settlements and land after 2000 or now. It seems clear. The Palestinians refuse to talk even though Israel is willing to compromise extensively to the consternation of their own people. Nothing seems good enough. Will the Palestinians only be happy if they obtain their goal to have Israel wiped off the map—which God-willing will never happen? How do you speak with the other side when they refuse to belly up to the table?

Meanwhile, the world blames Israel because they are seen as a modern society juxtaposed against refugees. They are called the oppressors. But like everything in the Middle East, don’t call the kettle black so soon. A much closer look is always essential if you want to get to the truth.

Initially Charlotte provided details of her personal history. She ping-ponged between living in the Jewish Los Angeles neighborhood of Beverlywood to an Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria when she was nine. There she found herself caught in the midst of the second intifada. Her family then moved to Jerusalem and was caught up in an ugly cage of bombings and killings in her neighborhood.

We were only in that type of situation for two weeks while on vacation and it was too much for us. But that is the bravery and commitment of the Israelis I speak of…I on the other hand have enjoyed too much chicken soup to exist under those conditions.

But many Israelis live in Israel because it is the Jewish homeland, for religious reasons or they may have been forced out of other countries, as has been the plight of Jews for centuries like in Libya, or countries where it has become untenable.

Just this week a Jewish cemetery in Herrlisheim, north of Strasbourg, France, was desecrated when 37 tombstones and a monument to Holocaust victims was defaced with swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti. Combine that with the other wave of new anti-Semitic crimes sweeping France, as acknowledged by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe when he said on his Facebook page that these types of crimes during the first nine months of 2018 had risen 69% higher. It is a scary time for French Jews and many are leaving France bound for Israel.1

I remember the campaigns while I was a teen to “Save Soviet Jewry.” Charlotte referred to a friend of hers who had moved to Israel from Columbia because of the scourge of anti-Semitism.

Unfortunately, although Jews comparatively flourish in the United States today, anti-Semitism is alive and well and particularly present today with the confrontational activities of Palestinian organizations proliferating on college campuses across America. The fact that our Jewish kids are subjected to being spat on and attacked on far too many college campuses by the BDS and SJP movements in 2018, well it’s intolerable and needs to change NOW! Hidden behind anti-Israel propaganda is often the same old putrid source, anti-Semitism without the honesty to say what is truly driving their vitriol.

Charlotte talked about how the use of propaganda can be twisted and distorted by portraying the conflict as racist. She believes the issue is about land:  We have two peoples who want the same piece of land. Both want self-determination. Neither is about to give theirs up.

She said that Arafat picked up on the sensitivity to racism in the United States years ago and Zionism became akin to racism in Palestinian demonstrations and in the United Nations. She advised that we should read the book, “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism, by the historian and professor Gil Troy, where he lays out the dangerous path of what led to the General Assembly of United Nations passing Resolution 3379, which declared Zionism a form of racism.

Moynihan, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at the time, stood and his voice shook with outrage: “The United States rises to declare, before the General Assembly of the United Nations, and before the world, that it does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.” Yet by saying so, it cost Moynihan his job although later he did win a Senate seat and had a political career, served in Presidential administrations of both parties, held various ambassadorships, served on the commission on government secrecy and was a highly-regarded academic until his death in 2003. 2

In today’s world where intersectionality is being used by discriminated upon populations to help each other with their causes, Jews are locked out of the fraternity once again. Discriminated groups are: African, non-white, women, indigenous people, Latin, LGBT—but not Jews (sorry, Jewish ladies infuriatingly aren’t acknowledged here either).   Apparently Jews are considered the hated white male without any issues of commonality.

She decried that somehow being exiled from Israel in centuries past, persecuted in countries throughout the world and ending in the worst genocide ever seen with millions murdered during the Holocaust doesn’t qualify.

Yes, we’ve been victims for three thousand years and maybe because of that, and learning how to deal with it in a positive, let’s move forward and make the best of it attitude, we aren’t seen as being a member of the victim club. Haven’t any of them seen a Woody Allen movie? Victimhood is in our DNA.

She was funny as she portrayed our Jewish heritage: “We celebrate this stuff. Every Jewish holiday,” we recount, “they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.”

What isn’t funny is that because of the Palestinian propaganda on college campuses calling Israelis the oppressors and the land “occupied territory,” we don’t get a seat at the table.  We aren’t welcome amidst the coalition building.

The fact that despite its brief 70 year history escaping oppression, in today’s world Israel is surviving and thriving nonetheless amidst violent odds. They have risen from the ashes and built a country that Israelis can be proud of…not perfect, but some would say a miracle.

Regardless of what side of the aisle you are comfortable, she acknowledged that President Trump is shaking up the status quo from developing his own Peace (yes I know Peace isn’t usually capitalized, it’s my emphasis on its importance) plan, to moving the US embassy, stopping the PA from using our tax dollars to fund terrorists (through payment of salaries to the remaining Palestinian families after the terrorist blows themselves up), to defunding UNWRA (United Nations Workers Relief Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East).

September 27, 2018, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in his speech at the UN General Assembly, once again rejected the potential for Peace and praised his martyrs.3 I don’t know how the members of the UN sit there listening to Abbas call these murderers martyrs—  sugar-coating what he calls these cold-blooded killers that he pays salaries to for their deeds. Unconscionable. A rose by any other name is still a rose, but this stinks!

As reported in the Times of Israel, “Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) took aim at Abbas’s support for Palestinian terror convicts, who are paid stipends by the Palestine Liberation Organization. In his speech, Abbas seemed to push back against criticism of the payments, paying “tribute to our hero martyrs and prisoners of war.”4 Surely by now UN members aren’t fooled into thinking what Abbas calls martyrs are anything except murderers, can they? It’s been going on too long for them not to know regardless of whether they merely look away.

What’s the purpose of UNWRA? The purpose of UNWRA is taking care of the Palestinian refugees since it was established in 1949. It has a budget of over a billion dollars. She pointed out there are many questions that need to be asked. You have to ask why the Palestinians are faring so poorly and especially why Israel is blamed for their plight?

Why only the Palestinian population who UNWRA was formed to help has been kept as refugees in all countries except Jordan, whereas every other refugee population in the world, administered by the UNHCR (The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) has been resettled in those countries? Did you notice the Arab countries where the Palestinians fled of Lebanon and Syria kept the Palestinians as refugees in their countries? What puppeteers at UNWRA are running that show and who is benefitting? Obviously not the poor Palestinian refugees and for God’s sake stop blaming only Israel for their plight!

Meanwhile in summer camps, community squares, sporting events and the schools run by the PA, unlike in the US where we name our schools after US Presidents, they name their schools after terrorists like Dalal Mughrabi. She is famous and celebrated by the Palestinian people for murdering 38 Israelis in a 1978 attack where 13 children were killed.

Her feats are immortalized in the 2018 PAs newly revamped textbook series for 5th-11th graders. The chapter begins with: “Our Palestinian history is filled with many names of shahids (martyrs) who sacrificed their souls for the homeland, among them is the shahid Dalal Mughrabi, who in her struggle marked one of the images of opposition and bravery, and for that her memory remains forever etched in our hearts and minds,” as recorded by the research institute IMPACT-SE located at the Hebrew University according to YNETnews.com.5

The chapter goes on to say that her life story is recounted, culminating with all types of distorted facts about her final terrorist act and blaming the IDF for killing the Israelis and “ignores testimonies according to which the terror cell slaughtered some of the Israeli hostages.” In a 9th grade textbook, Mughrabi is portrayed as having killed more than 30 Israeli soldiers, when in reality only one soldier was killed with the rest of the dead being civilians including children.6

These sick teachings are part of their Palestinian children’s curriculum in their schools! BTW, this curriculum is funded by the US and other foreign countries. Until recently these issues have gotten little local attention. And we wonder why these kids grow up refusing to work on Peace. They are trained from young ages that becoming a terrorist is their form of Godliness. Unbelievable.

Meanwhile all of the foreign aid flows in to support what we think of as schools. Not the type we are used to, we think our funds are going to pay for education, not terrorist training under the guise of education. If they are taught in their schools that Jews are descendants of pigs and that they are their oppressors, it’s not conducive to wanting to improve and build relationships. Unfortunately, we can’t assume that our values are the same as those taught and enforced by the PA/UNWRA, funded by our tax money.

Recently, Norway funded a women’s center and later found out that the PA named it after Dalal Mughrabi. In an unprecedented move, Norway demanded that the Norwegian Foreign Ministry’s logo be removed from the building and that the aid money used to fund the construction be returned. Ynet reported that the new women’s center had received funding from Norway through the Palestinian Election Commission and an organization called “UN Women in Palestine,” which promotes the participation of Palestinian women in elections.7

Charlotte reviewed, what do the Palestinians want? 1) The Right of Return, 2) Land and 3) Jerusalem.

The Right of Return becomes a very sticky point. Due to the lack of resettlement in countries where the Palestinians fled, Charlotte taught us that Palestinian refugees are the only refugee population that hasn’t shrunk but in fact increased significantly in size. If they were to return to Israel today, the country would no longer be Jewish-based but the majority would be Palestinian.

The March of Return encouraged by Hamas that they’ve been working on the last ten years hasn’t worked either. It seems that just more and more people will be injured and some killed.

Add to that the Palestinian missiles sent from Gaza and the West Bank and Israel’s capabilities to defend itself with Iron Dome, now capable to stop even mortars. Well it’s an ineffective and another cruel policy intended to have the suffering Palestinian people provide the workload for their Palestinian leaders, but at what cost? You don’t have to be a scholar to understand that this just won’t work.

Land: This is an issue that can be worked on. Israel’s position on land is no more monolithic than any point would be in the US for such a critical issue. Some believe settlements should be and are expanding. They want a larger buffer against missile attacks from Gaza and the West Bank. To build or not to build is the question. Each side resents the other in the territories if either drives by (since they live so close to one another, it’s obvious) and sees that the other is building.

Charlotte said that during the Camp David Peace summit in 2000, Israel was accused of not wanting Peace, yet they were willing to give up 97% of the West Bank, all of Gaza and uproot all of the Israeli settlements. Thirty billion dollars of refugee repatriation was on the table, which would fundamentally change Israel from a Jewish state to a non-Jewish Arab state and a shared capital in Jerusalem was offered, but it was rejected by the Palestinians.

At times Israel proposed building permanent housing for the Palestinian refugees. The Palestinians rejected the offer. How often the Palestinians seem to have been offered proposals that would make their lives so much better, yet their leaders reject the propositions. What is the truth about what their leaders want?

The reality is neither side is leaving so for anything positive to happen each must be willing to talk and compromise. No matter what, if both sides aren’t willing to talk, nothing will move forward.

Jerusalem: Jerusalem has always functioned as the capital of Israel regardless of where the US embassy is located. Many acknowledge that East Jerusalem is another matter and at times during Peace negotiations Jerusalem was carved up between much of East Jerusalem for the Palestinians and other areas of Jerusalem for the Jews, including subterranean aspects by the wall where the most revered Jewish remnant of the Temple mount is located and is an archaeological digging site. It’s complicated as always. Oey.

Unlike what is often reported in the news, Israel is willing to come to the table. Why isn’t the Palestinian leadership as motivated? Charlotte made a point that instead we see in the news like on the front page of Time Magazine, “Why Israelis are no longer interested in Peace.” Who says, and why are they saying it? We need to ask these questions.

The heart wrenching bottom-line for all Israeli parents that keeps them always willing to talk Peace is when they look into the eyes of their children. They hold out hope that when they turn eighteen their kids won’t have to go into the army and risk their lives. It’s mandatory for all Israeli men and women to serve in the military directly after graduating high school.

She is willing to painfully acknowledge that Israel can be perceived as occupying the Palestinian people because they are under foreign control, but she says she’ll never agree that we occupy the land. To her it is disputed territory because neither side ever has controlled it during either’s history.

Yet the pain she felt for how the Palestinians lived in the disputed territories was obvious. The multi-generational entrenched psychology of victimhood is lived out in their daily lives. She reported the anguish of Israeli soldiers after leaving their tours of duty in the West Bank. They felt like they had done something wrong—they question what is going on there. Yet under Israeli rule in Gaza, Palestinian lives were infinitely better off than they are under their own people today.

So there you have it, a glimpse of what Charlotte Korchak taught us that night at USC’s Hillel gathering. It was a privilege to listen to someone who was knowledgeable, a devoted Israeli and yet still aware and compassionate about the Palestinian suffering and perspective.

As always, I invite you to join me on my journey…

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1 Palko Karasz, 37 Tombstones Desecrated at Jewish Cemetery in France, The New York Times, Dec. 14, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/14/world/europe/france-jewish-cemetery-swastikas.html

2 Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Patrick_Moynihan

3 Stuart Winer and Times of Israel staff, Ministers lambaste Abbas for rejecting US, praising ‘martyrs, September 27, 2018, https://www.timesofisrael.com/ministers-lambaste-abbas-for-rejecting-us-praising-martyrs/

4 Stuart Winer and Times of Israel staff, Ministers lambaste Abbas for rejecting US, praising ‘martyrs, September 27, 2018, https://www.timesofisrael.com/ministers-lambaste-abbas-for-rejecting-us-praising-martyrs/

5 Elior Levy, Ariela Sternback, Palestinian textbook immortalizes Coastal Road massacre terrorist, published 03/13/18, YNetnews.com https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-5161024,00.html

6Elior Levy, Ariela Sternback, Palestinian textbook immortalizes Coastal Road massacre terrorist, published 03/13/18, YNetnews.com https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-5161024,00.html

7 Itamar Eichner, Norway fuming after aid money used by PA to honor Coastal Road Massacre, Ynetnews.com Published 5/28/17 https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4968245,00.html