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Ben & Jerry’s Joins the List of Counterproductive ‘Do-Gooders’

The Ben & Jerry’s store and factory in Vermont. Photo Credit:

 By Marc Schulman

I’m so tired, so very tired, of people who view themselves as “do-gooders,” advancing actions that only make the already slim chance of reaching peace with the Palestinians in my lifetime even slimmer. Yesterday’s announcement by Ben & Jerry’s declaring their intention to cease selling their ice cream in the West Bank and East Jerusalem—or as they call it, “the Occupied Palestinian Territory”—is another one of these counterproductive actions.

This is not because I support Israel’s occupation. As an IDF soldier half a lifetime ago, I patrolled the Casbah of Nablus and the roads of the villages of Gaza. It was enough to convince me how bad occupying the territories was for Israel. It is impossible to have a good occupation, and the occupation itself is a curse on Israeli society.

When Prime Minister Ehud Barak tried to reach a final agreement, I held my breath—only to watch in horror as it literally blew up in our faces. I supported Arik Sharon’s unilateral pullout from Gaza. I believed it was an experiment worth an attempt, and that continued control of Gaza was not worth the cost. We pulled out unilaterally and completely in 2005 and still thousands of rockets are fired at us each year. Somehow, though, the world protests our actions. People seem thoroughly uninterested in who fired missiles, in who started the war. They feel that we are the stronger party, and therefore, we must be wrong.

Which brings me back to Ben & Jerry’s statement yesterday. I cannot express a view on whether boycott of West Bank Jewish residents is legitimate or not. Thanks to the occupation, our imperfect democracy is even more imperfect; in fact, it is illegal for an Israeli to call for a boycott of territories.

Hence Ayman Odeh, Head of the Joint Arab List, with his tongue in cheek response to the boycott, showing himself with Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. “The diet was going well up to now,” he tweeted.

But while I can’t say if it’s legitimate or not, what I can say is that Ben & Jerry’s declaration is self-defeating. This move will not bring peace; it will only strengthen extremists on each side. The Palestinians will say, “We do not have to make any fundamental concessions; we will let the world pressure Israel,” and the right-wing in Israel will only be strengthened with its endless claim of “See, the whole world is against us, the whole world is antisemit

A few years ago, I spoke to Ehud Barak about his negotiations with Arafat at Camp David. I asked Barak whether he thought he had made a sufficiently generous offer to the Palestinians. Barak replied, “Do you think if I had offered another 5% of the West Bank Arafat would have accepted?” Moreover, Barak reminded me that Arafat did not accept President Clinton’s even more generous proposal a few months later.

To this day, there has been no Palestinian counter-offer—not to Barak’s plan, and not to Ehud Olmert’s. So whose fault is it that we still have to send young soldiers to man checkpoints throughout the West Bank? Whose fault is it that Gaza, instead of being a Palestinian Singapore, is an impoverished strip of dirt that spends much of its money building underground tunnels and missiles?

I am tired, so very tired. When I was a young soldier, I met a fellow soldier whose father had fought in the 1948 War of Independence. I vowed to do my best to ensure my children would not have to serve. It is long past that day. I have a six-year-old grandchild. Will he have to serve too?

There is much we can do to make to improve the daily life of Palestinians in the West Bank, and we should absolutely do so. But we are not alone in causing this situation.

To all our well-wishers abroad, if you care about Israel, work to improve the lives of the Palestinians, while making it clear the onus is on them to respond to the many peace offers that have been put forward. Just once, they need to make a counteroffer, and maybe there will be a chance for peace. Sadly, I am not optimistic.

Marc Schulman is a multimedia historian. Originally published in News week 

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