Seeking an Appropriate Reaction to Criticism and Protest

As a radio commentator stated this morning, Israel invested a tremendous effort these last few days to stop the Flytilla in a way that would have the least negative impact on Israel’s image. These efforts were mostly successful. Then, last night a picture was published of an Israeli army officer, in the Jordan Valley, hitting a demonstrator in the face. This single event and photo undermined all of Israel’s recent PR efforts.

I believe we are not the main obstacle to achieving peace in our land. Rather, it has been the failure of the Palestinians to accept the partition of the land into separate Jewish and Arab states that remains the core of the conflict. However, I do believe the Palestinians have legitimate complaints regarding our actions and our occupation of their people. We have been occupying parts of the West Bank now for 45 years. No occupation is cost free, and that includes the cost to the occupier. I was convinced that the cost of occupation was too high, over 30 years ago, when I spent a summer doing reserve duty in Gaza. At that time, I was already in my mid twenties, a college graduate. As I watched some of the young recruits in regular army units interact with Palestinians, I feared for our future. Some of the orders we received as we patrolled Gaza were problematic, at best. However, what we were told to do after a bomb went off under one of our nagmashim (halftracks) was very disconcerting. I could only imagine how it felt to be a Palestinian on the other side of guns. Since that eye opening summer I have been convinced, without question, how damaging our occupation would be for us as a society.

When the Palestinian reaction to our occupation was suicide bombing, there could be no justification. Whatever, actions we took, or might have taken could never justify the killing of innocents. Those of us who were loosely sympathetic to the situation of Palestinians would say, there are many people around the world who feel oppressed, or have territorial demands, why are the Palestinians the ones in the forefront of terrorism?

Thankfully, as a result of a combination of Israeli actions, together with a strategic shift in direction by the Palestinians, terrorism directed at us had dropped precipitously. Instead, Palestinians and their supporters seem determined to achieve their goals through non-violent protest. Unfortunately, as events in the Bika, and, for that matter, at Ben Gurion airport have showed Israel has not rethought its strategy, (The Hebrew term is shinui diskette; literally,
“changing the computer disk”) to react accordingly. We seem to be stuck looking at every demonstrator as potential terrorist.

As opposed to the Civil Rights Movement in the American South, or the fight against apartheid in South Africa, the two conflicts that our opponents attempt to use as models for their actions, our cause is just. We are not trying to be an apartheid society, or a society that denies civil rights to part of its population. We are merely trying to maintain the UN partition resolution of 1947, to divide the land between an Arab and Jewish state, and live our lives in peace and security.

In order for us to win this new type of battle, we need both a foreign policy and a Hasbara program that continually makes clear that the reason we do not have peace is the unwillingness of the other side to accept the fact of our existence in the land, rather than defend our right to settle some distant hilltop in Judea or Samaria.

Second, we need to learn an important lesson from the history of the American Civil Rights movement. The greatest ally that Dr. Martin Luther King had was Bull Connor. It was the images of the peaceful demonstrators being hosed and attacked by dogs in Selma that generated the greatest support for the Civil Rights Movement. No peaceful demonstration was as powerful as the television images of peaceful demonstrators being attacked.

It must be one of the most important goals of the IDF and the police to ensure that an image like the one of the demonstrator being attacked in the Jordan Valley never exists again. In today’s world of cell phone cameras everywhere that can only happen if our soldiers and policemen know that whatever the provocation, he or she must learn to react with an absolute minimum amount of force.

Finally, as a society, we must accept the fact that we are not above criticism. We have real enemies, and there is real anti-Semitism out there. Despite these facts, we need to learn to accept the fact that we are not perfect. More than 40 years of occupation has not been good for our society. Even if we are overall in the right, it does not mean that all our actions have been right. We must learn to accept criticism even when it makes us uncomfortable.

About the Author
Marc Schulman is the editor of -- the largest history web site. He is the author a series of Multimedia History Apps as well as a recent biography of JFK. He holds a BA and MA from Columbia University, and currently lives in Tel Aviv. He is also a regular contributor to Newsweek authoring the Tel Aviv Diary.