Thursday, August 30, 2012

Empty-handed in the battlefield

It was a long and detailed ruling which Judge Oded Gershon of the Haifa District Court had composed, no less than 162 pages. Of course, no media outlet published the entire text. But a few selected sentences starred in all the new items, a representative sample:

"The Philadelphi Route was the arena of constant war, of ongoing sniper fire, rocket fire and explosive charges. None other than combat soldiers ventured there... The bulldozer crew was conducting a clearing operation under fire. The late Rachel Corrie chose to take a risk, which ultimately led to her death... The deceased had gotten herself into a dangerous situation... She did not stay away, as any sensible person would have done. The deceased's death was caused by an accident which the deceased brought on herself, despite the attempts of the IDF troops to remove her and her friends from there... Under the circumstances, the IDF unit's conduct was impeccable."

Indeed, the area known as the "The Philadelphi Route" – originally, a  code name randomly determined by an IDF computer - was a war zone. An arena of the most difficult and frustrating kind of war in which a military force find itself, being charged with maintaining control over a very narrow and very long piece of land, locked between the Gaza Strip on one side and Egypt on the other. Moreover, the force's main task there was to maintain a suffocating siege on millions of people in the Strip and deny their access to essential commodities. Which made Gazans desperate and embittered, with every incentive to confront the Israeli forces in every way available to them.

It was indeed the arena of an ongoing war, a war difficult and frustrating even for the soldiers to whose lot it fell to be sent there. Still remembered is the bitter day when we could see on TV soldiers get on their knees on the land of The Philadelphi Route, trying to find pieces of the bodies of their comrades who had been inside a blown up armored personnel carrier.

Still, Judge Gershon was certainly not accurate when he wrote that combat soldiers were the only people there, in the hell of the battlefield called The Philadelphi Route. Very many, civilians were there, too - men and women,  elderly and children – in their thousands and tens of thousands. The civilians  were there because it was their home, the only home they had - even if it was quite miserable. They had lived there before it became the scene of battle and before it came to be called Philadelphi. Many of them had come to live there because their original homes had become a battle zone in a previous war, the one which convulsed this country in 1948. And they stayed there, even when it had become the Philadelphi battle zone and the Philadelphi corridor became an arena of battle, even when some them got killed by the bullets of snipers and the explosion of explosive devices, because they literally had nowhere else to go.

And then somebody conceived a brilliant idea. The man's name was Yom Tov Samia, and he was an outstanding officer in the Israel Defense Forces who climbed fast through the ranks until he became Commanding General South. And General Samia had an idea how to win the lost war along the Route. To take up "clearing" - a word invented by the Israel Defense Forces, the kind of word which armies make up to hide horrors behind neutral words - on a truly grand scale. To create a "sterile" space, completely sterile and without life, a kilometer or two wide. A completely flattened area with no houses and no people and no animals and no plants, nothing but soldiers and weapons of war moving in safety, as they could notice from far any possible threat and take action to neutralize that  threat. In purely military terms, it must be said, there was some logic to this idea. Only, it implied the destruction of thousands of houses in which tens of thousands of people lived, half or three quarters of a  city called Rafah.

Probably General Yom Tov Samia would have liked to do it all at once, in one blow, to erase "shave off" all these thousands of houses in a single day and by the next  complete the sterilization of the area. But this might have caused a bit too much of an international stir, become an instant item of "Breaking News" on CNN and other networks, and the political echelon did not give its approval. So the Caterpillar D-9 bulldozers were set to working by the good old method of creating "facts on the ground" bit by bit, acre by acre. Each time they erased and "shaved off" another row of houses, sometimes twenty, sometimes thirty. Usually the residents of these houses managed to jump out and run at the last minute, but some were not quick enough and were buried under the ruins of what had been their homes. In the city of Rafah, photos of those victims were printed and pasted on the walls, but media outlets in the wider world were not really interested.

That was the time when volunteers started arriving on the scene, the people of the International Solidarity Movement, ISM. Yes, that organization to which Judge Gershon paid much attention in his verdict, stating that it was "abusing the discourse of Human Rights and morality" and that its acts are "violent in essence". Activists from Europe and America and all over the world came to the Gaza Strip and asked where Palestinians were most suffering from the occupation's harshness and were in greatest need of assistance and international solidarity. And they were told that Rafah was such a place. And they came to Rafah and were hosted by families on the very front line, where their hosts already knew that they were next in line for the D-9's.

And there were activists who after months in besieged Rafah went to rest and freshen up in their own quiet and safe homes at Copenhagen or Barcelona or Sydney - or Olympia in the  State of Washington in the United States - and when they returned to Rafah they found that the house where they had stayed the last time no longer existed, not a trace of it left, and the plot on which it had stood had become part of the sterile space.  Another house, which had been further back, was now the new front line.

And then they decided to do what a person who cares, who cares very very much, could to do in such a situation. To go unarmed into the battlefield and arena of war called the Philadelphi Route. To stand with empty hands against tanks and bulldozers, and to scream and cry out towards those who did not really want to hear. To face empty-handed and unarmed the might of the Israel Defense Forces. To interpose with their bodies and interfere with implementation of the brilliant strategic plan of General Yom Tov Samia.

Maybe there is something in what Judge Oded Gershon wrote. A sensible person – the kind of sensible person which Judge Gershon himself is, and his friends and acquaintances - would not have done it. Judge Oded Gershon would certainly not have seriously considered facing with his bare hands a giant bulldozer, nearly as big as a house. "The deceased had knowingly gotten herself into a dangerous situation." There is no doubt that she did. A very dangerous situation. Jewish and world history marks a young boy named David, who knowingly placed himself in a very dangerous situation, facing a fearsome giant called Goliath. It might be that he was not a very sensible person, either.

"The bulldozer driver and his commander had a very limited field of view. They could not notice the deceased" wrote Judge Gershon. One might add that also the commander of the commander had a very limited field of view, and even the commander of the commander of the commander. A very limited field of view, in which only the immediate military considerations and objectives could be seen. A very limited field of view in which human beings could not be seen, a living city could not been as it was being destroyed and razed and erazed and made into a sterile zone. A very limited field of view where it was not possible to see a young woman who followed the dicates of her conscience and came all the way from the West Coast of the United States to Rafah in the Gaza Strip, to risk her life in a desperate act of protest.

At the exit from the Haifa District Court, Cindy Corrie, Rachel's mother, spoke to the journalists. Hurt and shaken by the verdict she said "In that home which  Rachel was trying to protect there were children. All of us should have been there, to stand with her."

Two years after the day when the bulldozer crushed Rachel Corrie to death, Israel's political and military leadership decided to terminate the hopeless fighting on the Philadelphi Route and withdraw the soldiers who have endured  Hell there and made a Hell for others. Media attention had impeded  implementation of  General Samia's grand design, and only a portion of the city of Rafah has actually become an "exposed"  sterile area.  Samia himself left the army in frustration and embarked on a successful career in the business world.

The situation of the Palestinians is far from bright. The occupation continues, with many different forms of oppression manifesting themselves every day. Also for continuing the tight siege of the Gaza Strip, new and creative ways were found even without having Israeli troops holding The Philadelphi Route. But that particular battle scene is now quiet, there are no more soldiers or bulldozers there. The home which Rachel Corrie was trying to protect had been rebuilt shortly after the soldiers left, and also the rows of houses in front and behind it. The children are playing there, more or less quietly.

She did not die in vain.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Does a barking dog not bite?

- "Ah, a barking dog doesn't bite."
- "Yes, I know it and so do you, but the question is: Does the dog know?"

Never in the annals of Israel - and only rarely in history in general – was a war talked about so much before it broke out. All moves and counter-moves and counter- counter-moves analyzed at length and in public. All the military and political and economic considerations stated openly and in detail. It quite often happens that generals are trigger-happy and exert their force to drag a  reluctant political echelon into war. There are far fewer cases of the reverse, of political decision makers straining with all their might to go to war while the military remains wary and apprehensive and reluctant. But, this situation is now here.

In "Makor Rishon", one of the Israeli newspapers most identified with Binyamin Netanyahu, the commentator Ariel Kahane explained the warlike turmoil in terms of the struggle between the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the United States:

After his first meeting with Obama, Netanyahu told his aides: 'If that is  how he is treating us as a freshly-elected President during his first term, when he still needs the Jewish vote, all the more he is going to clash with us should he be re-elected.’ (...) Since the post-election Obama is not to be trusted, the best timing for action is the time between now  and the elections on November 6. Should Israel attack during this time, Obama might be furious, but narrow political interests would require him to come to Israel's aid. A moment before the elections Obama cannot abandon America's ally to bleed under a barrage of missiles from Iran, Lebanon, Syria and Gaza. In spite of himself he would have no choice but going to help Israel defense, otherwise he would  lose the elections."

A similar analysis could be heard in the past week from various sources, but a commentary article in Makor Rishon can be considered as a kind of semi-official message from the office of the Prime Minister. And if Obama does not act according to the script  Netanyahu's office prepared for him? If the price of oil rises steeply and the world economy collapses and people around the world  blame Israel? Well, nothing in life is without risks ...

And so, more and more people in this country are beginning to take seriously the possibility that this dog would not only bark but also bite - and in the very next coming months. They take it seriously and start to be very, very worried. And the protest movement against this war which is on our doorstep is growing apace.

The traditional demonstration on the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing,   held at the Ministry of Defense every August 6, the hard-core advocates of nuclear demilitarization of the Middle East were this year joined by many  others. Many who were roused by the drums of war.  The momentum continued in a string of demonstrations at the foot of the residential tower where the Defense Minister lives (alongside some of the richest tycoons in the Israeli economy).  Night after night was the tower surrounded by hundreds of protesters.

"No war with Iran". "No roulette of at least 300 Israeli dead". "No, to war for the sake of maintaining ministerial positions." "Armageddon? No, thank you". "The Defense Minister is leading us to disaster." "Bibi, you have already ruined our lives, do not terminate them." "No, no, we don't want / A government of bombers / No, no, we don't want/ A government of tyrants." "He's crazy, he's crazy, he's crazy."

Yesterday, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., the trusted representative of Netanyahu, declares that an attack on Iran would be worthwhile even if it does not destroy the nuclear program, since "even a delay of a year is significant". And in Tehran President Ahmadinejad presented his view of "A new Middle East, one without the Zionist Cancer". As if seeking deliberately to ignite the flames of war and provide Netanyahu with material for war propaganda. Maybe its' not "as if" - since an Israeli attack may finally put off the coals of internal opposition to the Iranian regime and force the bitterest opponents of the regime to join in "national unity".

Today I saw on the bulletin board at my Holon home an urgent call for  the residents to remove their belongings from the air raid shelter at the bottom of the building, so that it could fulfill its function in case of aerial bombardments …

Voices of protest

Public call upon pilots

(So far signed by 600 academics and public figures - and making headlines in all the media)

The Air Force pilots
Israel Defense Forces (IDF)


We issue this appeal to you out of a deep sense of concern and anxiety at the present situation in this country. We know a little bit through the media, and much more is happening behind the scenes, of which we may know only when it is too late. We do not know your names, your family status, your views or your opinions. We do know one thing - at this moment our fate, our very future, lies very much in your hands.

In the near future, possibly within weeks, you may get the fateful order – to man the planes and take off for the task of bombing Iran. You will have, of course, the choice of obeying the order, accepting the arguments and assertions of those who give it without questions, and striving to perform the task to your best professional ability. This would amount to accepting the argument that bombing Iran's nuclear facilities is essential for the defense of the State of Israel, thereby also accepting that you will be firing the first shot in a war whose results might be catastrophic for all of us.

This, however, is not the only choice open to you. You also have the option of saying "no". Certainly, this is not a simple option. It involves profound professional and moral dilemmas, and carries the risk of losing a career which is important to you and also the possibility of being prosecuted. Nevertheless, it is your duty to consider most carefully and seriously the possibility that by saying the little word "no", you will be rendering an important and vital service to the State of Israel and all who live here. This service would be infinitely more important than blind obedience to this particular order.

 (...)No one can make the decision for you. We hope - for your sake as well as ours - that should the moment come, you will be able to make the right decision.

Professor Menachem Mautner, former Dean of the Faculty of Law at Tel Aviv University.
"I understand the far-reaching implications of the petition, and I do not think there is a legal problem about such an attack as such. And I do not think the pilots real the ones to address. But the possibility of a decision being taken to attack Iran is keeping me sleepless for weeks. To the best of my judgement, taking such an action without waiting for the U.S to take the main role would entail disastrous long-range results for Israel. Because I am concerned and  desperate, I have decided to join this petition. I'll do anything it takes to prevent Israel from plunging into what I see as a disaster unparalleled in its history, including even the terrible tragedy of the Yom Kippur War. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures."

Scary statues of Pharaonic birds
Roy Chicky Arad

Tonight, and also tomorrow, and also the day after tomorrow, at 20:00, a demonstration under the house of the Minister of Defense. Facing the depressing lobby cluttered with scary statues of Pharaonic birds made of hard  stone, and crying out to reach him on the fourteenth floor with a very simple basic message which we learned as children: that this war is bad, like all too many of its predecessors.

A war which is so unnecessary in terms of possible achievements, so dangerous both immediately and in the longer range, so cynical, with so many possibilities for unforeseen entanglements, a war on which the army itself is  not interested in embarking, already smelling the failure and the damage to security. A war which nobody would know how to close down after the fire box opens.

Even those who now give some credence to the scare propaganda of Bibibarak and their communication lackeys and are inclined to let the experts about such things (Barak!) deal with them – even they would show up at the Rabin Square a month after the war, shamefaced, and join us in crying out about this terrible folly. All the opportunist politicians will come then to make speeches…

As in the first Lebanon War, as in the Second Lebanon War, everything is so transparent. Why wait for the disaster to happen? It is clear, it is here, with us, with the foul smell of death. Is there anyone who claims that the home front is ready for a missile counter-strike? And is there someone who does not see how problematic it is to cut the budgets for the collapsing health system just  before embarking on such a war?

This adventurous war can be prevented. Public pressure against the war can make a difference, especially when the majority among the public is known to oppose the war.  A lot of people should reach the demonstation, not just the hard left, but also worried mothers who are not interested in politics but are very much interested in their children. On Facebook I see that also my Likudnik friends ask hard questions to which there are no answers.

Chances versus Risks
Assaf Peretz

They say "You have no way of measuring chances against risks". I answer "Perhaps I can't, but what about the Air Force commander, Major General Amir Eshel? And the General in Command North? And the IDF Chief of Staff? Can they measure it? And all of them are opposed.

Do you think there will be a Second Holocaust if we don't attack? Well, you have to persuade of this the Commander of the Air Force, who will need to look into the eyes of the pilots. Then, the Chief of Staff. And for two years already you are pumping up the inevitable threat, then damn it, prepare the home front. To go on an offensive like this breaks all records of cynicism, spitting in the face of social justice.

For who will get hurt? The weak and neglected towns of the periphery, first of all. (Dr. Ron Lobel of the Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon said this morning that the hospital lacks any protection), and those citizens who have no safe room in their apartments and at the first bombing will search in vain for the keeper of the key to the public air raid shelter.

More? The national information network has no head in the past eight months, the Civil Defense Command stopped issuing gas masks because its budget was finished. Incidentally, in the whole country there are only eight beds for burn victims. Who fucking cares?

So anyone who cares, every night at eight there will be a protest in front of the Minister of Defense's home, at the corner of Shaul Hamelech Boulevard and Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv.
Riki Cohen - Parents Against War

Nothing was shaking in the fancy building where Defense Minister Ehud Barak moved recently, on the evening when some 300 protesters, myself among them, came to hold a demonstration against the planned attack on Iran.  The lobby is designed in expensive modernist statues and seating systems. A  nouveau style of some kind, probably nouveau riche. Around the tower an artificial pool was bubbling behind an engineered garden with well-designed trees. At seven o'clock, Security sevice operatives were already buzzing  around, waiting for the plebs to arrive, later joined by riot police Border Guards. 

A lot of baby carriages were there, and children who had to be carefully preserved against getting lost in the crowd. The children who this fall might encounter for the first time the dubious protection kits offered by the government and get into air raid shelters of questionable utility. Those whose   parents cannot afford the fares to fly away to a safe place until shooting ends. In many homes this debate is going on this week, where, in case of…? Ironically, the communities of the South were mentioned as a possibility.

Would establishing a Parents Against War movement be the right step? "Sure," answered my neighbor in the line of march. "Four Mothers was the only political movement that ever managed to achieve something". He gave me hope, perhaps an exaggerated one. The myth of the Four Mothers, who got the army out of Lebanon, lives on and was not impaired despite some jeering talkback messages from warmongers.

Those parents with prams who last summer went out on the streets in their thousands to protest the cost of living and specifically the high payment for kindergartens, would they now join a movement struggling to preserve the very life of their kids (and of themselves)? Difficult to know, especially when the campaign of intimidation seems to work well on a large sector of the public, those who still  see no alternative to Netanyahu, and who seem inclined to just wait out the deluge and hope for the best. And still, it is hard to believe that they too do not have this nagging feeling, this realization that in just a few weeks, my own life and that of those dear to me would also be laid down the in the roulette of death, Barak's bargain price of 500 dead. How many of us would see the winter?

Yes, at the conclusion you are faced with a grim truth which can not be hidden.  I don’t mind being accused of being a selfish Tel Avivian. That's OK. I really feel no urge to make sacrifices for a crumbling nationalist ethos marred with ambiguity, lies and personal motives. Bibi and Barak, who lead the way to a hedonist capitalist jungle, cannot be surprised about the lack of such a spirit of sacrifice.

Let's make some noise. They don't have a monopoly over wisdom.

Not a single medal
Vardina Salomon
Letter to the editor, Yediot Ahronot August 12, 2012

Israel sent to London its best athletes and was sadly disappointed - not a single medal. This is just a sport, and no one died from it. But we must remember this story in connection with a far more sensitive issue: the bombing in Iran that is so talked about.

Our Air Force has excellent pilots, professional and highly motivated. Nevertheless, success is not guaranteed. There is a great risk of entanglements and blunders, a rain of missiles might fall on the Israeli home front. They are trying to "comfort" us that it be "only" 300 or 500 deaths. Alas for such a "consolation"!

If as a result of this war oil supplies are damaged and oil prices rise steeply worldwide, we might be accused of it, and the consequences can be very serious. The average American is not really interested in what happens outside the U.S. and does not really know who is fighting who in the Middle East, but the price of fuel is very important to him. If the price is doubled because of a war which Israel started, this could cost us dearly. It is doubtful whether in such a situation Netanyahu could once again get applause in the American Congress.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Breakfast on the steps of the ministry building

 At a late evening hour last week I got an urgent call from N., a Palestinian resident of the town of Dura, near Hebron - a longtime personal friend. His cousin, the 47 years old Abdullah Alarjub had been shot and wounded by soldiers, in strange and rather alarming circumstances. Soldiers stopped Abdullah at a checkpoint, conducted a thorough search of his car, found nothing, gave him back his keys and told him to keep going. When he was about 25 meters away, one of the soldiers raised his gun, shot and injured Abdullah in the shoulder.

Had I not known the cousin of the wounded, I would not have heard anything about it. The Israeli media had more important issues to deal with. A few days later a similar incident occurred at another checkpoint, near Jerusalem - only that this time the shooting ended in death. A Palestinian killed by soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces does get a bit of publicity in the communications media of the State of Israel - but only a bit. In most cases, nobody bothered  to publish the name of the person killed. (His name was Akram Dair, and he was 40 years old. All that was required to locate this data was a one minute search of Palestinian news websites.)

Are the soldiers who shot and killed going to be punished? Probably not. They claimed that the car had not stopped at the checkpoint. Under the criteria of the IDF, the most moral army in the world, these are sufficient grounds to shoot and kill inhabitants of those territories which, according to Justice Edmond Levy,  are not occupied at all. What the army did do, right then on the night after the fatal shooting, was to carry out extensive raids on Palestinian cities and villages and refugee camps, and detain people who might have started demonstrations and protests at their communities.

But perhaps Justice Levy was right, after all? After all, South Tel Aviv is not considered to be Occupied Territory, and yet the authorities in our country find no difficulty in implementing a policy of escalating oppression towards the African refugees and asylum seekers and migrant workers who live there (who still live there, until construction of the detention camps in the Negev desert is completed).

So, this week members of the State of Israel's parliament gathered to talk about how to distinguish between people according to their looks. Just so. On July 23, at 8:30 am, the Knesset Interior Committee convened and gave its approval to a bill presented by KM Miri Regev and KM Ophir Akunis, which would impose a fine of up to half a million Shekels to anyone providing lodging or transportation to an infiltrator. But then the
amazing question was asked, how would a bus driver determine the identity of a black skinned person wishing to board the bus? Maybe it's an infiltrator – which would mean that, should this bill pass all stages of legislation in the Knesset and be duly inscribed in our law books, the driver would be strictly forbidden to take him. But perhaps it's an Ethiopian, who is a kosher Jew and a full-fledged citizen of the State of Israel? Or, who knows, maybe it is the President of the United States, on a short visit with us, wanting to go incognito on a Tel Aviv bus? So, how to distinguish? Who could help the miserable driver?

The thug who on the same day entered an Internet cafe in the Shapira Neighborhood of south Tel Aviv did not grapple with problems of identification. He came in, knife in hand, stabbed and injured the owner and two of his clients, all three of them Eritreans, threw a computer at the owner, escaped and disappeared. The police still did not get on his trail, and the media coverage given the incident was modest.

There were meor events which the media did not report at all, though you could hear of them from the activists who spoke at the protest rally last Saturday night, initiated by Holocaust survivors and Israeli teenagers. There, we could hear of a 12-year old black girl who
got a fist in her face from a motorcyclist passing her in the street, and of the poor black cat who was hanged on the door of an apartment where the human beings had a skin color similar to his. A long list of major and minor assaults which increasingly make into hell the lives of Africans among us.

And what does all this have to do with what did get the headlines this week – the economic decrees resolved upon by the Government of Israel, whose  centerpiece is the increase of VAT, laying a heavy burden on those who have the least? Some people tend to carefully sort out and place separate  issues in separate drawers, or perhaps separate universes. Here are the Palestinians and their oppression, and there the Africans and the repression peculiar to them, and here the ordinary citizens of Israel and their usual suffering under the burden of economic decrees. In my humble opinion one would do well to recall that the government is the same government and the policy makers are the same policy makers. As has become my habit in recent weeks, I can end with quoting from the call for a weekend demonstration, scheduled for this night in Tel Aviv.:

Privatization of school health services. The lie of free education from age three. The raising of beer prices. The raising of cigarette prices. The Border Infiltrators Law. Deportations to South Sudan. Incitement against refugees. Police surveillance. Moshe Silman. 50 millions to the Ariel "University". The attack on radio broadcaster Keren Neubach. Increased penalties for aiding refugees. The crushing of what is left of the middle class. Untaxed corporate profits. Increase in VAT.  Forgiving the tycoons' debts. Non-implemented report of the Commission on Cartels. Drying up the social services. No public housing. Saturday at 20:00 on the Habima Square.

The rope tightens around all our necks. Every day the media inform us about the new decrees, including measures for complete elimination of public housing. The government is cutting through people's dignity, through their  very lives.

We are citizens. This is our country, these are our public assets. We will not give up our lives! We will march through the street, sit down at the entrance to the government compounds and stay the night. We will force the government to wake up. Each with her body and her voice, each with his body and his voice!

This is an emergency! Say no to the austerity decrees which would choke the economy and push us into a heavy recession! No increase in VAT and purchase taxes, no cuts in welfare and health, no further undermining of  public housing!

As it is, we are already paying too much for rent and mortgage!
As it is,  food prices are sky-high!
Do you need money? Go to the tycoons who have robbed us all these years.
36 billions in untaxed profits – take it from there! Not at our expense!
We will take it any longer!

We take responsibility for our lives. We are sovereign. We will return the country to the citizens! We meet in at 20.00 on the corner of Rothschild and Habima and march to the Government Compound on Kaplan Street. Bring signs with your own message, and pots and pans, and also sleeping bags, mats, blankets, pajamas, musical instruments, and everything you need to spend the night. Breakfast at 7.00 am on the steps of the ministry building...