The distinguished Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibovitz said in 1968 about the then recent occupation: "A state governing a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners is bound to become a security service state, with all this implies for the spirit of education, freedom of speech and thought and democracy. Israel will be infected with corruption, characteristic of any colonial regime."
Thirty-five years on, these words have become tragically prophetic. Many Jews can no longer sit by and watch the continuing catastrophe without comment, and look in shame at the ways in which successive Israeli governments have behaved in the occupied territories. The reasons behind this deep denial, I believe, lie in the history of the Jewish people.
Amin Saikal argued ("To be a peacemaker, America must denounce all violence in the Middle East", Herald, July 1) that the Bush Administration should condemn Israeli defence force actions in the West Bank and Gaza as terrorism, and persuade the Jewish state to ease restrictions on Palestinians in these areas. He touched on the pro-Israel, neo-conservatives in Washington, and highlighted the double standards when dealing with Israel. I believe the ability of the Sharon Government to convince Washington that it is similarly fighting a war on terrorism stems from a misguided belief that the Jewish state is besieged by fundamentalists who want to see its destruction, and an unspoken acceptance that Jews are like "us", defenceless and cowering.
The "road map to peace" has been praised and criticised. Jewish writers have talked about the optimism felt by the possible cessation of the intifada. Palestinian writers have been more cautious, never forgetting the failed Oslo peace talks in the early 1990s and Sharon's constantly bellicose pronouncements on the size and nature of Israel. It is the Jewish writers, though, with whom I take issue. The debate has moved so far to the right that any kind of rational or human response is shouted down as giving in to terrorism or, worse, threatening the continued existence of the Jewish state.
Most Jewish communities are still coming to terms with the Holocaust and are defensive of Israel. Perhaps this explains why many Jews are not prepared to recognise that many of Israeli's actions parallel apartheid-like policies. Is it not possible that the basis upon which Palestinians have been treated by successive Israeli governments is centred on racist ideology? One has only to recall the openly racist comments of some Israeli prime ministers.
The ability of so many in the Jewish world to dismiss the obvious facts of the occupation is due, in no small part, to ignoring the facts in the Middle East. From the time Israel was established most Jews appeared unaware or unwilling to hear the stories of thousands of displaced Arabs, the violence against them by the early settlers and the lack of redress for their grievances.