An Open Letter to Shimon Peres

Your interview, however, in <I>Der Spiegel</I> was a great disappointment. Anyone reading your article would have to conclude that Israel's position appears rather dubious.

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Writing on the wall: Death to Jews
Writing on the wall: Death to Jews
Dear Mr. Peres,

Being based in Switzerland, I regularly read the prestigious German weekly magazine Der Spiegel, which, unfortunately, often presents an unbalanced view of Israel. No wonder. Uri Avnery - a school friend of the magazine's editor, Rudolf Augstein - is constantly approached to voice his opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I was therefore pleased that an extremely cultured Israeli personality, no less than the foreign minister, who is also a central figure in the Israeli government, has been given the chance to express his views in an interview.

Your interview, however, in Der Spiegel was a great disappointment. Anyone reading your article would have to conclude that Israel's position appears rather dubious.

Headlines, as you know, are of crucial importance and are stipulated by the editorial staff. But one cannot blame this headline "A 100 Percent Mistake" on an anti-Israel editor, because it is a direct quote from your interview. Evidently, you were not concerned by the possibility that your interview, far from being an antidote to widespread criticism of Israel, would be part and parcel of it.

Even in the article itself, Israel's mistakes are constantly accentuated. Instead of resolutely highlighting Salah Shehadeh's role as arch-terrorist and the suffering he brought to so many innocent people, you chose to point out the misery that Israel has inflicted on innocent civilians.

Instead of emphasizing how outrageous and irresponsible it was of Yasser Arafat not to keep this man under arrest as a prevention against further terrorist acts, you pinpoint in the article only the damage that Israel's actions have caused.

Why did you not mention emphatically that terrorists seek out civilians in order to kill them, while Israel does its utmost to protect civilians? And why don't you mention that Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter characterized Shehadeh as "Israel's bin Laden"?

If the US would get hold of bin Laden and, of course unintentionally, harm civilians in the process, would there also be such an outcry of protest, like now in Israel, in general, and from its foreign minister in particular? The attack on Shehadeh was, according to information from the Defense Ministry, postponed eight times because of the fear of civilian casualties.

Why, in your interview, do you not place great emphasis on the fact that terrorists, in order to escape punishment from Israel, often hide in areas where there are many children, with the sole aim of preventing the humanitarian Israelis from acting on their original intentions?

In your comments on the peace process you find lots of good words for the Palestinians (but much fewer for Israel). Even today you are still saying that Arafat rightly received the Nobel Peace Price, on the grounds that he wanted to "renounce terror" and only afterwards made "mistakes."

A man like Arafat, who immediately after the Oslo Accords, compared them to the Hudaibiya Agreement signed by the prophet Muhammad as a temporary peace treaty; a man like Arafat, who never once officially expressed the desire for peace in Arabic; who deliberately used the years after Oslo to increase his military might far beyond the terms of the Oslo Accords and who fanned the flames with a malicious and hate-filled campaign against Israel in Palestinian schools and in the media - are we to believe that this is a record of unintentional error, an innocent mistake?

And still you speak, as after all your conversations with Arafat in the past, with great satisfaction of your Palestinian negotiating partners: "The talks were positive... good intention is there... the Palestinian finance minister promised there would be much change...." On the Palestinian side everything seems so promising. On the Israeli side, however, according to your interview, it is all considerably more problematic.

In your interview, criticism of Israel is accepted, often in a completely unnecessary and therefore incomprehensible manner: "In the occupied territories a humanitarian catastrophe is imminent." No mention about who triggered this, although it is blatantly obvious: The Palestinian Authority, which used relief funds for terrorist activities and, by this action, prevented Israel from offering employment to Palestinians.

Yet, rather than shifting the blame to where it legitimately belongs, you draw up a list of the measures that Israel must take: "We have to improve the lot of the Palestinian people... we have to pay for electricity." Why don't you explain that it is the Palestinians that have resisted and even attacked joint industrial zones created to provide jobs for them? Or that even Arab nations have recently withheld aid because of concerns over corruption? Or that the Palestinians even refused offers of Israeli blood to save their own wounded, during the recent fighting in Jenin?

In no respect do you mention Israel's extremely difficult situation, also economically, all a result of the flagrant violation of the Oslo Accords, which were to have committed the Palestinians to a path of negotiation and non-violence. But the terrorism came anyway - directly after former Prime Minister Ehud Barak's most far-reaching and sweeping proposals. In other words, it came at a time of high hopes for the Palestinians.

The Jews in Europe are uneasy. Israel's embassies, which come under the auspices of the Foreign Ministry, do not take any active part in the propaganda war, and all too often refrain from rigorously correcting false reports in the media. It has come to the point that Jewish communities in Europe have to set up their own information centers to deal with the pressingly urgent and obtrusive information war. Mr. Peres, you could have provided a decisively important step in this direction. It is very much to be regretted that you, with your internationally acclaimed name and ability, missed this welcome opportunity.
Arthur Cohn is a film producer whose films include The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, Central Station and One Day in September.

Reprinted with permission. Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.