Howard Kaplan

When Israel Turned Its Back on Saudi Recognition

During these turbulent times I often think of Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg author of THE ZIONIST IDEA. First published in 1959, it remains the most important work on Zionism today. Arthur died in 2006 and had been one of the founders of Peace Now.  I used to drive him around Los Angeles when he visited and he’d take me into meetings with people at the highest levels of Jewish and American life; except on occasion I had to drop him off. I was not entirely clear if he was meeting with CIA or Mossad agents about the drive for Middle East peace.

I remember Arthur telling me about the State of Israel, which he spent his life loving, “What are they going to do, turn the West Bank into a bunch of bantustans?” Which is exactly what is happening. I have long not challenged people who went to Israel, and just love the beach at Tel-Aviv, the beauty of the Galilee, float in the Dead Sea, splash at Ein Gedi and never gaze in the direction of  the Green Line.

Photo of me with my Auschwitz survivor mother, Jerusalem, 1971, while I was a student at the Hebrew Univerisity
The survival of Israel in the world does not depend on the overcoming the judicial coup, which I believe will fail. IT IS THE DANGER OF THEN RETURNING TO NORMAL vis a vis the Palestinians. Israel’s goal has long not been peace but rather to “manage” the conflict  to enable expansion of settling in the West Bank. There is even a term for the periodic incursions into Gaza. In Hebrew it’s called Mowing the Grass. You go in and take out the worst of Hamas, blow up as many tunnels as you can, don’t much mind how many civilians you kill in the process and then go back home and splash at Ein Gedi. Mission accomplished, until a few years later when you do it again.

New polls show a majority of US democrats favor Palestinians over Israelis and members of Congress, 12 last week, sent a letter to Biden demanding U.S. aid not be used to expand the occupation of the West Bank. My Hebrew is fluent and I’ve been visiting Israel regularly since 1963 at my Bar Mitzvah trip when we could not enter the Old City in Jordanian hands. Each decade has been marked by greater intolerance in Israeli society. I saw a video during Easter Week of a handful of Orthodox Jews on the Via Delarosa; one spat on the ground in front of church apparently to mark his superiority and disdain. Again you can frolic in Israel’s genuine beauty or have a look behind the curtain.

There is a quote attributed to Golda Meir, a pernicious, condescending quote that: “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” Someone quoted it to me last week on Facebook as the reason there is no peace and added he had no empathy for dead Palestinians. I unfriended him. As a child of two Holocaust survivors I don’t want to treat anyone as “the other” as my parents were. The irony is no one can find the source for the Golda quote and as often as it is repeated, it’s unclear if she ever said it.

Often repeated and utterly false: “The IDF is the most moral army in the world.” Wars are not fought morally and occupations by definition are never benign. The IDF senior officer G’vir wants to head his private militia is reliably quoted as ordering men to shoot Gazans as they were fleeing. A young friend of mine was in the West Bank this summer with a youth Jewish peace group clearing boulders, placed by Settlers to block the road to a Palestinians village. The IDF hit these young Jews with stun grenades and tear gas causing injuries. You can pretend or open your eyes.

There have been wholesale opportunities for a settlement scuttled by both sides. All my novels are historical and detailed. In THE SPY’S GAMBLE I delineate an actual generally unknown meeting in Aqaba in Jordan in 2016 attended by Abdullah of Jordan, el-Sissi of Egypt, John Kerry and Netanyahu . The Saudis blessed the agreement reached there for a regional peace deal and offered full recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. (The current Israeli government has managed to be  not welcome at the White House while relations with the UAE and Saudi Arabia are strained over the current treatment of Palestinians.) By February of 2023, the Associated Press had calculated that 55 Palestinians had been killed by Israel thus far this year in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. This is not to minimize the smaller number of Israeli dead–both matter. After Aqaba, Netanyahu turned the table over on the agreement and claimed he could not get his coalition to back it. He may too have been influenced by the impending presidency of Donald Trump who he viewed to be more favorable.

Recently, the world watched Israeli police enter al-Aqsa during Ramadan to clear out those barricaded inside. A video circulated widely across the globe showed the police pounding Palestinians on the ground with rifle butts and batons inside one of the holiest places in Islam. Anderson Cooper on CNN showed a portion of it as part of a longer segment on the al-Aqsa clash. The reaction of the Israeli police chief was to acknowledge that it was bad optics–not that it was immoral.

This kind of behavior is institutionalized in the IDF and the Israeli police. I’ve been traveling in the West Bank repeatedly between 1970 and my last trip in 2016. I’ve seen such activity often.

To face how long this brutality has been rife and rampant–I began writing my novel TO DESTROY JERUSALEM in the late 1980s. The inciting event of the antagonist was based  on a historical event in the village of Beita where I sat with the villagers. Take a moment and grasp, this was 1987. A settler teen group went on a hike to the springs at the base of the village of  Beita. Palestinians came out and surrounded them from a distance angry at the incursion. The settler guard whirled, shot, and blew off the head of Tirzah Porath one of the settler girls. The IDF soon landed in helicopters, marched every male from child to elder into the school courtyard where they were told to sit with hands on their heads. The IDF then proceeded to blow up houses in the village. Is this why we created a State?– or as Ben Gurion had suggested after 1967: give it all back lest it rot us from within

Until you fight to end this Occupation, you’re not operating in Israel’s best interest and Jewish best interest. My great fear is that the judicial coup will fail only for Israel to succumb under the weight of the Occupation.

About the Author
Howard Kaplan's new novel, THE SYRIAN SUNSET: a novel of the Syrian Civil War, the failure of the West to save the Syrian people, and how that inaction against the Russian incursion in Syria emboldened Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine. The film adaptation of his THE DAMASCUS COVER, starring Sir John Hurt in his final film, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and seven Israeli actors is available on Tubi in the U.S.
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