Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Michael Walzer - Rich Settlers, Poor Israelis (& Political Lunacy): Stopping the Cycle

Michael Walzer: Stopping Settlements & Poverty in Israel

Michael Walzer, a leading American political theorist, has been a professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey, since 1980.
Walzer has written about a wide variety of topics in political theory and moral philosophy: political obligation, just and unjust war, nationalism and ethnicity, economic justice and the welfare state. He has played a part in the revival of a practical, issue-focused ethics and in the development of a pluralist approach to political and moral life. He is currently working on the toleration and accommodation of "difference" in all its forms and also on a (collaborative) project focused on the history of Jewish political thought.
Walzer’s books include "Arguing About War," "On Toleration," "Exodus and Revolution," and "Just and Unjust Wars" and he has served as editor of the political journal, Dissent. He is also the co-editor of The Jewish Political Tradition.

Ph.D., Harvard University, 1961; Assistant Professor of Politics, Princeton University, 1962-66, Professor of Government, 1966-80; Member, Board of Governors, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1974-; Co-Editor, Dissent, 1976-, Contributing Editor, The New Republic, 1977-; Institute for Advanced Study, Professor, 1980-, UPS Foundation Professor, 1986-; Member, Board of Trustees, Brandeis University, 1983-88.


Dear friend,
Like sports scores and the weather forecast, news about the Middle East is practically a permanent feature in the morning paper or TV news.
Even so, here's a headline you probably haven't seen:

"Every Third Child in Israel is Poor"

The news, reported by Israel's National Insurance Institute, is that the Jewish state is home to some 738,000 poor children and teenagers. Here are the facts:

  • The number of poor children rose from 33.2 percent of all Israeli children in 2004, to 34.1 percent in 2005.
  • Overall, there are 1.58 million poor Israelis – 24 percent of the total population.
  • According to a poll by the Israel Medical Association, more than a quarter of Israelis cannot afford comprehensive health care.
  • Since 2001, the social budget for children has been cut by some $800 million. The National Insurance Institute has warned that further cuts could increase the number of poor children.
Why wasn't this disturbing news more widely disseminated in the American media? Perhaps because it seems unconnected to the issues of war and peace which regularly make headlines – the victory of Hamas in Palestinian elections, for example. Or the shocking end of Ariel Sharon's career in Israeli public life.
Yet these poverty figures are intimately connected to the issues of war and peace.
Practically the same day that these poverty statistics were released, another headline-making piece of news was announced:

"More than $14 billion has been spent on Israel's West Bank settlements"

That staggering figure (nearly 15% of Israel's GNP) covers construction and infrastructure costs over the past four decades, according to a report by the Israeli Research Institute for Economic and Social Affairs, an independent body. The report also determined that the Israeli government contributes twice as much proportionally to settlement local budgets as it does to local budgets inside Israel. These figures do not even include extra spending on settlers for education, social services, tax benefits and military protection.
Many settlements are illegal outposts that Israel agreed to dismantle, ironically further stretching the country's budget.
>How many more billions will be spent to withdraw from settlements as Israel continues its disengagement from Palestinian population centers? We now know that the disengagement from Gaza (and some remote West Bank settlements) cost Israel around $2 billion dollars. That's more than $200,000 per settler, based upon 9000 people being affected.
This double hit to the Israeli taxpayer and the country's poor will be the lasting legacy of Israel's settlement movement – a folly that Shalom Achshav, Israel's Peace Now movement, has opposed since it was founded in 1978.
Issues of war and peace are often reduced to zero-sum questions of guns or butter. In the case of Israel's settlements, Israel today would have a stronger military, a stronger social safety net, and stronger communities in the Galilee and Negev if those billions had not been diverted to settlement-building.
And as the rioting by settlers during the January evacuation of the illegal outpost of Amona demonstrated, the building and tearing down of settlements has its human cost as well. Amona included nine permanent homes, built without permits on privately-owned Palestinian land. The outpost of Amona is still standing and, due to settler violence, it cost $1.6 million just to demolish these nine buildings. There are more than 100 illegal outposts just like Amona.

The fact is, the government acted to evacuate Amona only after Peace Now made a successful petition to Israel's High Court of Justice.

It was just one of a series of legal actions Peace Now has taken to try to bring the law to bear against settlers who are used to flouting it.
A Peace Now petition prompted the Israeli Interior Ministry to stop transferring government funds to the Settlers Council for its campaign against last year's Gaza disengagement;
A Peace Now petition to the High Court of Justice froze the illegal construction of 3,000 settler housing units near the settlement of Modi'in Illit;
And a Peace Now petition to the High Court of Justice resulted in a "show cause" order requiring the state to explain why it had not demolished 18 buildings at the illegal outposts of Hayovel and Haresha.
Peace Now's legal actions have led to a greater awareness about the need for Israel to deal with settler lawlessness in the West Bank.
Just last month, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert responded to settler rioting and illegal construction by noting, "In Judea and Samaria, disturbances of the peace are being committed and the legally constituted authorities are being challenged. These manifestations are becoming part of the population's way of life to no small degree. Up until now the law enforcement agencies in the various sectors have not acted with the required rigor. These phenomena must be prevented, law and order must be restored, and the law enforcement agencies must be obeyed."
As the U.S. sister organization of Peace Now, Americans for Peace Now (APN) applauds the Israeli government's new approach to illegal settler behavior.
Peace Now's legal victories are due in no small way to the support of APN and its members. Americans for Peace Now provides 50 to 70 percent of the funds that Peace Now in Israel uses for its activities.
Your contribution to APN will help underwrite Peace Now's research, legal fees, and court costs associated with future cases.
If the government needs to be prodded to dismantle more illegal outposts, Peace Now will continue to use the legal tools available, according to Peace Now's secretary-general, Yariv Oppenheimer, who said:
"As long as the government does not do it, we will continue to turn to the court. It is not even Peace Now's job to enforce the law, but the government's job, and we are not pleased that we have to bring such problematic situations to the court. On the other hand, the legal system is the only one that in fact constitutes an effective tool which proves that it can cause the government to evacuate outposts."
Irrespective of Hamas' troubling victory in Palestinian elections, or whether Israel has a Palestinian negotiating partner, and regardless of who wins the Israeli vote in March, two connected headlines will remain the same –
"One third of Israeli children live in poverty."
And: "Israel must disengage from Palestinian population centers to pave the way for two states – an Israel with a Jewish majority, and a Palestinian state."
For Israel to control Palestinian population centers brings into question the future of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state.

That's the reality many on Israel's right have come to accept – most notably Ariel Sharon, when he left the Likud Party he helped found in the 1970s, and formed the centrist Kadima Party, bringing with him many of the descendants of Israel's original right-wing.
One of them is Israel's new foreign minister, Tzipi Livni. This is how she explained her journey to a position Peace Now and APN have long stood for:
"My need as an Israeli and a Jew is to keep a Jewish homeland for the Jewish people, a sovereign, Jewish and democratic state with a Jewish majority. So how do we [do that]? The idea is to divide the land, to give up some of our rights on the land of Israel and to establish a two-state solution," she told the Washington Post in January, adding,
"I came to the conclusion that I cannot implement all of my ideology. I have to choose and my choice was to implement the ideology of a homeland for the Jewish people with equal rights to all the minorities in the land of Israel, but [the homeland will be] only in part of the land of Israel."
The folly of settlement must end.

Because the misappropriation of military resources, in which soldiers must guard handfuls of settlers in isolated outposts must end…

Because the hemorrhaging of funds in building access roads that lead nowhere and houses that will have to be abandoned must end…

Because the diversion of money that should go to Israel's growing number of poor must end…

Because the waste of direct capital to one of Israel's most valuable security assets—its people's brainpower—must end…

This is the news APN wants to broadcast. In Congress. On college campuses. In our regular newspaper ads. And in the weekly updates we send to our members.
The settlement movement is a folly and a failure. It has helped to impoverish ordinary Israelis. And it is time for it to end.
Join us if you want tomorrow's headlines to tell of better news.
Please make your tax-deductible contribution today to Americans for Peace Now.


Michael Walzer

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Since 1981, Americans for Peace Now (APN) has been the U.S. sister organization of Shalom Achshav. Although independent from Shalom Achshav, APN works closely with its Israeli counterpart to raise the profile of the peace camp in the American Jewish community, the media, the halls of Congress, and in the Administration. APN is headquartered in Washington, DC, with offices in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles.
Each week, APN publishes the Middle East Peace Report, which features the latest, most important stories about the peace process from the Israeli press and other sources. It publishes two tough questions and tough answers from Yossi Alpher, who brings his own unique perspective to readers about developments in the Middle East. And it publishes a weekly conversation with Leonard Fein, a veteran progressive American Jewish activist and commentator who has become well known for his regular contributions to the Forward. All of these publications are sent out via email late each Monday in the APN Weekly Update.
As part of its educational outreach, APN provides American decision-makers, journalists, and activists with opportunities to hear directly from some of the top Israeli, Palestinian, and international experts working on peace process issues today. In the past few months, APN has hosted public forums featuring Yossi Alpher, Israeli documentary film maker and television news anchor Chaim Yavin, Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Yael Dayan, Israeli pollster Asher Arian, Israeli and Palestinian economists, Palestinian security expert Ahmed Khalidi, Palestinian pollster Dr. Khalil Shikaki, and UNRWA Commissioner General Karen AbuZayd.