Landau Up Close and Personal
Former diplomatic and managing editor of The Jerusalem Post and former editor-in-chief of Ha’aretz, David Landau, spoke to invited guests at a breakfast in Sydney today on behalf of the New Israel Fund Australia.
NIFAu president Robin Margo that the New Israel Fund is not new and has been operational since 1979 and has raised more than $250 million in direct grants to more than 850 NGOs “every one of which recognised by the Israeli Government”. Margo, in introducing Landau said that the Jerusalem-based London-born journalist is today a commentator and analyst in Middle Eastern affairs and the Israel correspondent for The Economist.
Landau began by saying that his message would be “uncomfortable”. The message began with the story of Abraham’s death and how his sons”Isaac, the father of the Jewish people and Ishmael, the son of the Arab people”, buried him together in the Cave of Machpela in Hebron, the site of Abraham’s wife’s Sarah’s grave. He added: “I am more moved by the Cave of Machpela than any other site in the Holy Land”. He elaborated by saying the founders of the two sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict “collaborated in burying their father”.
The audience was taken back 25 years to a time when Landau was an Israeli soldier and reservist in Hebron to hear part of a story which Landau said he had never divulged to his wife. He said: “I was stationed in Hebron during the First Intifada in 1988 to police the Cave of Machpela…a mosque and synagogue together. On Fridays, the Muslims prayed on a Friday and the Jews prayed on a Saturday and the soldiers policed the area since Hebron was conquered in 1967.” He added that it was a delicate regime of dividing up the territory which worked well for more than 20 years.
But after the first Intifida erupted in 1987, the situation in Hebron was particularly grim “because a group of Jews determined to assert Jewish domination over the whole of Palestine and to extirpate the Palestinians from Palestine settled in the heart of Hebron and the government of the day did not understand the true agenda of these people. They encouraged them to settle there as they needed Jews to settle near shrine of the Cave of Machpela.”
He said that twenty years ago as a soldier in Hebron he witnessed the settlers “resort to sordid subterfuge to make life difficult for the Palestinians.” This was eight years before Dr Goldstein shooting up the Cave of Machpela. Landau said he saw “little settler boys” take drawing pins and scatter them on the carpets of mosques. Muslims pray barefoot. We did nothing.
Landau said that he himself had “never raised a hand against an unarmed handcuffed man…but he had witnessed an event following the advent of the Intifada which had not given him peace to the present day and I have been silent about it until today. He did not go into detail but said he witnessed “an act of bestiality” perpetrated by family men. The situation drew out of “decent honorable people” the worst of them.
Landau believes that Goldstein’s attack on Purim in February 1994, saying “he knew exactly what he was about” was the primary reason for the derailment of the Oslo Peace Process. He added that this “act of carnage had stained our Jewish name and history for ever after”. He said that this area of Hebron is now only open to the settlers.
Breaking the Silence is one of the organisations that The New Israel Fund supports and Landau now switched his focus to this group of soldiers in 2004 who having completed their army service decided not conceal any more what goes in Hebron which he described as “the gutter of the Occupation”. He said that they had mounted an exhibition of testimonies, photographs and videos near Tel Aviv and invited every one to “peek in for a moment to the true, repressed, buried reality of what life is like for your sons and daughters who are doing this to ‘them’ in your name”. He did point out that in 2004, Israel was “beset” with terrorism and “these things take over”. He said that on balance that any other army in this situation “would behave worse”.
Landau went on to say “it’s not good enough. Four and a half decades on, there is no end in sight of military repression and occupation. The most humane army ultimately succumbs to what I saw with my own eyes twenty years before when I saw the act of bestiality perpetrated by my own friends on a defenceless handcuffed man.”
Breaking the Silence burst on to the Israeli scene “like a hurricane” and it was the time of Second Intifada in 2004. He said “people were blowing themselves up on street corners and you never knew if you got on a bus that you would get off it alive”. Landau pointed out life had become desperate in Israel and we needed “to defeat the Intifada militarily”. The new group of ex-soldiered “pointed their fingers at the criminality and the immorality of the Occupation and this engendered a lot of controversy”. He said that the evidence was “clearly authentic” in seeing the photographs and videos and testimony.
He said the present Israeli government was waging war on today’s NGOs and Breaking the Silence is threatened with extinction. Landau said “there is legislation afoot aimed at Breaking the Silence”. He said the group has two sources for funds…the NIF and the British and Dutch governments but the new legislation would block the international funding. This, he added, will impact on the New Israel Fund itself.
Landau said he was bewildered to find the New Israel Fund “under attack” in Sydney and that Breaking the Silence was “vilified and ostracised”. He said that Breaking the Silence are “the conscience of our people”. He said “you are either a person with moral fibre and an ethical code and a Jewish backbone or you’re not”. He said there is no better place to put your investment in a Jewish future.
He finished by saying “There’s a fight going with long, long repercussions for our Jewish soul”.
He also addressed a private meeting of invited members of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.
David Landau collaborated on the biography on the life of Israeli President Shimon Peres and will publish next year the biography of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
During his stay in Australia, Landau spoke to major media including an interview with Philip Adams on on ABC’s Late Night Live
Watch his appearance on SBS-TV in which he discusses the Middle East situation.