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May 22, 2013

A Jewish settler speaks out

Reuel S. Amdur

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It was a tumultuous time when Lia Tarachansky began school in Kiev. The Soviet Union was crumbling and Chernobyl was collapsing. She was the only Jew in her class, and the teacher, never using her first name, referred to her always as "Tarachansky the Jew".

Then, when she was six, the family moved to Israel—and in class she was identified as “the Russian.”  That is how she began her presentation at the University of Ottawa at a talk on May 9 sponsored by the Canadian Council on Arab-Canadian Relations and other organizations.

In Israel she found that it was not only the Russians who hated the Jews.  So did the Palestinians.  “Russian immigrants transferred their fear and anger from the Russians to the Palestinians,” she explained.  With her Zionist mother intent on the family doing its patriotic duty, the family moved to Ariel, a settlement deep in the West Bank.  Houses were being built there and standing empty, available at cut-rate prices for Jews who would move in.  The first contact she ever had with a Palestinian was with workmen engaged in working on her house.

In her little community in Ariel, “settlers felt special, different.”  People soon realized that the Oslo Agreement would take forever to work itself out.  Meanwhile, she grew up in a closely knit Russian community, leaving her with fond memories.  But something was always missing: the Palestinians.  The fear was there, at some level, but no real contact.  It was only when she went away to university in Canada that she actually had a real contact with a Palestinian.

Turachansky went off to the University of Guelph, and it was there that this contact happened.  “I thought, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to kill me,’ but then, ‘he’s not.’”  This was an epiphany.  The infamous wall was not the only wall.  Israeli society is structured in such a way that many Israelis are separated by a barrier that is not simply physical.

Zionists demonize Israel Apartheid Week.  Tarachansky encountered Israel Week at the University of Guelph, where Zionist students proclaimed the glories of Israel.  She got them upset when she confronted them with the reality that she knew.

Since university, she has become a journalist and a film-maker.  Her focus has been on the Occupation.  She unlearned what she had been taught in school.  1948 is the key date for the misinformation.  The official line: “The Arab nations rose up to try to finish what Hitler started.  Israel won and in the process became even bigger. It survived, leaving us against the Arab world.”  Overlooked was that fact that two-thirds of the Palestinians became refugees.

“We did not learn about the Occupation in school,” she observed.  Now she is intent on showing what it means to be occupied.  “40% of Palestinian men in the West Bank have been in jail.  Our forces are in total control.”

What does it mean for Jews and non-Jews for Israel to be a Jewish state?  There is the Law of Return for Jews from anywhere in the world.  There is the Law of the Land, which ends up with 93% of the land owned by the state.  Refugee property became state property.  “If a refugee sneaks across the border to go back to his village, he will be shot,” she said.  “There are 60 laws that distinguish between Jews and other citizens.” 

Contrary to the text book fairy tales, it is clear that the vast majority of 1948 refugees left because they were made to leave or encouraged to do so by Israeli forces.  Because of the opening of government archives, details of the deliberate ethnic cleansing have come to light.  The plan was clear.

In order to establish a Jewish state, it was necessary to destroy what was before.  500 villages were deliberately destroyed so that inhabitants could never return.  “Facts on the ground.”  The land was Hebrewized and Europeanized.  Israel undertook the task of destroying anything in the villages that reflected Arab culture.  Mosques were destroyed but not all churches.  Any Arab historical remains were destroyed.  At the same time, ancient remains such as those from Roman times were kept.  A committee was set up to deal with place names.  Arab names were changed to Hebrew ones.  Biblical names were allowed to remain.  Such undertakings were explicitly endorsed by Ben Gurion, as the archives make clear.

In recent decades, the real history of 1948 and after is being more accurately documented by historians, Israeli, Arab, and other. Israelis are beginning to have some level of awareness about the real history, but, she noted, “Facts don’t matter.  It’s what we know in our gut that matters.  People know and don’t know at the same time.  The next step is to know but accept that it was justified.” 

Tarachansky commented that things have been bad for Palestinians, but now the situation for Israel is tightening.  Civil liberties are under attack.  In reaction to a film (“Jenin, Jenin”) about an attack on Jenin refugee camp during the Second Intifada, the Knesset is at this writing preparing to pass the Jenin, Jenin Law, which allows for law suits against persons who defame the Israel Defense Forces.  Among the anti-IDF remarks that will be subject to the law are the following (according to Gideon Levy, writing in Haaretz): “The IDF is an army of occupation; a substantial portion of its activities are the policing activities of occupiers; an army of occupation is cruel by definition; the IDF kills innocents, including children; the IDF arrests children who are under the age of criminal responsibility; sometimes our soldiers have light trigger fingers, including in the last few months; the IDF systematically violates international law.”  Says Tarachansky, “I can’t wait for a journalist to be tried for this.”

She was asked about the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement.  According to her, the response in Israel is that “Everyone is against us.  We must have a fortress state.”  She cited a statement by Israel’s Minister of Finance that 21% of Israeli companies have experienced losses because of the boycott.  She also noted that Stephen Hawking is boycotting a science conference in Israel in solidarity with the Palestinians.

In response to a question about a resolution of the conflict, she indicated that a two-state solution is now impossible.  Israel cannot possibly afford to buy out all the Jews now in the West Bank.  Among those living there now are people evacuated from Gaza, still living in house trailers.

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