Monday, March 29, 2010

Sparta 2010

"No eye could have stayed dry at the funeral of Major Eliraz Peretz" said the radio reporter yesterday. All papers devoted their headlines to the bitter mourning of the mother Miriam Peretz for her officer son Eliraz killed three days ago in a Palestinian ambush at the Gaza Strip, and for officer son Uriel killed 12 years ago in a Lebanese ambush in southern Lebanon. Today the newspaper headlines told of the remaining two Peretz brothers, Avihai and Eliasaph, who told the Army Chief of Staff of their determination to continue combat military service also after what happened to Uriel and Eliraz. And the news reports followed up with the grieving mother who encouraged her living sons in this resolution, and of Prime Minister Netanyahu who paid a condolences visit and told her that she is a true heroine,

A very military family is the Peretz family. The men are all committed heart and soul to the Israeli Defense Forces in general and to the Golani Brigade in particular, always in uniform, always going around fighting the Enemy in the north and south and center. In fact, they continue fighting even when not in uniform, going out to settle Judea and Samaria and redeem a bit more of the land which God promised the Jewish People some three thousand years ago. Major Eliraz Peretz built his home at an illegal outpost, simply ignoring the fact that the land belonged to Palestinians from the nearby village. The government of Israel several times promised the U.S. government to evacuate this outpost (that was still in the time of George W. Bush). So they promised. The Judges of the Supreme Court also ordered the government to evacuate the outpost. So they ordered. And now, where can we find a hero who would dare to destroy the home of the hero Eliraz Peretz, who gave his life for his country?

Thousands of years ago, there was in Greece a city-state called Sparta, a city totally dedicated to its army. Its men spent their lives in military training, in between wars, and its women sang songs of praise to the heroes returning from the battlefield and mourned the fallen. Spartan soldiers went to external wars, but especially they were always on the alert for the threat of an uprising by the Helots, the large oppressed population which lived in Sparta itself and which did all the dirty work for their Spartan masters. The Spartans had no time or energy to spare for culture and art, or for philosophy. All this they left to their great enemies, the Athenians. The same for the stupid political system called "democracy", where so much precious time was wasted in all kinds of debates and arguments instead of being used for training and becoming better soldiers.

Had Sparta still existed today, the Peretz Family would have gotten its honorary citizenship. But how many Israelis truly want to live in the Sparta of 2010?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The relative calm is over

"We knew that even after Operation Cast Lead, the calm will not last" said this morning on the radio a resident of Netiv Ha'Asara on the Gaza Strip border. But it seems that our ministers and commentators didn't, when they spoke of "a decisive victory which restored the Israeli deterrence".

A year has passed, and the "relative calm" begins to disintegrate. A year of relative calm, which was perhaps not so calm on the other side of the border.

There, it was a year of suffocating siege - another year of suffocating siege. Another year in which a half million people – men, and women, and a lot of little children - continued quite literally to live among the garbage heaps, and got only just enough food not to starve. Another year in which cancer patients died in agony, since the gate remained closed on the way to the outside world and to well-equipped hospitals. Another year in which thousands were living in the ruins of houses, a year and more after the end of the war. Only as a very special favor to the UN Secretary-General was it agreed to let some building materials in…

Indeed, the relative calm starts to crumble. Missiles are flying and blood spilled. Israeli soldiers are killed, whose photographs appear on front pages and prime time TV news. Palestinians are killed whose names will never be heard and whose photos we will never see, anonymous in death as in life. And a Thai worker who came here to find a modest livelihood fpr his family was killed in a conflict not his.

And now - what? Another big war? Another Cast Lead? Thousands of dead civilians more? A new round of massive protests around the world? A Goldstone Report squared and cubed? Or perhaps reconquer the entire Gaza Strip and send the soldiers again into the narrow alleys of Jabalia Refugee Camp, for another two or three generations?

Of course, there is also an opposite option: Lift the siege, finally carry out the exchange of prisoners, return Gilead Shalit and the Palestinian prisoners to their homes, bring Hamas into the circle of negotiations (when there would be negotiations).

If we ever get into proximity talks, with Mitchell running back and forth between Bibi in Jerusalem and Abbas in Ramallah, would it really be so terrible for him to drop in on his way also at Haniyeh's office in Gaza?

No dictations!

Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom: "The Americans must understand that we have red lines, which just we will not cross."

Interior Minister Eli Yishai: "The Government will continue the building of Jerusalem, a construction freeze is out of the question. I thank the Creator for the privilege of being the minister approving the construction of thousands of housing units in Jerusalem".

Moshe (Boogie) Ya'alon, former Army Chief of Staff, Special Minister on Strategic Threats (sic!): "Nobody in the Inner Cabinet thinks we can reach an agreement with the Palestinians. I say this from first-hand knowledge. We should make this clear to the American administration, too, and I hope they will understand. Israel is stuck? Who says we're stuck? The country is forging forward, the economy is booming, there is absolutely no reason to give up any territory. Stop all the defeatist talk!"

"Captain, Sir, we protest! We, senior officers of your ship, will in no way accept a policy of appeasement and surrender, no slighting of our national honor. Who is this impertinent iceberg to dictate to us where and when to sail? The Titanic continues full steam ahead, not a millimeter off the course!"

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Congratulations to the citizens of the United States, who from now on could receive proper medical care even when they don’t happen to be rich.

Congratulations to President Barack Obama, for finally starting to justify the hopes and expectations of his voters.

Perhaps also the hopes and expectations which many people in Israel and throughout the Middle East placed in him.

A disagreement among friends

"This is a disagreement among friends. The American position regarding construction in East Jerusalem has not changed since 1967, and it never interfered with the good relations between the two countries," stated Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser this morning.

Indeed, all US presidents, from Johnson up to the present, did not recognize the annexation of East Jerusalem to Israel, nor did they ever agree to the confiscation of ever more Palestinian land or to the construction on it of Jewish neighborhoods and more Jewish neighborhoods and even more Jewish neighborhoods.

In practice, however, former presidents were willing to wink and ignore what was going on, even to veto Security Council resolutions on East Jerusalem. The current president seems to have stopped winking.

"There are people living in Jerusalem and they need a place to live, so we have to go on building for them – for Jews and Arabs both," added Cabinet Secretary Hauser. Well, not exactly. The State of Israel is building in Jerusalem for Jews and for Jews only. Government officials invest in it a lot of money and a lot of effort and ingenuity, taking over land in any conceivable way. To Arabs in Jerusalem, the State of Israel provides mainly demolition services for the houses which they built for themselves with their own money.

True, in recent months was a pause in the demolition of Palestinian houses in Jerusalem, mainly due to Hillary Clinton's previous angry outburst and the previous crisis in relations with the Americans. But construction for Arabs by the Government of Israel? The Messiah has not come, yet.


- Look, Mr. President, Madam Secretary, we have a lot of bureaucracy in Israel. Here, I brought accurate and detailed charts to show you. In our country, before starting to build you have to go through lots of steps and a lot of deliberations and resolutions in all kinds of planning committees. It does not at all mean that tomorrow morning we start actually building.

- Bureaucracy is not always a bad thing, Mr. Netanyahu. Maybe you could just take care that projects in East Jerusalem get even deeper into the bureaucratic maze and never find their way out?


Extreme right leaders in this country cannot get over the scene in Tel Aviv University, where the audience applauded Vice President Joe Biden when Obama's deputy expressed criticism of PM Netanyahu and opposed the settlement construction in East Jerusalem. The most recent to denounce the university applauders was Eliakim Haetzni in the opinion page of Yedioth Ahronoth.

Haetzni and his friends might have to get used to such scenes. If President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton make a serious effort to liberate Israel from the malignant occupation which has been devouring us over the past 43 years, they will get much more such applause.

Moving graves

Already for two years, there is being constructed in the Jerusalem the institute known as "The Museum of Tolerance ". It is being built where the Muslim cemetery of Mamila used to be before 1948. The people buried there - some of whom have living relatives who still remember them well – are thrown out their graves without a great deal of tolerance.

Where is Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman?

The Assassination of Ministers

Noam Shalit has resumed the struggle for the release of his captive son Gilad. He is alarming the national and international public opinion to get Gilad Shalit free before it's too late - before he disappears irrevocably, as Ron Arad disappeared.

One of the main obstacles to the return of Gilad Shalit is called Ahmad Sa'adat. As Secretary General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Ahmad Sa'adat had sent his men to assassinate Israeli Minister Rehav'am Ze'evi (in reprisal for the State of Israel having sent its helicopters to assassinate Abu Ali Mustafa, the previous Secretary General of the PFLP).

Hamas demands that Ahmad Sa'adat be included among the Palestinian prisoners released in exchange for Gilad Shalit. "Out of the question" said Benjamin Netanyahu. "He murdered an Israeli cabinet minister, and there is no forgiveness for such a deed. As long as I am Prime Minister, this man will remain behind bars!".

In 1944 Lord Moyne, a senior British cabinet minister, was assassinated by Eliyahu Bet Zuri and Eliyahu Hakim, members of Lehi (Fighters for the Liberation of Israel). Gideon Saar,

Education Minister in Netanyahu's government, recently declared Bet Zuri and Hakim to be National Heroes whose deed can serve as an example and inspiration to the youth of Israel.

Who cares after such a long time…

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The general and the anarchist

Last Friday, General Avi Mizrahi of the IDF Central Command granted an interview to Ben Caspit of "Ma'ariv", discussing in great detail the situation on the West Bank under his military rule. In general, the situation is good and quiet, said the general, but there is a problem called ... Yonathan Pollak.

"Anarchists Against Fences" such as Yonathan Pollak are coming every week to the village of Bil'in and to the village of Ni'ilin and hinder the soldiers from carrying out quietly the daily routine of the occupation. And in the General's opinion, the courts are "too soft" in dealing with the Anarchists.

There are countries in the enlightened democratic world where generals are prohibited from engaging in politics, and in particular from lashing out against a political activist. Israel, evidently, is not among them.

General Mizrahi is in no rush to implement the Supreme Court ruling, ordering the army to change the path of the "Separation Fence" and restore to the residents of Bil'in (part of) the land which was taken away from them. It took the army some years before it announced "the beginning of the planning state" in moving the fence. The planning stage is still going on and on, but the war which General Mizrahi declared on the Anarchists has already gone into high gear.

Soldiers raided the two villages late at night and placed copies of a new military decree on all the houses. Bil'in and Ni'ilin were declared a closed military zone, and the entry of Israeli and international peace activists prohibited. The army promises to use a lot of force against Yonathan Pollak and his friends.

Avi Dichter - former head of the Shabak Security Service, former government minister, and now a Knesset Member for the main opposition party Kadima - was quick to congratulate the General for his initiative. "The time has come to take tough steps in Bil'in, to pit an end to the riots which are breaking out over there every Friday. Maybe now the name of Bil'in will finally disappear from the news headlines" said Dichter, the great oppositionist.

With all due respect to the expertise and professionalism of Avi Mizrahi and Avi Dichter, to the writer of these lines it seems that the name of Bil'in will now feature in the media more prominently. When the army speaks of "tough measures", the communications media smell ratings.

Epilogue  what happened on the day after

Following is Roy Wagner's description of what actually happened in Bil'in, after the army's proclamations and decrees:

Concerned about the attempt to crush demonstrations with a highly publicized closed military zone warrant, almost 50 Israelis and over 25 internationals joined the local Palestinians for the weekly demonstration against the apartheid and land grab wall in Bil'in. Despite the facts that the warrant is not new and that warrants issued for the purpose of preventing demonstrations were declared illegal by the Israeli courts in the past, the army's publicizing of the warrants made demonstrators wonder whether they should prepare for mass arrests. Looking forward to finding out the answer in person, the demonstrators marched to the wall chanting and singing, and reached the gate, where they chanted some more, removed the closed military zone sign, and shook the fence, tearing down one of its poles. To the demonstrators' amazement, the soldiers stood by, hurling at them nothing but threats throughout the peaceful demo. The shabab kept away from the main demonstration and protested in their own way, reciprocating stones for the gas bestowed upon them further along the fence. After the demonstration was declared over a small group of soldiers invaded the village, escalating the response of the local youth and spreading more gas along their trail. But soon enough they turned back, and all demonstrators left the scene. We are yet to see if the army's relatively "moderate" response is a new policy, a reaction to media presence on their side, or an attempt to catch demonstrators off guard next week.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Did they change the rules?

"But why, why? Why make such a big fuss over it? After all, everybody did it all the time. All the governments did it, also Labour, also Kadima, everybody grabbed a lot of Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and built on it, a lot of houses and neighborhoods and housing projects, everything for Jews only. So why must I get such problems? For God's sake, the biggest crisis with the United States in the past last thirty five years, what did I do to deserve this? Just because of a few thousand miserable housing units in Jerusalem? And just last year I spoke with Mitchell, I spoke with Obama himself, they all promised that in East Jerusalem I could continue to build. Yes, they allowed me to build, I just had to do it a bit quietly, without making too much noise. They promised! And yes, it's true, once I slipped a bit, it did make some noise and ruined the nice party with Biden. Such a pity. But I did it only once! I admit it was a mistake, a very regrettable mistake, a wrong timing. Really, a very wrong timing. But I already apologized, even twice, and I promised that it will not happen again. I even appointed a committee of senior officials who will check where did this nasty bad timing come from. It will never happen again, I promise! From now on, we will steal Palestinian lands in Jerusalem only very very quietly, when nobody is looking. Only with the right timing. Only in the middle of night, on moonless nights. What more do they want? To break up my government?"

"The bastards changed the rules and didn't tell me" complained Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon's Vice President, when the Watergate scandal blew up.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Heroism and education

Shlomo Ben Yosef, a member of the Irgun underground, was executed by the British Mandatory authorities in 1938 after being caught while on his way to attack a civilian bus and killing indiscriminately its Arab passengers. This week the Minister of Education distributed prizes to students who filed dozens of papers about Shlomo Ben Yosef and his fellow militants who were also executed.

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said at the ceremony that integrating the tale of Those Who Ascended the Gallows into the educational curriculum is a good way of instilling values which youths should seek to emulate, strengthening their affinity to their country and their national heritage: "We have chosen to mark the story of Those Who Ascended the Gallows through an educational process imparting both knowledge and an educational experience." The dozens of students who received the award from the Minister of Education in person were chosen from among 750 who prepared papers on the subject in schools throughout Israel, with the encouragement and assistance of their teachers and special resources made available by the educational system. .

Also this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to establish a special team to monitor incitement in the Palestinian Authority. Its results will be published periodically in a special "Incitement Index", with the data published throughout the world by the government of Israel. One of the major issues which the team is to focus on will be the ongoing incitement in Palestinian schoolbooks, in particular... the depiction of Palestinian terrorists who harmed Israelis as heroes.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

An Independent Statutory Authority

"You see, dear Mr. Vice President, the District Planning Committee is a statutory authority, which takes its decisions completely independently. I myself, as the Prime Minister, don’t even know what is on their agenda. It just happened that exactly today they took the decision to build 1600 new housing units. There was no intention of affronting you. The same is also true for my right hand. It, too, is a statutory authority, which takes its own independent decisions. Just now it took the decision to slap your face, right in the middle of the festive ceremony…"

An Exact Quotation

"There is no such thing as a good timing for building in East Jerusalem," said Minister Benny Begin. "It does not really matter at what time we announce plans for a new construction. Whenever we do announce it, there will be an immediate outcry all over the world and Israel will be blamed for destroying peace."

So far, quite right.

Winston Churchill and the Be'er Sheba District Court

Last week, Nuri el-Okbi was held in the detention cell in the basement of Be'er Sheba's Hall of Justice, and the police demanded that he be remanded in custody until the end of judicial proceedings which might last for months or years – on charges of "trespassing". This week he sat, free, in the hall of Justice Sarah Dovrat, on the sixth floor of the same building – in the civil proceedings where he demands of the state to recognize that in the lands of Al-Arakib he is not "a trespasser" but the owner.

Adv. Rawash (for the state): In 1921, at the beginning of the Mandate, the British Government enacted the "Dead Lands Ordinance" and gave Bedouins two months to come up and register at the Land Registration Office their ownership of lands which they claimed. Hardly any Bedouin did that. They can’t come up with ownership claims now.

Yiftahel: This is the common judicial argument under which the Bedouin claims of land ownership are rejected. But it ignores salient facts.

On March 29, 1921 – before the expiration of that two-month period – a delegation of Beduin Sheiks went to Jerusalem, to confer with Winston Churchill, at the time the British Secretary of State for the Colonies. In the official concluding statement, which I located at the Public Records Office in London, the Sheiks declared their loyalty to His Majesty's Government, while Churchill confirmed an earlier promise by High Commissioner Herbert Samuel, that "The special rights and customs of the Bedouin Tribes of Be'er Sheba will not be interfered with".

Subsequently, the British Mandatory Government excluded the Be'er Sheba District from the application of the new land law, absolving Bedouin inhabitants from the duty of registering their land. Instead, a Tribal Court was set up in Be'er Sheba, which remained active throughout the Mandate period. Cases of land dispute were usually settled by a bench of three Sheiks, in accordance with Bedouin Tribal Law.

The British recognized the Bedouins' ownership over the land. Whoever did want to register their land at the Land Registration Office was free to do so throughout the time of British rule, and 64,000 dunams of Bedouin lands were indeed registered. However, those who registered their land were usually those who wanted to sell it to non- Bedouins (including Jews). In order to continue holding the land, or to let sons inherit it, or to sell to other Bedouin, there was no need to have recourse to the governmental Land Registry Office. For such purposes, the traditional Bedouin tribal law was quite adequate. The assertion that Bedouin families or tribes which had not registered their land ownership in 1921 have "missed the train" and lost title to the land was never heard before 1948. This is an not a British law, but an original Israeli judicial argument giving the British law a new interpretation which the British themselves never advanced.

Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu is well-known for his admiration of Winston Churchill and for aspiring to emulate that British statesman. But Netanyahu might not be quite familiar with Churchill's acts on March 1921…

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The obsessive tresspasser

Nuri el-Okbi in and out of prison

Nuri el-Okbi was nine years old in 1951, when he was expelled from the home were he was born at el-Arakib, north-east of Be'er Sheva.

The state representatives promised Nuri's father, Sheikh Salman el-Okbi, that the tribespeople have to leave their homes only for half a year, because "the land is needed for military maneouvers" and hat afterwards they could come back.
The promise was not kept. Sheikh Salman el-Okbi tried in 1956 to go back to his land and was immediately arrested and expelled again.
While the el-Okbi tribespeople were living in poverty at Al-Hora, to which they were brought on trucks, the authorities initiated the judicial procedures to confiscate their land and register it as State Lands. According to the "real-estate-purchase law" passed by the Knesset in 1953, the State of Israel purchased all the lands of the el-Okbi tribe at a bargain prize of zero Israeli Pounds and zero Agurot. Nobody bothered to inform the tribespeople of this nice deal. They found out about it only by accident, and only many years later.

Nuri el-Okbi spent his life in the struggle for his tribes people and for the Bedouins in general. He founded the "Association for the Defence of Bedouin Rights in Israel" in the 1960s, at a time that hardly anybody knew of such a problem, and Bedouins were usually thought of as exotic and friendly ornaments of the desert.

Ten years ago, there came up the possibility that the government of Israel will allow the el-Okbis to get back to at least part of their land. It came up - and immediately went down again.

In 2004, then Minister of Housing Effi Etam took care to create on the land - in a semi-military fact-creation operation in the middle of the night - a community for Jews only, known as "Giv'ot Bar" (Wild Hills).

In April 2006, Nuri el-Okbi arrived at the lands of el-Arakib - facing the perimeter fences of Giv'ot Bar, not far from the ruins of the house were he grew up - and erected there a tent. From then until last week he lived alone in this tent - day and night, winter and summer, ceaselessly demanding that he and his tribe be allowed to go back to the land.

Sometimes friends came from all over the country and also visitors from abroad, to encourage and support him. At other times there came less friendly visitors on behalf of the authorities - police and the Jewish National Fund and the so-called Green Patrol. Many times they destroyed the tent - and Nuri lived under the open sky until he acquired a new tent. Many times he was detained - but when released he went back to the land. Several times he was beaten and needed medical treatment - and also that did not intimidate him.

Last week Nuri el-Okbi was detained again - but this time he was left behind bars and there was presented against him a charge sheet. A very, very long and extremely detailed charge sheet, 22 pages with no less than 40 charges, divided into dozens of sub-charges. Again and again the charge sheet notes that "the accused did tresspass by entering real estate which is state land, and stayed in it and held on to it without the slightest shred of a right.

This crime was committed by Nuri el-Okbi in the year 2006, and also in the year 2007, and again in 2008, and in 2009, and in 2010, in every month of everyone of these years, on dozens of dates which are carefully and meticulously noted down in the charge sheet. The prosecution has the names of eye-witnesses, no less than fifty of them, who are able to truly testify that indeed Nuri el-Okbi persisted day by day in his tresspassing and also confronted the bulldozers which the Jewish National Fund sent to flatten the land of his father, preventing them from continuing to work and thus disturbing public workers in fulfilling their job, and he also annoyed the public workers and threatened them and in one case even attacked them (one man with not more than his bare hands, aged nearly 70, in face of five young and strong public employees...).

In every article of the charge sheet the state takes care to note and remark again that Nuri el-Okbi has "not a shred of a right over the land". Literally, the term used in rather poetical Hebrew reads "not a mote of dust of a right". Indeed, it was all crushed to dust and blown by the wind.

A public danger

Last Monday the hall of the Magistrate Court in Be'er Sheva was full of peace and human right activists who came from all over the country - but they did not get to see Nuri. The court's agenda was overcrowded, and other detention hearings were given precedence. Nuri remained incarcerated at the courthouse basement from morning to evening, unseen and unheard, and was finally taken back to spend another night in a crowded detention cell.

On the following day, Nuri's case did come for a judge's attention. "In his many police interrogations he insists, repeatedly asserting that the land is his" was the bitter complaint of the police prosecutor. "Nothing helps. Even when the police interrogators present to him official documents proving beyond doubt that the land is a state property, he denies it and persists in maintaining his version, that the land had belonged to his ancestors. This is an obsessive trespasser. He is a danger to public safety and to the public's property. He should be remanded in custody until the end of judicial proceedings!"

"The state's claim for ownership of this land are far from being established beyond doubt. Nuri el-Okbi is in possession of weighty judicial arguments substantiating his claim of ownership over the land, which might invalidate the state's arguments. This is the subject of civil proceedings in the Be'er Sheba District Court, here in this building, where a ruling was not yet rendered" stated Adv. Saul Davis, Nuri el-Okbi's lawyer. "The real estate where he erected a tent is a place over which he has a serious claim to ownership. In my view, it is natural for a person to be a bit obsessive about a property being taken away. How can a person be a trespasser in his own property, in his own home? I think the court should help him preserve his property rights, as set down in the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty.

Finally, Justice Ido Rozin resolved to reject the police demand for a remand, and stated that there was "no danger in releasing him on bail". The judge also recognized that there is an ongoing dispute between Nuri el-Okbi and the State with regard to ownership of the land, a dispute not yet settled. He therefore ruled that pending a final verdict the state (or the JNF acting on its behalf) should not create "facts on the ground".

On the other hand, the judge also ruled that Nuri el-Okbi must stay, until further notice, under house arrest in the home of his brother at al-Chora, that he may leave only during daytime and only when accompanied by his brother – and that he be forbidden to approach closer than ten kilometers to the land of al-Arakib. "Thou shalt see the land before thee, but thou shalt not go thither unto the land".

And so do things stand at the moment. Tomorrow, Monday March 8, 2010, at 10.00 am, there will resume before Justice Sarah Dovrat of the District Court, on the fifth floor of the Be'er Sheba Hall of Justice, the deliberations in the civil suit where Nuri demands recognition of his rights over the al-Arakib lands. Prof. Oren Yiftahel of Ben Gurion University will present to the court an expert testimony on a subject in which he is a recognized authority: Bedouins' ownership over their lands in the Negev, which had been recognized by Ottoman and British authorities for decades and centuries before the State of Israel arose to spread its rule throughout the Negev.

It is important and worthwhile to be there.

See also: