Saturday, May 28, 2011

Celebrating United Jerusalem - in Sheikh Jarrah

On June 7, 1967 IDF soldiers entered the Old City of Jerusalem. This historic event left the famous photos, shown at any Israeli history book, of paratroopers crying with joy at the Wailing Wall. Three days later, in the early evening hours of June 10, the paratroopers were followed by the State of Israel's bulldozers, making an impressive debut appearance in East Jerusalem. All residents of the Mughrabi Quarter, which was founded in 1193 and had been part of the Jerusalem landscape for nearly eight centuries, were ordered to evacuate their homes immediately. The entire quarter - 135 houses were destroyed and completely razed within hours. All traces were removed and the large, impressive Wailing Wall Plaza came into being. It is likely that during this historic event, too, some tears were shed, but the photographers were no longer present.

To commemorate these exciting events, the State of Israel set up the annual Jerusalem Day - "A day of celebration, a day of national holiday, to mark the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem, Israel's capital, a day  to supremely celebrate the essence of Jerusalem, the highest of hopes and most sublime of aspirations" to quote the preamble to the piece of legislation by which the Knesset, Israel's parliament, set this additional National Holiday into the nation's calendar. And thus, every year the settler youths and their national-religious friends gather in great crowds to celebrate their great National Holiday, the Jerusalem Day , engaging in the "Dance of the Flags" which has become their tradition, jumping through the streets of Jerusalem with banners in their hands. And the other residents of Jerusalem wait patiently in their homes until the mess in the streets would finally be over.

This year there were those who could not wait until this great day comes on the calendar, and energetically embarked on operations in the spirit of Jerusalem Day already several weeks in advance. For example, the Jerusalem Municipality, headed by the famous Nir Barkat, is very eager to reconstruct the garden of King David, which as is well known existed three thousand years ago in the place which is today the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. Re-creation of The King's Garden could be so simple and easy, all that is needed is to destroy twenty-two Palestinian homes, and thereupon the area will be empty and the sublime gardening could start. But the Jerusalem City Hall's ambitions were checked and frustrated by a court order prohibiting the demolition of houses for at least two more years. Such meanness on the judges' part!. Fortunately, the judges only forbade the destruction of houses in Silwan and there was no warrant to forbid the shooting of live bullets at demonstrators in the neighborhood's streets. Thus was shot and killed the 17 year old Milad Ayash. (Who exactly fired the fatal bullet? The Police, or the Border Guards, or the security men who stand guard on the settler houses in the heart of Silwan and get paid by the Housing Ministry? Who knows? And does it really matter?)

A few days later, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu chose to celebrate Jerusalem also at his great speech on Capitol Hill in faraway Washington, and with great joy and pride announced that under Israeli rule freedom of worship is preserved for all religions at their holy places. The PM had probably not heard the official announcement made by the Jerusalem police on the radio a few days before his departure: "The police will today restrict entry of Muslim worshipers into the Temple Mount compound. Under the policy guidelines, entry will be permitted only to men aged over 50 and holding Israeli identity cards." Also the Members of Congress who stood up and gave him standing ovations are unlikely to be  regularly monitoring the directives published by the Israeli police.

And meanwhile, many VIPs came to celebrate with the settlers living at the heart of the Palestinian Ras al-Amud neighborhood the inauguration of their enclave, sitting on top of the Mount of Olives overlooking the mosques. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin spoke words of praise for the unity of Jerusalem,  the capital of Israel, and congratulated the settlers who live in this beautiful enclave called "Olive Heights" for having established themselves in this magnificent fortified compound, surrounded by a high wall and guarded day and night by armed security men  whose salaries are of course also paid by the afore-mentioned Ministry of Housing. A press reporter noticed in the yard of the new settler compound a large pile of children's bikes, for the pleasure of the next settler generation who could pedal to their heart's content between one wall of the guarded compound to the other.

Minister of Education Gideon Sa'ar also took part in celebrating the settlers' joy in setting up their  Olive Heights, and by the way he also ordered a profound change in the curriculum under which the subject of "Citizenship" is taught in the schools. Eliminated will be the unnecessary emphasis on subjects of democracy and equal rights, which only arouses discord in the classrooms and poison the atmosphere. Instead, there will be a heavy dose of Zionist history studies with an emphasis on the exclusive right of the Jewish people in their ancestral land and of course in their capital, Jerusalem.

Demonstrators of the  Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity movement who dared to spoil the joy by picketing the locked gates of the settler compound -  in protest of  the expansion of settlements in Jerusalem - were dispersed with the full force of Israel's Police. Indeed, massive force and a lot of violence were used against them, including electric shockers. Only this week the Prime Minister announced in Washington that we are a model island of democracy in the heart of the turbulent Middle East. And it was probably just the promo for the splendid Jerusalem Day celebrations, which will take place on June 1 this year (according to the Hebrew calendar).
This year the settlers will hold their traditional Flag Dance on the streets of the Sheikh Jarrah Neighborhood. Apparently so as to display to the Palestinian families expelled from their homes and living on the street how happy and lucky they are to live in "United Jerusalem, the Eternal Capital of Israel which was made whole again".
Have a nice Jerusalem Day! 

Friday, May 27, 2011

I came, I made a speech, I got up in the polls .

Did you see Bibi? What a man, what a victory! How he went to America and just shoved Obama aside with these 1967 borders of his? Not exactly shoved him aside? Well, maybe not exactly, but more or less. And most important, the speech! When was there ever such a speech? Did you see how they clapped and clapped and clapped, again and again, how they got up and sat down and up and down and up and down. What power, what a great speech!  We showed them on their TV screens how all the Senators eat out of our hand, how they clap to every word and every syllable of our Bibi; the great Bibi. Arrogant? Who cares.

And what other bad news do you chronic pessimists try to produce in order to make the atmosphere gloomy? The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange has gone down because a Palestinian state is to be declared in September? Really, what do these brokers understand? And Meir Dagan said it would be better to recognize the Palestinian state because it is inevitable anyway? So he said it. Come on, so he was Head of the Mossad for ten years, so what?  And the Egyptians opened the Rafah Crossing? I always knew that you can't trust them.

In short, stop listening to the defeatist leftist media. Enough of gloomy forecasts all the time. Look what a beautiful day it is, our situation had never been better, the sky is blue, the bow pierces the waves, the band is playing on the deck and we have the best captain in the world. No wonder that his ratings in the polls go sharply up. Icebergs? What icebergs? If there is any iceberg ahead of us, it had better move quickly out of the way.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Obama, Netanyahu and the 1967 borders

President Obama has made his long awaited speech and uttered the magic number which some hoped and other dreaded that he would mention – Nineteeen Hundred Sixty Seven. And Prime Minister Netanyahu retorted with an angry outburst and total denunciation and rejection of the 1967 borders. Israel's newspapers all came out with banner headlines proclaiming "Confrontation!" and "Collision Course!". In the evening, Obama and Netahayhu met at the White House and made a rather pale effort to paper over the cracks and present the TV cameras with a friendly, smiling, hand-shaking façade – what today's Wall Street Journal called "The most undiplomatic moments of international diplomacy ever offered for cameras".

From the shallow perspective of 48 hours after the speech, how are we to gauge it? A historical breakthrough? A tawdry, soon forgotten media gimmick? Or something in between?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The writing was on the wall

Just a few days ago, the unequivocal Foreign Minister convened diplomats in order to unequivocally inform them that settlement construction would not be frozen for three months, nor for three weeks, not even for three hours. The writing was on the wall, but the government could not see it.

The Knesset majority could not see it, either - busily passing ever new anti-democratic and racist laws. The "Nakba Law" was particularly designed to punish anyone who dares to express a feeling of mourning on Israel's Independence Day and remind of the price which the Palestinians had to pay for the creation of this state.

And nobody noticed the Palestinian youths who saw the acts of their peers in Tunisia and Egypt and Syria, and how they too organized through Facebook and held simultaneous demonstrations in Ramallah and Gaza, and forced Fatah and Hamas into reconciliation and called for demonstrations and protests on Nakba Day, May 15. For many years since 1948, Palestinians had been talking about this idea: a large crowd marching, unarmed, to the border fence and breaking through it. They talked of it but until this week nobody ever tried to actually do it.

Standing again in the square

May 15 was one of these days when every news bulletin increases the horror. A 17-year Palestinian boy shot to death and other wounded during the dispersal of a demonstration in the Silwan Neighborhood of what Netanyahu still hails as "United Jerusalem, the capital of Israel" (the police still investigates if this was from a policeman's bullet or that a settler security guard). And an Israeli pedestrian was killed and others were wounded when a truck went widely careening through in the streets of south Tel Aviv (the police still investigates whether the driver did it deliberately). And then an afternoon of deluge, killings and bloodshed everywhere, on the Syrian border, on the Lebanese border, on the Gaza border, until it became hard to keep count. Hardly any attention was given to the Qalandia Checkpoint north of Jerusalem where nobody was killed and there were only hours-long volleys of tear gas with wounded in light and medium condition being taken to hospital.

As always on such days, the urgent phone calls begin - "Did you hear what is going on? We must react, go out on the streets, hurry, hurry!" Under tremendous time pressure a statement and call for action is drafted: "With bloody events happening all over the country we will gather tonight, in solidarity with the masses who oppose the occupation and call: No to the killing of civilians! Yes to popular uprisings! "

The message goes out by phone calls and voice messages and email and Facebook and at eight and a half we are standing in the square in front of the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and directed to the signs at the cars streaming along Carlebach Street, "Stop! War crimes ahead!", "Stop the Killing of Civilians." Hoarse chanting and beating of a dozen drums to the same: "You can't kill popular resistance!"/" You can't kill, the Nakba is real!"/" Barak, Barak, hey hey hey, how many demonstrators did you shoot today? "/" Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies"/" Jews and Arab are faithful to each other"/" We are all together, without hatred and fear "/" Come on, come on, no more tricks, dismantle settlements forthwith!"/" "Democracy is not built on the dead bodies of demonstrators!". (At the cabinet meeting in the morning, Binyamin Netanyahu chided the Palestinians for mourning on the anniversary of the founding of Israeli democracy. At the time when he said it, most of the nonviolent demonstrators killed today were still alive...)

A group of Arab students from Tel Aviv university, holding Palestinian flags, chanted "The people demand to overthrow the occupation!" – a slogan borrowed, with a slight change, from the protests of young people in the streets of Cairo and Damascus. Across the road a small group of Jewish Orthodox girls formed a counter-demonstration, singing the Israeli National Anthem. When they reached the words "To be a Free People in Our Country" one of the demonstrators called in their direction: "That's also what the Palestinians want!". A police photographer emerged from a patrol car and walked along the line of protesters, carefully photographing every face, and was greeted with calls of "Police State! Police State!"

On the edge of the crowd Aliya Strauss, veteran of the Women in Black weekly vigils, was deep in conversation with a passing young man, about which she later told other demonstrators. "He told me that he is serving in the IDF reseves and that he found my sign, 'Murderers in Uniform', very hurting. I told him that just a few hours ago soldiers wearing the IDF uniform had opened fire on protesters, killing unarmed civilians, and that there was a good reason to call it murder. He asked if I wanted my grandsons to be called murderers in uniform when they would be in the army. I told him that there is still some time until they are due to be called up, that I hope that none of them will kill civilians and that I also hope that by then the occupation will end and no soldier will be in such a situation. He said he understood us and that he was willing to talk with me about the situation but still felt hurt by my sign, and I told him it was not directed against him personally. In the end I decided, as a goodwill gesture, to replace my sign. I took up the one which said 'Nakba' in prominent big characters. He wished me health and went away with a sad expression. "

And now?

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz accused the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria of being interested in diverting attention from its own shooting on and killing civilian protesters on the streets of Syrian cities. He may well have a point. But then, one must note that the the Assad Regime got full cooperation on the part of the Israel Defense Forces, who volunteered to take up their share in the killing of unarmed Syrian demonstrators.

In Ha'aretz, commentator Aluf Benn wrote: "The Arab revolution knocked on Israel's door. The penetration of Palestinian demonstrators from Syria to the Druze town of Majdal Shams at the foot of Mount Hermon completely shattered the illusion that Israel can have a good time at its 'villa in the jungle', completely isolated from the dramatic events in its environment.

And when he goes to Washington two days hence, what will Netanyahu say? No problem, he already said it in the Knesset. He will tell the compromises of true peace are painful, but there is no need to worry about that because in reality there will be no need to experience this pain because we have no real partner for a real peace. A real partner can only appear if the Palestinians first break up the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas and go back to waging civil war with each other, and if they give up the impertinent attempt to create accomplished facts in the United Nations and the even more insolent demand that Israel stop creating accomplished facts in the settlements and besides and they should agree to a continued Israeli rule in the Jordan Valley and to United Jerusalem being the exclusive Eternal Capital of Israel and of course recognize Israel as a Jewish state. And if a Palestinian would be found to accept all these conditions we would think up something more.

Up to the next disaster...

Video reports on breaking through the border and demonstrations
by Lia Tarachansky

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Blue and white axes and black balloons

Israeli Independence Day. Sixty-three years passed since the solemn ceremony in which a leader called David Ben-Gurion read out at the old Tel Aviv Museum a Declaration of Independence setting out an attractive set of enlightened democratic principles, which were immediately violated.

Sixty-three years have passed since six hundred thousand Jews went into the streets in an enormous outburst of joy and nightlong dancing at the news that a part of the country hitherto called Mandatory Palestine would be granted to them, to establish their independent state and be free in their own country. Nowadays, a futile effort is made to recreate that enormous outburst of joy by a night of wandering crowded streets and listening to the magnified voices of mediocre singers and waving of Blue-and-White national flags (to which some add the Stars-and-Stripes of the United States of America) and youngsters hitting each other with plastic hammers. This year was added a new hit, the plastic ax as tall as an average person, and of course the ax's blade also carries the national Blue-and-White.

It is also sixty-three years since the time when the Arab residents in this same country rose in protest and outrage at the news that the UN General Assembly decided by majority vote to grant to a Zionist Jewish state a big part of what they regarded as an Arab country, their own country inherited from their ancestors. Sixty-three years after the time when they tried hard to prevent the implementation of that resolution and failed utterly and suffered a most severe blow and were to pay a painful price (which they go on paying to this very day). And by the law which the Knesset enacted a short time ago, anyone who dares mention after sixty-three years the painful price paid by the Palestinians for the creation of Israel may be punished severe cutting of funds, as determined by the well-known philosopher Yuval Steinitz, Minister of Finance of the State of Israel. (The Coalition of Women for Peace today released hundreds of black balloons with the word Nakba into the air, inviting Knesset Members who object to this word to fly up and catch them.)

Today is also forty-four years less one month after the war in which the military forces of this country swept into the West Bank and Gaza Strip and created the Occupying Settling Greater Israel. The Greater Israel whose Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar appeared today at the opening ceremony of the International Youth Bible Contest and promised to send more and more Israeli pupils to visit the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in order to strengthen them in them consciousness of our Bible-based exclusive Jewish right to the entire country from the sea to the Jordan.

May, 2011, four months to go in the countdown to September 2011, when the UN General Assembly is to convene and grant to the Palestinians to establish their independent state and be free in their own country and dance with joy in the streets and in later Independence Days make futile attempts to recreate this outburst of joy.

May 9, 2011. The day when Ninyamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, proudly informed his fellow Israelis that Israel is a Beacon of Democracy Lighting the Skies of the Middle East, and President Shimon Peres explained that Israel never initiated a war and wars had always been imposed on us and our hand is of course always extended in peace, and Yoel Shalit was expelled by security guards from the official torch-lighting ceremony at Mount Herzl after demanding that the government bring back his brother Gilad, held five years by Hamas.

May 9, 2011, the Independence Day which Idan Landau, professor of linguistics at Ben Gurion University of the Negev and a political activist, spent behind bars in the Military Prison 6 at Atlit. Idan Landau was born in July 1967, a month after the birth of the occupation, and he informed the military authorities of his refusal to perform reserve service in an army whose main task and mission is to maintain the occupation. At the alternative torch-lighting ceremony, organized by the Yesh Gvul Movement for those who don't feel at home in the official Independence Day ceremonies, Idan Landau was honored in his absence with lighting one of the twelve torches.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

When you are united, how can we rule you?

These Europeans - are they so very generous, or what? Urgently forwarding a sum to pay the salaries of the Palestinian Authority employees, because our minister of finance doesn't pass on to the Palestinians the money which is theirs.

Custom tax revenues on goods entering the Palestinian territories are being collected by Israel, under the Oslo Agreement - as the Palestinians don't control their own borders. Yuval Steinitz, the man placed by Netanyahu in charge of Israel's Ministry of Finance, had an instant punitive reaction to the Palestinians daring to reach a unity agreement, the temerity not to stay divided as so well suited the policy of Israel's government. Imagine: a good guy who could always be accused of being too weak, vs a bad guy who could always be accused of being a heinous terrorist. So, whenever pressure mounted to end the occupation we always waved the trump card: 'There is no partner!'. But meanwhile President Abbas' star is rising: the UN Statehood Recognition Campaign goes well towards September, and now he seems also to be domesticating Hamas into recognition of the '67 borders.

Actually, the Europeans don't have to worry too much:  they could get their money back. They just have to ask their Quartet partner in Washington DC to deduct the sum  from the billions which Israel gets annually...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama and Obama

I remember seeing a photo many years ago of a respectable and very wealthy Saudi family, the Bin Ladens. At the corner sits Osama, one of the younger brothers. At the time he had no beard, and wore jeans, a cowboy hat on his head. He looked a bit like an American, or rather like a young Arab who wants to look like an American.

Later came the years in which Osama bin Laden went to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviets, with aid and funding from the CIA. At that time the United States did not consider him a terrorist, President Ronald Reagan praised Bin Laden and his fellows as Freedom Fighters. And then came the big change, a desillusioned Bin Laden became a sworn enemy of the United States, full of hatred, and spent the rest of his life waging an uncompromising war on the Americans . Maybe not a coincidence that it was him who conceived the idea of setting hijacked jet planes to bring down New York's highest skyscrapers.

For ten years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden played cat and mouse with the Americans, migrating secretly from the Tora Bora caves to the well-equipped villa near the Pakistani Army's military academy. George W. Bush dreamed in vain of the moment when he would make to the press the dramatic announcement of Bin Laden's death. It fell to the lot of Barack Obama to make it, just in time for the launching of the campaign for the second presidential electoral campaign.

Did anyone seriously mean to catch Bin Laden alive and bring him to an American jail and the Trial of the Century in New York, complete with dramatic courtroom scenes and impassioned speeches from the dock and the international spotlights turned on him for the next five years, until the gallows and after? None of this will happen now, the US Navy Seals came back with a body riddled with bullets, which was taken to a hasty burial at sea, where his final resting place will never be known.

What will be the next step of the U.S. President now that he became the idol of the crowds celebrating the blood revenge in the streets of New York? Will he use it to get out of Afghanistan and end with a resounding Declaration of Victory a long and exhausting war which had not been exactly a success story?

And in our region? Extreme right Knesset Member Aryeh Eldad already warned his fellows not to rejoice too much at Osama bin Laden's fall, stating that "Obama is more dangerous". And in Yedioth Ahronoth Orly Azoulay wrote: "Obama would now apply his might in other arenas around the world. Now, when he will pressure Netanyahu to accept a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, Israel's leaders will not be able to whisper to each other 'Obama is a weak leader'. The time is over for this kind of talk."

By September we will know more.