Saturday, December 13, 2014

Triple Race to Fiftieth Anniversary

A moment before dispersing itself, the outgoing Knesset still managed to re-enact the law authorizing the years-long detention without trial of African asylum seekers in the Negev “open prison”. A law which was already twice overturned by the Supreme Court. But for Likud’s Miri Regev, Chair of the Knesset Interior Committee the bill was “not  tough enough.” She promised: "Next time we get to power we will enact a stronger law”.
"Next time we get to power" -  Regev probably didn’t notice what she let slip. She didn’t say "After the elections” but “Next time we get to power”. For the first time in quite a while, the Likud winning the elections and Netanyahu's remaining in power no longer seem to be a self-evident outcome.
Just a week ago, most commentators - and the general public – thought new elections will not bring any substantial change in the political situation; that calling elections two years ahead of time was a waste of time and money. And then the atmosphere changed overnight, and the possibility of a change in government has suddenly come to seem concrete and real. It is not unthinkable  that in a few months we will start getting used to the phrase "Prime Minister Yitzhak Herzog”.
Making this a reality seems a goal worthy of hard work and effort, even though there were Prime Ministers from the Israeli Labor Party whose tenure ended in bitter disappointment and shambles. A goal certainly worthy of hard work and effort - especially considering that if Netanyahu does manage to win the elections and put together his fourth cabinet, it is quite possible that we will have to get used to "Defense Minister Naftali Bennett". (Better not to dwell too deeply on what that would imply and entail...)
Last week, one day before Netanyahu dismissed his Minister of Finance and Minister of Justice and thereby brought his cabinet into a terminal crisis, the French Parliament decided by a majority of 339 against 151 to call upon the French government to recognize the State of Palestine. This week, a day after the Knesset dissolved itself, the Irish Parliament joined the swelling ranks of European parliaments making such resolutions. Like their colleagues in other countries, Irish lawmakers called upon their government to "officially recognize the State of Palestine, on the basis of the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the capital, as established in UN resolutions” and stated that such an act would be “a further positive contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." At the time of writing, a similar resolution was passed by the Portuguese Parliament, and the European Parliament is to debate the same next week. 
The diplomatic clock is ticking inexorably toward the moment when the UN Security Council deliberates the draft resolution setting a definite two-year date for the end of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. The United States would have to make the decision whether or not to impose a veto. The Palestinians do not seem inclined to wait for the Israeli elections and halt efforts on the international arena. Whoever enters next March into the Prime Minister’s bureau in West Jerusalem might face a new diplomatic landscape.
In the meantime, on the ground, the Palestinian villagers of Turmus Ayya, Al Mughayer, Qaryut and Jalud went out, together with Israeli peace activists, to demonstrate near settlement outpost "Adey Ad"  (“Forever and Ever”). Mayors of the four villages had appealed to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, asking to evacuate the outpost and implement the demolition orders which the army itself issued against the settler houses.
The Palestinian villagers intended to plant olive saplings on their land, recognized as such by the Israeli authorities, but which the settlers claim as being part of the outpost and as “Jewish land from time immemorial”. Soldiers on the spot were given unequivocal instructions to block the Palestinian demonstrators and prevent them at all costs from approaching the settlers; the orders issued by commanding officers made no reference to the fact that the army itself considers the outpost to be illegal. The soldiers started shooting tear gas, although the Palestinians refrained from throwing stones. Some of the soldiers were not content with shooting tear gas from a distance – rather, they closed with the protesters, beat up some of them, grabbed other by the throat and threw them on the ground. All this took place on December 10, which happens to be International Human Rights Day.
Video photographers accompanied the protest and took extensive footage, as they routinely do at all the many demonstrations throughout the Occupied Territories. But usually there is not much chance of Israeli TV  broadcasting them. However, among the protesters was this time Ziad Abu Ein, the Palestinian Minister in charge of the Struggle Against the Settlements: by title, a cabinet minister and part of a Palestinian government which is supposed to exercise governing power, in reality an activist living under occupation and forced to face the occupier’s soldiers and settlers in a protest demonstration.  In the end of the protest, the unconscious Abu Ein was taken to hospital in Ramallah, where he died.
Exactly how did the actions of the soldiers confronting the demonstration relate to the death of Minister Ziad Abu Ein? This afternoon I conducted a lengthy argument with an unidentified caller who resented the text of the ad published by Gush Shalom. "Why did you write in your ad that he was killed in a confrontation with soldiers? He died from a heart attack!" - "If soldiers fire tear gas on a heart patient, is there a connection between that and the heart attack from which he died right afterwards? If a soldier takes a heart patient by the throat and chokes him, is that connected with the heart attack?" - "If he had a heart condition, he should not have been there. He took a risk." - "When a soldier goes into battle, he is taking a risk. There at the settler outpost was also a battlefield of a kind, only that Ziad Abu Ein went there empty-handed,  without arms. That was the risk which he and his fellows took.”
Soldier holding Ziad Abu Ein by the throat, a few minutes before he lost consciousness.(Photo: Mahmmood Arafaat.)
Video at:

Is the death of Ziad Abu Ein going to be the spark which would set off the great conflagration of the Third Intifada, which has long been talked of? Probably not yet, although yesterday afternoon came the news of a Palestinian throwing acid on the passengers of an Israeli car - apparently yet another case of an act of violence undertaken at an individual’s personal initiative without any  organizational guidance.
Even after this violent death of one of their own senior  people, the Palestinian Authority and PLO, under the leadership of Mahmud Abbas, seems determined to continue the delicate balancing act: militant rhetoric and diplomatic offensive, combined with continuation of “security coordination” with the Israeli security services which is highly unpopular with grassroots Palestinians. This could be maintained for some time yet, at least as long as there seems a chance for the diplomatic approach to achieve concrete results.
In a little over two years and a half, on 5 June 2017, a symbolic date is due  - a precise fifty years since the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Israel's armed forces. If this symbolic date passes without a significant change in the situation, it will be hard for the State of Israel to continue arguing  that its rule over the Palestinians is just "temporary”.
Three ongoing processes take part in a race against time towards this symbolic date - the changes taking place in the Israeli political system, the diplomatic process led by the Palestinians in the international arena, and the growing escalation of violence on the ground. Which of them will be the first to arrive at the finishing line?
The petition of Israeli citizens, calling upon European parliamentarians to support recognition of Palestine, continues to gather momentum. Among the latest to join more than 900 signatories are the writers Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman, as well as singers Achinoam “Noa” Nini and Mira Awad.   
Dalia Yairi-Dolev is a well Israeli radio broadcaster, writer and poet. Her first husband was Colonel Uzi Ya’airi, killed in battle with Palestinians in 1975. Though considered broadly dovish in orientation, she never took an outspoken political position, and on one occasion was invited by AIPAC to address the lobby’s annual conference in Washington. She has now decided to strongly endorse the petition to the European parliamentarians:

This petition is an outspoken declaration, aimed at underlining how vitally important this issue is for us. It expresses the aspirations of the generations who were born and grew up here, dreaming of a country with secure borders, a country which invests its resources in its citizens, in education, in health services, in the standard of living, in the quality of life. A democratic, egalitarian state whose army is in truth “The Israeli Defense Forces” - an army which knows how to defend and safeguard both security and peace.  This petition expresses how deeply these generations long for quiet, for peace – all of them, those who were born before the state was set up [like Yairi-Dolev herself], and those who were born afterwards, and those who were born to these and grew up and undergone military service. Longing for peace, for a clearly defined  state of our  own. Better a cold peace with soldiers guarding a clearly-delineated border than a military involvement among a hostile population. A state is an entity, a clearly defined “address” of those whom we face. A Palestinian state is not a gift to the Palestinians. It is a gift to ourselves. It is our liberation from the chains binding us to them. Creation of a Palestinian state is the Palestinians’ share in the process of their divorce from us. There are those who try to draw us into a trap of fear and demagogic threats, as if the creation of a Palestinian state is a threat to us. It is not a threat, it is a promise. A promise of normalization, of a future.

(English text of the petition after the Hebrew)

Friday, November 14, 2014

The conflict is managing us

The effect of tear gas (photo: Guy Butavia)

Two weeks ago, in the memorial rally at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Shimon Peres made one of the better speeches of his long career. “Some people have made ‘peace’ into a dirty word. For some, 'a peace seeker ' is a word for people with naïve illusions, or for non-patriotic persons. To all these, I want to say  loud and clear: the naïve illusion is of those who despair of peace. Those who gave up and stopped seeking peace, it is they who are naïve and non-patriotic! And we have the wise guys who, instead of peace, are talking of ‘managing’ the conflict. Does this concept of conflict management really fit with what happened in the Gaza Strip last summer, and in Jerusalem these days? Is it possible to manage a conflict? The conflict is managing us”.

Two weeks have passed since that speech, and the conflict continued to manage us into a dizzying vortex of inflammatory declarations and hatred and violence and bloodshed, event following event at lightning speed until it's hard to remember exactly how it started and which Palestinian provocation was a reaction to an Israeli one (or the other way around).

Last week, an Israeli Arab resident of Kafr Kana in the north was killed by police officers under dubious circumstances.  And the flames of confrontation and disaffection spread from East Jerusalem to the Arab population of Israel proper. Three days later Nur a-Din Hashia – an 18-year old Palestinian worker from the Askar Refugee camp in Nablus, working in Tel Aviv without a permit – took a personal decision, not at the order of any organization. He took up a knife, stabbed and fatally wounded Almog Shiloni, a 20-year old soldier serving in the Israeli Air Force, who was on his way back to base.

On the evening of the same day we left home. The door on the ground floor opened and a neighbor whom we don’t really know spoke with motherly concern. “Did you hear?” she said. “They have already gotten to Tel Aviv! It’s better that you don’t walk around in public places. Better not get far from home at all. It’s dangerous, they said so on TV!” On the street a very excited young man passed us, speaking to his mobile phone: “If after what happened now the country starts fighting, they will not have to call me! I will show up at my unit even before getting the call-up order”. Would it have been any use to stop and try to explain to the frightened woman and the enthusiastic young man, to try to explain the roots of the conflict and the still existing chance for peace?  The fact is, we did not even try. The esplanade on the Tel Aviv beach was nearly deserted, we saw only a few passers-by.

On the following day, at the soldier’s funeral, his twin brother Sahar Shiloni said: “You can’t just walk quietly down the street in this country. My brother just wanted to get back to his base camp, and he was stabbed in the street. It just can’t go on like this. I understand that this country is living under the delusion that everything is fine. I want to say to everybody, to the policymakers - you'd better start waking up." And if the policymakers start “waking up”, does that imply going for peace or to war? He did not elaborate.

Commentator Alex Fishman, known as an unofficial spokesperson for some factions in the army’s high command, published on the following day an extensive commentary firmly calling for an iron fist policy “in order to restore Palestinians’ awe of the government”. Fishman proposed to conduct manhunts and systematically detain all “Arab rioters in Jerusalem and all over the country”, even if it would necessitate building an extra prison for them; to blow up “the houses where the terrorists and their families have lived” in order to “create deterrence among the population out of which the knifemen issue”; and also to deny work permits to everybody in the part of Nablus from which the Tel Aviv perpetrator came, since “it is impossible to deal with terrorism without environmental punishment” and there is a need to target “the environment where the perpetrator came from, his neighbors, the worshippers in the mosque he attended”. 

Today, just three days later, the same Alex Fishman published a commentary with a different slant, far more moderate. Now he tells that the army commanders have decided, for the time being, not to exacerbate the conflict with the Palestinians and to avoid collective punishments, since “it is better to separate the terrorists from the general population. They also recalled a military commission which some years ago concluded that destroying homes is counterproductive. It seems that this change of atmosphere is also linked with the efforts made in the past few days by Secretary of State John Kerry, who is trying to put off the fire or at least lower the flames.

It seems that the Amman emergency summit held by Kerry with PM Netanyhau and King Abdullah – and separately, with President Abbas – succeeded in dealing at least with the most sensitive focus of conflict, the mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem. Today, Israeli police allowed unrestricted entry of Muslim worshippers, with the Palestinians giving a tacit obligation that there will be no demonstrations and riots there. Netanyahu reinforced his public commitment to prevent any change of the status quo on the Mount and avoid takeover acts by the Messianic Nationalists, some of whom hold ministerial positions in his own cabinet. It was probably easier for Netanyahu to take this position due to the firm stand taken by the Chief Rabbis, who forcefully reiterated the traditional Orthodox position opposing on purely religious grounds any attempt to ascend to where the Temple had been 2000 years ago. The Rabbis went as far as blaming those breaking into the Mount for the bloodshed in Jerusalem.

However, in other locations outside this holy sensitive compound, riots and outbreaks and confrontations continue. From the area of the Qalandia Checkpoint in North Jerusalem came today news of an innovative action taken by Palestinian activists, to protest the fence which denies West Bank inhabitants access to East Jerusalem.  One of them told Israeli Y-Net  news that some 150 activists arrived at the blocking fence with improvised ladders, enabling some of them to cross the fence. Simultaneously, other Palestinians cut the fence near the inactive Atarot Airport. The activist asserted they had surprised the army, which was not prepared on the other side of the fence.

Against the background of riots and confrontations ten years since the death of Yasser Arafat were marked in Ramallah – a death whose circumstances remain controversial, many Palestinians believing that he was poisoned by the Israeli security services. Ten years since the death of Arafat, it also means a decade of presidency by his successor Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen)   and invites a comparison between the two leaders – and for most Palestinians, such a comparison is not favorable to Abbas.

From the beginning of his term Abbas opposed as a matter of principle the use of violence, and insisted that Palestinians could achieve their political goals solely by the politics of diplomacy. But in the ten years of his term he did not succeed in presenting to his people concrete achievements which prove this claim.

During his term, Abbas reiterated again and again that his aim as a Palestinian leader is to create a Palestinian state in the ‘67 borders and that he has no intention to hurt the integrity of Israel within these borders.
It failed to impress Netanyahu.

A few days before the Holocaust Day Abbas met with an American Rabbi and stated that “the Holocaust was the most terrible crime in the history of humanity.”
A sour reaction from the Israeli PM.

At the conference of Arab Foreign Ministers in Saudi Arabia last June, Abbas made a clear and unequivocal condemnation of the kidnapping and killing of three Yeshiva studenst on the West Bank. Earlier Abbas had admitted that he personally as a Palestinian refugee understands that he will never return to his town of birth, Tzfat in the Galilee - nowadays a Jewish-Israeli town with a big concentration of national-religious who threatened to use violence if Abbas comes to the city even for a short visit.

By such declarations Abbas angered quite some Palestinians while the positive effect on Israelis was limited. The Prime Minister’s Bureau adopted as an almost automatic reaction “as long as he doesn’t recognize Israel as a Jewish State, everything is worthless.” One may wonder what excuse would have been launched, had Abbas embraced this too.

In recent months, with the growing escalation, Abbas was pushed into a changed policy – making militant declarations (“Israel committed genocide in Gaza”, “the settlers are desecrating Al-Aqsa Mosque”) but at the same time strictly maintaining the security cooperation with the state of Israel and it’s security services.

An unnamed IDF officer, involved in daily activity on the West Bank, is today quoted in the article of Nachum Barnea in Yediot Ahronot:

“The Palestinian security services remain faithful to their commitment of calming down the situation, under the explicit orders of Abu Mazen. They continue to arrest Hamas people. The Palestinian public regards them as traitors and nevertheless they continue.” The officer emphasized that so far there had not been “any flow of people and weapons from the security services to terrorism”, a situation which very much surprises the military which wonders how long it will last. Especially, the call to start an uprising made by Marwan Barghouti from prison might change the situation. “Barghouti says openly what many Palestinians think, but so far it does not happen.

The officer gave a non-optimistic assessment  “We had more difficult times as far as the violence is concerned, but my feeling is that this is the most dangerous situation in the past decade. The Palestinian grassroots feel, much more than in the past, that there is no alternative to terrorism. Abu Mazen proposes an alternative – let’s go to the Security Council, let’s go the UN Agencies.  The only Palestinians who believe in this alternative are Saeb Erekat and Abu Mazen himself. The public does not wait for salvation from New York. What is left? There is left armed resistance, what we call terrorism.”

The Palestinian diplomatic initiative, in which most Palestinians have no confidence, remains the thin thread on which Mahmoud Abbas’ fate is hanging. In Europe the Palestinians are accumulating a momentum of recognition by governments and parliaments. After the declaration of the Swedish government of its recognition of the state of Palestine, and the dramatic vote in the British Parliament, there are expected in the Spanish Parliament (Nov. 18), in the French Parliament (Nov. 28) as well as in those of Denmark and Ireland (time not yet fixed).

Yuval Steinitz, Israeli Minister for Strategic Affairs, tried to pose a counter weight and in a big interview in a French paper warned that a French recognition might “hurt the peace process” (which peace process?) as well as making it impossible for France to be a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians (but Israel never agreed to France having such a role). The Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French Parliament responded, noting that 700 Israeli citizens have signed a public call to the member of the French Parliament to support the recognition of Palestine – among them Dr Alon Liel, former Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Professor Eli Barnavi, former Israeli ambassador to France.

The struggles in the European arena are but the prelude to the decisive moment expected some time in December or January – the moment when the Palestinian Draft Resolution will come up in the U.N. Security Council, and the U.S. will have to decide to veto or not to veto. The American decision, one way or another, will likely define Mahmoud Abbas’ fate – and might have far-reaching implications for the whole triangle of relations U.S., Israel, Palestine.

On the weekly news of the Israeli TV Channel I, commentators discussed the possibility that President Obama would indeed remove from Israel the protection of the American veto. The veteran commentator Oded Granot summarized: “Netanyahu expressed an open glee at the Republican victory in the mid-term elections. Netanyahu’s people said again and again that Obama has now become a lame duck. But they may find out that he has become a wounded tiger.”

Tomorrow morning on Saturday, November 15 which is the anniversary of the Palestinian Declaration of Independence initiated by Arafat in 1988, the Combatants for Peace movement made a special call:

Israelis say "Yes" to a Palestinian State

Because independence for the Palestinians means true independence for Israelis.

Join us, a large group of Israelis and Palestinians, in a demonstration of popular democracy, solidarity and hope.

The event will take place on both sides of the Separation Wall, on Saturday, November 15 - the Palestinian Declaration of Independence Day.

The event will challenge the validity of the separation barrier in regard to relations between peoples, and will create a constructive interaction between the two communities – an interaction that is intended as a declaration of our support for Palestinian independence - and thereby also free us of the burden of Israeli domination over another people.

At the event we will use giant puppets towering above the wall, and we will be accompanied by a film crew documenting our activities.


Shuttles will depart from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

9:45: Tel Aviv – Central Railway Station comound, Shlomo Sixt Car Rental parking lot.

10:45: Jerusalem – Teddy Stadium parking lot, across from the Mall. Please register on the online form

Please bring your own food and drinks.

Contributions, to cover expenses and ongoing activities of "Combatants for Peace", will be warmly welcomed.

For further information please write to

November 15 is the date of the declaration of the creation of a Palestinian state, a declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly with the support of 104 countries in 1988. 111 countries, including all the Arab countries, most countries in Africa, most countries in Asia, most countries in South America and most Eastern European countries have recognized, in one form or another, the Palestinian Authority as a “political entity”, even though most of them have not acknowledged it as an independent state. 96 of them have formalized diplomatic relations, some with ambassadors. In spite of proclamations by the Chairman and leaders of the Palestinian Authority of their intention to unilaterally declare the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, the announcement has yet to be made. Diplomatic activity has resulted in a number of countries including Russia, Cyprus and most South American nations to declare their recognition of the State.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

War in Jerusalem

Palestinians barred from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque praying in the street, facing the police (photo: Flash 90)

Precisely twenty years ago, the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan was signed. But nowhere were there celebratory events held to mark this date. It was marked in a different way – on the precise anniversary, Jordan filed a strong complaint to the UN Security Council demanding an urgent debate on the conduct of the State of Israel in East Jerusalem.

When Prime Minister Rabin and King Hussein signed that peace treaty, it was just a year after Rabin signed the first Oslo Agreement with the PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn. At that time, when there were still concrete  expectations that a permanent agreement between Israel and the Palestinians would be signed by the May 1999 deadline, there was still room for dreams of establishing a real peace with Jordan, most of whose citizens are Palestinians, many of them in the territories under occupation…

"Netanyahu has given a final goodbye to the Bar Ilan Speech," wrote commentator Shalom Yerushalmi. "The same Prime Minister who once promised the Palestinians a state, had last Monday informed them on the  Knesset floor that there would be no 1967 lines, nor any other borders marked on the map, and no division of Jerusalem, and no Jordan Valley, and no  independent forces in the Palestinian state, and in fact there would be no negotiations. And to all these categorical rejections was attached a firm Netanyahu demand that Abbas recognize the Jewish state."

Not that that famous speech delivered at the Bar Ilan University in 2009 ever aroused ​​a lot of confidence or credibility. Nevertheless, there is some difference between Netanyahu trying to pretend and pay a bit of lip service for the sake of those who insisted on hanging some hopes on him, and the October 2014 model Netanyahu, evidently determined to take off all masks - and gloves. So there were very many events squeezed into this one week. There was the bill designed to allow the Knesset to enact laws violating basic Human Rights, even against the opposition of the Supreme Court. There was also Defense Minister Ya'alon's decision to prevent  Palestinian workers using Israeli public transportation, in compliance with the demands and assertions of the settlers which were extensively quoted in the media. Arabs on the bus are: “a security threat”; “sexual harassment”; “they stink and make great noise”; “and anyway why should we have to travel in a bus full of Arabs - this is a Jewish land, is it not?”
 (Officially, the Defense Minister spoke only of "security problems", although in fact the military officers concerned had said there's no evidence of such problems).

There was this week also the sweeping announcement of the construction of thousands of settlement housing units, with the Prime Minister and senior ministers reiterating that engaging in such construction is the right and duty of Israel as a Jewish and Zionist state, “just as the English build in London and the French are building in Paris”. And Housing Minister Uri Ariel stating his intention to personally come to live among the settlers who penetrated into Silwan Village in East Jerusalem, in order to strengthen and encourage them; and the statements of Prime Minister Netanyahu on tightening his alliance with the Jewish Home Party of which Ariel is one of the leaders. And there was the highly publicized confrontation between the PM’s bureau and the White House, with insulting words flying back and forth over the Atlantic, and the expectation that it would escalate further after the Midterm elections to the US Congress, due next week. 

Meanwhile,  war in Jerusalem. The spark which had set off East Jerusalem was the kidnapping, murder and burning of the boy Mohammed Abu Khdeir, blood feud for the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli yeshiva students. Since then the conflagration had been going on, also in the weeks when all attention was focused on the bombing of Gaza. Every week, almost every day, still more fuel is added to the combustion.  Israeli Nationalist-Messianic settlers penetrate deep into the Palestinian neighborhoods, take over houses on the basis of questionable purchase contracts, and effectively turn them into fortified compounds. Larger Jewish neighborhoods, established by the government on expropriated Palestinian land in East Jerusalem, are expanding through major projects involving thousands of housing units – with ordinary Israeli Jerusalemites, seeking a place to live, becoming unwittingly the pawns in a game of “expanding the Jewish presence” and driving wedges between Palestinian neighborhoods. The trains of the Jerusalem Light Rail, built a few years ago by a French company despite loud voices of protest and intended as “A symbol of United Jerusalem” had instead become identified as the focus of confrontation and conflict and clashes and constant stone throwing. It was at a station of the Light Rail that the baby Haya Zissel Baron was killed a week ago. Israeli citizens are convinced, without the slightest doubt, that the Palestinian who run her over did it as a deliberate pre-meditated act; many Palestinians say it was a car accident. The truth would probably never be verified, as he was shot and killed on the spot.

And topping everything else, the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound - most sensitive place in the Middle East and one of the most sensitive in the whole world, Temple Mount to Jews, Haram al-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary) to  Muslims. Two 1300-year old mosques, the third holiest site to a billion Muslims  worldwide, which were built on the site of the Jewish Temple destroyed by the Roman Empire two thousand years ago. In our time Nationalist Messianic Israelis, in increasing numbers and with increasing support in the political system, try to get hold of that compound, many of them speaking explicitly of their desire and intention to destroy the mosques and rebuild the Temple. They don’t shy away from the idea of confrontation with the entire Muslim World, to some of them it actually seems desirable. Activities to bring about Jewish control of the Mosque Compound were coordinated and organized tirelessly by a red bearded man named Yehuda Glick. Day before yesterday, he was severely wounded in an assassination attempt. The Security Services of Israel announced that within twelve hours they had solved the case and discovered the identity of the assassin. Was it indeed the real assassin? The truth would probably never be verified, since the soldiers and police took care to shoot and kill him immediately upon reaching his home. On the Israeli TV news last night  commentators said that it had been a relatively calm day in East Jerusalem, but reporters from the ground brought footage of confrontations and shooting  and clouds of tear gas over the alleys of the Old City.

Israeli correspondent Asaf Gabor went to the streets and cafes of East Jerusalem to meet the young rebels. He quoted the words of the 17-year old  Uday and the 18-year Mahmoud whom he met near the pool table in the cafe opposite the neighborhood mosque in Ras al-Amud. "We are not interested in the struggles between Hamas and Fatah - we think they're just spoiling our popular uprising here in Jerusalem, and of our friends in the Territories. The debates between our politicians are nonsense, they just make the Israeli occupation stronger, able to maintain the current situation, to increase  settlements and attack Palestinians. We don’t need movements to come and  organize us. Certainly not the Palestinian Authority or Abbas. We had only one Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. After he was poisoned by Israel, we now have no leader. After all, if Abbas wanted to come here, if he wanted to come even to   Shu’afat or Beit Hanina, the Jerusalem neighborhoods which are just ten minutes from Ramallah, he must get permission from Israel. So what kind of leader is he? For so many years he is talking about peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state, and we see nothing from it. Forget about Palestinian leaders, there is no such thing. What we have here is a rebellion which comes from within, because of the attack on our dignity, on us as Palestinians and on Islam. We don’t need anyone to tell us to go out or start a riot or anything. We are just organizing together and do it, because we are hurt. Israel does not understand one basic thing. The old ones have had their time. Now it's our turn, the turn of the young people."

Not quite by coincidence, the Government of Sweden – which last month  announced that it would recognize the State of Palestine when the appropriate moment came – have come to the conclusion that this week was the right time.  The Swedish recognition put some wind in the sails of the diplomatic efforts by  the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, in which young people in the alleys of East Jerusalem no longer have any confidence. Probably next week the Spanish parliament will debate a motion to also recognize the State of Palestine – of particular importance because in January Spain will become a member of UN Security Council, where Palestinian demands would be debated. Similar initiatives are known to be developing in other at other Parliaments in Europe as well. Yesterday, 550 Israeli citizens sent a supporting letter to Members of the Spanish parliament: "We, citizens of Israel, who wish a safe and thriving condition for our country, are worried by the continued political stalemate and by the continued occupation and settlements activity, which lead to further confrontations with the Palestinians and destroy the chance for a compromise. It is clear that the prospects for Israel's enduring existence and security depend on a Palestinian state coming into existence, side by side with Israel. Israel should recognize the State of Palestine and Palestine should recognize the State of Israel, based on the June 4, 1967 borders. Your initiative for recognizing the State of Palestine will advance the prospects for peace and will encourage Israelis and Palestinians in bringing an end to their conflict.". This petition was initiated and organized by Alon Liel, former Director General of the Foreign Ministry of Israel. A few years ago, he probably would not have signed such a letter, let alone initiating it.

This is also the week in which the large"Africa Israel Construction Company" announced that it would no longer engage in construction of the settlements, nor even in East Jerusalem – a decision not motivated by pure political reasons but also from considerations of economic gain or loss. And the Soda Stream company announced that it would close down its factory in the industrial zone of the Mishor Adumim settlement on the West Bank and move its operations to the Negev. It turned out that the highly publicized campaign ran for Soda Stream by actress Scarlett Johansson did not really help to curb the fall in its sales, and perhaps even acted as boomerang. And the Israeli shipping company Zim encounters increasing trouble unloading its cargoes  on the West Coast of the United States where groups of pro-Palestinian activists seek to block them. Anyone bothering to look closely would find several more warning signs, which might have gone unnoticed or ignored by decision-makers in the Netanyahu government.

This night, November 1, there will  take place in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square a rally commemorating the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, rallying point for peace-minded Israelis. One of the announcements which landed in my message box states: "We can not forget the reasons why a Prime Minister was assassinated. We will  not settle for a vague condemnation of violence. We must speak out, loud and clear, say that this country must change direction, sign an agreement and put an end to the occupation which erodes and corrupts all that is good in our country."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Diplomatic terrorism and wings over the Iron Wall

Will the Palestinians ever get free of Israeli occupation? Will there ever be peace between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine? If any of these things ever happen, Bahaa Samir Badir will not be there to see it.

Bahaa Samir Badir 
Photo: Haaretz

On the night, the day before yesterday, Israeli soldiers entered the village of Beit Laqiya near Ramallah, a routine act such as happens every night in various parts of the West Bank. The village youth resisted the entry of the soldiers into their village, using stones and Molotov cocktails - as young Palestinians do in an increasing number of cases in recent months. Bahaa was shot in the chest and his life ended at the age of 13. Thousands joined in his funeral march. One more name was inscribed in the very very long list of victims and of martyrs for the Palestinian national cause.

Ron Prosor, Israel's Ambassador to the UN, is very angry this week. He is angry at  Palestinian diplomatic terrorism. Yes, diplomatic terrorism which Prosor says is as bad as any other kind of terrorism, a diplomatic terrorism whose aim is "creating unilateral facts on the ground" (A rather odd charge, when Prosor’s own bosses are dedicated to relentless settlements construction...) It was diplomatic terrorism when two years ago the Palestinians asked for the State of Palestine to get the status of an Observer State in the United Nations and 138 countries voted in favor. It is diplomatic terrorism when now they appeal to the Security Council to establish a timetable for ending the Israeli occupation. And Sweden is aiding and abetting diplomatic terrorism with its “irresponsible statement at a very unfortunate timing“ declaring an intention to recognize the State of Palestine. Diplomatic terrorism, in short, is any diplomatic act taken by Palestinians other than sitting at the negotiating table with representatives of the Government of Israel.

Prosor made an impassioned plea to the international community to "prevent the Palestinian cart from rolling off the cliff".  "True peace will not be achieved through unilateral measures, only via direct negotiations, the distance between Ramallah and Jerusalem being much shorter than to New York or Stockholm."

What would happen if the Palestinians were convinced by the rebuke of the passionate Ambassador, and would consent to engage in yet another round of direct negotiations with Netnayhau’s representatives?

It so happened that Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon granted this week an extensive and candid interview to "Israel Today.”. As he made clear in no uncertain terms, in Ya'alon's vision of the world there will never be an end to the conflict. The conflict with the Palestinians will continue "until the last of our enemies understands that we are here to stay." But that will probably never happen because "They are not truly concerned with establishing a Palestinian state, but with destroying the Jewish state”. Therefore “we must learn how to manage this conflict without illusions" and to barricade [ourselves] behind “An Iron Wall". Ya’alon showed political acumen in quoting both the term "Iron Wall" - derived from the teachings of Ze'ev Jabotinsky,  spiritual father of the Likud Party -  and also a virtually identical statement by Dr. Moshe Beilinson, prominent among Jabotinsky’s Socialist Zionist ideological rivals.

A Palestinian who comes to the negotiations table has definitely nothing to expect from the government in which Ya'alon is the Defense Minister. Abu Mazen? "He is a partner for discussions, a partner for Conflict Management. I am not looking for the solution." A Palestinian state? "We need to free ourselves of the notion that everything boils down to only one option called a [Palestinian] state. As far as I am concerned, let them call it the Palestinian Empire. I don't care. In practice, it is an autonomy".

Probably, British Parliament Members did not read Ya'alon's special interview, though it was published also in English - but they did see the footage of destruction and devastation which the State of Israel poured upon Gaza, and heard quite a lot about the wave of land expropriations and settlement construction which began immediately after the bombing ended.

There was a prolonged debate at Westminster over the motion to support  recognition of the State of Palestine. Possibly the single most important contribution was of Richard Ottaway, the Conservative Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, who said that before he became a Tory he had already been a supporter of the State of Israel and its right to exist after the Holocaust.

As he told the gathered MPs: “Looking back over the past 20 years, I realise now Israel has slowly been drifting away from world public opinion. The annexation of the 950 acres of the West Bank, just a few months ago, has outraged me more than anything else in my political life. It has made me look a fool, and that is something I deeply resent. I have to say to the government of Israel: if it is losing people like me, it is going to be losing a lot of people.”

And so, after five hours of debate, the British Parliament voted by an overwhelming majority of 274 against 12 to for  recognizing the State of Palestine. Several of the speakers had referred to the public call of 373 Israeli citizens, including well-known public figures:

"We, Israelis who worry and care for the well-being of the State of Israel, believe that the long-term existence and security of Israel depends on the long-term existence and security of a Palestinian state. For this reason we, the undersigned, urge Members of the UK Parliament to vote in favour of the motion to be debated on Monday, 13th October, 2014, calling on the British Government to recognize the State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel "

Ninety-seven years ago, British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur James Balfour issued a famous document stating that "His Majesty's Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” – to which a specific condition was set: “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious' rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

Not even the most staunch of Zionists would dare state that this “clearly understood” condition was actually complied with.  In practice, there did happen during the following century an all too serious “prejudice” to the rights of the non-Jewish communities living in 1917 in the Ottoman province. This week, Her Majesty's Government has made at least a small step to compensate for this damage, when Prime Minister Cameron chose to absent himself from the vote and by his absence facilitate the passage of the resolution.  

The British vote will probably have sequels. According to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius "It is only logical" that France would recognize a Palestinian state. "The only question is what steps will be most effective in achieving peace, we do not want a merely symbolic step. Until now, the concept was that recognition has to be directly linked with negotiations. But at the moment that negotiations are no longer possible, or that clearly they would not lead to any agreement, France would of course not shirk her responsibilities”. For their part, Members of Spanish Parliament are probably going to emulate their British counterparts and call upon their government to recognize the State of Palestine, too. An  especially significant step considering that Spain is about to join the UN Security Council, one of the countries on whom will fall the decision on the Palestinian request to set a date for ending the occupation.

Adding to Netanyahu’s headaches came this week an unexpected public challenge from a group of disaffected young Israelis who had moved, of all places, to Berlin. Some of them left Israel behind with a feeling of despair at the rightward trends in Israeli society, the decreasing and disappearance of the chances for peace, the increase of extreme nationalism and racism, and the lack of hope for a positive change. For others, the last straw was the soaring cost of living, the inability of young people to find an apartment at an affordable price, and the failure of the 2011 social protest movement which brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators out into the  streets but failed to achieve any concrete change in government economic policies. Undeterred by the dark shadows of Berlin’s past, the young Israelis find Berlin of 2014 to be a young and vibrant city, in which democracy is solidly established - and where both consumer goods and housing are incomparably cheaper than in Israel.

Members of this taboo-breaking self-exiled community came up with the subversive slogan "Making Aliya to Berlin". Four words which flagrantly overturn the traditional order of Zionist moral values, whereby a Jew who comes to Israel from any other place is performing a praiseworthy “Aliya” (Ascent) while anyone leaving Israel is guilty of contemptible “Yerida” (Descent).

“Israel of 2014 is a nation state for rich Jews, high-tech workers and generals' children” wrote one of the protest organizers. “A state in which young people have no chance of buying a house and can’t afford to raise a child, where a working person is poor and humiliated and a student lives like a dog.

Elections can change nothing, nothing but the identity of those in power. The policies will remain the same. The politicians know for whom they are working, and it is not for you. “Vote with your wings.” Flock to Ben-Gurion Airport in masses. Let the government chase after us to Berlin and try to convince us to come back. Believe me, if we get 100,000 or 200,000 Israelis in Berlin, we will start seeing some changes in Israel. See you in Berlin!”

Friday, October 10, 2014

From Stockholm to Khirbet Um al-Jimal and back

It was last week that the White House charged that the burst of settlement construction in East Jerusalem was “poisoning the atmosphere”, with Netanyahu riposting by accusing the President of the United States of "Un-American Behavior".  By this week the storm center had shifted to Europe with the newly elected Prime Minister of Sweden devoting to our region a prominent place in his first parliamentary address. "The conflict between Israel and Palestine can only be solved with a two-state solution, negotiated in accordance with international law. A two-state solution requires mutual recognition and a will to peaceful co-existence" said Prime Minister Lofven.

Official Israel cried out furiously, and the Swedish Ambassador was invited to a disciplinary meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. (This time no low chair for the chastened Ambassador, as had been offered to his Turkish colleague at another occasion...). And Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman managed to publish an article in an important Swedish newspaper, asserting that the country’s new Prime Minister had not intended to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians but appease public opinion in Sweden. (This implies that Lieberman acknowledges Swedish public opinion tends to side with the Palestinians and demands a government action on their behalf - and perhaps not only in Sweden ...). Activists of extreme right groups called for a boycott of IKEA and other Swedish products. For his part, Yitzhak Herzog of the Israeli Labor Party “opposition" was mobilized for an effort to lobby Lofven, his long-time fellow member of the Socialist International, and dissuade him from  recognizing the State of Palestine.

Still, the disease is spreading, and next week the British Parliament is about to vote on the issue of recognizing the State of Palestine. "We feel that now's the time to shout out loud that this should be done," said lawmaker Grahame Morris from the (British) Labor Party. The results of the vote would not bind the British government to change its current policy, but certainly they may influence the climate of public opinion in Britain.

Meanwhile, in East Jerusalem the conflagration which started during the hot weeks before the war in Gaza still goes on. Demonstrations and riots and clashes with police continue and this week the flames touched on the compound of the mosques of Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, one of the world’s most sensitive and volatile spots. And at the same time the government of Israel was forced by international pressure to allow the ministers of the Palestinian Reconciliation Government – to whose creation  Netanyahu had been strongly opposed – get to the Gaza Strip and take the careful first step towards mending the deep rift among the Palestinian people.

Under the media radar wich remains focused on diplomatic storms and conspicuous riots, Israeli soldiers arrived this week at the village of Khirbet Um al-Jimal, east of Tubas in the Jordan Valley. A tiny village which does not appear on any map, since from the official Israeli point of view it should not exist and its continued existence is an error which needs to be rectified. The soldiers told the villagers that all village homes were to be destroyed and presented them with demolition orders duly signed by the   military governor. The soldiers then took photos of the doomed buildings (to be precise, huts and sheds) from all directions, in order to facilitate the demolition crews’ work. The residents were not told the intended date of destruction, the Israeli Defense Forces prefer to keep the advantage of surprise. On some day next week or next month, the soldiers will come back, accompanied by bulldozers and the demolitions will be implemented with alert soldiers holding their weapons ready in case anyone dares to resist.

Why should the State of Israel act so harshly against such a small village which does not pose any visible threat to its security? Well, Khirbet Um al-Jimal is located in the Jordan Valley, and the current Israeli government - like its predecessors - wishes to perpetuate Israeli control of the Jordan Valley in any future agreement (and also if no agreement is ever signed). This tiny  Palestinian village, as well as a few other villages in the same area, is interfering by its existence with the fulfillment of these plans, and therefore the soldiers and bulldozers and demolition orders are sent. But though they are but a handful of desperately poor Palestinian villagers, the inhabitants of Khirbet Um al-Jimal are not completely helpless. Already several times this small village was razed and destroyed, and each time the residents rebuilt their meager huts and sheds as soon as the soldiers and bulldozers departed. It's not so much because they are determined to confront and defy strategic plans of the government of Israel and its armed forces. It is mainly because this  god forsaken small village is their home and they have nowhere else to go.

On the same day and almost at the same hour when the soldiers reached Khirbet Um al-Jimal, the Swedish Ambassador Carl Magnus Nesser arrived at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. There, the Deputy Director European Affairs Aviv Shir-On handed to him the official reprimand from the government of Israel: "The statement by your Prime Minister about willingness to recognize a Palestinian State is harmful, and we strongly object to it. It may create an expectation among Palestinians to achieve their goals by unilateral acts rather than through negotiations. "

Khirbet Um al-Jimal (photo: IMEMC)

The Swedish Parliament, Stockholm 
(photo: Wikipedia)

Friday, October 3, 2014

Poisoned atmosphere

A Paper Tiger?

Making a quick search on the Hebrew Google for "Netanyahu" + "Holocaust" I found 204,000 results. A search for the same in English turned up no less than 3,940,000  possibilities. Holocaust references keep coming up in the speeches of the Prime Minister of Israel, in many different contexts.

A thought experiment: suppose the State of Israel had had the great misfortune to go through fifty days of war in the course of which 2100 Israelis were killed, including more than five hundred children, and in which whole neighborhoods in Tel Aviv were razed to the ground and hundreds of thousands left homeless. Assuming all of that, would PM Netanyahu have referred to such a horror in his speech at the UN, a month later? An affirmative answer is virtually certain. Would he have used the very strongest terms in talking of it? That, too, seems quite a safe bet. But would the word "Holocaust" have cropped up in Netanyahu's speech, in such a case? On the basis of known facts, there is a high probability for that as well.

In actual reality, with no need hypothetical assumptions, it was Mahmoud Abbas who mounted the podium at the UN General Assembly on behalf of the Palestinian People and made ​​a speech full of anger and bitterness about what his people in Gaza had gone through last summer. So, he spoke not only of murder and war crimes, but of genocide which is, however horrible the death toll was, too big a word.

It was Binyamin Netanyahu who immediately set out for New York to make a furious rebuttal to Abu Mazen’s “speech of lies and incitement". He had come  to the General Assembly to tell the world the truth and nothing but the truth: The Israel Defense Forces are the most moral army in the world bar none; it is the  Palestinians and only them who are guilty of war crimes in Gaza; Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas and Iran is both Hamas and ISIS, they are all the same, they are all malevolent Muslim extremists and enemies of humanity against whom all-out war should be fought. And since Mahmoud Abbas had established a Government of Reconciliation jointly with Hamas, he is actually also Hamas, which essentially means he is ISIS too, and anyway he is a Holocaust denier and certainly is not a partner. How nice and pleasant not to have a Palestinian partner any more, no one to whom occupied territories have to be given up.

Unlike previous years, in this year’s UN speech, Netanyahu did not bother to include – even as  a lip service - the words "A Palestinian State." But he did utter these words at the meeting with President Obama in Washington two days later, and there he also reiterated his sincere wish and aspiration to achieve peace with the Palestinians. It can be assumed that neither Netanyahu nor Obama took these words very seriously.

Obama was probably considering the meeting with Netanyahu as a piece of nuisance, unavoidable especially in view of the proximity of the critical mid-term Congressional elections – to be gotten through so that he could get back to the very urgent business of the war in Iraq and Syria into which he had very reluctantly entered. But just during that meeting there arrived across the ocean an urgent message from the Peace Now movement in Israel, which is regularly monitoring the fine print of the bureaucratic processes involved in approving construction. Precisely on the eve of the Prime Minister’s visit to the White House, the Jerusalem Municipality promoted the creation of a large new settlement neighborhood at a key position in Palestinian East Jerusalem.

Furthermore, just ahead of the meeting in the White House, dozens of Israeli settlers accompanied by a heavy police escort, invaded dozens of Palestinian homes in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, south of the Jerusalem Old City wall. One of the residents who tried to prevent their entry got beaten up by police who told him "Go to Gaza".

The settlers claimed that they had legally bought the houses from their owners - an assertion which is very difficult to validate, as the alleged sellers have disappeared.

Anyway, Housing Minister Uri Ariel did not really care about the problems of legality. Just at the time when the Prime Minister sat down in the White House, expressing to the President his desire for peace with the Palestinians, his Housing  Minister conducted a visit of his own to the settlers in Silwan, “in order to strengthen and encourage them". With his own hands the Minister affixed a mezuzah to the doorpost of a house which had been a Palestinian residence twenty-four hours earlier, so as to express that it would be a strictly Jewish home henceforward. "Now dozens of new families can come and significantly increase the Israeli grip and sovereignty over the City of David and its environs. Settlement in Jerusalem will continue full force, throughout the city. Abbas had never been a partner and is not a partner now, instead of engaging in the pursuit of peace fantasies we should sustain the settlement effort all over the country. We are ready to immediately offer for sale  thousands of housing units in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and I expect it would become possible on the PM’s return from his visit to the United States."

Two hours later, the White House spokesperson published a statement of strong condemnation summing up the Israeli Prime Minister's visit:
“Israel’s plan to continue construction in a sensitive area of East Jerusalem is poisoning the atmosphere - not only with the Palestinians, but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations. This leads to serious doubts as to Israel's commitment to peace. I can say that the United States is deeply concerned. Israel might face international condemnation, even from its closest allies, if it proceeds with this massive new housing project in East Jerusalem.”

Veteran commentator Sima Kadmon made some skeptical comments at her column in the weekend Yedioth Ahronoth. "In the beginning of his term, Netanyahu was very apprehensive about a confrontation with Obama and the potential implications of such a conflict on Israel-US relations. But after several such confrontations, including one in which the Israeli PM lectured the US President in the White House itself, Netanyahu revealed that the sky did not fall. On the contrary, in some such contests Netanyahu emerged the winner".

This week, the Palestinians implemented the plan they had been talking of already for some time, formally presenting to the UN Security Council the text of a draft resolution which would require Israel to end the occupation within two years, thus preventing Israeli military rule from reaching its fiftieth anniversary in 2017. When this text comes to a vote in a few weeks, will the American Ambassador's hand be raised once again to cast an automatic veto on behalf of Netanyahu?

The term "paper tiger" is an ancient Chinese expression. In the West it had become known especially due to a statement of Mao Zedong in 1956: "In appearance America is very powerful, but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of. America is a paper tiger. Outwardly a tiger, it is made of paper, unable to withstand wind and rain."

And in 2014?