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Actor Richard Gere in Jerusalem. The next time you take a stand, please study the material
Photo: Eli Mendelbaum
Ben-Dror Yemini
An open letter to Richard Gere
Op-ed: Your activity for human rights is important, but before taking a stand, you should know the facts. Because the things you said help neither peace nor the Palestinians. All they do is perpetuate the lies and the rejectionism.
Hello, Richard Gere. You recently visited Hebron, guided by Breaking the Silence activists. They likely told you what they tell many other diplomats, journalists, parliament members and occasional guests, about Israel’s crimes, about the poor Hebron residents, and more. Your only response was that “it’s exactly what the Old South was in America. Blacks knew where they could go… It was well understood. You didn’t cross over if you didn’t want to get your head beat in, or you get lynched.”

 

 

Let me tell you that I am not a supporter of the Jewish settlement in Hebron, or of the settlement enterprise in general. Far from it. I am in favor of a decent solution which will give the Palestinians welfare, prosperity, sovereignty and independence. If only they wanted that too. if only they would fight for themselves, rather than against Israel’s existence. But in order to contribute something to a reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians, there are a few facts you should know.

 

Gere in Israel. ‘Has it occurred to you to say something to the Palestinians about their incitement? About the racism? The anti-Semitism? The rejectionism? (Photo: Eli Mandelbaum)
Gere in Israel. ‘Has it occurred to you to say something to the Palestinians about their incitement? About the racism? The anti-Semitism? The rejectionism? (Photo: Eli Mandelbaum)

 

Hebron is the Jews’ holiest and most important city after Jerusalem. Jews lived there even after the Arab occupation in the seventh century. They held the status of inferior citizens, the “dhimmis,” as was customary under the Muslim rule. In the 16th century, Jews were already banned entry to the Cave of the Patriarchs. There were riots against Jews in 1517 and 1834. There was no occupation, no Zionism and no Israel then. The major pogrom took place in 1929. Fifty-nine Jews were murdered by a rampaging Muslim mob, while a few Muslims, Righteous Among the Nations, hid Jews. Following the pogrom, the Jews were forced to leave and the Muslims took over the Jewish neighborhood and the Jews’ homes.

 

Several years after the Six-Day War, the Jewish settlement was resumed in the area where the Jewish neighborhood had been located. There was a profound dispute over the issue in the Israeli society, a dispute which has not ceased for a moment. As part of the Oslo Accord, the Wye River Memorandum was signed in 1998 between then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. The Palestinians received full and exclusive responsibility for 80 percent of Hebron (H1), while the Jews got 20 percent (H2). In practice, the Jews are not allowed into H1 and into most of areas of H2 where Palestinians live.

 

In addition, there is one street in H2, al-Shuhada, which connects two Jewish neighborhoods and has received international publicity due to entry restrictions on Palestinians who do not live on the street. There is no absolutely need to justify every Israeli activity in that area, but one must be familiar with the wide and real picture: Jews—and only Jews—are barred from 97 percent of Hebron, in all of H1 and in most of H2. The restrictions on the Palestinians apply primarily to one street, which is visited by tens or hundreds of people a week, so that the “apartheid” manipulation can be sold to them.

 

Allow me to assume that the Breaking the Silence activist didn’t tell you that Palestinians are in no danger of getting lynched. A Jew who accidentally enters Palestinian territory, on the other hand, will get lynched. And they didn’t tell you that security measures are being taken because most Palestinians in Hebron support Hamas, a jihadist and anti-Semitic organization which supports the annihilation of Jews. And they didn’t tell you that the city of Hebron is active and full of life regardless of the tiny part, only 3%, in which Jews live. And they didn’t tell you that there was no robbery of Palestinian property, and that the settlers hold only a small part of the Jewish property which was robbed from Jews in 1929.

 

We should argue about the logic of a Jewish settlement in the heart of an Arab population. I am against it. And as part of an overall agreement, there will be a need to forgive the past, like after population changes in Europe. But that doesn’t exempt us from knowing the facts.

 

Hebron is only part of the story. The Palestinians have an autonomy, an elected parliament, a government, a president and even diplomatic representatives around the world. The Israeli control continues because the Palestinians themselves have repeatedly rejected any serious proposal for an agreement. In early 2001, they rejected former US president Bill Clinton’s proposal for a state on 100 percent of the Gaza Strip and on 96 percent of the West Bank, including a division of Jerusalem. In 2008, they rejected a similar proposal from former prime minister Ehud Olmert. They again turned down a proposal from former US secretary of state John Kerry and president Barack Obama in March 2014.

 

I can assume that you didn’t hear any of this from the Breaking the Silence people. They aren’t showing you the real picture, neither the historical one nor the current one. They aren’t telling you about terror. They aren’t telling you about the Palestinian rejection of every agreement. They are allowed to sell you lies, half-truths and distortions, and they are allowed to act freely, even in Hebron, because Israel is a democracy. They are not bad people. They act out of goodwill. But they are blind. And most importantly, they are wrong and are misleading.

 

What exactly should Israel do? Evacuate the area without an agreement, so that what happened in the Gaza Strip will happen in Hebron and in the entire West Bank as well? The immediate and certain meaning is the establishment of an Islamic entity or a branch of ISIS, which will cause more terror and more suffering and more distress and more destruction, mainly to the Palestinians themselves. That’s what happened in the Gaza Strip. It’s happening in Libya, in Nigeria, in Sinai in Egypt, in Syria, in Iraq, in Afghanistan. It’s happening in every place controlled by radical Islam.

 

That doesn’t mean that the current situation should continue. That doesn’t justify the continuation of the settlement enterprise. That doesn’t mean that a small part of Hebron’s residents suffer unnecessarily sometimes. But it’s not apartheid. And what you saw in Hebron is nothing more than a display as part of the anti-Israel propaganda, which is not bringing peace any closer and which is not advancing human rights, but is only helping perpetuate the conflict.

 

Human rights are an important issue. The Palestinians deserve welfare, self-government and prosperity. The problem is that their leadership doesn’t want a state alongside Israel, but rather instead of Israel. The problem is that their leadership prefers unstoppable incitement over education to reconciliation, mutual recognition and a compromise. Has it occurred to you to say something to them about their incitement? About the racism? About the anti-Semitism? About the rejectionism? Are they exempt from criticism?

 

Your activity and other people’s activity for human rights is important. But before taking a stand, you should know the facts. Because the things you said help neither to promote peace nor the Palestinians. All they do is perpetuate the lies and the rejectionism. So the next time you take a stand, please study the material first. Only then, Mr. Gere, will you be able to offer advice.

 

(Translated and edited by Sandy Livak-Furmanski)

 

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