November 12, Day# 11

Dr. Alon Liel, former Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador and author.

Excerpted transcript of Alon Liel, Notre Dame de Sion, Ein Karem

 File Nov 11, 11 59 29 AMMy name is Alon LIel. I was born in Israel and grew up here; I was an army officer during my compulsory army service. Currently I am teaching international relations at Tel Aviv University. But my main career was with the ministry of Foreign Affairs. I was recruited there in 1971 and I worked there for 31 yearsI was posted to London, Chicago, Atlanta, Turkey. Perhaps my most memorable assignment was to South Africa at the time that Mandela was just coming out of jail, which was an extraordinary period of time for me and an exceptional opportunity to meet a truly charismatic leader.

I think that through my many years in the political realm, I have come to have a rather realistic assessment of Israel society and politics. From the time I left for assignments abroad until the time I returned, there has been a big change in Israel. The religious nationalists have sidelined the secular people who founded this country. People like my parents, the secular European liberal elite who ran the country for the first 40 years, now find themselves a negligible minority. The public today is nervous, hawkish, frightened. Violence is happening now, almost every year or every other year.

A strong religious nationalist movement has grown up. More and more Jews have moved to the West Bank. 400,000 Jews, excluding East Jerusalem. Most of the tension is there. The 50-year celebrations in 2017 for the 1967 Six Day War victory are already being prepared. I belong to the small percentage of the Jewish population who are very worried: 10-20%. We are afraid if we don’t get out of the occupied territories, we’ll have one state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. 13 million people: half Jews and half Palestinians. But most Muslims would not be citizens: this is the key.

I still believe in two states but the majority believe that this is not possible anymore. I think that having two types of population is a nightmare. If you annex the territory with the population, you lose the democracy. The contemporary leadership is more nationalistic, more religious. It is deeply, emotionally tied to the land for Biblical reasons. It is more important for them to keep the land than keep the democracy. People like me see things very differently. We believe that democracy is as important as the Jewish character of the state.
If I analyze the conflict we have here as an international relations professional, not as an Israeli, I have to say that we have an extremely unbalanced conflict here. In every category, we are by far stronger than the Palestinians. Israel became a strong success story! I just came from Tel Aviv. It looks like an American city. I don’t think that there are 30 cities in the USA that have higher skylines. The country is flourishing. The young people especially, they say: “Look at us and look at them. Look at what we have achieved and look at them. We have achieved everything.” My belief is that pressure from the international community will be needed to shake up these views, to force
people to think more clearly and more deeply.

But the key phrase for resolving a conflict, like in South Africa or Ireland, is “parity of esteem.” There is no parity of esteem here, nothing like it. How can you have esteem for these guys that for 70 years did nothing while we were doing what we have achieved. But it is deeper than that. The average Israeli
says that there are two peoples here, but only one narrative. In order to have an enemy, in order to listen to what he wants, you have to have the minimal esteem to see him at all. But the basic Palestinian narrative is ignored. The Palestinians talk of the Naqba, the tragedy they suffered in 48. Here in Israel, if someone mentions the Naqba, he is in big trouble. There is the feeling that you can’t even allow a Palestinian to have a narrative of their own. This is unsolvable; the only way to level the playing field a little is through international pressure.

In November 2011, the UN voted to recognize the state of Palestine and a few weeks ago, voted on a resolution to display the Palestinian flag. This is unbelievable to Israelis! They [the Palestinians] are nothing! Why do they get so much support? Today the EU voted to label the products made in the territories. Shock in Israel! We are so strong, why should the EU care about Palestine? The only thing that forces the average Israeli to pay attention to the Palestinian narrative is international consensus. Any kind of international pressure has an effect. FIFA for example. If we are expelled from FIFA, people here will be shocked! How come Palestinians, who are worth nothing, run the world? It would have to be that something happens internationally, in the courts, where we would have to recognize the Palestinians. That would have an effect. It had a huge impact and disappointment when Obama said, “not in my term.” This is sad for America that is cannot take the moral lead. Maybe its failures in the Middle East, maybe because of the Jewish lobby – but America is paralyzed.

We are a prosperous country, but there are other dimensions. Most Israelis think that the attitudes of the international community have nothing to do with the occupied territories: it is anti-Semitism. The West Bank is an apartheid situation. 400,00 settlers live in a different legal framework that 4.5 million Palestinians.

My strong convictions are not in the mainstream. And it is true that I have paid a price. Now it is difficult, many of us are being labeled as traitors. My wife runs the New Israel Fund. We both get threats, my wife and I; she more than me. Recently someone said, “I know where you live. I’ll come and kill you. My daughter is on television, channel 2, every week. Even she gets threats because of what I believe.

I don’t care so much about myself. Now I am worried about the grandchildren. Netanyahu has said, “We will live on our swords.” I don’t want this for my grandchildren. The wounds are getting deeper and deeper; people are convinced that there can be no peace. That peace is impossible. The Israelis see their side, their suffering, their tragedy. You could say it would be unnatural in this kind of conflict for you to put yourselves in the shoes of the other. And yet, despite everything, I persevere with my convictions, continue to teach, and to speak, and to work.


Arik Ascherman, President, Rabbis for Human Rights,

Excerpted listening session, Notre Dame de Sion, Ein Karem, Israel

 Excerpt references a knife attack on Ascherman by an Israeli settler on October 23, 2015

 IMG_7415I don’t think despair is something we can afford. We don’t have the privilege of despair. One of the things that keeps me going as a religious person is we are not obligated to finish the task entirely by ourselves. Neither are we free to desist from doing our part. If we have faith that there is an arc of history, an arc of justice, that things are moving. The great tapestry of history – maybe not in our lifetime – but we do our part so that the tapestry will be completed – that’s one thing that for me at least keeps me going.

You have one thing, only one thing in your favor: the truth in your hearts. You have to find a way to let that truth communicate with people who don’t want to give you the time of day. You never write anyone off and you never discount the power of the truth in our hearts to communicate with others.

On that day, there was an army sponsored olive harvest. It was over. The army left, the Palestinians left, and we looked up and saw that where we had just been, there were settlers stealing olives. We got the police and the army to chase them away. Then, about the same time, a fire broke out in a nearby wadi. And now, the police aren’t answering us. So, I went up there and my first thought was that I would scare them away. And that didn’t happen.

I saw one Israeli come toward me but I was reasonably far away and I ducked. But them another Israeli came at me from the side and I didn’t see him coming. A masked Israeli. He started throwing rocks at me; he pulled his knife, slashing and kicking. I tried to back away, calm things down, keep my eyes toward him but back away. It was very difficult because it was a steep slope. And then he went after a reporter who was with me. So I attempted to protect the reporter and at that point, I lost my balance, and then – my son who studies martial arts can tell you everything I did wrong- but I had to engage at that point, because at that point, he’s on my back. His knife comes down three times, he almost murders me – but he doesn’t.

Arik knife attack photoMy first question [for my attacker] is “What brought you to that point that you could be on the mountain filled with hate, anger and violence simply because Palestinians sponsored by the army were harvesting their olives?”

My second question [for him] is: “Why didn’t you do it? Was it that you never intended to do it? Did you just in that moment of truth discover that you are not a murderer? What was it? Hearing God’s call and returning to your higher self?” I don’t know.

We need so much more effort to be encouraged to listen and understand. Whether to understand why a young boy would [attack me with a knife] or whether a Palestinian would pick up a knife to kill an Israeli. [We should have] 100% effort in understanding and 0% tolerance for violence.




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