Monday, June 11, 2007

Interview with Dr. Joel Fishman
June 2007

WTW: We are here with Joel Fishman who has agreed to spend some time with us-welcome to WTW, Joel, it is an honor to be here with you. Let’s get right to it.
What are your thoughts and opinions about the disengagement from Gaza-grave mistake of sound action by the state of Israel?

JF: How do we get from here to there? How did we get to the situation we now find ourselves? I think that we have to look back beyond the disengagement; the first event that brought us to where we are now is the Oslo Agreement which gave our enemy a beachhead and an opportunity to arm itself against us. The great mistake was Oslo. Because of Oslo, several respected commentators said that the arming of the Palestinians created a situation in which the Jewish settlements in Gaza became indefensible. I am not able to evaluate this analysis but it seems to me to be possible. Such a situation may have been the case but it was never said publicly. We have to understand this fact in order to measure whether or not disengagement was a good idea or not. One of the reasons for disengagement was that we had to leave. If we had to leave then the government should have done better with the population there. It is certainly true as we look at the events as they unfolded that disengagement left a very big empty space and gave our enemy a wonderful opportunity for staging new attacks upon Israel. If we look at any Middle East situation it is good and complicated; there is not a simple answer to the question. As to the response, Israel cannot have a heavy-handed military response unless it can first make its case known to the wider public, otherwise we will be accused of being inhumane, disproportionate response, and bullying the weaker side whether or not that we have been the victims, the people will forget the justice of our cause. We have to explain our cause and cultivate some international sympathy for us and our needs. We should be doing this even if we do plan to attack them in the future. Whatever we do we need to give full backing to the population in Sderot to make their situation tenable, they are a city under siege and we should look at it as was the case with Berlin when it was under blockade by the Soviet Union. We have to make it possible for these people to carry on as normal pace of life and we have to find a remedy for the rockets that are being used against us.

WTW: I rather suspect you have some thoughts and opinions about what Israel should be doing with regard to the rocket launches out of Gaza.

JF: Well we have to do something; we have to give careful thought to the situation that we now find ourselves. We have a very delicate situation, where if Israel were to intervene with a heavy hand, world opinion would explode against Israel. People would say that our country is using inordinate force and we are breaking international law and perhaps killing civilians. We have more than a military challenge in front of us; we have the challenge of public opinion. So if Israel did want to intervene with a heavy hand it would have to prepare the public opinion to explain why it would be necessary to intervene. The problem of course with the second Lebanon War was that it did not make its case to the world before it intervened. Although it would be well to say that we should go in with the tanks and blow the living daylights out of these people that could be a situation that might blow up in our face. I think we need more than what we are doing. I think maybe a combination of things, one is intervening very specifically on a well targeted basis within Gaza but in the same time we should be doing more to fortify and strengthen the people of Sderot to make them feel that it is important that they hang on. If need be we may have to build the whole city underground and supply them every day like in Berlin. We have to make sure they hold that city. It is important what we do on the battlefield ; we have to think on the level of politics and we cannot leave a segment of our population abandoned or allow them to feel abandoned under such circumstances. In other words, we have to make them feel like the people of Berlin who were on the end of a good airlift.

WTW: If we just looked at Israel’s response to Hamas once it became the elected government what are your thoughts about our response to Hamas?

JF: On paper our response to Hamas has been nearly perfect. Our Prime Minister said we would have nothing to do with them because they do not recognize the state and they don’t plan to recognize the state. Of course, we have contacts with everybody in the region, I don’t have first hand knowledge but everybody speaks with everybody else and our part of the world. The Europeans do not see things our way and I have been told indirectly that since Hamas has been elected more aid has come to them than ever before. Israel can’t stop it so we have to look at preserving Israel and also limiting and containing the danger that is facing us there by new and imaginative ways.

WTW: Do you have some ideas about some of these new and imaginative ways? Should we engage in collective punishment, for example?

JF: I don’t know and I can’t answer your question because people who would use the term 'collective punishment' would use the idea of disproportionate use of power. This is, I think, one of the cards in our hands-we could threaten to use it and hope that it would not ever be necessary. This is one of the great principles of deterrence-to have the force but wait to use it.

WTW: The last three days PM Olmert, has indicated that no one is immune to a response by Israel-this immediately prompted a response from Hamas; they indicated we had better not touch any of their leaders. This is an escalation of the rhetoric. Hamas has now said ,"We have the morale authority granted to us". They now represent themselves as the agents of high morale authority. What are your thoughts about PM Olmert’s public Gaza position? Are there any cautions that you think might be possible?

JF: I am not an advisor to governments-strictly my own personal opinion is whether exchanging personal threats has any value at all and it is easy to say smooth words. If you wanted to hear beautiful words, PM’s speech on the eve of the second Lebanon War left absolutely nothing to be desired. I think everybody should just keep their mouths shut and it would be better if the words were used as a substitute for real action-let’s say to appeal to the baser instincts of the Israeli people; it is the equivalent of bombing empty buildings. I do not think it is helpful when it comes down to real things.

WTW: Agreements with Muslims-doable? PM Omert is talking about another pullout calling us 'illegally occupying the land'. Should an international force be sent to Gaza? What do you think about American pressure, media?

JF: You mentioned trading land for peace. I don’t know, maybe there are certain circumstances when it is possible to do good business and transact deals with Muslims. We have to find a way to live with them. I think, first of all, that Israel has to be strong and I think the idea of land for peace is fundamentally wrong. The land that came into Israel’s hands was a result of a war in which Israel was the victim of aggression. Allow me to give you a new fact; there are two researchers who have been studying the motives of Russia in the 6-day war. The researchers say that the objective of Russia in the 6-day war was to encourage the Arabs to provoke Israel to make the first strike. If they could provoke Israel to make the first strike; the Soviets could intervene in force - even with nuclear weapons - and wipe out Israel. What went wrong is the Arabs did provoke Israel’s first strike; what went wrong was Israel bombed all of the airfields and probably quite a few of the Soviet Migs which were on the ground and the Soviet plan died at that point. So when we talk about the 6-day war Israel was maneuvered into a position of making the first strike but it was not the aggressor. Now when a country is attacked and is successfully able to defend itself it is entitled to take land and hold it until there is a final settlement. In this final settlement, they may keep some of this land, they may give some of it back; it is at the disposal of Israel. Now the whole thrust of the Soviet propaganda campaign, which others joined, was to say that Israel was the aggressor and therefore was not entitled to enjoy the fruits of victory. Before anyone engages in peace talks, or any transaction of land for peace, unilateral gestures. First of all it is all wrong. The other side has to accept the responsibility for being the aggressor, which is only factually correct, before Israel does anything. In other words the moral case is on Israel’s part and this is becoming more and more evident as the facts of new research become known. Israel does have a good case and I can also add that those who would encourage Israelis to forget their history are really doing a disservice to the state because they are throwing away a good moral sense and legal case.

WTW: What do you think of Sarkozy?

JF: I am not a French expert but I am a historian and as a historian I have been following the newspapers. I always bet on the laws of continuity. As was written in Ecclesiastes: ”All the rivers go to the sea and the sea isn’t full.” I think if we want to make a fair bet with our eyes closed maybe there will be a change of nuance but the general foreign policy in Europe - but particularly in France - is not something that is tinkered with; it belongs to the private preserve of the president. It is not open for public criticism. He will hold his position whether or not he pleases the people - meaning he can do whatever he wishes. Maybe we will see, due to circumstances on the ground and the demographics, the Europeans are becoming sensitive to the situation they have created there might be some greater flexibility – however, the general policies of foreign policy will remain the same. I visited France recently and the French I met are very concerned that their economy does not produce enough jobs for their young people. I met a lot of talented young people who have gone to the best schools and don’t have a future waiting for them in France. They have a great emigration of their young talented elite. The French look across the channel and see the opportunities in England. Many young French people go to England and there is a nagging feeling that they might want to follow the American example; however, England is closer and they think it might work for them if they gave it a

WTW: With an increase in Muslim population in Europe and especially France, do you think he can turn it around? More than 40% of young Muslims in England want to live by Sharia Law. Might the young French ones go to England and get caught up in this?

JF: I am not an expert on Muslim settlement in Europe. Let’s say that if you have a minority, around 10-15% minority of Muslim population and it is a large enough population that they can disturb the body politic, though I am not a prophet, the situation could become unpredictable and maybe the Europeans will have to find ways to cope with it. This is not a situation that allows them to look the other way as is the case in England. Melanie Phillips refers to London as “Londonistan”. It was given this name by the French secret service because the English authorities were tolerant of the Islamic terrorist groups on condition they didn’t operate in England. Of course, in the long run, it didn’t work out as they had thought and they didn’t buy protection or secure protection. We could have an interesting new situation.

WTW: I am a young college student who is an advocate for Israel on a campus that seems to be more anti-Israel than pro - Israel. As a historian, can you give me some words to use, from a historical point of view, that indicate the Jewish people are entitled to land upon which Israel resides?

JF: There is such a thing as a Jewish people. They do have historical claim to the land of Israel There has been continuous settlement on the land by Jews, in this area. Ben Gurion in his time said that the Mandate only confirmed the right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. Now whether or not others will believe in this claim we understand it is a great challenge. The important thing in this case is that the committed Jews and the committed Christians believe that Jews do still have a claim - should be firm in their faith. While it may be impossible to convince others, the best thing is we should stand firm in our faiths.

WTW: Words and language are powerful-the media and our enemy use both to misrepresent the truth. Can you suggest how we might change to counter this?

JF: We have to use our own terminology and we have to make it clear what we are speaking about; terminology is very important because if one uses 'the occupation' you are using the language of our enemy. For example, when Sharon said there was 'an occupation' - that Israel was 'occupying Palestinian territory', he became a slave of the enemy using their terminology and, similarly , during the Cold War , the Soviet Union accused Israel of having a policy of an 'apartheid ' state. This term comes from Soviet propaganda and one is disturbed that President Carter using this language because it is not neutral. It is very important to know where the terminology comes from and one needs to be very careful. If one looks further beyond the terminology we have to find our own media using correct language. There is a tendency in the West to want to be fair and to hear the arguments of both sides. In a sense, people of good faith wanted to hear the message of the Palestinians; the only problem was that the Israelis did not feel it was worth their while to state their own case so they left the field open to their adversaries. Israel must state its case not only in private or public initiatives the government must also state its case with the full authority of the government and we must use whatever alternative means of communication that we have. The Conservatives found radio in the USA with blogs and the internet to get our message across and it is very important that we should think both about terminology and also our message and get them both across. We should not leave a vacuum, we should get out in the field and we should fight.

WTW: On behalf of WTW we thank you for this interview and wish you all the best.

Joel Fishman is an Associate of the Jerusalem Institute for Public Affairs. He received his Ph.D. in Modern European History and Certificate of the European Institute from Columbia University. He is currently studying problems relating to political warfare and the defense of democracy. His most recent publication is: “Ten Years Since Oslo: The PLO's ‘People's War’ Strategy and Israel's Inadequate Response”, Jerusalem Viewpoints, No. 503, September 1, 2003.

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