Guest Article: More Pussycats

By: Anonymous

Returning from Vienna, where I have been giving some talks and interviews about my recent book, Pussycats, I found the following in my inbox. The author has granted my request and permitted the piece to be posted here. While legal reasons prevent the university in question from being identified by name, the facts have been verified from other sources.

Any other comment is superfluous.

The university is currently going through its second occupation of the year. The first (which as far as I know is continuing) was by a group of students eager to discover “true freedom”. They took over a classroom and began camping there. They covered all windows so no one could see what they were doing inside (although it smelled strongly of pot). The president and her vice-presidents kept meeting with their leaders and kept negotiating agreements that were then repudiated by the occupiers. Then she got a lot of resolutions voted by various instances at the university, all of which were ignored. Then she held a lot of meetings but did absolutely nothing else – even after both she and the chief administrative officer of the university had been slightly injured by the students.

The second occupation started at the end of January when about thirty undocumented immigrants took over two floors of building A, the arts building. They brought in cooking gear and portable beds and began meeting with the press (although the press didn’t show much interest in them). Once again, the president and her vice-presidents negotiated, once again they reached agreements and once again the accords were immediately repudiated. She asked the immigrants to move into the university’s largest auditorium. After initially agreeing, they issued a statement refusing this compromise. Why? Because the auditorium reminded them of the Libyan prisons where they had been held!! Now, I’m the first to complain about our working conditions but that our biggest auditorium, where we hand out honorary degrees, looks like a Libyan prison seems somewhat exaggerated. Or maybe I’m being unfair to Libyan prisons. They also stated that they did not want to move to another building because they wanted residency permits and affordable housing. Do they think the university can supply these? Or that the French government cares enough about this Parisian university being occupied to grant them?

With extension cords all over the place and cooking going on in the hallways, not surprisingly, they blew all the fuses in building A. Then, they graciously agreed to use the auditorium during the day because it had better kitchen facilities. So, not only did the presidential team fail to gain back our classrooms but they also lost us the use of our largest auditorium! Added to that, they offered the gym to the immigrants so they could use the showers. So, what did our leadership then do? They called a lot of meetings and got a lot of resolutions passed – all of which were ignored. And then the heavy snowfall caused all the heating to fail so the president closed the university for two days.

In response the immigrants organized a banquet in front of the library to announce their refusal to leave. The president then sent in the commission for hygiene and security to meet with them. However, their leaders claimed that a member of the commission was actually a police officer in disguise. The whole thing descended into violence with pushing, shoving and some punching. But the immigrants remained and continued occupying the building. They installed beds in some classrooms,  which have become dorms while another room is a canteen. They even brought in a sofa so they could have an area to relax. By this time the immigrants had grown to about 80 and their supporters were talking of establishing a permanent refuge at the university.

The presidential team contacted a number of charities. One came in and gave the immigrants medical check-ups while the refugees refused to meet with another, a charity for the homeless, People from one charity I talked to said they would not get involved because in many ways things resembled a hostage situation: the university is of course being held hostage but so, in a way, are the refugees: most of them don’t speak French and blindly follow their leaders who work with people at the university who have a political agenda. Other charities have come to the same conclusion.

So the president and her V-Ps decided to get tough and sent a somewhat threatening letter to the immigrants. The latter responded by going from classroom to classroom at the university asking for money. The president and her V-Ps did nothing.

Meanwhile, the immigrants brought in huge wooden crates, filled with used clothes, that they stock in the stairwells, (blocking the exits, of course). They also blast music during class times (which are still going on on the first floor). The occupiers also broke the locks on one of the side entrances of the university and installed their own (which is clearly illegal). So now they are the only ones able to use that entrance. They also forced the locks on doors to other classrooms. In response the president sent pictures of the broken doors to all members of the university. Then grafitti appeared in the area with anti-Semitic slogans and comments like “Death to all whites”. The presidential team took pictures of these and sent them to all members of the university.

In the current political climate no one wants to deal with the issue of immigration and no one cares about universities. Even the press doesn’t consider the situation worth a news article. This says a lot about the state of French universities and partly explains why, in spite of internationally respected staff, they are so low in the league tables. The government could care less about universities and they are being allowed to fall to pieces.

Fifty Years Have Passed

The coming Monday, June 5th, will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The one, let me remind you, which led to the Israeli occupation of the Sinai, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank (East Jerusalem included). That is why I thought the time had come to take a second look at it. In doing so, my starting point will be a book, Defending Israel: A Controversial Plan towards Peace, which I published in 2004. What did I get right, and where did I go wrong? Does the central thesis, namely that, seen from a security point of view Israel could easily afford to withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank, still hold?

The background to the book was formed by the Second Palestinian Uprising, or Intifada. Starting in October 2000 and lasting until 2005, the Uprising was carried out mainly by suicide bombings, claiming the lives of 1,137 Israelis as well as 6,371 Palestinians before it was finally quashed, with considerable brutality it must be said, by then Prime Minister Ariel. Sharon. The number of injured is unknown, but must have been much larger still. In addition, tens of thousands of Palestinians saw the inside of Israeli jails where some of them still remain. The economic damage to Israel was estimated at about 15 percent of GDP; that inflicted on the Palestinians, at perhaps 40 percent. Going abroad during that time, I could not help noticing how, at Israel’s only international airport, there were often more security personnel than passengers.

The way I saw it in 2004, and still see it now, the advent of ballistic missiles has greatly reduced the relevance of territory and, with it, the value of the “strategic depth” long seen by Israel as the main reason for holding on to the occupied territories. In any case, the age of large-scale Arab-Israeli conventional warfare was clearly over. Not only because the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan held; but because, as both the 1956 and 1967 wars had shown, should Egypt’s military try to confront Israel in the Sinai then all they would be doing would be to put their necks into a noose. Should Egypt lose a war in the Sinai, then it would lose. Should it win, then it might face nuclear retaliation. Israel is believed to have as many as 100 warheads and delivery vehicles to match. By targeting the Aswan Dam, the people in Jerusalem have it within their power to turn Egypt into a radioactive lake within rather less than an hour of the decision being made.

Having been heavily defeated in the first Gulf War, Iraq was out of the picture and remains so today. This left Syria which, however, was much too weak to take on Israel on its own and has become even weaker since. At that time as now very few Arabs lived on the Golan Heights, explaining why its occupation by Israel never met strong resistance or drew much international attention. Consequently holding on to it was, and remains, relatively easy and need not preoccupy us here.

In what was surely the most daring move in a remarkable career, Sharon, against howls of opposition, built a fence around the Gaza Strip, demolished the Israeli settlements there, and pulled out. It cost him his life, but he effectively put an end to attempts by suicide bombers to enter Israel proper. To be sure terrorism, now in the form of underground tunnels and rockets, did not come to a sudden end. As if to prove the fact that the role of territory was declining, the rockets in particular gained in range and power, causing much trouble. This kind of terrorism was only brought to an end during the second half of 2014 when a massive Israeli military operation (“Protective Edge”) inflicted many casualties and enormous destruction. Since then an equilibrium, albeit an uneasy one, has prevailed in southern Israel. As is shown, among other things, by a tremendous real estate boom in that part of the world.

This in turn suggests that, had Israel launched the operation in question a few years earlier, it might have spared both itself and the other side considerable grief and trouble. Looking on the withdrawal from Gaza from the perspective of 2017, it appears to have been a great success. It rid Israel of some two million unwilling Palestinians, leaving them to govern themselves as best they can and forcing their leadership into what, in practice, is some sort of accommodation.

During the Second Intifada a beginning was made in constructing a wall around the West Bank as well. A measure, incidentally, which this author of had proposed, in public, as early as 1993. But two reasons have prevented its completion. First, through East Jerusalem, which Israel claims for itself, passes the only highway connecting the two “bulges” that forms the West Bank, making it all but impossible to seal off. Second, the Jewish settlers in the Bank, supported by a considerable part of the Israeli government and public, fear that, should the wall be completed, it would herald at least a partial withdrawal from that region as well. And with good reason; doing so was something both Sharon and his successor, Ehud Olmert, actively contemplated.

Whether, had Sharon not died in harness and Olmert not been forced to resign, they would have been able to dominate Israeli politics to the point of carrying out such a withdrawal will never be known. At present any attempt to proceed in this direction is certain to be stopped by Israel’s right-wing government and public. Still the example set by Gaza refuses to go away. Hovering in the background, it is a constant reminder that an alternative to present-day policies does exist.

As Defending Israel argued, and as events since then have clearly shown, the most important problem the West Bank poses to Israel is neither “strategic depth” nor terrorism. The former is rendered all but irrelevant by the advent of ballistic missiles, peace with Jordan, the demise of Iraq, and the Bank’s topography which makes an attack from east to west almost impossible. The latter could be solved by the construction of a wall and a withdrawal. The real threat is demographic. Six and a half million Jewish Israelis cannot go on forever governing an Arab-Palestinian population now numbering some two and a half million and growing fast. In this day and age, indeed, the very idea of an occupation that has now lasted for fifty years is simply crazy. Either pull out, unilaterally if necessary, or risk Israel becoming an apartheid state—which, I hate to say, in many ways it already is.

Finally, East Jerusalem. A story, probably apocryphal, dating to the first months after the June 1967 War illustrates the problem very well. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol is touring East Jerusalem. All around him people are beaming with happiness, but he alone keeps a gloomy face. Mr. Eshkol, they ask him, why all these sighs? In response he says that getting in was easy (as indeed it was). But getting out!

And so, indeed, it has proved. There is no way in the world Israel can be persuaded to give up the Old City and its immediate surroundings, the place which, whatever UNESCO may say, gave birth to the Jewish people well over 3,000 years ago. Nor, given the historical record, is there any reason why it should. But Israel should be able, and willing, to let go of many East Jerusalem neighborhoods that were recently joined to the city and have absolutely nothing to do with holiness. Such as Sheik Jarach, Dir al Balach, Ras al Amud, and quite a few others. All are inhabited exclusively by Palestinians and all are poor and underdeveloped. As in the case of Gaza, a withdrawal from them, even if it has to be carried out unilaterally and even if it only leads to a modus vivendi rather than peace, would be a blessing, not a curse.

With the 1967 war’s fiftieth anniversary coming soon, what is the point in waiting?