Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Succot in Sderot and Hebron and a temporary reversed destruction

Yesterday morning there was an unusual event in the town of Sderot on the Gaza Strip border . Fifteen activists of Masad, the Social Democratic Coalition, celebrated the holiday of Sukkot. They set up in the town  center a Peace Tabernacle with the declared goal of "Expressing  support for the Peace Talks, as only peace can bring an end to bloodshed”.  And they also came to express support for the factory workers of Sderot ‘s "Negev Textiles ", who stand to lose their jobs .

Workers of the threatened factory arrived, headed by the Arab woman engineer Rodina Milsah who became the leader of their struggle, and held aloft the placard: "Give grants to factories, not  to settlers”. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who boasts of the huge budgets he procured for settlements in the Occupied Territories and for Yeshiva seminaries, refuses to transfer the comparatively minute grant of three million shekels required to save the plant.

Still, a public action to Support the Peace Talks is far from a simple thing to undertake in Israeli society as of now (or for that matter, in the Palestinian society today) . Only a very optimistic and tireless person would undertake it, such as the veteran activist Naftali Raz, the driving force of Masad, who always reiterates the words of the Song of Peace from the 1970’s: " Do not say 'A day will come’ – bring the day!" .

Meanwhile, the ongoing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians do not get much media coverage , and what occasionally leaks out does not exactly arouse a thrill. The talks are conducted quietly and deliberately kept low profile, while the center stage is taken by events that do not really conduct to the spirit of peace.

In the weeks since Secretary of State Kerry managed to let negotiations resume, there are often heard bitter voices on the Palestinian side. " What peace talks are these, when at the same time the Israelis go on building and expanding settlements, when every night their soldiers raid towns and villages and refugee camps, arrest people, shoot and injure and kill?" These kind of voices were heard also this week from Palestinians, but on the Israeli side there were heard parallel bitter voices : "What peace talks are these when they go and kill two of our soldiers?". Within forty-eight hours two Israeli soldiers killed. The Israeli media tended to lump the two cases together, but in fact they were quite different from each other .

Sergeant Tomer Chazan died very far from his place of service and his military capacity. When working as a dishwasher in a restaurant while on leave, a Palestinian fellow worker lured him to come to a Palestinian village in the West Bank and there killed him. A despicable act by any standard, which seems almost deliberately designed to spoil whatever good collegial relations between Israelis and Palestinians there are.

Sergeant Gal ( Gabriel ) Kobi was killed in the line of his duty in the army of occupation. He was sent by his superiors to guard the enclave of Israeli settlers in Hebron, an especially heavy task during Sukkot . On that occasion the settlers every year invite hordes of supporters from across the country, to take part in the aggressive dancing intended to show that Hebron belongs to the Jews and to them only. Sergeant Kobi was conscripted two years ago and had a high motivation for service in the Israel Defense Forces. A few day before he was killed by a sniper shot  he wrote on his Facebook page: " Once again I find myself at night in the villages of the Arabs. What will be the end?"

"Is this a new wave? Is this going to be the new Palestinian modus operandi?" wondered the media commentators. "There is no indication of any coordinated planning. This is a tragic coincidence" stated Chief of Staff Ganz. Did he manage to reassure all the soldiers’ parents? For his part, Netanyahu promised to hasten the transfer of another house in Hebron to the settlers, and generally stated that "With one hand we are fighting terrorism and with the other  we strengthen the settlement of our land."  Negotiations with the Palestinians are apparently dealt with by the Prime Minister’s feet.

Is there a connection between the fact that some Palestinians kill Israeli soldiers and the fact that Israeli soldiers sometimes destroy Palestinian villages? It is likely that the average Israeli, if asked such a question, will  outright and angrily reject any such connection. Indeed, there does not seem any reason to assume a direct causal connection between the killing of two soldiers within 48 hours at the beginning of this week and the destruction of the village of Khirbet Makhoul at the beginning of the previous week. Apart from the fact that it is all connected with the same occupation.

Even very few activists had heard of this village until last week; there was even a  debate about how its name should be spelled. A small place, home to about one hundred and twenty adults and children, living the poor life of shepherds . Like with other villages in the Jordan Valley, the occupation authorities consider Khirbet Makhoul an annoyance to be gotten rid of – especially when negotiations are taking place in which Israel demands to hold on to the Jordan Valley.   Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court issued an unenlightened ruling which did not get much attention, approving the demolition of the village. Within a few days,  soldiers and bulldozers arrived and wiped it off the face of the earth.

It was Gideon Levy, who specializes in casting light on dark places, who arrived on the scene first and met the people who were left homeless and destitute. Levy wrote an extensive report for the Sukkot holiday issue of "Haaretz." The Red Cross arrived and gave tents - but the army returned two days later and confiscated the tents, too. No big news.

Then occurred the incident which made headlines - diplomats from the European Union and France , the UK , Ireland , Spain and Australia all got directly involved, more directly than was the habit  on similar cases in the past. They went to Khirbet Makhoul with a new shipment of tents and emergency supplies, and the troops received them with volleys of concussion  grenades  - which is the long-established army reaction to foreign busybodies from Human Rights organizations . The tents were confiscated by the soldiers, and Reuters flashed worldwide the image of Marion Castaing, Cultural Attaché at the French consulate in East Jerusalem, lying on the ground with a soldier pointing his gun at her.

Probably the soldiers did not know that this was an official representative of the government of France and that they were violating the Vienna Convention which requires states to respect the diplomatic immunity of foreign representatives. The French government filed a protest, as did the European Union. Israeli government officials were far from ready to apologize, but rather threatened to expel Castaing: "The role of diplomats is to build bridges and not to make provocations." However, the French Consulate in East Jerusalem is not accredited to Israel, and serves essentially as the de-facto French Embassy to the future State of Palestine. It could be said that Ms. Castaing did fulfill quite effectively the role of building bridges with the Palestinians.

This morning there was going to be a major show of solidarity by Israeli peace activists, a convoy of buses going to Khirbet Makhoul by the same route where the diplomats were blocked. Ilana Hammerman published in "Haaretz” an  article about this, under the title "There are laws which must be broken".  But yesterday afternoon the news came that Adv. Tawfiq Jabbarin got the same Supreme Court now to issue a temporary injunction, for the time being forbidding the military from destroying houses or expelling inhabitants. The sword was removed from the throat - at least until pending further judicial proceedings.