Saturday, June 29, 2013

Zionism and torn papers

A heated debate, polarized positions, a tense vote - and at the height of suspense,  a speaker mounts the podium, angrily and demonstratively tearing up the text of the resolution which had just been approved.

This is what happened a few days ago at the Knesset, during the First Reading of the bill known as "The Negev Bedouins Settlement Act”. But when did we see something of the kind before?

It was quite some time ago, a moment etched in the Israeli collective  memory. November 10, 1975, at the UN Headquarters in New York. Just like Knesset Member Muhammad Baraka and Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi this past week, on that day Chaim Herzog, Israel's Ambassador to the UN (later President of the State) mounted the podium and tore up the resolution adopted by the UN Assembly General. The resolution stating that "Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”.

The resolution  asserted that  the Government of Israel – like the then South African government - "enforces manifestations of racial discrimination by legislative or administrative proceedings," and that such discrimination stems directly from Zionism, the official ideology of the State of Israel.

Before tearing up the text of the resolution, Ambassador Herzog delivered a ringing speech, praising Zionism as a noble and immaculate movement of National Liberation, and asserted that Israel's treatment of its Arab citizens was a model of fairness and of complete equality.

In passing, on that day the UN also resolved that "The PLO should be invited to take part in all deliberations and conferences, on equal footing with other parties", and that "The Palestinian People should be helped to achieve the status of an independent nation." These resolutions, too, were strongly opposed by the Government of Israel, but Herzog did not go as far as tearing them up.

Swiftly afterwards the cities of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa all renamed their respective "United Nations Boulevard” as “Zionism Boulevard”. For the next two decades the State of Israel waged a struggle against the UN and against the UN’s anti-Zionist resolution, ultimately achieving its repeal. It is no accident that this repeal took place in the 1990’s, a time when the State of Israel did accept the PLO as a negotiating partner and agreed (at least verbally) that the Palestinian people should achieve the status of an independent nation. It was a time when Israel, claiming to be a member of the club of Western Democracies, was perceived as approaching closer to that club’s current norms of behavior.
Back to this past week in the Knesset and the debate held there this week, The House was split almost down the middle and the bill passing its First Reading by a narrow majority of 43 against 40. The nature of this of this bill - the same bill whose text was torn to pieces by the Arab MKs  - was described by the veteran commentator Shalom Yerushalmi on the pages of Ma'ariv:

”The government’s Bedouin Regulation Plan is based on the following principle: nearly a hundred thousand Bedouins live in illegal villages in the Negev. Part of them will get ownership of lands over which they have filed claims. Everybody else will receive financial compensation. All will move to recognized, modern communities which will be built later, and in the areas which they will evacuate there will be built Jewish communities. Any Bedouin who does not enter the program within nine months will remain without land and without compensations, and if insisting on staying on at his current location would be liable to a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment”.

And why should that be the solution? Why should the Bedouins have to move to “modern communities" which the government would build for them once upon a time? And the plans, setting out  exactly where these modern communities are to be established, have been declared a state secret, anyone revealing what they know about it being liable under the same section in the law as those who expose weapons systems or and war plans of the IDF – and why is that? And why does the government completely refuse to explain which existing Bedouin villages would be destroyed because of being "illegal" and “unrecognized”' and how many residents of these villages will be uprooted from their homes and land - twenty thousand, thirty thousand, forty thousand? And besides, why is the government refusing to recognize these Unrecognized Villages and connect them to water and electricity and sewage and all needed infrastructure and make modern communities of these villages themselves? Why destroy Bedouin villages and move the residents to other locations and build Jewish communities in their place, communities which will  of course get all the services and infrastructure that the State of Israel provides to its (Jewish)  citizens.

Some answer to all these questions were given by Welfare Minister Meir Cohen, a member of Yair Lapid’s new party, the party that promises that There is a Future and that Israel is to witness the advent of New Politics. Meir Cohen is himself a resident of the Negev who often dealt with Bedouin issues, and he undertook to introduce this bill and bring it to a vote in the Knesset. Meir Cohen says he knows the Bedouins and he knows that this bill would be in their favor and for their benefit and all the outcry is caused by the incitement of radical Islamists.

And why did the Parliamentary opposition vote  against the law? Why did Jewish Knesset Members from Meretz and Labor and even Shas mobilize against this bill, almost managing to knock  it off? Welfare Minister Meir Cohen just cannot not get it. "How can they call themselves Zionists and still vote against this bill?" cries out the Minister of Social Affairs.

So here, probably, lies the answer. This is a Zionist bill, and as such Zionists are supposed to give it their support. This is the official and authorized interpretation of Zionism, as provided by the government of the State of the Jews  which was established in fulfillment of the vision of Theodor Herzl. And what if this bill does pass also its Second and Third Readings and duly becomes the Law of the Land in Israel?  What if the Minister of Finance grants the request of the Minister of Public Security to provide ample funds for the recruiting of hundreds of new police officers and the new police forces embark on enforcing the new Zionist law and do it throughout the Negev in front of TV cameras from around the world, and go on doing it for months and perhaps for years?

And what if the UN then embarks on re-adopting that 1975 resolution and again charges the government of Israel with “enforcing racial discrimination by legislative or administrative proceedings," and once again assert that such discrimination stems directly from the ideology and practice of Zionism?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Strategic assets and a threatening toilet

It was not the Naval Commandos’ best week.

Already for thirteen years, naval fighters afflicted with cancer are conducting an ongoing struggle for compensations. Att. Moshe Kaplinsky, who had taken them up as  a pro bono case, assembled a mass of evidence showing that for many years the commandos had been required to dive and train in the waters of the Kishon River, the most polluted body of water in the state of Israel and among the most polluted in the entire world. Into this rivulet were spilled over the years an impressive array of carcinogens from military bases, refineries, petrochemical plants, electricity stations and various other large and small factories and workshops.

But the state had hired shrewd lawyers, highly experienced in tort cases, and they were continually casting doubts. And indeed, the District Court found that“no causal relationship has been proven”.
 True, there is no doubt that there was a huge concentration of carcinogens in these waters. There is no doubt that a bunch of very enthusiastic and highly motivated young men were daily putting on scuba gear and joyfully obeying the order of jumping into these waters, feeling a surge of great satisfaction at their success in becoming members of such a famed elite unit. There is also no question that among those people, nowadays  no longer young and certainly not very enthusiastic, the number of  cancer patients greatly exceeds their percentage in the general population. But  the judges ruled that a causal relationship between these phenomena has not been proven. Thus, the Treasury could mark a net gain in some tens of millions which would not have to be paid in compensation payments.

This is not the final word. They will appeal to the Supreme Court, and it is possible that in a few years the judges there would rule in their favor. It is even possible that some of the naval fighters would still be alive and able to enjoy the compensations during their final years. 

Forgotten are the days when stickers praising the Naval Commandos were pasted on cars, and demonstrations supporting them were held outside the Turkish Embassy. The State of Israel loves to see her Naval Commandos as fearless strong men,  Heroes  who dangle from helicopters at mid-sea and land aboard a Gaza-bound flotilla and fight with dangerous Turkish terrorists and within five minutes liquidate nine of them. But Naval Commandos, their bodies broken by cancer?  In this struggle they are quite alone.

Anyway, the whole issue was pushed off the headlines by President Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday, which was broadcast live throughout the nation by all of Israel’s television channels.

Everybody was there, Barbra Streisand and Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone and Tony Blair and Mikhail Gorbachev and President Bill Clinton (who, as is well known, got the sum of half a million dollars as his fee for participating). Only Stephen Hawking just did not want to participate in this joy, and after talking with Palestinian friends decided not to take part in honoring Israel’s president. (Palestinians there weren’t at all, except for a 5 year old child, once treated in an Israeli hospital.)

Even so, much praise was heaped on Shimon Peres, the Man of Peace. There was also a girl band singing "Give Peace a Chance".  Peres wouldn’t mind to give peace a chance. Especially when some tycoons and captains of industries, with whom Peres is quite friendly, spoke just a few days earlier on how much the Israeli economy is threatened by the absence of peace.

Of course, it was extensively mentioned that this was the birthday of a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. True, he had a partner in this award, a Palestinian leader whose surname begins with A, and the award was associated with an agreement named for a capital city in the north of Europe, but it would be a pity to go into such trivialities on this day of  international joy and celebration. Of course the President whose birthday it was did deliver a keynote speech in which he explicitly expressed his hope for a better future, a better future not only for Israel but for Palestine as well.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home Party, who attended the Peres party, does not want a better future for Palestine. He just does not want a Palestine to exist. Just this week, addressing the settlers’ Judea and Samaria Council, Bennett used a very picturesque parable about Israel's relations to the Palestinians: "I have a friend with shrapnel in his rear end. They told him that they could operate but that he’d become an invalid. He decided to continue living with it."

The shrapnel in the rear end certainly did not prevent Naftali Bennett from taking part in the Peres celebration and applaud politely and tell the TV cameras that no doubt  President Shimon Peres is a strategic asset second to none. Obviously, without him it would have been far more difficult to present  the world with a smiling, attractive, peace-seeking Israeli face. Especially this week when Israel lost that other strategic asset, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – who, alas, is no longer Iran’s president.

Had Ahmadinejad not existed, the Israeli Hasbara PR  would certainly have had to invent him, with his nuclear program, inflammatory  speeches and the highlight: Holocaust denial! But now he is irrevocably gone, and we are left to deal with a new Iranian President who looks and sounds moderate, and also with crowds cheering and dancing in the streets of Tehran the victory of the people in the ballot box. And how to present now the case that it is still needed to send the Israeli Air Force on the long and dangerous route to a decisive attack on Iran's nuclear facilities? Meanwhile, Netanyahu moved the date of the "Year of Decision" further forward - to 2014.

In the headlines of old yellowing papers we can find that once upon a time 2011\was the Year of Decision. Does  Netanyahu truly want to reach a decision, or does he merely want to keep the Iranian Threat permanently on the agenda, distracting attention from other issues?  For example, this week. While the headlines were devoted to the heated debate about what the election of Rohani in Iran could imply, the economic austerity budget got through its first reading in the Knesset  with hardly anyone noticing.

This was also the week in which the “Price Tag” groups went out of the settlements and into Israel hitting the village of Abu Ghosh. Abu Ghosh, where Jews and Arabs come closer than anywhere else in this country. Even if this coexistence is based primarily on the eating of hummus at excellent restaurants. It turns out that there are among us racists who greatly dislike this, and they came at night to puncture the tires of 28 cars - very systematically and consistently, puncturing all four tires at one and every car. They also wrote on the walls "Arabs out!" and “Racism or Assimilation” - hummus-eating being tantamount to “assimilation" and racism being the preferred choice.

The story of the Abu Ghosh Price Tag attack made headlines on the very day of President Peres’ celebration. A lot of people felt that what is going on in our country has gone beyond any imaginable limit, if even the people of Abu Ghosh are the target of racism. Condemnations were heard from all across the political spectrum. Especially right-wing Knesset members and ministers made a conspicuous show of their indignation.  But of course the same people at the very same time blocked the proposal to declare "Price Tag" to be  a terrorist organization. They also objected to the idea that , according to the Law on Victims of Terrorism, the state offer compensations to the 28 owners of the cars damaged in Abu Ghosh.

There was another event this week which perhaps might also be called a  Price Tag event, which somehow went completely under the radar of the Israeli media. A modest little event related to a toilet – an event which became known due to the tireless Guy Butavia who day after day spreads through Facebook news and photos of obscure events taking place in that shrapnel fragment stuck in Israel’s bottom end.

Umm al Kheir is a Palestinian village in the South Hebron Hills, one of the villages which in the opinion of settlers living nearby (also of military personnel stations nearby) just should not have been there. Umm Al Kheir is not linked to the electric grid, nor to water pipes or sewage systems. There are  no toilets in this village, and for the call of nature residents need to go to the nearby creek. But this creek is within sight of the settlement of Carmel, which is perched on a hilltop. This is not just a problem of privacy, also of stones being regularly hurled from the settlement on anyone seen in the valley below.

An international humanitarian organization called ACF donated  to Umm al Kheir a small toilet cell made of wood, and a resident named Bilal dug a septic pool. On the same day that the grand celebration in honor of President Shimon Peres was held in Jerusalem, the residents of Umm al Kheir were preparing a modest celebration of their own, to mark the installation of the first toilet in their village. But that celebration did not take place, because the settlement of Carmel (like every settlement) has a Military Security Coordinator, and he takes his job seriously.

The job definition of a Military Security Coordinator includes setting the watch,  maintaining the integrity of the perimeter fence, keeping in touch with army forces in the region and reporting any theft or security incident. The Military Security Coordinator of the settlement of Carmel, whose name is Simha, is highly motivated in the performance of his duties. He noticed a serious security incident developing right in front of eyes, i.e. that the Umm al Kheir people were establishing a toilet in their village. The Security Coordinator rushed to call the army, as well as the Civil Administration (which is part of the army but maintains its own separate structure). Quickly there arrived Lieutenant Asaf Simhoni for the army and another Lieutenant with the first name Moshe, on behalf of the Civil Administration.

Two officers presented a "Seizure Order", valid and lawful in accordance with the laws and decrees issued by the Israel Defense Forces to manage day to day life in the territory which is under its control for the past forty-six years (and two weeks). The order read "Item (toilet) transported without a permit". Accordingly the toilet cell was confiscated and loaded on a military truck and taken away, thus foiling one more serious threat to the security of Israel.

These  officers involved are part of the chain of command headed by the Commanding General Center, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon. It so happened that this same general on that same day spoke to foreign journalists. "If in the coming weeks the efforts of the Americans end in naught, I think we might see a growing escalation on the ground" said Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, referring to the efforts of U.S. Secretary of State John.

Of course the general's statement provoked a wave of angry protests from right-wing politicians, who noted that this general has notorious leftist views and is full of hatred for the settlers. The condemnations which these politicians hurled at the Commanding General Center were even louder than those issued in denunciation of the Abu Ghosh Price Tag attack.

And Secretary of State John Kerry? Well, we are patiently waiting for the announcement of his next coming.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The right to be pessimistic

Perhaps the most important event of this week is what did not happen.  US Secretary of State John Kerry did not land at Ben Gurion Airport, and did not go by helicopter back and forth between Jerusalem and Ramallah, and the reporters did not cover any press conferences of his, and commentators wrote no learned comments about the chances of his crucial peace mission.  
All of this should have happened.    Some weeks ago Kerry had stated explicitly that he would visit the  Middle East in the second week of June, and that unlike in previous visits “this time he would expect to hear clear answers."  But when the time came near, Kerry just quietly announced that his visit would be “put off”, and no new date was announced. So quietly was it announced, and so little was his mediating mission regarded to begin with, that most of the Israeli media did not even bother to tell their readers that after all he would not be coming.

The non-arrival of Kerry left some vacuum on the political and diplomatic correspondents’  agenda – but it was promptly filled. By Danny Danon, of all people.  Danny Danon, by no means the brightest star in the firmament  of Israeli politics. A Likud party hack who industriously went up in the party hierarchy and got into the Knesset and finally got upgraded to Deputy Defense Minister (Not that Defense Minister Ya’alon felt any special need for having a deputy, or any inclination to give him any function).  Danon had established for himself a clear niche on its extreme right flank  which he helped make. Still the general Israeli public hardly noticed his existence.

Danon got his chance for a moment of fame with Netanyahu’s speech last week, when the PM stated on the Knesset floor his great longings for negotiations to resume and  movingly implored Abu  Mazen “Give Peace a Chance!”.  Danon was quick to get his oar in - incidentally giving a scoop to The Times of Israel, an English language news website which is not very highly regarded. “We are a nationalist government, not a government that will establish a Palestinian government in the 1967 lines. There was never a government deliberation, resolution or vote about the two-state solution. If anyone  brings it to a cabinet vote  – nobody will, it would not be smart – but if there is a vote, a solid majority of ministers will be against. (…) The international community opposes construction in East Jerusalem? They can say whatever they want, and we can do whatever we want.  Netanyahu wants to talk with the Palestinians? Sure he wants it, he knows nothing will come of it anyway”.

It got  into the headlines, and Netanyahu was quick to dissociate himself from the truculent Deputy Minister.  And Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who got the plum job of conducting negotiations with the Palestinians (if and when) actually threatened to resign (but will she?).  All in all, it’is not such a big deal.   Danny Danon didn’t reveal  something we did not already know. Nor did he tell Kerry something which was not yet well-known among the analysts in Washington.  At most, it might have helped  to dot the i's and cross the t's in the confidential situation report which had already landed on the Secretary of State’s desk.

And what now? Is it really all over, so quietly and prosaically?

It is still quite possible that in two or three weeks we would still see Kerry landing  here with great fanfare, rushing and shuttling to and fro with enormous energy and doing his utmost to pull some kind of rabbit out of the hat he is not wearing.  Even remotely possible that it would be rabbit with teeth. But with every passing day, the other possibility becomes more likely:  that this is indeed  The End,  not with a bang but with a whimper. That there would be no  further announcement,  but  Kerry would just not come by again, nor (certainly) Obama. After some weeks or months we would  suddenly notice Kerry putting all his energy into another issue on the other end of the world.

If so, it could it be that we have just passed, unnoticing, a major historical turning point. That historians would one day point to the second week of June 2013 as the time when the US finally shrugged off and abdicated its self-appointed role as the mediator and not quite  precisely honest broker between Israelis and Arabs. The time when Barack Obama and John Kerry closed the door which had been opened exactly four decades ago by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.  And if so, it might even be that Danny Danon would get a footnote or two all to himself in the future history books…

Would it really be so bad if turned out that Uncle Sam had cut us adrift, Israelis and the Palestinians and our tiresome, interminable conflict? Re'uven Kaminer, at least,  thinks it might offer a wonderful new chance. Kaminer left his native Chicago in the 1950’s in order to avoid service in the Korean War, and in the following decades made a name for himself in the Israeli Left as a staunch and uncompromising opponent of the imperial ambitions of his former homeland.  "Through the cracks in the American hegemony,  the sun is  shining" is the title of the article he published this week on the Radical Left website Hagada Hasmalit (The Left Bank).

“This week the Peace Camp marked  46 years of occupation. Among participants there was a deep sense of disappointment and pessimism. A  lack of any chance of progress, even the tiniest, in the struggle to end the occupation. Where does this pessimism come from? Its source is the feeling of many in the Peace Camp that achieving peace, and with it an end to the occupation, depends primarily on the willingness of the U.S. to put massive pressure on Israel. If anybody had a lingering illusion that such a miracle can still take place, the latest mission of Secretary of State Kerry slapped them in the face. By all signs, it is a total failure. It is hard to know why Kerry and Obama deluded themselves that this time it would be different. Israel regards itself as a senior partner in regional politics, due to its  military might.  In the present sensitive situation in the region, Washington can’t afford a break with the Netanyahu government -  and without such a break there can be no resumption of negotiations. Kerry cannot get from Israel even the slightest concession to the Palestinians, and they for their part cannot  afford a total submission to the Israeli demands”.

Kaminer  does not share in the left’s  pessimism. “The Israeli-Palestinian issue is decisively affected by developments in the Middle East, primarily the cracks in the American hegemony .  True, though forced to give ground, the U.S. remains a mighty force whose interest must be reckoned with. Still, the option of an Israeli-Palestinian peace founded entirely upon American hegemony and tutelage is fading fast. The Americans can no longer achieve, all by themselves, peace in our region. If they want peace at all, they would need to rely on a wide European and global consensus. Precisely these changes herald the possibility of a better balance between the parties to the Israeli - Palestinian Conflict. It is such a balance which is needed in order to lay the foundations of real peace”.

Meanwhile, Knesset member Orit Struk got interviewed in the weekend Ma’ariv. Struk is a prominent leader of the religious-nationalist settler enclave in Hebron. In recent  years, she became known as a Human Rights activist – i.e.  an activist for the Human Rights of the settlers,  which  she asserted were being terribly trampled on. Since being elected to the Knesset a few months ago, as part of Naftali Bennet’s Jewish Home Party, she already distinguished herself in promoting a bill which would allow settlers in Judea and Samaria to “act in self defense and shoot to death any intruder to their properties”.  But would not such a law also allow Palestinians to shoot at settlers invading their property? Had such a law been in force a year ago, might it not have had an adverse effect on Struck’s own son Tviki, now serving a two and half years’ term for having severely assaulted a Palestinian shepherd? “Oh, of course this law would not apply to Palestinians” the Human Rights activist answered without blinking.

Orit Struk does believe in peace. “Peace will come when the Arabs come to terms with the fact this is our country and they are no more than tolerated guests here”.  And until they come to such a realization? “Well, until then there is nothing to do but sit on out sword, and sit securely”.  It was Napoleon Bonaparte, who knew quite a bit of military matters, who said that “You can do anything with a bayonet except sit on it”…

This week also marked the passing of Yoram Kanyuk – veteran soldier of the  war  in which Israel was created,  and a lifelong dissident writer and activist. His last major act was a prolonged struggle to remove from his entry in the population registry the notification: “Religion : Jewish” and replace it with “Religion : Undetermined”.  But it was not taken as a class action, opening the way to others. Anybody else applying to the Ministry of the Interior for a similar change would have to take his or her own lawyer and go all over again through  an individual  years-long struggle through the courts.

In the past decade he had become increasingly bitter and disillusioned.   Daphna Baram in her article in The Guardian quoted Kanyuk’s words – perhaps not his very last, but ones which reflect his mood in the last part of his life: "The state I took part in founding had ended long ago, and I am not interested in what it has become. It is ludicrous, blunt, vile, dark, sick, and it will not last. We used to think it would be different."

And meanwhile, Peace Now once again published a call upon all who are worried - to come out into the streets, specifically, into the street outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem. (Netanyahu will not actually be there tonight, he spends his weekends in the luxurious private home at affluent Caesarea – but he would not have listened anyway). 

Saturday night - demonstrating against the government of diplomatic fiasco!

Despite the unprecedented efforts of John Kerry to renew the process, despite the peace initiative of the Arab League, which includes recognition of the settlement blocs, Despite all this, the Government of Israel says NO!

It's time to go out and make it clear to Netanyahu, Lapid and Bennett that they and they alone are to blame for the political stalemate and rejecting the option of peace.

They are guilty of a major diplomatic fiasco which would severely damage the vital military, political and economic interests of the State of Israel.

Israel must not miss the historic opportunity open to us, Only if Netanyahu and Lapid feel the public’s accusing finger pointed at them, only then is there a chance that something will move.

The demonstration will take place on Saturday, June 15, at 20:00,  in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.

For updates and registration for the ride from Tel Aviv, contact Inbal: 

Peace Now is no longer a mass movement, able to bring tens of thousands into the streets, and no one expects such a turnout  tonight. Still, those who still did not give up will be there.

P.S.  While this article was being written, results started to come in from the Presdiential elections in Iran,There are not final results yet, and it is too early to estimate the influence of these elections on Netanyahu’s designs - to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities. One thing is clear, already: whatever may be wrong with Iran, it is the kind of country where the elections results are not known until the votes have  been counted. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

John Lennon and the knock on the door at the wee hours

Last Saturday night, thousands of people demonstrated in the streets of Tel Aviv. Two demonstrations had been scheduled for the same evening. One was held to mark the forty-sixth anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, forty-six years of an oppressive military regime imposed on millions of people, and the continuing robbery of their lands. The second demonstration was held to protest the increase in VAT which came into force that night, a regressive and manifestly unjust tax raise which imposes the burden of closing the huge budget deficit mainly on the poor and the weak and the have-nots.

Great effort has been made to coordinate the two demonstrations. Different hours were set so that activists full of energy and motivation would not have to choose, but would be able to take part in both. The end point of the anti-occupation march, at the Likud Party headquarters on King George Street, was but a short walk away from the anti-VAT rallying place at Habima Square. And indeed, quite a few people went directly from one demonstration to the other,  carrying signs proclaiming that there can be no Social Justice without Ending Occupation and Oppression, and that social injustice and abject poverty are a fertile ground for demagogues who incite desperate masses to war and racism, and that the two issues are inseparably intertwined.

Inseparably? Journalists were present in both demonstrations, and the photographers did their work and captured a representative sample of the signs and posters and chanting crowds. But when this material got to the editorial offices, it did get completely separated. The protest against VAT got sympathetic coverage and large photos in several newspapers on the next morning. And the second demonstration? Was there another demonstration? Against the occupation? The occupation is not news, it is very old news. Precisely forty-six years old.

Anyway, for the Israeli media this week was mostly a Turkish week. "The Turkish Spring!" cried huge headlines in the Israeli press. Every day saw an extensive update on the unfolding protests at Taksim Square in the heart of Istanbul, accompanied by huge photographs of heroic young Turks holding their ground amidst the barrages of tear gas. Of course, there were plenty of cartoons and commentaries mocking and jeering at Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, the man that Israelis have grown fond of hating.

And what would happen in a week or two, when Turkey falls down in the news ratings? It is likely that, in at least some of the papers, we will see on the same page renewed complaints about failure of the army to subdue the brazen  young Palestinians, followed by belligerent demands to change the rules of engagement and let soldiers move beyond salvos of tear gas and go over to using live ammunition.

The precise date of the beginning of the occupation - June 5th - passed without more than a whisper. It was not a round number - and the occupation is after all a banal topic, so often rehashed that there is little new to say about it. Fortunately, early June is also the time of the Hebrew Book Week, and in honor of the Book Week some newspapers took the trouble of interviewing Hebrew writers. David Grossman was able to take advantage of having the floor to squeeze in a few words about "The huge elephant which is standing for 46 years already in the middle of our room. Israelis find all kinds of ways to manage their lives around this animal. "

Professor Ze'ev Tzahor of Ben-Gurion University found an opportunity to tell personal memories and show that still we do not know all of what happened then, 46 years ago, and how critical decisions were being taken.

"On the third day the Six Day War, I was part of the Fifth Brigade as it crossed the Green Line. We went in Nablus, but the city entrance was blocked by skeletons of Israeli tanks which were burned accidentally by friendly fire. We turned back and established a temporary camp at the Anabata Junction. A soldier who was a teacher in civilian life excitedly told us that Anabata was the same as the famed Anathoth from the Bible . The response to this revelation was immediate: an urgent command conference was called up in the command tent at whose entrance was placed a sign reading “Anathoth”.  Major Ra’anan Lurie, a well known cartoonist and graphic artist, was appointed governor of Anabta and got the order to immediately expel the residents and destroy their homes. Lurie refused, but there was no problem in finding a volunteer who enthusiastically agreed to carry out the order.

A long caravan of refugees was winding its way down from the destroyed town to the junction -  first cars, then horse-drawn wagons, and followed by a long line of pedestrians. Last walked a man carrying his crippled mother on his back. And  as they passed near us, they crossed with another caravan of refugees from Qalqilya, which was also being destroyed at that time.

We watched in shock the refugee caravans. Even those of us who felt the destruction had been justified admitted that it was a harsh thing, and took part in handing army food rations to the passing refugees. Suddenly came the news that "Temple Mount is in our hands." The chain soldiers passing rations to refugees disintegrated, some bursting out gleefully dancing while others decided to use the battalion’s cars to help old and sick refugees go to the nearby village of Ramin, out of sight of the destroyed Anabta.

The real heroes of those event are those who decided to tell. Dan Frank of Kibbutz Gan Shmuel contacted Meir Yaari, leader of the Mapam Party. A brave officer who was later dubbed "traitor" used an IDF communications set to get word to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. We don’t know exactly what happened then, but the next day we were called for a new  command conference and this time the order was to immediately rebuild the destroyed houses. We did not see the trek of the refugees back home, by then we were on our way to the Wailing Wall. "

So far the words of Ze'ev Tzahor in his article "On the ruins of Anabta" published in Yedioth Ahronoth last Tuesday (June 4). Indeed, the residents of Anabta were lucky that this unknown traitor with his radio was there to help them. Had several days or several weeks been allowed to pass, the expulsions and the destruction of their town would have become an “accomplished fact”, and its perpetuation a matter of national security and national honor, and not much later an Israeli settlement would have been set up on the site. By now, it would have been talked of as “irreversible”. As happened in many other places. As happened at exactly that time in the three villages of the Latrun Panhandle, Emmaus, Yalu and Beit - Nuba,  and at the Mughrabi Neighborhood in the Old City of Jerusalem, and at several villages in the Jordan Valley (where, nowadays, the authorities continue their effort to destroy what they missed 46 years ago…).

This is what happened then, when the occupation began.  What happened in those territories this week? Nothing dramatic, just  arrests and nightly detentions like always. On the precise night of the occupation’s 46th birthday - very late at night, or maybe very early in the morning - soldiers entered Ramallah and reached the house of Abdul-Jabbar Al-Foqaha, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who had already been incarcerated last year, and took him off to another term of detention whose length no one knows except perhaps some interrogators of the Israeli Security Service. In the Palestinian Territories, Israel does not recognize Parliamentary immunity.

And at Arub Refugee Camp, the soldiers came to arrest Mohammad Hasan ‘Aadi, 21 year old, for whom too this was not the first detention. And in the Al-Fawwar  refugee a whole military detachment arrived on jeeps to arrest one 14-year-old boy named Mohammad Yousef Jawabra, who was cuffed and blindfolded and taken away. And at the village of Um Slamouna south of Bethlehem the 19 year old Ali Ahmad Taqatqa was detained and the Taqatqa Family’s home was damaged during the soldiers’ very intensive search. The  list of detainees which can be found on the Palestinian news websites goes on and on, but how many Israelis would take the trouble to enter and read it?

There was a time when the IDF used to publish every morning  the number of the passing night’s detainees. Only the number, not their names or any other information. This number of the night’s detained Palestinians was usually on the first news broadcast of the morning, heard by early risers who turn on the radio the moment they jump off their beds. But it is a long time already that  the IDF has ceased to publish these statistics. It is already a long that the citizens of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, no longer know anything about it. They really do not know that Palestinians under Israeli occupation, like people who live under any other dictatorship, live in constant apprehension of the knock at the door in the wee hours of the night.

The sun rose that morning, and the new detainees who were taken from their homes and their beds have already reached the Security Service interrogation centers where senior interrogators were deliberating which of them would merit a stint of a special treat under “moderate physical pressure”. It was at that time that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mounted the Knesset podium. He had been called there to answer the firm demand of opposition Members, who wanted to know what the government's position was regarding the long standing Peace Initiative of the Arab League, also known as the "Saudi initiative". According to that initiative, all Arab countries would sign peace treaties with Israel on condition that Israel end its occupation of all  territories which have been occupied by its armed forces in the past 46 years.

When the Arab countries put this proposal on the table for the first time, at the Beirut Summit of 2002, the occupation was just  35 years old. Since then,  the Arab Peace Initiative was annually reconfirmed by the Arab League, year after year, and is still on the agenda though no Israeli government ever bothered to give it serious attention. Even at the special Knesset debate convened for this specific purpose, Netanyahu said nothing clear about the Arab Peace Initiative and whether he is willing to see in it a basis for negotiations. Nor did he say if he would stop construction in the settlements and the establishing of facts on the ground at the same time when the future of this ground was being negotiated on. And also said nothing about  whether or not his government was ready to release some hundred prisoners, many of them elderly and infirm, who are held since before the Oslo Agreement was signed in 1993 (which included an Israeli commitment to release these same prisoners).

So what did Netanyahu say in the special debate held at the request of the Knesset opposition? Well, he again called upon the Palestinians to return to negotiations and to trust to it that  at the negotiating table they would discover an Israel completely different from one which knocks on their doors in the wee hours of the night. And cheerfully the Prime Minister quoted the words of a well-known song which had once been the unofficial anthem of the protest movement against the Vietnam War: Give Peace a Chance!

Was this what John Lennon meant?

Soon, maybe even next week, John Kerry, Secretary of State of the United States, is due to come here again. He had just warned Israel’ rather sternly, that the status quo is unsustainable. He will probably go to the Netanyahu with a series of questions similar to those posed by the Knesset opposition. What would John Kerry do when the Prime Minister of Israel answers him by quoting Beatles’ songs? Would he just wring his hands and return to Washington in disgrace? Would he just assign blame for the failure, and on whom?

Should Netanyahu continue and increase settlement construction, and Kerry's efforts finally fail, the Palestinians may take up their last remaining diplomatic recourse  and turn to the International Court of Justice. And as published in press headlines this week, European Union leaders warned Netanyahu that their patience is running low and that they may support the Palestinians in the  Hague. All of which is indeed a cause of concern to decision makers in our country’s government,  but … let’s cross the bridge when we get to it.

Meanwhile, yesterday morning the Gay Pride Parade was held in Tel Aviv – bigger and more colorful than ever, with a record number of commercial companies to sponsor it. The Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade had come a long long way from its humble beginnings as very bold and daring act of a few hundred radical daring hostile streets at the time when homosexual relations were an act punishable under Israeli law. Nowadays, the Pride Parade is warmly embraced by the municipal and governmental establishment. It is an essential component of the worldwide hasbara PR campain, praising in ten languages the liberal and gay-friendly Tel Aviv.

Already many days before the big event, the streets of Tel Aviv were full of six-coloured Rainbow Flags. In every corner were piles posters and brochures in English and Hebrew meant for the expected flood of gay visitors and tourists. "One hour of chill on the one and only Gay Cruise. Sail off from the ancient port of Jaffa into the sparkling blue water of the Mediterranean. And the next morning, a day's tour of Jerusalem. Don’t miss the opportunity to see Wailing Wall, the Arab market and the Wonderful, Magical City of David. "

The Wonderful, Magical City of David? Wait, have the organizers of this tour, tailor made for the international gay community, forgotten that the important archaeological site known as “The City of David" has already long since been passed over to the exclusive management of an association of National-Religious settlers known as Elad. These people definitely take the Bible very seriously and very literally. Especially, the part about God's promising the Promised Land to His Chosen People, which the Elad people see as licence and commandment to throw Palestinian out of homes in Silwan where King David supposedly had his palace 3000 years ago. But, they also seem to take very seriously and literally what God had to say about the mortal sin known as “Sodomy”…”

Well, one can only hope that the Elad settlers in control of The Wonderful, Magical City of David would not spoil the major  campaign planned by the government’s leading PR talents.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The respectable president and the never ending occupation

In the first decades of statehood, Abba Eban was Israel’s outstanding  diplomat. No one could match the excellent Oxford English of his speeches in the UN General Assembly. He was well able to explain Israeli government policies and find convincing excuses for the acts of IDF soldiers in the field - even when privately he had some reservations.

In the critical period after the war which exactly 46 years ago created Israeli occupation rule over millions of Palestinians,  the press dubbed Eban “A Dove of Gleaming White Plumage”. Still, the early anti-occupation protesters could not really find in him a reliable ally inside the political establishment. At that time already the foundations were laid for the settlement enterprise, and Foreign Minister Abba Eban did his best to present also these government policies to the world.

In addition to his political career Abba Eban was a brilliant academic, whose intellectual legacy includes several books and a lot of academic articles in various fields. But today Abba Eban seems only remembered for one short statement which is quoted again and again: "The 1967 borders are Auschwitz borders". A somewhat odd way of putting things. Were Israel’s citizens really living in Auschwitz during all the years between 1948 and 1967? (Weird, I actually have quite good childhood memories from these years.)

Again this week we got a reminder of the Auschwitz comparison. This time the familiar remark came from Tourism Minister Uzi Landau: “It was the dove Abba Eban who said that these are Auschwitz borders” he said, as did many right wingers before him. Landau needed this reference in order to attack President Shimon Peres. Peres had once been known as a staunch Hawk and  an opponent  of Abba Eban, but that was a long time ago. Over the years, Peres took Eban’s place as an Israeli statesman having a worldwide reputation and appreciation and who does all he can to present abroad a moderate and sane  Israeli image – whatever the government policy.

Uzi Landau broke out in surprise and outrage after reading newspaper headlines telling that President Peres intended to express support for the 1967 borders in his speech at the World Economic Forum in Jordan. In fact, in the speech actually delivered the President made no direct reference to borders – though he did praise the peace initiative of the Arab League, which is based on the 1967 borders, calling it “a strategic opportunity for approaching peace”.

 As published in the media, President Peres had conferred with Prime Minister Netanyahu and gave him an advance notice on the content of his speech. Does this mean that Netanyahu also thinks the Arab Peace Initiative constitutes a strategic opportunity for approaching peace? Not necessarily. And how much is Peres’ statement worth without Netanyahu’s  backing? Not so much. But meanwhile, thanks to having such a well-known and highly respected President, the State of Israel managed to present once again a smiling, moderate, peace-seeking face to the world at large.

President Shimon Peres had not been at Al-Baq’a village, east of Hebron, where the State of Israel showed a different face. A few days before the President made his speech at the World Economic Forum, Israel’s soldiers had arrived at this village – specifically, at the lands of Ata’ Jaber. The soldiers brought bulldozers with them and proceeded to thoroughly uproot tomatoes, beans and squash planted in an area of ​​about four dunums, as well as destroying the irrigation systems.

Why exactly did they do it? Well, it is likely that the soldiers were carrying a valid military order which duly gave them legal authorization for their work of  destruction, based on one of the numerous decrees issued by the military government throughout the past forty-six years. But the incident was far below the radar of the Israeli media and only those who care to look into the Palestinian news sites ever heard of it, so the military authorities did not bother to publish their version or give any justification.

Is there any connection between this military raid and the fact that five hundred meters away from this village lies a settlement called Givat Harsina? And does it have anything to do with the fact that residents of this settlement have long been making great efforts to expand and increase the area under their control and have several times raided their Palestinian neighbors and damaged these neighbors’ crops and irrigation systems? Well, it seems that there is no proof of such a connection, at least not a proof which could stand up in court.

Nor was President Peres present at the town of Tubas. But the State of Israel, whose Head of State Peres is, did have a notable and highly visible presence in this town. No less than twenty-five army jeeps entered Tubas on a very early  morning hour. Tubas in Area A, given under the Oslo Agreements to a complete control of the Palestinian Authority, and the IDF is not supposed to enter such places. However, more than ten years ago the State of Israel had unilaterally abrogated this section of Oslo.

Where did the twenty-five jeeps which entered Tubas go? All of them to the same place, to the home of the Khudiri Family. Twenty soldiers entered the house while another hundred stayed to keep watch at the street corner outside. Family members - father, mother and their three grown up and two young children and several other relatives - were roused from their beds and locked  in a single small room, to keep them  out of the way while the soldiers did a very thorough search throughout the house. What were the soldiers looking for? They looked for computers. Each and every computer found in the house was packed and taken away in the waiting jeeps.

What did Israel’s armed forces and security services find so disturbing about  the computers in this house? Well, a member of the family, the 24-year old Sireen Khudiri, had studied Computer Science at the Open University in Tubas and while studying she also opened a Facebook page. She is now held at the Jalame Prison near Haifa and is forbidden to meet with a lawyer. No charges were filed against her, but the army did tell the media that the Facebook page maintained by Sireen constituted "a threat to security." This seems to be the  first known case in which anybody is accused of having endangered security via Facebook.

Danger to security because of Facebook? Well, in the past three years Sireen Khudiri  had been active in solidarity action with the Palestinians of the Jordan Valley. On her Facebook page she carefully documented and exposed the repeated harassments of the Jordan Valley Palestinians by military forces. Each and every case of the destruction of miserable huts in tiny villages and hamlets, the confiscation of agricultural equipment and cattle, and in general the making of  life in these small communities into hell. Events in various remote and godforsaken areas of the Jordan Valley were documented in detail on the Facebook page maintained by Sireen Khudiri, and photos added, and this material spread around the world at lightning speed through the social network created by Mark Zuckerberg. It seems somebody disliked all this very much.
Is this security threat emanating from a Facebook page in any way related to the basic concept of National Security formulated by Israeli decision-makers already in 1967? Under this strategic concept, the State of Israel should maintain long-term military control over the Jordan Valley under whatever military and diplomatic conditions might develop. Shimon Peres, President of Israel who is a former Prime Minister and Defense Minister, probably knows quite a bit about this strategic concept and perhaps also about acts undertaken on the ground in order to further it. But Peres is not very outspoken about it, certainly not at the World Economic Forum.

President Peres will certainly be present at the event due in Jerusalem within a few days, known as The Israeli Presidential Conference. This is a special annual event for whose success the President is working very hard. As noted in the official communiquי, this year’s conference will be attended by some 5000 people from around the world, among them “dozens of speakers who  represent the best minds from across the globe” including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former Soviet President Gorbachev, former British PM Tony Blair, Prince Albert of Monaco, actress Barbra Streisand and many others.

There can be little doubt that this event will add to the international prestige of the State of Israel, which will get to host all these international VIPs, and also to the prestige of the President of Israel who by a lot of hard work convinced them all to come here, to a conference to be held just as Israel is entering upon its 46th year of occupation in the Palestinian Territories. (No, this date was not mentioned in the invitations to the conference…)

Also the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking was supposed to be among these glittering VIPs. Initially he accepted Peres’ invitation. Then he changed his mind and canceled his participation, especially after talking to Palestinian acquaintances.  And so started the wave of outraged statements and articles, accusing Hawking of hypocrisy and even of racism (sic). But can all these  detractors seriously assert that the Israel of 2013 is truly worthy of the international show of public support which Stephen Hawking could have provided?

Indeed, next week will mark 46 years of occupation. Precisely forty six years will have elapsed since the morning of June 5, 1967, when air raid alarms sounded all over the country and on the news the IDF Spokesperson was quoted as stating that forces on the ground and by air had set out to repel an attack by enemy forces against Israel (which was not exactly a precise factual description...). Since then, millions of Palestinians have been living under military occupation, which has been going on for about seventy percent of Israel's history and counting.

Once in 1967, just a few weeks after that war, daring young people ventured out at night into the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, to fill the walls with graffiti protesting the occupation which had just begun. Probably they did not imagine that this struggle would continue for forty-six years, and more. But  tonight, the night of June 1, 2013, some of those same youngsters will come out to demonstrate against the occupation, though their hair might have already turned  gray or white and grandchildren might march at their side. At 7:00 PM  demonstrators will gather at the park near the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv and set out marching to the ruling party’s headquarters on King George Street. Also this year, we will reiterate the calls to end the occupation, evacuate the settlements, make peace between Israel and Palestine and set up two capitals in Jerusalem. And in addition, a sharp warning and alarm will be made tonight and the alarm sounded about the winds of war which had blown ever stronger in recent weeks. "Who needs war keeps it simmering".

Nathan Blanc will not participate in this demonstration. He is still held at Military Prison Six in Atlit, where he already spent half a year behind bars for the crime of refusing to join the army of occupation. But next week he is probably going to be released from both prison and the army. The campaign of  solidarity for Nathan Blanc had grown stronger, no longer limited to the social networks, reaching the pages of "Haaretz” and international media – with petitions of public figures and demonstrations on the streets of Tel Aviv and at the mountain opposite the prison.  This seems to have increasingly troubled the generals. Finally they resolved to get rid of the annoying nuisance by the convenient means  available to them. The military Incompatibility Committee ruled the person Nathan Blanc is incompatible with service in the IDF.  What's right is right.

And so, we can end this week with a small heart-warming victory.