Ronen Shamir homepage: http://spirit.tau.ac.il/socAnt/shamir/index.html
In a different voice: a letter from Israel by Ronen Shamir*
11 June 2010, Friday
It is with great concern and sadness that I witness the deteriorating relationship between Turkey and Israel.
The Israeli army's attack on the Mavi Marmara on May 31 reveals a dangerous betrayal of Israel's well-being by its own political rulers and military establishment. Turkey, with its unique geography and history, could have been the crucial bridge between Israel and the Arab world. And it was precisely at the moment when Turkey had been willing to play such a historic role that the Israeli regime burnt the bridge.
A report by Zvi Har'el in the daily Ha'aretz on Feb. 13, 2009 captured the moment of this turnaround. The then Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, visited Ankara in December 2009. This visit represented the culmination of a Turkish effort to bring Syria and Israel to a full peace agreement. The setup was dramatic: Olmert sat in one room as Erdoğan called Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, on the phone from another room, going back and forth in an effort to conclude a historic joint statement on direct negotiations between Syria and Israel. During that same visit, Erdoğan also offered to mediate between Israel and the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip, in order to calm the escalating hostilities of those days. Olmert was uncommitted. After four hours of negotiations Olmert returned to Israel, agreeing to continue the next day. A few days later, Israel launched an attack on the Gaza Strip. Erdoğan felt betrayed. He probably also felt that he had called the Israeli bluff on its readiness to enter peace agreements in earnest.
From my Israeli perspective as well, my sense is that we are witnessing a deliberate attempt to eliminate any chance of a just peace in the Middle East. The truth must be said: The present-day Israeli regime is not interested in peace. The Israeli establishment has become prisoner to an ever growing public of Jewish fanatics -- informed by messianic visions of Greater Israel -- who over the years not only irreversibly settled in the occupied West Bank, with state funding, but have also penetrated the ranks of army officers, the civil service and the government. The outcome is that the current Israeli regime is firmly grounded in a religiously guided, ultranationalist and xenophobic worldview, one which is bound to bring calamity to the whole region, including Israel.
Deteriorating relations with Turkey are, sadly, an inevitable outcome of a siege mentality common among Israelis. For many, criticism of Israel's policies from abroad is not heeded as yet more proof that "the world is against us" in general and that "the world is anti-Semitic" in particular. The Israeli regime, for its part, fosters this view, one that deliberately obscures the crucial difference between criticism of Israeli policies and a principled stand against Israel's right to exist. The two become one in the Israeli media, the Israeli political propaganda machine, and ultimately, in the Israeli mind. Things became worse when criticism came from Turkey. Over the course of less than two years, following a string of events that reached its tragic climax last month, Turkey has been systematically demonized by the Israeli government. Relying on and further fostering well-embedded stereotypes of Muslims among Israeli Jews, Turkey -- abstracted and depicted as a homogenous social-political entity -- is now portrayed as the natural ally of militant and radical Islamists around the world.
It is in the context of such a cynical trope, at this dangerous juncture, that I wish to express my personal apology to the Turkish people for the deadly attack on the flotilla. It is also at this point in time that I believe it important to remember that there are many Israelis who are shocked and dismayed by the way Israel is governed, by the continuous blockade of Gaza and by Israel's unwillingness to put an end to its occupation and repression of the Palestinian people. There are also many Israelis who understand and lament the folly involved in losing a long-time ally like Turkey, another step along a suicidal road that is leading us into an abyss.
On the night that a few fascist brigands burnt the flag of Turkey in front of its embassy in Tel Aviv, a thousand of us stood in front of the Ministry of Defense, denouncing the attack on the Mavi Marmara. Last Saturday, on June 5, commemorating 43 years of occupation and committed to its termination, 10,000 Jews and Arabs marched on the streets of Tel Aviv. Still, I am not writing on anyone else's behalf. I represent no one but myself, a single Israeli citizen. Yet I wish to convey to the Turkish people that there are quite a few of us here, Israeli Jews and Arabs, who keep on protesting and demonstrating and fighting for peace and friendship in the Middle East.
*Ronen Shamir, a professor of sociology and law, chairs the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University.