Photo: Haim Horshstein
University students (Archive)
Photo: Haim Horshstein

A letter to the British academic

Yair Lapid responds to UK academics' criticism, reminding them he might pay for the removal of roadblocks and checkpoints with his life

It was with great interest I read of the British University and College Union’s call for an academic boycott of Israel. I was glad to discover that the association has not yet made a final decision as to how best to boycott us. Their highnesses are still pondering the decision. The blue-gray smoke wafts from their pipes, their foreheads wrinkle, a watch on their wrist sits underneath the sleeve of a Harris Tweed jacket with its leather elbow patch. Maybe they say to themselves, perhaps we’ll boycott them immediately or maybe we’ll wait a bit.


No reason to be hasty, these sweaty baby-makers somewhere in the Middle East, won’t stop killing each other in the near future. In the meantime let’s have another pint and study the rare 18th-century manuscript that we found in the library.


We Israelis know that the decision has a comic side to it. Our academic institutions have always been the fortresses of the radical left, opposed to the occupation with all its heart. We sort of suspected that the Brits don’t really get what is going on here but this is the kind of ignorance that elicits the same kind of wicked laughter from students who catch their teacher making a mistake.


And yet maybe it is me who is making a mistake? Maybe I am too easily ridiculing the opinions of people who care, who are innocently trying to make the world a better place? For every human group that has adopted a lofty cause, there are always the cynics like me who believe that these idealists don’t understand the real world.


Those who opposed apartheid were told that the struggle against international communism was more important, environmentalists were called ‘tree huggers,’ and Tony Blair was told repeatedly that the struggle in Northern Ireland would never end. It is possible that instead of ranting and raving, getting angry, feeling insulted and canceling plans to travel to London to see some theatre in the West End, it is worthwhile to try and help the honorable lecturers in their deliberations. Perhaps this is immodest of me but I believe there is one small thing I can add: I don't want to die!


While it may be true that the humane thing is to remove the roadblocks and checkpoints, to stop the occupation immediately, to enable the Palestinians freedom of movement in the territories, to tear down the bloody inhumane wall, to promise them the basic rights ensured to every individual. It’s just that I will end up paying for this with my life. Petty of me perhaps to dwell on this point. After all, how important is my life when compared to the chance for peace, justice and equal rights. But still, call me a weakling; call me thickheaded – I don’t want to die.


Make no mistake. Should we do what the honorable British lecturers are demanding, I will die. Maybe not immediately but the waiting won’t be fun. It will take two or three months until my death (don’t worry; it won’t take longer than that). I will always ask myself how I am going to be killed. Will a Katyusha fall on my home burying me in the ruins? Will a suicide bomber explode his charge at the mall as I am buying my small daughter a pair of new shoes? Will someone run pass me with an axe on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv and slice off my head? Or maybe a sniper will take me down on my way to pick up my son from school? If I could choose I would prefer the last option. It seems the most painless. At the very least, my wife will pick up our son a little late and explain to him that his father is dead. Unfortunately I don’t really have the choice of how I am to die, and the curiosity, if you’ll pardon the pun, is killing me.


However, in contrast to me and my ridiculous insistence on staying alive, academics – certainly those lecturers who wander the hallowed, silent halls of the distinguished English university – know how to look at the big picture. From the historic vantage point, my death is really marginal compared to the major effort to end what they are calling ‘Israeli apartheid”. Their use of this phrase concerns me a tad. Is it possible that even lecturers sometimes miss the lecture? Apartheid? Why apartheid?


The oppression causing the occupation (and yes the opposite is also true) is not there to turn the Palestinians into slaves. We never sent them to look for diamonds in our mines; to pick cotton in our fields or force them to use public toilets reserved for ‘Arabs Only.’ The separation between Israelis and Palestinians has nothing to do with race, creed or color. In fact, Israel is one of the only countries in the world that has banned racist politicians from being elected to the Knesset. Some 20 percent of the population is Arab – they will tell you that no one has ever dared to demand that they sit at the back of the bus.


The only thing that concerns us is that the bus won’t explode and yes my daughter travels on it to her gymnastics class twice a week. Promise this to us, and see how quickly the checkpoints come down and the wall crumbles. Promise us this and see how Israel rallies to help the Palestinians establish a state, to save their economy, to aid them in their most important war: the fight against poverty, ignorance, and Islamic messianic fundamentalism. This is all I ask of the Brits; not money, service or even friendship. Just understand the annoying fact that I don’t want to die.


I am aware of the argument that the occupation is the root of all this horrible violence. It’s just that this is an argument, well, how shall I say it – okay, academic. After all, Arab terror started long before we occupied even one piece of this land. Every major wave of Palestinian terror came as the chances of a peace treaty came closer. It was the situation when there was the wave of terror bombings on public busses in the "Black March" of 1996, which destroyed the prospects of the Oslo Agreement. This is how it was when the second intifada erupted as it did just after Ehud Barak proposed giving up nearly all the occupied territories including part of Jerusalem. That is the way it is now with the wave of Qassam rocket attacks in the wake of Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the Gaza strip.


I still believe in peace. I am interested in the occupied territories, the bloodshed and cruelty. I believe in peace as I have all my life and I know that a price will have to be paid to achieve it. All I am asking for in the meantime is a fair chance to still be alive when it comes.


פרסום ראשון: 06.12.07, 16:23
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