“What do they want from us? Britain is such a beautiful country!”

Israeli and Palestinian flags (via Jewish News)
Israeli and Palestinian flags (via Jewish News)

As an Israeli peace activist living and working on ending the occupation from London for the past three years, and with the Jewish diaspora for the past seven years, I have been somewhat cautious about what I tell my friends and family in the holy land about my work.

After all, I had periods of no contact with my sisters because they disapproved of my work, and I thought they were trying to silence me. So I kept silent to keep Shlom-Bayit. I accepted my sisters are simply not political people, like most Israelis, who are “against” the Occupation and the settlements but would rather not know what happens in the wild West Bank.

Over the past year, my older sister and I have become closer. When I asked her in my last visit why, she said it’s because I am not as vocal about the occupation as I used to be. I raised my case.

I recently came back from a short visit in Israel. I took the opportunity to share with some of my friends and family a video campaign I was part of creating, as part of my work in the Balfour Project, a British NGO which promotes awareness of Britain’s historic responsibility from the times of the British mandate.

In this video, our peace advocacy fellows share what people in the UK often say about the situation in Israel and Palestine. The video features statements like “it’s for them to solve”, “it’s too complicated”, “it’s been going for centuries”.

When I showed the video to a friend in my recent visit to Israel, she responded: “What do they want from us?! Britain is such a beautiful country!”

It made me laugh. Because, like many Israelis, she also struggles to understand why people who don’t live there would care about what happens in the holy land. Or, more precisely, what right do they have to hold an opinion, not living there and experiencing the conflict first hand.

As an international conflict, we all hold different degrees of responsibility to this injustice. Jews, as potential Israeli citizens and whose leadership make one of the strongest lobbies for the continuation of the status quo, besides some strategically chosen diversions from its defensive approach; and British people, for taking an active part of this conflict since the days of Lord Balfour, and especially the second, unfulfilled part of his declaration.

International intervention in the conflict is viewed as a red line not to be crossed. Individuals, governments, and businesses such as Ben and Jerry’s are not entitled to promote an anti-settlements policy, because, as Netanyahu brilliantly insisted: boycotting settlements is boycotting Jews and that is antisemitic. But Netanyahu is gone and many still don’t differentiate the Jewish state with the West Bank, a Jewish settlers owned law-less state.

So, internationals who promote the two-state-solution? NO. But internationals who help Israel expand its control over the Palestinian territories and hence kill any future possible Palestinian state alongside Israel? YES PLEASE; YES to unconditional arm support from the US (thank Barnie Sanders for challenging that); YES to peace treaties which normalise the abnormal status quo; and a big WELCOME to those who support the illegal settlements. but if your stance is anti-settlements – mind your own business. Britain is such a beautiful country.

Netanyahu is now gone, but his misleading legacy is still here.

It’s time to open our eyes and look at the harsh truth in the mirror. We, Israelis will never have an incentive to end the occupation. Palestinians are losing any little leverage they had internationally. Now the world is troubled with the war in Ukraine, and rightly so. So who would care about Israel-Palestine?

The only incentive Israel would have to end the occupation, or at least make steps towards it, is if our friends in Europe and the US would condition their support. That’s what real friends do, but so far they are avoidant.

If you care about the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, you should not just say you support the two-state solution. Because words without actions are not only meaningless, but also counter-productive: a future of two states can only be promoted if our friends help us.

Israelis and Jews who truly believe in a future of two states, where Israeli soldiers no longer have to immorally terrorise Palestinians but defending Israel’s recognised borders, should realise Israel has no incentive to change the status quo, nor will it in a post Netanyahu era. The means are kosher, as long as they target Israel’s unjust regime in the occupied territories.

It’s time to change the paradigm. This conflict started as an international conflict and has always been such. Britain helped Israel to become a Jewish internationally recognised state; and today, the settlements live and thrive from extreme right and evangelist international support. likewise, they deserve to perish with the help of our international friends. And it’s our job to ask for help. It’s time to make it kosher.

About the Author
Matan is an Israeli peace activist living in London. He is an organiser of Meretz UK and a consultant of The Balfour Project. In the past, he coordinated the global work of the SISO Diaspora-Israeli partnership for ending the occupation, and helped establish the Jewish Democratic Initiative in South Africa