Saturday, June 20, 2015

Of abductors and actors and censors

 "The question is not of the Freedom of Expression but rather of the Freedom of Financing. Does a country have to pay for presenting a play about a man who kidnapped and killed a soldier?" So said Culture Minister Miri Regev yesterday, at the height of a stormy confrontation with some of Israel’s most well-known artists.

Indeed, does a country have to finance such a play? Well, the answer seems to depend on who kidnapped and who killed which soldier.

1) Abduction in 1947

On July 11, 1947, two British Army sergeants, Clifford Martin and Mervyn Paice, went to a cafe in the city of Netanya, north of Tel Aviv. On their way back to camp they were captured by a unit of the National Military Organization (Etzel or Irgun), a radical Zionist underground which was at the time engaged in a head-on confrontation with the British Mandate authorities. The two sergeants were sedated with chloroform and taken to a hiding place in an inactive diamond polishing plant. When waking up they were told by their captors: "You have been detained by the National Military Organization, as hostages for the three Jews sentenced to death by a British military court. Your government’s conduct will determine your fate."

The kidnapping aroused a major storm of reactions in Mandatory Palestine and in Britain itself. The British Army imposed a curfew on Netanya and conducted two weeks of intensive searches, but failed to find the hiding place. The families of the two soldiers pleaded with the kidnappers to spare their lives. Mervyn Paice's father even sent a letter addressed "To the Commander of the Irgun, Palestine" which against all odds reached its destination – being found by a postal clerk who sympathized with the underground and duly delivered to Irgun commander Menachem Begin.

The father begged for the life of his son, "an innocent young man, who was caught in a tragic situation and who had never been opposed to Zionism." Begin's response was broadcast on the clandestine "Voice of Fighting Zion" radio station: "A British citizen has contacted us with a request to spare the life of his son – a spy in the service of the occupier, who was sentenced to death by a court of the underground. We, the soldiers of Israel, well understand the sentiments of a father anxious for his son. We too are the sons of fathers and the fathers of sons. As God is our witness, it is not we who wanted the escalating bloodshed plaguing our country, plundered and occupied by tyrants who thirst for oil and blood. But we are not the address, Mr. Paice. Go to them, to Downing Street, and tell them what they should be told by all British fathers whose sons were recruited to perform the most disgraceful task in the history of the world. Tell the British Government: it is you who are responsible for the life of my son".

After a stormy debate in the British Parliament, in which Opposition Leader Winston Churchill demanded "An iron hand to suppress the terrorists in Palestine", the High Commissioner for Palestine approved the death sentences passed on three Irgun members. At dawn on July 29, 1947 they were hanged at the Acre Prison. Thereupon, the Irgun's Chief of Staff Haim Landau instructed the organization's Operations Officer Amichai Paglin to carry out the immediate reprisal hanging of the two sergeants. Paglin arrived in Netanya with four of his men, and informed the two sergeants that the National Military Organization’s court had sentenced them to be hanged by the neck, on charges of "Ilegal entry into our homeland and membership in a British criminal-terrorist organization known as ‘The British Army of Occupation in Eretz Yisrael’ which is responsible for: depriving our people of the right to life, cruel acts of oppression, torture, the murder of men, women and children, murder of Prisoners of War, some of them wounded, and the expulsion of Hebrew citizens from their country". After reading the verdict to the two sergeants, Paglin oversaw all details of the hanging ceremony, confirmed that the two were dead, and organized transport of their bodies to nearby woods where they were found by the British on the following day.

In fact, the two sergeants had been sympathizers of the Zionist enterprise and had actually passed British military information to the Hagana militia, the Irgun’s rival. Only many years later, in 1981, did it come out that Clifford Martin had actually been a Jew as defined by Jewish religious law – since his mother, Fernanda, was a Jewish woman originally from Cairo. Apparently, Martin did not mention this fact to his captors and did not try to thereby save his life.

Amihai Paglin who oversaw the hangings, Chief of Staff Haim Landau who gave the order, and their supreme commander Menachem Begin, were never apprehended by the British and did not undergo any punishment for these acts. Following the sergeants’ hanging, British soldiers rampaged through Tel Aviv, killing five random passers-by, and there were also violent attacks on Jews in Britain. However, the Irgun people directly responsible emerged unscathed. They took pride in their action having brought to an end the British "hangings policy" and in its having been instrumental in getting the British to definitely quit Palestine.

As is well-known, Menachem Begin was much later elected Prime Minister of Israel and also got the Nobel Peace Prize. "Immediately after forming my cabinet, I appointed Amihai Paglin to be my Adviser on Anti-Terrorism, to oversee the struggle against Arab terrorism" Begin recalled. "It was a natural choice. There was no one better qualified. He was a legendary figure, he had suddenly appeared like a shining star, from among the storm clouds of the independence war waged by the Jews in the Land of Israel. It was he who made the National Military Organization into a formidable war machine, hitting the British relentlessly and mercilessly. The deeds of this wonderful young man, undoubtedly a military genius, will be remembered by the British as long as the earth will bear them. Unfortunately, he was my Adviser on Anti-Terrorism for just a few months before the terrible traffic accident which took him from us so prematurely - but even in these few months he was able to do great things..."

In a newspaper interview shortly before his death, Paglin referred to the sergeants’ hangings. "It bothers me more than any of the other two hundred operations I had carried out as Chief Operations Officer of the National Military Organization. When you think of two helpless people, their faces covered, being hanged right in front of you, you know you've passed beyond the limit. This is not war, it leaves a stain, it remains on your conscience... But I had no choice. Even today, I would have carried out the very same operation, I would do it all over again if the need arose again. "

In Tel Aviv and Petah Tikva and several other Israeli cities, streets are named for Amihai Paglin and for the Irgun’s Chief of Staff Haim Landau, who eventually had a distinguished political career and served as a cabinet minister in several Israeli governments. Also named for Landau are the bridge over the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv and Route 5 ("Trans-Samaria Highway" or " Haim’s Road") leading to Ariel and several other West Bank settlements.

Where the two British sergeants were kidnapped in Netanya, Irgun veterans placed a memorial plaque celebrating the heroism of the kidnappers.

To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever written a theater play about the Sergeants’ Affair. Nor is there a play about the life of Amihai Paglin –

though his career provides a lot of potential material, allowing for many possible interpretations: a hero, a villain, a tormented soul…

2) Abduction in 1984

Moshe Tamam was born in 1965 at Havatzelet Hasharon, near Netanya, to a Jewish family from Libya which came to Israel in the 1950’s. In May 1983 Tamam joined the IDF, was assigned to the Engineering Corps, underwent courses in mine-laying and explosives and became an instructor on the operation of heavy machinery. On August 6, 1984 he went on leave, met his girlfriend and accompanied her to her home in Tiberias, and in the evening took the return bus from Tiberias to Tel-Aviv. At the Beit Lid Junction he got off the bus - and disappeared.

As it turned out later, Moshe Tamam was captured by a unit of the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), which intended to smuggle him to Syria and then seek to exchange him for the release of their comrades held in Israeli prisons. But the attempt to cross the Syrian border failed and Tamam’s captors shot him to death. His body was found near the West Bank settlement of Mevo Dotan, with a bullet hole in his chest. He was 19 years old.

Moshe Tamam’s family erected a monument for him at Havatzelet Hasharon where he was born and grew up. They also set up a memorial website where the following is recounted: "Moshe loved the seashore and the sandstone rocks that rise from the coast. He loved plants and animals, birds, dogs, cats and horses. He was a handsome young man, affable and hard-working, who loved to help others and soothe family quarrels. He had a fine voice and loved to sing in public. He had a gentle and sensitive soul. His sense of humor won the hearts of all, children and adults. In times of trouble he gave generous support to all who needed it."

As Mervyn Paice's father wrote of his own son, Moshe Tamam was by all indications "an innocent young man, who was caught in a tragic situation". By chance, the Netanya Military Cemetery where Moshe Tamam was interred is very near to the woods where the two hanged British sergeants were found thirty seven years earlier.

In 1986 the Israeli security services captured Tamam’s abductors, who turned out to be Arab citizens of Israel from the town of Baqa al-Gharbiyye. Walid Daka admitted under interrogation that he had been a member of the squad, but claimed that he had not been directly involved in the killing of Moshe Tamam. The Lod Military Court rejected this assertion and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

In one of the letters he sent from prison Daka told of the motives which had led him to join the DFLP: "I could have continued my life as a house painter and gas station attendant, as I did until my arrest. I could have married one of my relatives and have seven or ten children with her. I could have bought a truck. All this was a distinct possibity. But there were the horrors of the war in Lebanon and the Sabra and Shatila Massacres, and they had shocked me. To stop feeling that shock, to fall into numbness in face of all these horrors - that's my definition of the ultimate nightmare. That would be an utter surrender".

In the later 1990’s Walid Daka conducted a long struggle over the right to marry Sana Salameh, a young woman from the village of Tira who began visiting him in prison in 1996, and who took the decision to tie up her life with a prisoner whose time of release (if ever) remains unclear. Following an eight-month negotiations with the Israeli Prison Service they managed to hold the wedding ceremony in the prison. They failed, however, in the struggle for an opportunity to be alone together and try to produce a child. The Nazareth District Court ruled that "any direct contact between Daka and his wife would constitute a threat to state security." Nor was it of any avail to cite the precedent of Yigal Amir, who had murdered Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and who was allowed both to marry and to beget two children. (Amir is even allowed to phone his younger son and read to him a bedtime story, as seen in a documentary film which is also the subject of hot controversy at present…)

Thus, for nearly twenty years already, the married life of Walid Daka and his wife Sana consists of a bi-weekly meetings across iron bars where they talk about "personal matters, prison life, and a lot of politics". Last year, Daka was due to be released after 27 years in prison. He was among the last group of prisoners, held since before the Oslo Accords, whose release Netanyahu had promised to Secretary of State Kerry. At Baqa al-Gharbiyye his family already prepared a welcoming party - but Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home threatened a coalition crisis, Netanyahu canceled the prisoner release, the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations collapsed and Prisoner Walid Daka remained behind bars.

3) Theater play in 2015

Playwright Bashar Murkus wrote the play "The Parallel Time" which deals with a Palestinian security prisoner named Wadia, who is secretly constructing an Oud, traditional Arab stringed instrument, which he hopes to play at his own wedding with his beloved Fida. "The two of them are in a constant struggle with the Israeli establishment and the courts, to have their marriage permitted" reads the brief presentation. "The Parallel Time seeks to explore the meaning of a person being a prisoner. It attempts to uncover the human side of the prisoner, look beyond the clichי which makes him a symbol and a statistical data, obscuring his being a person with a life story, dreams and desires."

Murkus states outrightly that his play was inspired by the true story of of Walid Daka and Sana Salameh, but he flatly denies that this in any way constitutes support for or endorsement of the kidnapping and killing of Moshe Tamam. In fact, Murkus this week started libel proceedings against Culture Minister Miri Regev, demanding 300,000 Shekels in compensation for her attributing to him such an endorsement.

The name "The Parallel Time" is derived from one of Walid Daka’s letters: "I am writing to you from The Parallel Time. We do not use your time measurements of minutes or hours, except at the moments when our time meets your time at the visitors’ window. One of the intifada youths who came visiting told us that many things have changed during your time, that your phones no longer use dials and even the car tires are not like those we knew. But we are stuck in The Parallel Time, the time before the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union. We are here from before the fall of the Berlin Wall, before the First Gulf War and the Second one, before Madrid and Oslo..."
Inspection by a prison guard - scene from "The Parallel Time,"
Photo: Wael Wakim

For several months there was no special public attention to "The Parallel Time", presented in Arabic with a Hebrew translation by the Al-Midan Theatre of Haifa. The government committee which approved the allocation for the theater did not see anything wrong with a play about a prisoner who dreams of getting married and builds a musical instrument in his prison cell. The situation changed drastically due to the efforts of Shamai Glick, a 27-year old Jerusalemite who in the past year appointed himself censor over cultural and artistic life in Israel. The energetic Glick had exhibited a remarkable detective talent for locating plays, films, performances and exhibitions which were in his judgment "unpatriotic", and also a considerable talent in lobbying and pressuring establishment bodies to stop public funding for such.

It was Glick who uncovered the link between "The Parallel Time" and the real-life experience of the prisoner Walid Daka. He drew the attention of various far right groups, which for their part got Tamam Family members to be involved in the campaign and use the considerable moral authority which bereaved families enjoy in the Israeli society. An unruly demonstration outside the theater and several strongly-worded letters to members of the Haifa City Council sufficed to get Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, a Labor Party member, to freeze financing for the Al-MidanTheater "pending the conclusions of a special public committee established to review the issue." By the way, Glick himself, who had started the whole thing, had never seen the play: " I live in Jerusalem, I did not have time to get to Haifa, and besides, why should I see such filth?"

To begin with, the Ministry of Culture – second source of institutional financing for the Al-MidanTheater – was in no hurry to respond to the pressure of Glick and his fellows. "The Ministry of Culture supports more than 800 organizations and cultural institutions, in accordance with the criteria set by law. The Ministry does not take part in the program decisions of supported bodies and is not entitled to interfere even in cases where it does not agree administrative decisions or artistic content. It should be emphasized that the Ministry has full understanding for the Tamam Family's anger, but the decision rests with the theater management alone".

Such was the position of the Ministry of Culture under the previous minister, Limor Livnat - herself not always a paragon of liberalism or tolerance. Things changed with the coming of the new minister, Miri Regev, who had been the Chief Military Censor, and who announced her full intention to engage in censorship also in her new role: "I'm all for cultural and artistic pluralism. The artists can have no better partner than me, as long as they lay off the occupation and politics".

And what about artists who insist on having the occupation and politics within the framework of their art? With them the minister is in direct and total confrontation which had been steadily escalating over the past two weeks,

reaching its peak (as of now...) at the Theater Awards ceremony held in Tel Aviv which included a protest by actors with gags on their faces, the speeches of almost all prize winners including, sarcastic references to the minister. And none other than veteran actress Gila Almagor interrupted the minister’s speech with angry heckling when Regev was justifying the termination of funding to the Al-MidanTheater - and the minister herself interrupting with angry heckling the speech of award winner Liora Rivlin who spoke of the Palestinians living under occupation and seeking liberation, and of the obligation of Israeli artists to remember them.

That was the occasion when Minister Regev stated: "The question is not of Freedom of Expression but rather of the Freedom of Financing. Does a country have to pay for presenting a play about a man who kidnapped and killed a soldier?" A good question. Fortunately, as of this moment no theater seeks to present a play about the life of Amichai Paglin, and thus the minister is spared an agonizing dilemma.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Falling from grace

Once again, June 5th. Anniversary of the beginning of that war in 1967, the war whose consequences shaped all our lives. 48th year to the occupation of the Palestinian territories - who would have thought it would last so long? Again the Women in Black vigil. Like every Friday since the beginning of the First Intifada, they are standing at the center of Tel Aviv, as well as in Haifa and Jerusalem and the entrance to Kibbutz Gan Shmuel. And like every year, on June 5 they call for reinforcements from women (and men) who do not usually take part. The black plastic palms inscribed with "End the Occupation" in Hebrew and Arabic and English – the Women in Black’s trademark – as well as some large photographs of the destruction in Gaza and the bulldozers busy building settlements. 

Passers-by on the Ben Zion Boulevard, a bustling place on Friday Noon, stop, look, some of them start a conversation or debate. "You traitors! Enemies of your country!" shouts a man who holds the hands of two young children. One more shout and he moves on, pulling on his children away from those traitors. A few minutes later there is a young woman, also with a small child, aged three or four. The kid asks, "What is this? What are they doing?". The mother patiently explains: "They are demonstrating. They want peace. They want peace, so that there would not be wars any more, and people will not be killed any more." The boy smiles shyly.

So far, the report which I could have written, almost word for word, also a year ago. For that matter, also two or three years ago. What has changed since? The new topic which conquered the newspaper headlines. "Boycott!", "Boycott!" , "Boycott!". The word is everywhere. "Boycott alert!". "The boycott threatens us!". "Mobilize to fight the boycott!" The most recent headlines announce the latest from the boycott battlefield: "Orange surrenders to the anti-Semites, the boycott threat materializes, the French telecom giant Orange has announced the severance of its relations with Israel!" In the body of the article there is a reference to Orange having come under sharp criticism in France and throughout Europe, due to the activity of its Israeli partner activity at settlements in the Occupied Territories, as well as the "Adopt a Soldier" campaign launched by Orange Israel during the recent war in Gaza. Is this Anti-Semitism? It seems the editor thinks so. 

"A creeping erosion" writes commentator Ben Kaspit. "The situation is only going to become ever worse. The Israeli economy is still flourishing, everything seems fine, but the foundations are being steadily eroded". Elsewhere on the page is a report of an emergency PR delegation sent by the government of Israel to tour universities worldwide. It comprises four Israeli students, including one Ethiopian and one Bedouin from the Negev. "We will show everybody that Israel is not an apartheid state. This is not South Africa!" say the enthusiastic youths.

This is not South Africa? A moment for some historical reminiscences. Though few remember it nowadays, there was a time when whites in South Africa were regarded as heroes and greatly admired by left-wingers and progressive people, in Europe and worldwide. True, it was very long ago, more than a century, during the event known as "The Boer War". So many other wars and horrors have since then gone by that this one is almost completely forgotten. During those years at the beginning of the Twentieth century, there was wide sympathy for the people known as " Boers" or "Afrikaners" – whose ancestors had been Dutch, who began to settle in South Africa in the Seventeenth century and mixed with Huguenot French and some Indonesians and whose language has changed to become Afrikaans. They were regarded as a small David bravely resisting the mighty armies of the British Empire. 

The British coveted the Boers’ land, rich in gold and diamonds. The British defeated the regular armies which the Boers could field, but the latter continued a stubborn guerilla warfare. Eventually the British managed to crush their resistance by means of brutal repression against the Boer civilian population, incarcerated in special camps where living conditions were harsh and cruel. It was then that the notorious term "concentration camp" first entered the vocabulary of the human race.

On 5 April 1900, while the war in South Africa was getting to its peak, the Prince of Wales – future King Edward VII of Britain – made a visit to Belgium. At the Brussels North Railway Station, a young anarchist named Jean-Baptiste Sipido jumped into the British royal carriage and fired several gunshots at eminent visitor, but failed to hit him. At the Court Sipido made an impassioned speech: "I have no regrets! I'm only sorry I did not kill him! He is a murderer! The British are murdering thousands in South Africa. I wanted to do justice! Long live South Africa!" The court acquitted Sipido of all charges due to his young age. A cheering crowd waiting outside the courthouse gave him a hero’s welcome - and many worldwide regarded him as such.

Where were the blacks of South Africa at this time? Of course they were there, also then they were the great majority of South Africa’s population. The white British and the white Boers waged war over their heads, and the blacks suffered much at the hands of both sides. But the watching world hardly noticed the presence of blacks in this war. Not even the leftists and Socialists and Anarchists.
Eventually, a reconciliation came about between the British victors and the vanquished Afrikaners (at least, many of them). South Africa became a dominion, one of the British colonies gradually winning more and more autonomy until they became virtually independent states. A visitor to London's Trafalgar Square can see four identical buildings arranged in precise symmetry at the four sides of the square - the embassies of the four Dominions: Canada and Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Obviously, when these were constructed during the interwar period, no one foresaw that one day South Africa would become a pariah state, it’s embassy the focus of incessant demonstrations and protests.

The key person in the South Africa of this time was Jan Smuts - the man who in his youth conducted guerrilla warfare against the British and who in later life became a general and field marshal in the British Army, who fought for Britian in World War I and later became a member of Winston Churchill’s war cabinet.

Jan Smuts, the respectable face of South Africa

Jan Smuts was one of the drafters of the UN Charter, but his policy as Prime Minister of South Africa did not really accord with the principles of that document. Like other leaders before and after him, Jan Smuts supported racial segregation and the rule of whites over the blacks. On some occasions, he did remark that at some unspecified point in the future, black South Africans might be asked to share power with the white minority, provided that "black politicians demonstrated their commitment to civilized norms of political and personal conduct". In actuality, that moment never came near during the whole of Smuts’ long political career, stretching beyond his eightieth birthday.

In the final part of his career, Smuts expressed his support for a certain increase in the number of blacks who would be allowed to move from the countryside to the South African cities. This position contributed to his defeat in the 1948 elections, to the shock and dismay of many. The National Party which took power in South Africa and was to hold it in the coming decades espoused blunt, outspoken racism, with no compromise and no apology – a policy which eventually got named "Apartheid".

In the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s South Africa was steadily moving in a direction opposite to the rest of the world – increasing and intensifying the discrimination and repression against its black population, while in the rest of the African continent colonies gained independence and blacks in the United States established the Civil Rights Movement. The demand for a boycott of South Africa gained momentum around the world, first in civil society organizations and then taken up also by governments and official international bodies. Also the Dutch, distant kin of the Afrikaners, turned their back on them. According to polls conducted at the time among whites in South Africa, they felt especially hurt by the international sports boycott - as much as, or even more than, by the economic sanctions imposed on South Africa. Eventually, the coach of the South Africa rugby team met with representatives of the African National Congress – at the time still considered a terrorist organization under South African law – in order to discuss an end to the sports boycott. Many who heard of it realized that the end of Apartheid was approaching. And so it was, although some ten years would pass - and a lot of lives would still be lost – before the day actually came.

Policy makers in Israel should be familiar with the history of South Africa. Jan Smuts was a staunch supporter of the Zionist movement, Kibbutz Ramat Yohanan was named after him. Later, South Africa was for decades a strategic ally of Israel. And yet it seems that Israel is bent on following in South Africa’s footsteps, step by painful step.

Nowadays it is difficult to remember that for many years, the Zionist movement and the young State of Israel had gained the very extensive support and sympathy of left-leaning and progressive people all over the world. It can be said that, ironically, in the 1940’s and 1950’s Israel got the support of much the same kind of who nowadays would tend to support the Palestinians - and for much the same reasons: support for the underdog, for those who were hurt and wronged and demanded justice. The Zionist Movement was perceived as representing a terribly persecuted people, who had undergone the most terrible genocide in human history and who rightly demanded a piece of land as a safe haven under their feet. A famous poem by Natan Alterman commemorates an Italian sea captain named Ansaldo, who had fought against the Nazi occupation of his country and who in December 1945 helped a boatload of Zionist illegal immigrants reach the coast of Palestine. To many people at the time, Ansaldo’s acts seemed to be natural and obvious parts of a single continuity.

The hundreds of thousands of refugees who lost their homes and land with the creation of the State of Israel did not seriously detract from the positive image of the young state of Israel, with the socialist kibbutzim as gleaming showcase for the world. The attempt of the Arab states to institute a boycott of Israel did for a time intimidate some western corporations, but such boycott calls got virtually no political or ideological support in Europe or America. Even the war of 1967 was seen, at least for some years, as the victory of David over Goliath. Last week I mentioned here President Obama's interview with its poignant longing for "The Israel of… the kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir, and the sense that not only are we creating a safe Jewish homeland, but also we are remaking the world." It made a bit strange reading to people of my generation, whose earliest political experience was an outspoken protest of Golda Meir’s declaration that "there is no Palestinian people".

For the world at large, the Israeli magic still worked in those days. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan was admired when he proclaimed the policy of "liberal occupation" and Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek was acclaimed as the champion of coexistence even while he oversaw destruction of the Mughrabi Quarter of the Old City and the intensive construction of exclusively Jewish neighborhoods on confiscated Palestinian land. For many years, many American Jews were known for their chronic split personality, supporting each and every Liberal cause and issue aside from their ​​blind support of Israel. But nothing lasts forever, and the day of Israel’s Jan Smuts also came to its end. In 1977 the Israeli Labor Party fell from power in the country it had dominated for decades, and was replaced by the Likud – a party notable for its blatant nationalism and particularly for the massive construction of settlements in Occupied Territories. The killings and destruction of the First Lebanon War began to crack Israel's image in the world. In 1992, a change of direction seemed at hand, with Rabin coming to power, shaking Arafat’s hand and signing an interim agreement with the Palestinians.

We will never know for certain what would have happened had Rabin not been assassinated, and if he would have managed to reach a permanent agreement with the Palestinians by May 1999, as specified in the agreements. In reality as it happened, Rabin was assassinated and did not get a worthy successor. The Oslo process ended in a bloody disappointment and disillusion, with the occupation now racing toward the jubilee year. By now, Israel has become associated worldwide with the most right-wing and conservative parties; in the United States being increasingly aligned with the Republicans against the Democrats. Jews, especially young ones, are increasingly turning their backs on Israel. The call for a boycott of Israel is gaining strength. Last week it first manifested itself in the field of international sport, with Israeli soccer managing at the last moment to sustain only a "yellow card" rather than a red one. At last, the country’s decision makers are crying out about the boycott being "a strategic threat to Israel", with the mass circulation newspapers pumping up the same topic.

"Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it". Unclear who said it first, but true it is.

Women in Black Tel Aviv, June 5th 2015

Saturday, May 30, 2015

An international roller coaster

Palestinian boys in Nabi Saleh village present a Red Card to an Israeli lieutenant 
Photo: Issam Rimawi

The Eurovision Song Contest, held annually among the member countries of the European Broadcasting Union, is very important to Israelis. Is perhaps more important to them than to the Europeans themselves. Israelis want very much to be part of Europe. It is important to Israelis who originally came from Europe, and perhaps even more important to Israelis who originally came from countries outside Europe. It is important to Israelis  to be part of the Eurovision Song Contest, as it is important to them to be part of the European Soccer Championships and the European Basketball Championships and the European Association of Scientific Exchanges and numerous other European organizations and associations. It is only the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which most Israeli citizens would prefer stay away from (at one time, this court  strongly criticized the acts of the British army and security services in Northern Ireland…)

This is a tremendous manifestation of reaching out across borders, linking hands between different countries, different cultures!" announced the three moderators to the crowd of thousands at the huge hall in Vienna and the audience of millions at their TV screens at home. Some doubt can be cast on the inter-cultural part, given that almost all the songs were sung in English rather than the national language of the participating countries, and that song after song seemed all derived from a single culture – a rather shallow culture, originating in the United States of the Twentieth Century, though the Americans themselves did not take part in this European event.

Also the song "Golden Boy" sung there by the young Israeli  Nadav Guedj  did not deviate much from this rule, the main Israeli element in it being the refrain "Let me show you Tel Aviv." Before Guedj came on Israel, like the other participating countries, got a chance to present two minutes of its characteristic landscapes to the audience of millions across Europe. In the Israeli footage, a few seconds of  the hotel-lined beach of Tel Aviv flashed across the screen, followed by a long leisurely shot of  alpine vistas of a snow-covered mountain complete with cable car taking skiers to the summit – undoubtedly the most European landscape which Israel could present. No one bothered to mention to European viewers that this was in fact snowy Mount Hermon, part of the Golan Heights which Israel captured from Syria and whose unilateral annexation aroused at the time strong reactions from Europe. Of course, as long as the Syrian Civil War lasts, Israel has a respite from pressures to  give back that particular area.

In truth, even if there was not very much of a real bridging of cultures, this musical event did see some bridging political differences. Despite all the tensions around Ukraine, the Russian song (in English) garnered  considerable  support and was in lead for much of the competition, though eventually overtaken by the Swedish song (in English).

In all, the Israeli public felt satisfied with their Guedj, who managed to gain 97 points and ended at the ninth place in Europe. "I feel that I won, it was an experience greater than life, an enormous experience, I was told that people in the streets were talking about the song contest, I got a lot of likes on Facebook and people wrote nice compliments like 'With God's help you have warmed the hearts of the entire Jewish People'. One can sum up that in the political universe we are in a bad international situation but in the universe of music and interpersonal relations, Israel is much beloved and desired”.

For a moment the political universe did threaten to invade the podium of the Eurovision Song Contest. The Hungarian Singers who presented at the contest  the song "Wars in Vain" originally intended to illustrate their anti-war message with a clip of slides referring to specific wars in the past year and the number of their victims – included among other things, the words "Gaza 2014:  two-thirds of the victims were civilians, including over 500 children”. But the Israeli Ambassador to Budapest had taken decisive action in time, approaching the Hungarian government and pointing out that political statements are not allowed in the Eurovision. It worked, and the offending video clip was censored, and the European viewers were spared the reference to the children killed in Gaza.

Tzipi Hotovely, who was appointed as Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister when Netanyahu decided to keep this portfolio in his own hands, came up with a different approach to Israel’s position in the international arena. Upon taking office she convened the senior diplomats charged with representing Israel around the world, and urged them to play down the argument that Israel needs the territories it occupied in 1967 for security reasons. Instead, they should say loud and clear that the land belongs to the Jews since God Himself promised it to them. Hotoveli provided the diplomats with a quote from the great commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shalomo Yitzchaki). Already in his lifetime in Medieval France – so explained the new Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs - Rashi foresaw that one day the Jews would need to justify their rule over the Promised Land. When faced with moral arguments by the Palestinians, who complain that their land was stolen from them and that they live under oppressive occupation, representatives of the State of Israel should simply cite the clinching counter-argument provided by Rashi – simply, that at the very moment of the Creation of the World, God already designated this land for the exclusive use of the Jews and them only. Reportedly, the veteran Israeli diplomats were not really enthusiastic about the new PR line offered by their new boss. For his part, Prime Minister Netanyahu quickly appointed his loyal Dore Gold as Director General of the Foreign Ministry. Gold is considered a political hawk, not favorable to the Palestinians, but religious arguments in politics are not his forte.

US President Barack Obama did not mention Tzipi Hotovely in his speech at the Adas Israel Synagogue in Washington, nor in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in “The Atlantic ". He did express his growing concern with the direction Israel is going: “When I think about how I came to know Israel, it was based on images of … kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir, and the sense that not only are we creating a safe Jewish homeland, but also we are remaking the world. We’re repairing it. We are going to do it the right way. We are going to make sure that the lessons we’ve learned from our hardships and our persecutions are applied to how we govern and how we treat others.(…) I want Israel, in the same way that I want the United States, to embody the Judeo-Christian values and, ultimately then, what I believe are human or universal values that have led to progress over a millennium. The same values that led to the end of Jim Crow and slavery. The same values that led to Nelson Mandela being freed and a multiracial democracy emerging in South Africa. (…) There has been a very concerted effort on the part of some political forces to equate being pro-Israel, and hence being supportive of the Jewish people, with a rubber stamp on a particular set of policies coming out of the Israeli government. So if you are questioning settlement policy, that indicates you’re anti-Israeli, or that indicates you’re anti-Jewish. If you express compassion or empathy towards Palestinian youth, who are dealing with checkpoints or restrictions on their ability to travel, then you are suspect in terms of your support of Israel. If you are willing to get into public disagreements with the Israeli government, then the notion is that you are being anti-Israel, and by extension, anti-Jewish. I completely reject that.”

Several ministers in the Netanyahu cabinet started an outcry about "Obama interfering in the internal politics of Israel ". The same was also given a banner  headline in Netanyahu’s mouthpiece,"Israel Today “. However, quite a few people on the opposite side of the political spectrum were  less than impressed by the President‘s impassioned worlds, given  the large shipment of arms which Obama promised to Israel immediately following the inauguration of the new government. Moreover, the United States took care to nip in the bud Egypt’s efforts to convene a conference for nuclear disarmament of the Middle East. The Egyptians’ aspiration to have the US demand of Israel the same which is demanded of Iran was dismissed by American officials as “completely unrealistic”.

This week a friend of mine, a Liberal American Jew, got a unique opportunity to speak a few minutes alone with President Obama, and then to continue the dialogue with him in the framework of a small and intimate audience. As she later said: "I דsaid that I wanted to talk to him about the Palestinians, that they are living in hell'. He paused with this sympathetic look on his face and said “I know” in a strong voice. And I said, “I was sure you would say that.” But then, in front of the entire group, he said “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict which is a mess, and will continue to be a mess for a very long time. I have consulted with my generals and the CIA, and we all believe that Israel needs our armaments and all the money we give because she cannot be vulnerable to terrorism”. My friend came out of the meeting with the President feeling acutely sad and disappointed. However, it should be noted that in this meeting – as on other occasions - Obama kept a poker face on the most sensitive issue: is he, or is he not, going to veto the draft resolution which France intends to submit to the UN Security Council in September? Under the proposed French text, the line of June 4, 1967 would be declared the basis for peace border between Israel and Palestine. Before going seriously into all that, Obama clearly intends to complete the agreement with Iran – with the target date of June 30 fast approaching, and a tough fight on Capitol Hill expected to follow.


The Civil Rights struggle of Black Americans is of fundamental importance to President Obama and his supporters, among whom Liberal American Jews are prominent. As it happened, in the direct aftermath of the President's interview Haaretz published a commentary entitled "The line connecting the Palestinian worker with Rosa Parks”.

The occasion for that was the long-lasting, extensive lobbying by West Bank settlers, demanding that Palestinian workers returning home from work in Israel be prevented from using the public transportation in which settlers travel. "For the safety of our children and teens, the young boys and girls from Samaria, it is unacceptable that they be forced  to travel daily in these buses daily along with thousands of Palestinian workers. It is very dangerous to their safety and the Arabs also sexually harass our girls!" declared settler leader Gershon Mesika. Due to the pressures exerted by the settlers, Defense  Minister Ya’alon announced a "test run" of a new plan, whereby West Bank buses would be reserved for settlers only, while  Palestinian workers returning from work in Israel (with permits duly issued by the army and security services...) would be forced to a more tortuous route and go through security checks, prolong their way home by an average of two hours.

Publication of the plan sparked a wave of angry responses. Peace groups and left-wing parties in Israel raised their voices, as did international bodies - and as also did former Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who six months ago positioned himself as a potential successor to Prime Minister Netanyahu and who periodically tries to cultivate a "liberal" image. A blatantly displayed separation of buses was the last thing Netanyahu needed on the eve of a crucial visit by the European Union's Commissioner of Foreign Affairs – and within a few hours, Netanyahu summarily instructed Ya'alon to cancel the separation program.

The road connecting Beitin and other Palestinian villages northeast of Ramallah to the city of Ramallah gained much less media attention - hardly any at all. Fifteen years ago, during its effort to suppress the Second Intifada, the army blocked this road to Palestinian traffic and reserved it for the travelling of settlers only - and not just ordinary settlers, but residents of the Beit El settlement, where many leaders of the “Judea and Samaria Council" live. The Palestinians needed to take longer and more difficult routes in order to get to the city. This week the army announced that, “as part of easing the living conditions of the Palestinians", it will allow Palestinian traffic on this road for the first time in fifteen years – though only for private cars, only in one direction, and only provided that Palestinians drivers "give right of way to settlers’ cars". After one day and following a stormy demonstration by the Beit El settlers, the army announced that “the experiment failed”, and military bulldozers were sent to pile rocks and once again block Palestinian access to this road.

All this happened on the day that Prime Minister Netanyahu met in his bureau with the European Union’s Federica Mogherini. The distinguished guest asked the PM  to manifest “a positive attitude conductive to the reopening of negotiations”. Netanyahu responded with the surprise announcement that he would be prepared to discuss the demarcation of the "settlement blocs" in which the State of Israel would be allowed to build and extend settlements. Until now, Netanyahu (like his  predecessors) rejected out of hand any demand to define the boundaries of these  "blocks" - because any attempt to demarcate them drew howls and outcries of protest from settlers who were left out.

Had Netanyahu really changed tack? Or is it convenient for him to make proposals regarding hypothetical negotiations with the Palestinians, knowing that there is virtually no chance of such negotiations taking place? One of the key conditions which Palestinians put for resuming negotiations with Israel is a complete freeze of construction in all settlements, blocks or no blocks. In such negotiations the idea of a territorial exchange might  come on the agenda. The Palestinians might consent to the annexation by Israel of some portions of West Bank territory, containing some settlements - provided that Israel cede in exchange some land within its pre-’67 territory, equal in its size and quality. Following such an agreement, an understanding might be reached that Israel will build legitimately on land which it would retain, and that the Palestinians could also start building on land earmarked to be passed over to them... All of this does not seem a very realistic vision under the current Netanyahu government, whose very narrow parliamentary majority depends on several extreme right-wing nationalists.

Indeed, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel of the Jewish Home Party rushed to protest: “If indeed the Prime Minister told the EU representative what the media reported, this offer creates a dangerous precedent and is clearly contrary to the first clause of the Cabinet Program – stating that the Jewish People have an unquestionable right to a sovereign state in Eretz Israel, our national and historical homeland ". Netanyahu did not seem really disturbed by the criticism of Ariel. Indeed, it might have even given him a greater credibility towards the Europeans. Will this be enough to halt European projects which Netanyahu does not like, such as marking settlement products entering the European market or even blocking them altogether? And how would it affect the French intention to submit the famous draft resolution to the Security Council? The French Foreign Minister is next in line among the distinguished visitors expected to call on Netanyahu next month.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians continue what has been dubbed "The Diplomatic Intifada", and this week the headlines were taken by their effort to get Israel excluded from the International Soccer Association, FIFA. Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Soccer Federation and a prominent candidate to eventually replace President Mahmoud Abbas, has brought up a series of charges: the blocking of Palestinians players moving between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or to the outside world; manifestations of anti-Arab racism in Israeli football; and most especially – the participation in the Israeli soccer league of five clubs based in West Bank settlements. "Doomsday for Israeli football?" cried the morning papers’ headlines. "Suspension from FIFA would be a tsunami, we would not be able to play in the World Cup qualifier, nor compete in any international soccer  enterprise, Israeli players will not be able to play in foreign clubs and foreign players will not be able to come here," warned the veteran sports Ya’acov Er’el.

But suddenly a storm came up from a different direction. Coincidentally or not, the rumors which circulated for years about corruption and large-scale bribery in the International Soccer  Association ripened to an open police investigation, just on the eve of the vote on the Palestinian motion to suspend Israel. The Swiss police conducted a raid on the offices of FIFA, confiscated documents and placed several senior officials in custody. "The US is not a soccer power football, but there is a high-profile FBI  involvement  with the FIFA investigation, the Americans demanding that the suspects be extradited from Switzerland and be tried in US courts.”  

Nevertheless, the tense debate of the Palestinian proposal continued throughout the day, with pro-Palestinian protesters besieging the Zurich FIFA headquarters and occasionally trying to break in, and rumors circulating about the struggles behind the scenes. The 75% majority needed to resolve on the suspension of Israel alternately seeming closer or further away from the Palestinians’ grasp. And suddenly, Rajoub mounted the podium to make a dramatic announcement: "The representative of South Africa, whose opinion I  highly appreciate, has asked me to withdraw the motion. So did dozens of delegations from Africa, South America and Europe. Therefore, I decided to withdraw the motion. This does not mean I give up the struggle".

Instead of the resolution to suspend Israel, for which they evidently did not succeed in mustering the required majority, the Palestinians managed to pass a resolution on the establishment of a supervisory committee of FIFA to look into fulfillment of the Palestinian demands, especially with regard to the five settlement clubs playing in the Israeli soccer league. This vote passed with a vast majority for the Palestinians - 165 support, compared with 18 opposed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to declare that "the Palestinian provocation had failed", and Sports Minister Regev called it “a great victory". But the Foreign Ministry experts were less enthusiastic. "At the moneytime, when you drag Israel into a confrontation on vital issues such as the threat of suspension from FIFA, from the IFF, Israel knows how to create international alliances to thwart the Palestinian move, even in cases where the Palestinians seem to have an assured  majority" was what senior diplomat Yuval Rotem, who had coordinated the Israeli diplomatic struggle on the FIFA issue, told the Y-net news website. He added, however: “Creating this deterrence comes at a high price: it leads to an erosion of Israel's status, it forces Israel to spend too much political credit, and puts Israel in a position where she must beg for the help of friends. It is a bad situation that this  campaign has gotten into the sphere of sports at all. While the battle for FIFA was decided the 90th minute, it is clear that the main battle is still ahead. Rajoub wears three hats - President of the Palestinian Soccer  Association, Sports Minister and Chairman of the Palestinian Olympic Committee. There are Olympics in a year. It started in football today, tomorrow it can be volleyball, handball and basketball. We have to stay on our toes and realize there is now a political dimension to Israeli sports. Also in other sports there are clubs and teams based in settlements. Once we have gotten in this kind of dynamics, they will try to entangle us and embarrass us again and again is such campaigns.

By pure chance, the dramatic FIFA vote coincides with date set for the protest march in Jerusalem initiated by Israeli peace and human rights groups to mark the 48th anniversary of the occupation. To the slogans originally resolved upon for this march can now be added: When you occupy and oppress, you can’t play soccer quietly’

End the occupation! Stop the separation!

No to oppression, violence and racism!

Yes to freedom and equality!

Protest March in Jerusalem, Sat. May 30, 2015.

8.00 pm – setting out from the Zion Square

9.30 pm – conclusion of the march, rally outside the Bew Gate in the Old City wall (Tzahal Square)

The lives and fates of over four million men and women in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem are shaped by occupation and separation.

Minors arrests; house demolitions; political persecution and the suppression of the right to protest; over 400 administrative detainees; military violence against women; restrictions to the freedom of movement; lands theft; cutting out water supply; sexual harassment in checkpoints; revocation of residency; collective punishment.

Total violation of human rights

After a year in which our public sphere has been flooded by acts of violence, a year which seen a brutal attack on Gaza and a gruesome and bloody war. Yet another year in which occupation continued and racism intensified. Another year in which the security budget and the budget for the settlements grow while the economic situation in Israel has deteriorated

Especially now, after a new and more racist government has been elected, we all must protest

Marking 48 year for the 1967 occupation, we say end the occupation. We will stand together to remind the residence of Jerusalem, who face daily threats of eviction, demolition or arrest, that there is a different voice and a different way.

We will stand together, because there is no social justice without ending the occupation.

Participating groups:

AIC- alternative information center
coalition of women for peace

Combatants for peace

Daam- workers party
Gush Shalom

Hadash- Democratic front for peace and equality
Israel Social TV

Maan-workers union
Machsom Watch
Movement of Democratic women in Israel
New Profile
Socialist struggle movement
Two flags, One future

Peace NGO forum
Yesh Gvul movement
Women In Black


Saturday, May 16, 2015

A circus in Jerusalem and cinema among the Gaza ruins

"If you can’t ride two horses at once, you better get out of the circus," wrote John le Carré in one of his books. In his context, of course, the term "circus" referred to the ironic nickname by which British intelligence agents call their service.

Cinema festival in Gaza - photos: Masmerim quarterly
"No decent political leader would join the Netanyahu Circus, this last-minute cabinet hanging on the most slim of parliamentary majorities which you formed for the sole purpose of perpetuating your rule” stated opposition leader Yitzchak Herzog during the tense debate when the new government was sworn in. "You did not appoint a Foreign Minister, you keep that portfolio vacant “as a deposit” - in the hope of still getting myself and my party to join in a government hanging by a thread, a government struggling on a tightrope like an acrobat in the circus. No use. Foreign affairs are too important to leave untended, you should tonight appoint a Foreign Minister from your own party, to hold that ministry for as long as your cabinet lasts. It would be best for the future of Israel when this circus cabinet which you narrowly formed not be sworn in at all – and if sworn in today, that its days be short. For the future of Israel, the opposition which I head will strive to have a new cabinet formed in Israel, a cabinet not headed by you."

Netanyahu insists on keeping the Foreign Affairs portfolio in his own hands, even at the cost of a bitter confrontation with Gilad Erdan, hitherto his closest confidant, who had expected to get the Foreign Ministry as a reward for years of dedicated service to Netanyahu in both inter-party and intra-party struggles. Evidently Netanyahu still entertains the hope that sooner or later Herzog would relent, take up the position of Foreign Minister and present to the world a "sane" and “moderate” image behind which extreme right-wing policies could be carried on - as did  Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni in the previous Netanyahu cabinets.

"If you lay a hand on the Supreme Court, you will find me confronting you – with an enormous following at my back" continued Herzog. "If you lay a hand on minorities in the Israeli society, as you did in the last election campaign, if you talk to them and about them as you spoke on elections day, you will find me confronting you – with an enormous following at my back. The Prime Minister of the State of the Jews must not discriminate against citizens on grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation or skin color". If Herzog does keep his word and leads the opposition along the lines laid down in this maiden speech, he will be entitled to the apologies of many observers and commentators who had expressed a cynical doubt of his commitment to maintain the struggle.

Netanyahu has appointed three women to ministerial positions in his cabinet. Gila Gamliel got the longest title ever bestowed on an Israeli cabinet minister: Minister for Senior Citizens, Gender Equality, Equality of Minorities, and the  Advancement of Young People and Pensioners". Personally, her appointment  did not arouse public opposition. Opposition Knesset Members – especially the women among them - expressed even sympathy for her and the hope that she would have at least a measure of success in realizing at least some of the goals expressed in the long name of her new Ministry. In contrast, the announced  appointment of two other new women ministers - Miri Regev as Minister of Culture and Ayelet Shaked as Minister of Justice – did provoke widespread public uproar, and not without reason.

Miri Regev had had a successful military career, holding the position of Chief Military Censor, and then of IDF Spokesperson, at the rank of Brigadier-General - achievements which at the time gained her the reputation of a strong assertive woman. As a Knesset Member she became known mainly for repeated bouts of crude racist demagoguery - against Arab citizens of Israel (in particular, against the Arab woman Knesset Member Haneen Zoabi) and most particularly against refugees from Africa who maintain themselves with in the slums of south Tel Aviv. "The Sudanese are a cancer in our body, they should be sent back where they came from. The situation in south Tel Aviv is unbearable, I want to see the Saharonim Detention Center brim-full of 7000 infiltrators and illegal immigrants en route to deportation” declared Regev in a speech to an unruly crowd in south Tel Aviv. Immediately afterwards, Regev’s listeners started rampaging through the streets, beating up any black-skinned person they encountered. Of course, Regev announced immediately that that had not been her intention at all.

On Uri Weiss’ blog I found the following comment: "There are some who view positively the successful military and political career of Miri Regev - on Feminist grounds. They should be reminded that Regev was instrumental in  formulating the procedure of “Hot Return”, under which soldiers in the border area were instructed to immediately return to the Egyptian side any African refugees trying to enter Israel. Often, women refugees who were returned to the Egyptian side immediately fell victim to gang rape by Egyptian soldiers waiting on the other side”.

This practice of "Hot Return" was disliked by some of the soldiers who were charged with enforcing it. In the last recorded case, the Israeli troops did  return eighteen male black "infiltrators" to the Egyptian side of the border, but refused to deport the three women who had been with them - especially since the Egyptian soldiers waiting on the other side of the border have shown with unmistakable hand gestures their intentions regarding the women.

Ultimately, the entire "Hot Return" procedure was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. Thereupon, an alternative procedure was formulated, whereby the Sudanese and Eritrean refugees were detained without trial and sent to the "open prison" of Holot deep in the Negev desert, with government officials coming and pressuring them to sign their consent to "voluntary deportation”. Three Christian refugees from Eritrea agreed to sign such a form and were put on a plane to Rwanda. From the airport there, they were deported again, eventually ending up in Libya - where they fell into the hands of ISIS militants who included them in a group of summarily executed Christians.

The ISIS video depicting the killings was seen by people who had known the three in Israel, both other refugees and members of the Israeli refugee aid organizations. The aid organizations held a protest rally in central Tel Aviv, under the slogan “No more deporting of refugees to their deaths!”. For her part, Miri Regev convened a special meeting of the Knesset Interior Affairs Committee “to inquire into  the sources of funding of the refugee aid organizations",  since “these organizations are undermining the Jewish character of Israel”. Such are the main qualifications which Miri Regev brings to her new role as Minister of Culture of the State of Israel.

The refugee aid organizations have twice filed appeals with the Supreme Court against the law which authorizes the protracted detention without trial of  asylum seekers. Twice did the judges rule the law to be unconstitutional and in contravention of the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, but the right-wing majority in the Knesset for the third time enacted the Refuge Detention Law, with minor changes. Now pending before the Supreme Court is another appeal by the refugee aid organizations, and within a few months the judges will have to decide whether or not to once again overturn that law.

This is where Netnayhau’s second new woman minister comes in - Ayelet Shaked, Minister of Justice (originally slated to be Minister of Culture, before managing to upgrade herself in the fierce cabinet-forming negotiations). Shaked's public profile of polite and civilized talk is very different from that of Miri Regev. Ahead of taking up her new appointment, the new Justice Minister went on record stating her “great esteem for the judges of Israel’s Supreme Court, whose high reputation is world-wide," but added in passing that she would act "to prevent the Court from interfering in the work of the Knesset." She also noted that in making new appointments to the Supreme Court she would give preference to “conservative judges who avoid undue intervention with the  actions of the Executive and Legislative Branches" rather than "over-activist  judges”.

This was more than a hint to the two legislative acts which Ayelet Shaked had been promoting long before she got a chance to penetrate into the nerve center of the Israeli legal system. The first is the "Overcoming Clause" which - in case of the Supreme Court ruling a law to be unconstitutional or in violation of Human and Civil Rights - would authorize the Knesset to nevertheless re-enact the offending law. A second Shaked initiative would be a change in the composition of the Judicial Appointments Committee, which would give politicians in general - and right-wing politicians in particular – a far bigger role in the appointment of new judges to the Supreme Court.

Are the Supreme Court judges intimidated and frightened by all this? Maybe they are. First, the court dismissed the appeal against the "Boycott Law" which was passed by the Knesset four years ago. By majority vote, the justices ruled that voicing a call for a boycott of products made at a settlement in the Occupied Territories is “tantamount to calling for a boycott of the State of Israel itself" - and that therefore,  it is permissible to institute judicial proceedings against anyone making such a boycott call and  demand substantial sums for “damages caused by the call for boycott”. Justice Elyakim Rubinstein went further, quoting from the traditional Passover liturgy the words "in every generation, enemies rise up to annihilate us…

Justice Rubinstein, along with his colleague Neil Hendel, also took part in the decision to reject the appeal by residents of the “unrecognized” Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev. The court ruling in effect enables state  authorities to completely destroy and raze the village, in order to make place for a Jewish community (specifically, a Jewish religious community) which  would also be called Hiran. It was no avail to the Hiran residents to point out that they have lived continuously on that location in that place since 1956, nor that on that year they had been transferred there by the authorities of the State of Israel when Kibbutz Shoval was established on their original lands. The judges ruled that the Bedouin residents are to be considered illegal squatters  who have no right in the land and whom the state may remove at its sole discretion. And within a single day, a virtually identical ruling was made by Justice Noam Solberg, who rejected an appeal by residents of Susya in the South Hebron Hill and authorized the state to demolish their homes and give over the land to the nearby Israeli settlement – which is also named Susya.

The difference - at least theoreticall:  Hiran is a village within the internationally recognized sovereign territory of the State of Israel, whose  residents are legally Israeli citizens for all intents and purposes, while Susya is in Occupied Territory under Israeli military rule. But as the veteran Amira Hass noted on the pages of Ha’aretz, the fact of an identical policy of dispossession being implemented on both sides of the Green Line (pre-’67 border), in both cases authorized by the Supreme Court with identical arguments, gives greater credence to those who regard the State of Israel - from foundation in 1948 until the present day – as a predatory entity bent on limitless oppression and dispossession. Hass expressed doubt on whether the Supreme Court can still be regarded as a bastion of Civil and Human Rights threatened by malevolent politicians, pointing out that Justice Solberg who rendered the ruling on Susya lives himself in a West Bank settlement.

In its latest ruling (so far) the Supreme Court has granted its approval to the “Dance of the Flags”, the traditional annual march held by young settlers and their sympathizers on “Jerusalem Day". That date marks the anniversary (according to the Jewish calendar) of the 1967 regarded by celebrants as “The Unification of the City of Jerusalem” (in the other narrative, as the time when  Palestinian East Jerusalem was occupied and annexed by Israel without asking or getting the consent of its inhabitants). To mark this happy day, the Religious Zionist youths tend to march in their thousands through the alleys of the Old City of Jerusalem, waving Blue-and-White flags, with many of them taking this opportunity to also chant "Death to the Arabs!", kick at the locked doors behind which Old City residents are hiding, and smash any Arab property in their path. Towards "Jerusalem Day" which will fall on 17 May this year, the "Ir Amim" (City of the Peoples) association appealed to the Supreme Court to change the route of the Dance of the Flags and divert it away from Arab populated areas. The judges ruled that although chants of "Death to the Arabs!" constitute a criminal act, that "in view of the police undertaking to prevent incitement and sedition, it would be possible to maintain the march’s traditional route."

The Israeli authorities’ intention to demolish and raze the village of Susya might be the first test case which the Palestinians would present to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The State of Palestine - recognized as a sovereign political entity by the Un General Assembly, though not yet established in practice on the ground – has gained membership of the International Court, but so far had not yet lodged specific complaints about particular Israeli acts. It might be that precisely the destruction and expulsion of a small impoverished rural community - which had never taken part in any violent activity and none of whose members engaged  even in stone-throwing at the height of the First or the Second Intifada - might prove a very difficult challenge for even the best legal counsel which the Government of Israel could muster.

Several reports from various sources indicate that Israel’s "Diplomatic Tsunami", of which commentators and politicians have long warned,  is indeed approaching. An official Vatican document made clear that from now on the  Holy See maintains diplomatic relations with the State of Palestine - no longer  with the Palestine Liberation Organization, as was the case for many years. Thus, the  Catholic Church, headed by the popular Pope Francis, joins with the Swedish government which recognized the State of Palestine a few months ago and inaugurated a Palestinian Embassy in Stockholm.

At the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, the strategic dialogue meeting held annually between the foreign ministries of France and Israel's became the scene of tense confrontation and conflict between opposing senior diplomats. The main bone of contention was the initiative of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to promote in the UN Security Council a new resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The French draft resolution is expected to include such principles as establishing the boundaries of a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines with land swaps, Jerusalem as the capital of two states, setting a timetable for ending the negotiations and the convening of an international peace conference. The inclusion in the French draft of a formula providing for some form of recognition of Israel as a Jewish state did not appease the Israeli diplomats, who leveled harsh words at their French counterparts, and were answered in kind.

The French foreign  minister recently accepted an American request to stall the process until after the completion of the nuclear agreement with Iran on June 30, but he is determined to bring the resolution to a vote a in the Security Council in September, when the UN Assembly General  is due in New York. According to rumors circulating in the corridors of power, the Americans would not block the French initiative - and might even openly support it. Officially, the US Administration announced its desire to "work with the new Netanyahu Government" and ask it to provide practical evidence of  its commitment to Two State Solution - but  Obama soon followed it with stating explicitly that he does not expect a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian deal in the coming year. The European Union reiterated the request, with its Foreign Affairs High Representative Federica Mogherini due to visit Jerusalem next week.

In fact, there is no real need to conduct any in-depth examination of Netanyahu’s intentions. Just before the elections, Netanyahu announced explicitly that "a Palestinian state will not be established on my watch." After the elections he issued a clarification which made little difference for the bottom line: "In principle I am still in favor of a Palestinian state, but in practice it is not feasible in the current situation in the Middle East." The term "Palestinian State" was conspicuously absent  from the new Netanyahu Government’s program. While paying some lip service to “promoting the negotiations process”, the program commits the Netanyahu government to "preserving Israeli national, security and historical interests." This formulation can imply the preservation of Israeli rule not only in every location defined by the IDF as 'needed for state security", but also in locations where Jews had lived in one historical period or another - which would leave very little, if anything, to the Palestinians.

In the absence of a fig leaf in the form of Herzog in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, international pressure is expected to rise, focusing on such demands  as the freezing of settlement construction and/or an end to Israeli army night raids and detentions in the A area of the West Bank, which is supposed to be under full Palestinian control. "If the Americans make such demands after the conclusion of their negotiations with Iran, it would be out of personal vindictiveness against Netanyahu and wanting to topple him" said an  unidentified senior Likud party official on the radio. Ofir Akunis, one of the new young ministers appointed by Netanyahu, expressed his concern that “a difficult situation on the international arena is in store for Israel," and expressed hope that due to this situation Herzog might yet be mollified and consent to join the government and save the situation... Outgoing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, once Netanyahu's close partner and now his foe, stated: "This new  government is living on borrowed time.  It can’t withstand the international pressure which already began and which will increase in September. You can already see the impact on the ground. The   Palestinians are not only turning to The Hague, but also asking FIFA to expel us."

Indeed, the most immediate Palestinian move is that led by Jibril Rajoub,  head of the Palestinian Soccer Federation, and a senior Palestinian politician, asking the International Soccer Federation (FIFA) to vote on a Palestinian proposal to  suspend Israel's membership and prevent Israeli soccer players from participating in international contests. The vote is due on May 29. According to FIFA rules, authorizing a suspension requires a 75% majority of the delegates present at the vote. The Palestinians would probably find it hard to mobilize such a large majority among the participating soccer associations. However, even a Palestinian majority falling short of that would cause great embarrassment to Israel.

Rajoub comes to the FIFA Congress armed with a long list of charges: Israel restricts the freedom of movement of Palestinian soccer players between Gaza and the West Bank, as well as abroad, restricts the entry of soccer teams from the Arab and Muslim World to play in the Palestinian Territories, causes damages to Palestinian soccer facilities and imposes restrictions on the importation of soccer equipment from abroad – and also that soccer matches in Israel are often the scene of blatant anti-Arab racism, especially where the notorious Beitar Jerusalem Club is involved. But the charge which the Israeli Soccer Association might find the most difficult to handle is that five clubs based in West Bank settlements have been admitted to the Israeli Association, despite its being an Occupied Territory where the Israeli association has no authority. Could it be that exactly when the power position of the settlers in the Government of Israel has reached a new peak, the government would dare to stop the activities of the settler soccer teams in order to save Israeli soccer as a whole?

A Foreign Ministry official said that an Israel suspension from FIFA could have   far-reaching consequences, much beyond the damage caused to the Israeli soccer teams. He said such a move could create a precedent that would give a boost to similar moves in other international sports organizations - and to moves to boycott Israel in general. It can be remembered the sports boycott which had been imposed on South Africa was one of the deciding factors that led to ordinary white South Africans accepting the need to terminate Apartheid...

Meanwhile, just in this week when Miri Regev was appointed to the position of Israel’s Minister of Culture, there took place an extraordinary cultural event in the Gaza Strip. As reported by the Masmerim Quarterly, a documentary film festival opened in what had been until last summer the Shuja'iyya Neighborhood in eastern  Gaza. The festival includes 28 films from different countries, on the theme of Human Rights. Posters announcing the festival were hung on the remains of destroyed buildings, the films themselves projected on a white sheet stretched across a broken wall.

With “the generosity of rich beggars”, the Karama Film Festival deployed sixty meters of Red Carpet through the ruins. Hundreds responded to the invitation. Khalil Al-Mozain, Palestinian film director and one of the initiators, says that one of the messages issuing from the three-day festival is that Gaza residents are ripe for the reconstruction operation promised by dozens of First World countries, which so far failed to arrive.
"We invite those who lost their homes to walk along our Red Carpet " said Al-Mozain to the Chinese News Agency. "Normally, it is Kings and Presidents or famous movie stars who walk on a Red Carpet. No less deserving of this honor are the residents here, still suffering great deprivation”.

It is not clear from the report how the organizers got the actual films for their  festival. Israel has not boasted of giving any assistance, and the Egyptians have long since lost the keys of the Rafah Crossing. On the other hand, with the special magic Red Carpet of this film festival, the riddle of how the films got there is the least intriguing.


Jerusalemites will not keep silent in the face of racism!

Stop the March of Hate on Jerusalem Day!

We will be standing in protest against racism on Safra Square, in Jerusalem's Jaffa Street, at 5:00 pm on Sunday May 17, 2015.

The Flag Dance Parade on Jerusalem Day has become a focus for extremist groups, disseminating hatred, racism and violence.

The march through the streets of the Eastern city, particularly in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, is routinely accompanied by racist slurs and insults,  destruction of property and physical violence against the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.

Year after year, the Jerusalem police and municipality fail to take any real steps to stop the violence and incitement. In the past stormy summer, violence and racism threatened to completely dominate and overwhelm the public sphere. This year we say a loud and clear No to the violence, the hatred and the incitement which threaten the delicate fabric of daily life in Jerusalem.

This year we will manifest a significant, nonviolent presence on the street. We will remind the inhabitants of Jerusalem that there is another way. We will not stand silent in the face of racism!

No to the parade of violence and incitement passing through the Muslim and Palestinian neighborhoods!

Yes to tolerance and coexistence in our city!

Dance of the Flowers vs. Dance of the Flags

Tag Meir is excited to help an initiative of Jerusalemites who have decided to put an end to racism in the city.

Tonight, following the march of the flags for Jerusalem Day, we are going to march in the old city of Jerusalem and distribute flowers to all residents of the Old City.

We want to show the faces of Jerusalem residents who want to live together peacefully and crave to see better days of love between all the people of the city.

We are going to paint the Old City - its streets, stores, allies and people with a lot of flowers, colors and love.

We will meet at 6pm at Safra Square (by city hall) where you will be able to take your flowers and we will walk from Tsahal square towards Damascus Gate and Jaffa Gate.

If you truly care about this city, on all its residents, join us and spread the word.