Monday, July 26, 2010

Israeli culture - 1

The IDF promises – and it keeps its promise. Some weeks ago, Israel's Defence Forces promised the villagers of Al-Farsieyah in the Jordan Valley that their village will be completely destroyed and that they will be left homeless under the open sky. The army promised – and on schedule the soldiers came, the vehicles arrived, the bulldozers were there. The houses were destroyed, the huts were destroyed, the tents were destroyed, the cattle pens were destroyed. Everything, totally everything, was destroyed. It did not take much time, nor a very great effort, to destroy the entire village and wipe it off the earth. (Well, it's a pretty small place, just a bit more than a hundred people ...)

Not that the soldiers who came to destroy Al-Farsieyah that morning last week were necessarily very bad people. Probably they were ordinary people, ordinary Israeli citizens, soldiers of the usual type. Like most soldiers in most armies in human history, they obeyed orders and carried out the task entrusted to them, to the satisfaction of their commanders.

Israeli law clearly states that there are Manifestly Illegal Orders, orders on which the Black Flag of Illegality flies. A soldier not only can refuse to obey such an order – he must. As set down by the Supreme Court of the State of Israel after the Kafr Kassem Massacre in 1956, an order to place unarmed civilians against the wall and shoot them to death is such an order, a Manifestly Illegal Order.

But that's not what happened in Al-Farsieyah. No one was murdered, thank God. All that happened was that some houses and some structures and some amimal pens were demolished, and that a handful of people who were already very poor will now have to start from scratch. That's all. Is that, too, a manifestly illegal order? Or was it just a plain illegal order, one which is illegal but not manifestly so, in which case the soldier is legally obliged to obey first and ask questions later? Or maybe it's an order which is unpleasant but perfectly legal, according to all the rules and procedures set down in Occupation Law as formulated by the 43-year old Israeli occupation regime?

Only highly expert, experienced lawyers can try to answer such questions - and it is far from sure that even the likes of them can provide any clear and authoritative answer. As the Army Chief of Staff is fond of saying – as does the Minister of Defense – it is unacceptable that every soldier would have to consult with lawyers before going into battle. Even before going into battle against the residents of the a tiny hamlet who do not carry any arms and did not try to put up any resistance to the demolition of their homes.

Israeli culture-2

After three years of renovations the revamped Israel Museum was inaugurated in Jerusalem. The museum renovation project was one of the largest of its kind in Israel, and the cost came to 100 million dollars. In fact, the museum doubled its display space and renewed the entrance pavilion, gardens and exhibitions.

The glittering opening event was attended by President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Jerusalem Mayor Barkat, Supreme Court President Beinisch as well as ministers, Knesset Members, ambassadors, judges, dignitaries, donors, and members of the cultural elite in Israel.

"I'm so proud of this spiritual as well as artistic achievement which represents in a special way our national character," the president said.

Prime Minister Netanyahu told of his memories from the period before the museum was built: "I grew up not far from here. When we were kids we used to play on this hill. The hill was rocky with a single acorn tree. Now, in place of the acorn, you can find Modigliani, Lifscitz, Pissarro, Van Gogh, the entire culture of the world is represented here in a quiet but astonishing way. The wonderful combination between the values of our heritage and world culture actually constitute the bridge from our past to our future. "

Israeli culture-3

Shir Regev was born 20 years ago at Tuval in the Galilee. When he was born in the Israeli occupation in the West Bank had already been a fact for a whole generation, and he had never known any other reality.

When it was time for a Shir Regev join Israel's army of defense, the most moral army in the world, he did not wait until he could pass basic training, and be posted to a unit, and be ordered to demolish houses in Al-Farsieyah, and then deliberate if the order is legal or illegal. He also did not need to wait for the renovated Israel Museum to open in order to gain some knowledge of the Jewish historical heritage, and of world culture, and of how these two relate to each other. On what was supposed to be his recruitment day, Regev sent a letter to the military:

I believe it is my personal duty to refuse and defect from an army whose main purpose is to serve as an occupation police for maintaining "Israeli order" and imposing it on defenseless and disenfranchised Palestinians. (…)

Since I have the medical profile of a "combat soldier", had I joined the army, there is no doubt I would have been sent to serve this 'Mafiosi' system, which has almost nothing to do with the IDF's designated role as "Defense Forces". This is an army that serves interests in which I do not believe. Therefore, in the dilemma between doing such service and obeying the dictates of my conscience, I have no doubt about where I stand.

Shir Regev is currently serving his third consecutive period of detention. He would probably have to undergo several more prison terms until the military authorities are convinced that he is not made of the stuff of which destroyers of Palestinian homes are made.

For details on delivery letters of support to Shir Regev and protests to the military and civil authorities, click here: