Friday, May 30, 2014

The Pope at the Wall and Tchernichovsky’s Dream

It was a tough week for the European Union. In the elections to its parliament, a phenomenal growth in the strength of the racist and xenophobic parties, which dream of turning back the clock of unity; closing down the open borders; pushing Europe to dark days which we thought were safely left behind. The most pan-European of bodies, whose members are directly elected by the citizens of all European countries, turned into a springboard for its foes.

Some of them hate Muslims and some hate Gypsies and some hate Blacks and some hate Jews and some do not really like Jews but do admire Israel, especially when Israel hits out at Arabs and Muslims, and some of them just  hate on general principle anyone who is strange and different. It is not sure that when they all sit in the European Parliament they could or would agree on whom to hate.

Though in several countries - particularly in France –xenophobic parties made remarkable and frightening strides, at least, in none of the countries is such a party taking part in government. In the State of Israel we have them in government. On some occasions it seems that they are the government.

This was also the week when we had a prominent visitor from Europe, Pope Francis who is in fact originally Argentine. Not just a Pope, but one who managed to arouse quite a lot of sympathy and hope even among those who are not Christians, and to restore the reputation of the Catholic Church which had been at a low ebb. It was clear from the outset that each step which the Pope would take around here, among the Palestinians as among the Israelis, would be examined in minute detail, and that every word he utters would be endowed with a symbolic - and political - meaning.

"The long conflict had caused many wounds which are difficult to heal. The  time has come to put an end to this situation, which is becoming ever more unacceptable. Everybody concerned must exhibit courage, generosity and creativity, in order to promote the common good. Courage is needed for a peace based on the recognition of the right of two states to exist and to enjoy the peace and security in internationally recognized borders. Hopefully, all parties shall refrain from actions that are contrary to the stated desire to reach a real agreement."

It can be assumed that the speech broadcast from Bethlehem was not really palatable to Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, and that he did not like the reference to "the good relationship between the Holy See and the State of Palestine". But what really set him off was the moment when the Papal cavalcade made an “unscheduled” halt at the Separation Wall erected by the State of Israel deep in Palestinian territory, and when the Pope descended and touched the ugly concrete right next to where the "Free Palestine " graffiti had been scrawled and made there a short silent prayer. From what I hear from the US, there had been some effort to dissuade the American media from publishing the photo of this moment, and to place instead the more predictable one of the Pope at the stones of the Wailing Wall. To no avail: the New York Times published both of them, side by side...

Nominally, there was a total draw. Israel got from the Pope a counter-balancing gesture for any move he made towards the Palestinians - including the first-ever laying a of a Papal wreath on the grave of the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl. A century ago, when the living Herzl visited the Vatican, he got a far from friendly reception from an earlier Pope. Still, the veteran commentator Eitan Haber, once an advisor to PM Rabin, concluded that the Palestinians had won this round of the PR war.

And there was also the bunch of extreme rightists in Jerusalem who waved the signs "Unholy Pope, don’t you dare set foot on the soil of our country!" and fought the police who prevented them from getting close to the visitor’s cavalcade.  What particularly infuriated them was the Pope’s prayer at the room where according to Christian tradition the Last Supper had taken place, and which is located in the building which Judaism as well as Christianity (and Islam, too…) identify as the Tomb of King David.

"Hands off Our Land of Israel! Hands off Our David's Tomb! This is idolatry, anyone who had the misfortune to be near the Pope must immediately have a ritual bath to be cleansed of this contamination. This is a representative of the religion which had been slaughtering us for 2014 years already. We don’t  forget nor forgive the Inquisition and the Crusades, how they slaughtered our grandfathers and grandmothers" exclaimed Rabbi Baruch Efrati.

Indeed, the Christian religion - the Catholic Church in particular – has more than a few black pages in its history. But over the past sixty years the Church has made a considerable effort to make amends and change direction, and quite a bit more of that took place in the one year since Pope Francis took office. During those same sixty years, the Rabbis and religious leaders representing Judaism in Israel seem to have made a concerted effort in the diametrically  opposite direction, and conjured the darkest days in the history of Judaism.

A little more than a century ago the poet Shaul Tchernichovsky - himself a secularist – expressed a longing for the "The Wondrous God of the Desert, the Lord of the Conquerors who took Canaan by the Storm", a God who had been “made captive and tied down with strips of phylacteries".  Decades later, rabbis and religious leaders in Israel realized Tchernichovsky’s dream turning it into a veritable nightmare.

The Lord of the Conquerors of Canaan was duly released of all constraints and hindrances, set free to rampage as he did three thousand years ago. After very many generations of a literary and scholarly religion, whose sages spent lifetimes pondering Scriptures painstakingly piling exegesis upon exegesis, a very different kind of religion was excavated from deepest layers. The forgotten religion of the wild ancient tribes of the desert, who took up the sword and invaded the settled land and took it by storm and carried out a mass slaughter of its inhabitants. This religion is now being offered with all seriousness as an exemplary way of life for the citizens of a modern industrialized country, which maintains the most powerful army in the Middle East and has at its disposal fleets of tanks and artillery pieces and fighter jets as well as submarines sailing constantly under water with nuclear-headed missiles ensuring Israel’s second- strike capability.

The holiest day of this old-new religion is not inscribed in any traditional Scripture of the Jewish religion. It is "Jerusalem Day", celebrated every year to mark “The Liberation of Jerusalem". This year it fell just one day after Pope Francis boarded his plane back to Rome - with the due farewell ceremony at the  Airport. The main rite of Jerusalem Day is The Dance of the Flags. Commemorating the day in 1967 when soldiers stormed into the Old City of Jerusalem.  Thousands and tens of thousands of excited young people strove to recreate that tumultuous day. Equipped with Blue-and-White flags and accompanied by hundreds of armed police, they stormed into the alleys of the Old City, ceaselessly chanting: "Muhammad is dead, Mohammed is dead! God damn the Arabs! Destroy the mosques! Build the Temple! Death to the Arabs! Death to the Arabs! Death to the Arabs! "

The police ordered all Arab shopkeepers on the route of the march to close and lock their shop ahead of the arrival of the dances and their flags, and in general advised all Arab residents to stay indoors until the storm passes. But this year there were quite a few young Palestinians who ignored the police’s generous advice. Rather, they stood at the entrance to the Damascus Gate, the focus of Palestinian daily life in the Old City, and raised their own flags,  Black-White-Green-and-Red,  in the face of the Blue-and-White dancers. Whereupon the police immediately rushed and dragged  them (the Palestinians, of course) into custody on charges of disturbing public order. There were also numerous riots and clashes at the most sensitive spot in Jerusalem – the Mosque Compound which is the third holiest site for a billion Muslims around the world, the mosques which the Flag Dancers dream of destroying and razing - to make room for reconstruction of the Temple which was destroyed by the Roman legions in 70 AD.

Israel’s State TV reported on “A day of celebration in Jerusalem" and interviewed an enthusiastic young woman twirling a flag and saying "Peace will come only when Jerusalem is ours, Jewish and Jewish only, Forever!".  She was followed by footage from the speech of Prime Minister Netanyahu who said more or less the same. The reporter noted briefly that "Festivities of Jerusalem Day were marred by several violent incidents" (which viewers at home did not get to see). But… all this was not new, and  for many Israelis, the real important evening news came from the Tel Aviv fairgrounds, where artist Justin Timberlake performed to a large and very excited audience.

Kalman Libeskind, one of the most prominent columnist of the Israeli Right-Wing, wrote this week: "We celebrate the Liberation of Jerusalem. Who is "we”?  A good question . Broadly, one can say Jerusalem Day remains a day of celebration for Religious Zionists and for them only. Those who wear the knitted skullcap go the synagogue with white shirts and make solemn prayers, praise the Creator and send tens of thousands of their children to the traditional Dance of the Flags. For the secular part of the public, and certainly for the Israeli Left, this day hardly exists in the calendar."

The industrious Libeskind went to the press archive and checked the newspapers of June 1967, and found that at that time the nationalist euphoria caught up virtually everybody. Even "Ha’aretz" published an editorial full of nationalistic and even messianic rhetoric about “The Liberation of the Old City, which will be our forever". So what has happened since?

"Maybe the Occupation does have a part in this process" admits Libeskind. "At first they told us that they love the country as much as anyone else. 'Do not preach to us and tell us what Love of the Homeland is’ they cried out. ‘The fact that we are ready to divide Jerusalem and in exchange for peace give away Hebron, the City of the Patriarchs, in no way detracts from our love for and attachment to these places, from our commitment to Jewish history. Which was true. Then. Maybe. But in order to disengage even more from the extremists who talked about the Land of Israel in terms of love and holiness, the Peace Camp went through a complex mental process of disengagement , desiring to push themselves as far away as possible. When Geula Cohen spoke lovingly of Hebron, they developed a loathing for the place. When the Nationalist Camp linked themselves to Jerusalem and danced with national flags at the Wailing Wall and aspired to ascent to Temple Mount , they barricaded themselves in Tel Aviv and pushed away the national flag in order to reject any similarity to these Fascists."

Broadly, I have no quarrel with Libeskind’s analysis.

This week we were also visited by the American Jewish writer Ayelet Waldman, who bears an Israeli Hebrew first name and who once tried to live in Israel and left after a short time. In an extensive interview to Haaretz, she talked among other things of her fears of an outbreak of Antisemitism in America. Which of course prompted the interviewer to ask: “So, maybe one day you will want to escape to Israel?". Waldman's response: "If in the meantime you don’t destroy everything here, if something is still left after Netanyahu and all his friends are done."

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Worms in the shower

On the same day that the Pope made an impassioned call for an end to the occupation and for peace between the existing State of Israel and the to-be-created State of Palestine, Uriel Ferera returned to Military Prison Six, after a few days of freedom spent with his family in Be'er Sheva. From the experience of many previous refusers, it will likely take a lot of time and struggle, many terms of incarceration followed by a few days off and a new detention period, before the military authorities become convinced that Uriel Ferrara is really and truly unwilling to be a soldier in an army of occupation. (Omar Saad had already undergone this procedure seven times, and the army is not yet ready to let go...)

In his room (sign reads: "Down with the Occupation")

Here's what Uriel Ferrara wrote and distributed through Facebook:

My name is Uriel Ferera, on April 27, 2014 I was sent to 20 days’ detention in Military Jail 6, because I refused to serve in and be part of an occupying army, an army whose acts are anti-democratic, violating human and civil rights. I was released on Friday, May 16. When I got home I felt a huge change, the difference between being imprisoned and being free. At last I could express    all the sadness that I had been bottling up in confinement. Sadness for being locked up - not locked up because I'm a murderer, rapist or any kind of  criminal, but rather locked up because I opposed all the anti-democratic acts of the army in the Territories and did not want to be a part of this activity.

They tried to break me, putting me for a day and a half in the Isloation Ward. Then I was moved to a ward which houses prisoners incarcerated for criminal acts or for long-lasting desertion from service. All I had asked for was to an alternative civil service instead of military service, even for three years, but the army did not care. They imprisoned me for my views, because I oppose all the injustice they are doing to the Palestinians.

When I was placed in a cell with other prisoners I got on with them quite well. I found that most of them had deserted because of economic problems. I spent the time reading and studying the Torah   (Jewish Scriptures), and together with two fellow prisoners I solved Suduku and crossword puzzles. Most inmates have had no matriculation and do not read books, so their boredom is unbearable. I got to teach mathematics to one prisoner, and many have asked me questions about Judaism and Torah and wanted to strengthen their religious knowledge.

I was in cell No. 4, there were ten prisoners, double-decker metal bunk beds with springs, the cell has a surveillance camera. The floor in Cell 4 is broken and therefore, when it is washed with water, lots of water remain below the floor and it causes decay, and we have to smell all this rot . There were also worms in the shower.

Most inmates smoke a lot, so the prison officials know that this is their weak spot. If someone displeases them, they forbid him to go to the canteen and buy cigarettes. They knew that I don’t smoke and therefore they denied me phone calls, at first for eight days and then extended by three more days . In short,  they hit each of us where it hurt most.

When phone call was allowed at all it was limited to four minutes. I did get time to pray,  three prayers every day. In the last week they did not give me the letters which my mother and a lot of other people sent via fax. They asserted that the letters contained forbidden Information which must not be allowed into the cells. They also denied me the right to talk to my lawyer, which is very serious .

Soon I need to report to the Induction Center from where I will go off to my second incarceration. I thank you all for the support, for all the letters you sent me, even if the prison did not pass them on to me.

Release Omar Sa’ad and all conscientious objectors and all political prisoners!
End the occupation, Free Palestine! 

Goodbye en route to second term

It is not sure that letters of support and messages will actually get to Uriel Ferera. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to send them, if only to make clear to the military authorities that he is not alone. 

Could be sent by fax to +972-(0)4-9540580
or by plain old-fashioned mail to:

Uriel Ferera
Military ID 8004295
Military Prison 6
Military Postal Code 01860


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Empty-handed in the battlefield (2)

Eleven years ago, on March 16, 2013 , a young American woman named Rachel Corrie was killed in Rafah, at the southern Gaza Strip, when she tried to block with her body an Israeli army bulldozer engaged in the demolition of Palestinian homes. The bulldozer’s activity was part of the army's policy at the time, to maintain a corridor called "The Philadelphi Route" separating the Palestinians in Gaza from Egypt – and to extend it continuously by the systematic destruction of Palestinian homes. This policy ultimately failed and the IDF came out of there two and a half year later. That was far too late for Rachel Corrie as for many others who were killed there.

Rachel Corrie's name is not forgotten. The play "My Name is Rachel Corrie" was shown in London and then in New York and other parts in the U.S., was widely publicized and became the focus of a hot controversy. It is a one-actress play, the text of which is wholly based on what Rachel Corrie wrote in her personal diaries and in the emails which she sent to her family from Rafah. Last night the play was presented in Hebrew, at the Jewish-Arab Theatre in Jaffa - an impressive performances by Sivan Krechner. It evokes the character of a vibrant, idealistic and generous young woman, a person which I would have very much liked to know regardless of politics.

Rachel Corrie's parents, Craig and Cindy, had filed a civil suit against the State of Israel - the only channel by which they could demand justice for their  daughter and require senior IDF officers who were involved in the Rafah policy to appear in court. Two years ago the Haifa District Court rejected their suit, ruling that Rachel Corrie herself was responsible for her death and that the military authorities bear no responsibility.

Tomorrow morning , Wednesday May 21, at 11:30 am, the Supreme Court in Jerusalem will hear the family’s appeal.

After the Haifa District Court announced its decision, I published in this blog a non-judicial refutation of the judge's conclusions.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Tea and Antipathy

The Japanese tea ceremony is an important characteristic of traditional Japanese culture - the ceremony of preparing the tea, presenting it to the guests and drinking. It is an aesthetic and precise ritual, in which every movement is carefully calculated. One of the founders of this unique Japanese art was the Sixteenth Century monk and poet Sen no Rikyū, who included in the ritual elements a bit subversive of the feudal society of his time. For example, at the entrance to the tea room guests were required to wash away the dust from their hands at a water basin which was located low and close to the ground. Thus the ceremonial rules forced the most powerful and influential people in the Japan of those days to bend down, reminding them that they were equal to other guests. Eventually Sen no Rikyū aroused the ire of Japan’s ruler who ordered him to commit suicide – which command the monk obeyed, after inviting all his friends to one last tea ceremony.

During his visit to Japan last week, Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah were invited to participate in a traditional Tea Ceremony conducted by a Grand Master of this art , heir to the centuries-old tradition. The Israeli TV reporter accompanying the Prime Ministerial couple remarked that despite the ritual being designed to stimulate spiritual uplift and disperse  negative energies, Netanyahu 's face looked troubled and it appears that his thoughts remained focused on pressing political issues back in Israel.

Samurai 2014  (Biederman, "Ha’aretz”, May 16)

True, this week the Tel Aviv District Court did definitely remove the threat which the Prime Minister faced from his predecessor Ehud Olmert - the man who less than a year ago still presented himself in all seriousness as the only leader who could overcome Netanyahu. After the judge's ruling this week,   Olmert will be engaged in a desperate effort to appeal the six-year prison term  imposed on corruption charges. His dream of a Prime Ministerial comeback must, in all likelihood, be definitely scrapped. (There are those who say that we thus lose a great chance for peace with the Palestinians, which Olmert meant to bring us when returning to power . It might or might not be so – we will never know... )

Nevertheless, Netanyahu is far from being able to rest on his laurels. This week, his senior partner in the governing coalition, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, took another step to erode and undermine the Likud Party's alliance with the ultra-Orthodox Haredim, which had been a key factor in Menachem Begin sweeping to power in 1977 and in Begin’s successors retaining power later.  Like his late father Tommy, Yair Lapid must periodically demonstrate to his voters how he lands a new blow on the Haredim and punishes them for not  serving in the army (incidentally also hitting at the Arabs, whom Lpaid and his  voters do not really like either). While the PM was en route to Tokyo, Lapid announced with great fanfare that those who served in the army would get an exemption from VAT when buying an apartment, a substantial benefit from the state treasury. Those who had not served because the army did not call them up - i.e. Arabs and Haredim - will not get the discount. Rather, the Finance Minister did declare himself graciously ready and willing to give also to members of these groups the discount – provided they find an apartment which costs less than six hundred thousand Shekels. Only, apartments at such prices are not be found in our country...

In the short term, Lapid garnered some credit among his specific electoral constituency. But how long will Lapid and his party survive in Israeli politics? That is very much in doubt. The Haredim, on the other hand, were in politics long before Lapid’s advent and are quite likely to survive his demise, too – and they have a very long memory for those who had wronged them. After the next general elections, are the Haredim going to recommend to the President that also the next cabinet be formed by Netanyahu , who had left them out of the current cabinet and gave a major role in it to Lapid? Not very likely. So who will recommend him? Whom will the President entrust with forming next cabinet? Far from sure - especially if the President elected to replace Shimon Peres would be Reuven Rivlin, Netanyahu's bitter rival within his own party...

Thus, reported the political commentators, Netanyahu conceived the brilliant idea of completely abolishing the Presidency in Israel , just a month before the next President was to be elected. During his entire stay in Japan, he was vigorously promoting this initiative in an endless stream of long-distance phone calls from his luxurious suite at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, and apparently it also greatly preoccupied him as he sat politely in the Grand Master’s traditional Tea Ceremony. But it seems the Prime Minister was unable to muster enough support in the political establishment for this revolutionary idea...

In fairness , it should be noted that Netanyahu did not go all the way to Japan just in order to conduct  Israeli political intrigues by remote control. He did have a definite political, diplomatic and economic agenda there, too. This was well described by Hagai Segal , the man who once planted explosive devices in the cars of Palestinian Mayors and served prison terms on terrorism charges and is nowadays a respected political commentator who accompanied the PM's entourage to Tokyo . On the pages of "Makor Rishon" he wrote: "With  negotiations with the Palestinians deadlocked and relations with the United States rather moody, the Prime Minister turns his face to the non-European and non-American sphere, to China and Australia and Japan. He believes that economic ties with suitable partners can be a substitute to Israel ‘s  deteriorating strategic relations with the Old World, or at least an adequate compensation until the storm passes. This is Netanyahu 's solution to the premonition of Western boycotts of Israel. "

Will the Japanese be ready to fill the role assigned them by Netanyahu? Many people in Japan itself are not fond of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who plays   dangerous games of Japanese Nationalism and waves some military muscle in the face of the Chinese. When I was there a year ago I heard some Japanese activists call him – and not fondly - "The  Japanese Netanyahu".  Prime Minister Abe definitely gave Netanyahu a cordial welcome and discussed options for economic cooperation, and also introduced Netanyahu to leading business executives. And yet , even at their cordial meeting Abe did not neglect to mention Japan’s concern at the collapse of the negotiations and at Israel’s unilateral settlement activities. So what was really behind the smiles in Tokyo?

Indeed, just as Netanyahu was at the press conference at the Prime Minister’s bureau in Tokyo, a concrete small example burst out of these deteriorating strategic relations with the Old World: a public crisis in the relations with Germany. Following the breakdown of negotiations with the Palestinians, the Government of Germany – which in the past generously provided vessels to the Israeli Navy at the expense of their country’s taxpayers – cancelled a discount running to hundreds of millions of Euros which had been earlier promised on a deal of having German shipyards provide Israel’s new gunboats. "After the failure of the negotiations, there is no chance of the Bundestag approving those subsidies" the Germans explained to Netanyahu. It turns out that someone had presented to the Members of the German Parliament a detailed long list of the incidents in which the Israeli Navy’s existing gunboats opened fire on Palestinian fishermen off the Gaza coast. Netanyahu’s bureau soon found the culprit in the hostile new German stance, linking it with the private talks conducted in the Oval Office when Chancellor Merkel  came visiting Washington. But viewed in this light, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also represents an old and valued ally of the U.S., and he too would eventually pass by the White House ...

The citizens of Israel did not give much attention to all these matters of high diplomacy and strategy. They were much more concerned with the issue of hatred and hate crimes, or "Price Tag" which is the usual terminology used in the Israeli public discourse. What started as young settlers raiding nearby Palestinian villages, uprooting and burning their crops and olive groves , escalated into a systematic attack on Arab villages inside Israel proper.
More than the hate crimes themselves, public opinion was preoccupied with the words of the renowned author Amos Oz, who dared to make a scandalous comparison with none other than the neo-Nazis in Europe. All sorts of commentators and public figures reacted with great fury: how could he  possibly compare the anti-Semite bastards who desecrate synagogues and Jewish cemeteries and daub evil racist graffiti with some confused young Israelis whose only sin is to desecrate mosques and churches and daub some stupid mischievous graffiti? (Neo-Nazis in Europe also occasionally profane mosques, but that is of much less interest to the Israel  public opinion...)

In Afula there was a week ago a rally expressing pure hatred towards Arabs. Those who disseminate hatred had no need to skulk in the dark night, but could rampage openly in the streets looking for Arabs on whom to vent their anger. This rally was effectively initiated by the anonymous “high source in the Israel Police” who told the media that “The murder of Shelly Dadon was committed for Nationalist Motives”. The code words "Nationalist Motives” were more than enough to convince very many people that it was “Arabs” who murdered a young Afula woman when she went looking for a job in a neighboring town. More than that, “The Arabs”, all Arabs as such, were saddled with blame for having murdered her. Only after a week and a half did the Police remember to officially announce that the investigation has reached a dead end, and that the background and motives of the murder are still not quite  clear. Far too late to restrain the unleashed passions. Not even when on the next day members of "Shining Tag" - an activist group diligently making solidarity visit to the victims of each and every hate crime - brought hundreds of Jews and Arabs to demonstrate and protest together outside the Prime Minister in Jerusalem, calling for an end to hate crimes and to hatred itself.

Rabbi Yechiel Grenimann at the demonstration against “price tag” hate crimes

Then came the May 15, when the Palestinians wherever they are commemorate  the Nakba , the catastrophe that befell them when in the aftermath of the  creation of Israel hundreds of thousands of their people became refugees and lost their homes and their land, their villages and cities. Just as Israelis stood at attention to commemorate their Fallen a week earlier, throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories people stood at attention as a siren sounded for sixty-six seconds - the number of years since the Nakba. Demonstrations and clashes with the army occurred in many places. Not by coincidence, the most heavy confrontations occurred outside the Ofer Prison .

The Ofer Prison is a living and tangible symbol of ongoing occupation and oppression. More than twenty years after the Oslo Accords, which were supposed to lead the Palestinians to statehood, the State of Israel maintains a large detention center behind high concrete walls on the very outskirts of Ramallah, the city which is supposed to be the capital of the autonomous Palestinian Authority. Every night fresh detainees arrive there, blindfolded and hands tied behind their backs, who were detained in the nightly army raids across the West Bank.

A young prisoner en route to Ofer

On Nakba Day, big Palestinian crowds arrived at the gates of Ofer Prison, and the soldiers stationed there opened fire, killing two Palestinians. Did they fire live bullets? The Palestinians claim they did, the army denies it. Live bullets or not, two young people were shot to death and buried in the Palestinian soil,  their funerals attended by frenzied crowds and sparking another big wave of demonstrations and protests across the West Bank. In the official view, the soldiers at the prison gates might have been just a bit over-enthusiastic, but no one accused them of actual wrong-doing. Certainly no one used the term "hate crime". In the Israeli discourse, this term is not used for the acts of uniformed soldiers carrying out their military duties.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, on his return from Japan, did not referr to the two dead Palestinians. He took an altogether different slant: "There in Ramallah they stood at attention to mark the tragedy which they consider the creation of Israel to be. This is incitement! Our answer is to continue to ever more build our country, especially Jerusalem the Capital of Israel, and to quickly enact the Jewish State Law." There were also some reports that Netanyahu is looking for alternative diplomatic initiatives to replace the stalled negotiations, but no one took that very seriously.

So what next? It now is the month of May. There is likely a hot summer ahead, not just regarding physical temperatures.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Blue and White tiredness

In Tel Aviv’s Ben Yehuda Street a huge Israeli National Flag was hung, covering an entire building. On the flag were inscribed the words "Kol Hakavod Le’Tzahal" (Three Cheers to the IDF).  Somebody must have paid a lot of money for this patriotic presentation. But on the windows and balconies of the neighboring houses, there were only few of the simple flags which ordinary citizens are supposed to hang out on this day of the year. The number of flags to be seen in the city streets on this Independence Day was manifestly less than it was last year and two years ago. Also the boys selling flags for cars at crossroads were sorely disappointed with the steep decline in sales.

No, no one had organized a boycott. There does not exist any organization which could have called for a boycott of the National Flag of the State of Israel and gotten hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens across the country to participate. The fact remains: in the days before Independence Day, anyone who bought a newspaper got along with it a fine gift, a Blue and White Israeli National Flag made at the sewing workshops in faraway China.

A flag was available to all, free of charge, and yet this year hundreds of thousands – each separately, in their own homes and without anybody organizing it - chose to leave the flag packed in the shiny nylon bag with the logo of Bank Hapoalim which had provided them this gift . Probably without giving it any coherent political reasoning, they simply did not spend the five minutes needed to open the package and hang the flag in their windows with the help of the ropes also  generously provided courtesy of Bank Hapoalim. Exactly what caused this lassitude and fatigue which befell so many Israeli citizens on the sixty-sixth Independence Day of their country? It is certainly worthwhile to look into this question.

This year, a new Independence Day ceremony was added to the great number of annual traditions already inaugurated earlier: the Zionism Contest  was held at the Jerusalem Theater , moderated by comedian Eli Yatzpan , best known for his skill in producing hidden camera programs. But in this case he was involved in a completely serious and straightforward program, initiated by the World Zionist Organization in order to boost and strengthen Zionist awareness among the citizens of Israel. The contest is designed for entire families to take part in. It is perhaps not really surprising that it was won by Nili and Aryeh Rokach of the settlement of Kdumim on the West Bank, along with their seven children and twenty-two grandchildren. It was they, more than all other contestants, who demonstrated an in-depth knowledge of Zionist ideology and practice. They were officially named "Israel's First Zionist Family 2014 " and will also get a fully paid cross-continent family trip tracing the life of Zionism’s Founder Binyamin Ze’ev (Theodor)  Herzl. (The news item on the pages of "Yedioth Ahronoth" neglected to mention if financing of the family trip indeed includes all twenty-two grandchildren…)

The settlement of Kdumim, where Israel's First Zionist Family 2014  lives, had been established on the lands of the Palestinian village of Kafr Qaddum. The main road used to lead to the village became reserved for the exclusive use of the settlers, with Palestinian residents required to travel on a winding and bumpy side road. Every week they demonstrate and protest – also on the week of Israeli Independence Day. Qaddum activist Murad Tawi  () reported: "Our march began as usual in the early morning, with checking the area to see if there were ambushes of the army. When doing this job, many soldiers attacked us with a big bulldozer, to remove the rocks placed in front of the army jeeps. At noon, after the prayer, hundreds of Palestinians gathered to participate in the march, beside friends from Israel and the ISM (International Solidarity Movement). We sent our message of support for the prisoners in jail and went on the route of the march. There were many soldiers waiting for us, who began to shoot tear gas canisters and sound bombs and rubber bullets and also used the skunk water with very bad smell. They tried to arrest youths from an ambush, coming from behind one of the houses,  but the youths obliged them to turn back without arresting any one. There were no arrests today, just light suffocation cases from tear gas, many suffocated today”. 

On other occasions, demonstrations ended with arrests and detentions, or soldiers arriving in the late night to detain at home the activists who had eluded them during the day.

All in all, The occupier state’s sixty-sixth Independence Day was a fairly normal day in the occupied Qaddum Village, near which the occupiers erected the settlement of Kdumim. There is no doubt that the villagers continue to protest, next week and two weeks from now and three. Members of Israel's First Zionist Family 2014 will be leaving behind soldiers who  guard the settlement and themselves will embark on the fully paid family trip tracing the life of Zionism’s Founder.

Like every year, Independence Day events started with the torch-lighting ceremony on Mount Herzl, where twelve model citizens are honored for their deeds in the past year. The keynote speech was delivered by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who praised the brilliant achievements of the State of Israel in its sixty-six years of existence, but warned of the deep rifts which run through Israel society. His speech was broadcast live on all networks, and afterwards  Edelstein returned to his home in the settlement of Alon Shvut on the West Bank, travelling on "The Tunnel Highway" - another of the many roads reserved for exclusive Israeli use and from which Palestinians are strictly banned.

This year the Netanyahu government decided that all twelve torches would be lit by women. This decision was initiated by Culture Minister Limor Livnat, known for her warm support of Feminism, and her equal enthusiasm for the  Settlement Project. (It might be recalled that it was she who issued a stern warning to the managements of all theaters in Israel, making clear that any theater daring not to perform in the Halls of Culture of West Bank settlements would promptly get its budget cut off.)

At least some of the women chosen to light torches at the official ceremony on Mount Herzl were definitely worthy of the honor awarded to them. Still, there were quite a few women as well as men who preferred the Alternative Torch Lighting ceremony held simultaneously by the Yesh Gvul movement. Opposite the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem - at the spot where a Peace Now activist was killed in 1983 from a grenade thrown by a right-winger - twelve men and women, Jews and Arabs, got up to light torches. They were honored for having acted in the past year to promote "an Israel which is just, equitable and worthy. Torches for an immediate end to senseless violence and to the occupation of the Palestinian territories, redressing the injustices we cause and correcting the attitudes towards the weak among us, marking the anniversary of Israeli Independence alongside that of the Palestinian Nakba and expressing hope for peace with all our neighbors."

First and foremost, it was a ceremony designed to pay homage to those who refuse to serve the occupation and the army of occupation. Those who had been in prison, during the decades of  occupation; the two objectors at present behind bars, Uriel Ferera and Omar Sa’ad (who, after 150 days in detention, was hospitalized due to the military prison authorities failing to provide him proper medical care). Also, homage to the future Conscientious Objectors, such as Adi Barco of the High School  Letter signatories – youngest of the torch lighters – whose own turn to refuse and go to jail is likely in about two years.

Lighting the torch of refusal

At the end of the torch-lighting ceremony, participants were invited to take part also in picketing the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, demanding the release of the imprisoned objectors and singing an updated version of a protest song dating to the First Lebanon War: "No thank you, Mr. Ya’alon / Go yourself to Hebron / Occupation's plans will fail / When we all go to jail".

And there was the Alternative Memorial Day ceremony, held by "Combatants for Peace". Contrary to the official Memorial Day, commemorating none but fallen Israelis, at the alternative event bereaved families - Israeli and Palestinian alike – sat on podium side by side, each in turn rising to tell a painful personal story and share their grief with each other. Evidently, this format of commemoration does strike a deep chord among the public, with participation in the alternative event increasing from year to year. This year the hall prepared at Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds, with three thousand seating places, was too small to hold all who want to participate.

About two hours after the conclusion of the alternative torch-lighting ceremony I arrived back to the city of Holon. By then, the street festivities had nearly run out - attempting in vain to reconstruct the spontaneous enthusiasm and dancing in the streets which broke out on the night after the UN vote on the Partition Plan in November 1947, when the Jews who lived in the country felt  the ecstasy of salvation.

At 11 on the night of May 5, 2014, there were no longer singers and performers on the stages scattered through the streets, and only a few young people roamed the streets without a clear purpose. Scattered on the sidewalks was  still the debris of celebrations. Among other things, I found a small plastic Israeli national flag connected to a spring - like a Jack-in-the-box designed to jump out when the lid is opened. What exactly did the producer mean by distributing such a toy?

In his Memorial Day speech, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz made an unambiguous warning: "The calm is a deceptive illusion. Any spark might set off a conflagration". In a country usually addicted to the adoration of its army, whose citizens listen intently to any uttering made by any "security expert", this explicit warning was scarcely noticed. Citizens and policymakers chose to simply ignore it. So did the gung-ho military enthusiasts who placed the huge "Three Cheers to the IDF" banner on the street. Maybe especially they.

The Titanic continues full steam ahead towards the iceberg.

"Three Cheers to the IDF"


Israel's First Zionist Family 2014

The Youths of Qaddum Village

Mr. Ya’alon, go yourself to Hebron!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Of racism and occupation and apartheid

At the beginning of this very busy week there was a public uproar in the U.S. when Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was heard saying very racist things about blacks. Among other things Sterling had said that "In Israel, the blacks are just treated like dogs."

Sterling probably heard that the State of Israel imprisons without trial thousands of refugees and asylum seekers from Africa, far away among the Negev desert sands, and that Israeli cabinet ministers express pride that such is their policy and promise to continue pursuing it. Perhaps he also heard that even Ethiopians who are Israeli citizens and are officially recognized as Jews suffer quite a bit of discrimination and prejudice  in Israel; that in many places there are people who refuse to rent them apartments and that some call them "apes” and  “monkeys". Anyway, Sterling evidently liked what he heard of the treatment of blacks in Israel, and he considered it a good model for white Americans to emulate.

The vile racist remarks of Donald Sterling did not go without an appropriate response. After several days of public outrage, the NBA commissioner banned Sterling for life from all games of this League, and in addition imposed on him a fine of 2.5 million Dollars, to be passed on to charity.

In the same week, there was in the United States another public storm, also derived from publication of a recorded conversation. In the final accord of his failed peace efforts, Secretary of State John Kerry sounded a warning that if Israel does not end its occupation of the Palestinian territories nor give civil rights to their residents, it might become an Apartheid state.

Kerry was careful not to assert that Israel is already an Apartheid state - as is claimed by quite a few people, including a growing number of Jewish students on the campuses of American universities. Nor did Kerry assert - as did former President Jimmy Carter – that the situation in the Occupied Territories, as distinct from Israel itself, constitutes an Apartheid situation because there are separate roads for Israelis and for Palestinians and two different and completely separate legal systems for the two populations living in the same area .

All Kerry did was to sound a warning, as a worried friend, about what might happen in the future if the State of Israel does not change the direction of its current policy. However, in the mainstream American public opinion and political system, the coupling of the words "Israel" and “Apartheid" was quite enough to kick up a major storm. After several days, Kerry was forced to apologize and retract that word. (At least, he was not required to pay a fine...)

To clarify and emphasize that Israel is in no way an Apartheid state and that all such assertions are nothing but malicious anti-Semitic slurs, Prime Minister Netanyahu hastened to announce his strong support for a bill which would make it a matter of Basic Law that the State of Israel is a Jewish state. Not a "Jewish and Democratic State" as stated in laws which the Knesset passed at earlier times. This time it would be unequivocally A Jewish State, period.

Meanwhile, it seems that indeed “the threat of peace has receded" (a saying attributed to the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir). Which means that Israeli  soldiers are probably going to continue for very much longer to patrol the streets of Hebron and closely guard the settler enclave established at its heart.  One of these soldiers, named David Adamov and serving in the Nahal Brigade, made ​​headlines this week. Outside a settler-occupied house he had pointed his gun at a 15-year old Palestinian boy and shouted very rough abuse, and the scene was captured on camera by a Palestinian activist who placed the video on the net.

Just at the time when this film came up on the net, the soldier was sent to the military jail. His fellows thought there was a connection between the two things – which was a mistake. In fact, the soldier was imprisoned because in addition to shouting abuse at a Palestinian and threatening him, he also shouted abuse at his Israeli commanding officer and threatened him and then went to physically assault him. But the mistaken information spread very rapidly, and soon there was created a Facebook page called "I, too, am David of the Nahal" and seventy-five thousand people expressed their like for this page.  In direct contravention of military orders, uniformed soldiers of many other units posed with their faces covered by signs supporting David of the Nahal and posted these photos on the net. Reportedly, the military authorities feel deeply concerned about “the first digital mutiny" and the unbearable ease by which  soldiers equipped with smart phones can bypass the chain of command. For his part, Minister Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home Party  rushed to climb the bandwagon, stating “I, too, would have acted like David of the Nahal”.

According to military correspondents, the upsurge of support for the wayward soldier stems from frustration among the soldiers sent to "restore order" and face the growing unrest among the Palestinian population - while at the same time being instructed by their commanders to restrain themselves and avoid killing Palestinians. The leaders of Israel’s military have taken to heart the lessons of two Intifadas – particularly, that mass funerals in towns and villages and refugee camps are likely to ignite the Third Intifada. Members of John Kerry’s team, who gave a candid anonymous interview to Nahum Barnea in Yedioth Ahronot and analyzed the reasons for their failure, had said bitterly: "There had not been a sense of urgency, not deep feeling of the need to reach an agreement. Only in times of war is there such a sense of urgency. It seems we need another Intifada in order to create the kind of circumstances which will facilitate progress in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians". But the soldiers on the ground, those to whom David of the Nahal became a hero, have no interest in considerations of high strategy. If sent into a hostile Palestinian territory with guns in their hands, they want an authorization to use these guns, intifada or no intifada.

On the other side of the political spectrum, a group of activists who began collecting on the net signatures under the simple slogans "I'm not David of the Nahal" , feeling no need to add anything to this statement. Conversely Sarit Michaeli, the veteran spokesperson of B'Tselem , appropriated the  slogan "We are all David of the Nahal": "It's time we all stop playing games. In face of the reality of the occupation, we create with our own hands the next Davids,  throwing them into impossible situations. The incident never really ends. Any forceful act of pointing a gun might achieve a momentary 'calm' - but the continuation of the situation in which the IDF rules over the civilian population in Hebron and the rest of the Occupied Territories will inevitably lead to the next confrontation, which in some cases will be recorded by cameras and get into public awareness. Those who stridently demand to ‘let the IDF win’ are just perpetuating a lie. As though there is any possibility of really winning such a fight, in which troops are repeatedly sent to oppress a civilian population which does not want their presence."

The 19 year old Uriel Ferera, who was born in Argentina and lives in Beer Sheba, did not agonize over whether his commanding officers would allow him to open fire when facing Palestinians. He took the firm decision not to enter into such a situation in the first place, and informed the military authorities of his refusal to enlist. Uriel Ferera is an unusual figure among the young conscientious objectors who signed the recent "High School Seniors' Letter” - an ultra-Orthodox student of a yeshiva seminary, who declares his refusal to join the army is not for reasons of wanting to continue his Torah studies , but specifically because he is not ready to serve in an army of occupation.

Last Sunday, Uriel Ferera came to the Induction Base in Tel Hashomer , bearing the refusal letter which he was going to hand to recruiting officers.  He was escorted to the gate by dozens of cheering young activists, by his very supportive parents and family members, and by the father of Omar Saad, the Druze musician who had already been sent seven times to prison for his own refusal to enlist. Thence he was taken straight to Military Prison Six, where he refused to put on a military uniform and promptly got an additional eight days, to be served in the isolation ward. Ferera told his lawyer that the prison authorities refuse to allow him and Omar Saad to stay in the same part of the prison. "They seem very unwilling to let us to be together."

When I shared on Facebook the video showing Uriel Ferera walking towards the gates of the recruitment base, accompanied by his fellows, there came after a few minutes a furious reaction from a right-winger: "Today is Holocaust Day! Are you not ashamed to post such a thing on such a day?" Indeed, the date set out in Uriel Ferera’s call-up order was the day which is marked in Israel as Holocaust  Memorial Day.

Virtually the only lesson drawn from the Holocaust in the official speeches of this Memorial Day is the need for the State of Israel to maintain a mighty  military power against enemies who plot a new Holocaust . To the late Golda Meir is attributed the saying "After the Holocaust, nobody in the world can accuse us", and also this year ministers and deputy ministers and Knesset members repeated this argument in various forms, against anyone criticizing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

It is not easy for a Palestinian to express empathy with the suffering of the Jews at the time of the Holocaust in Europe. Quite a few Palestinians succumb to the temptation for a gut response: "There had never been a Holocaust, and anyway you are Nazis yourselves." On Holocaust Memorial Day this week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen ) broke through this barrier and made the most clear and unequivocal statement on the subject ever made by a Palestinian leader: "What happened to the Jews in the Holocaust is the most heinous crime to have been committed against humanity in the modern era. The Holocaust is a reflection of the concept of ethnic discrimination and racism which the Palestinians strongly reject and act against". The official statement went out conspicuously, on all the Palestinian news agencies . The Prime Minister of Israel was not really impressed. "First of all, Abbas must abrogate his agreement with Hamas" responded Netanyahu, turning back to the routine sparring and "blame game" about the responsibility for the failure of the negotiations (which does not truly interest anybody) .

In Budapest this week there was an unexpected mass attendance at the Memorial March marking seventy years to the mass murder of Hungarian Jewry. For quite a few non-Jewish Hungarians, this event had an all too relevant political implication – in a country where an extreme right registered an alarming growth in the recent general elections. In other European countries, Far right parties tend to target mainly the Muslims, and such parties often foster ties of friendship and deep brotherhood with Israeli settlers on the West Bank. But in Hungary, where there are not many Muslims, the extreme right sticks (with considerable success) to the traditional targets – the Jews and the Gypsies . In the face of anti-Semitic speeches made in the Hungarian Parliament and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, a lot of Hungarians who are deeply worry about  their country’s future turned up at the Holocaust Memorial March in Budapest – rather surprising the representatives of the Government of Israel who initiated the Budapest procession .

Late on the night after Holocaust Memorial Day, some unknown people came to the village of Fureidis - the only Arab village to remain in place after 1948 on the  Mediterranean coast of Israel. These uninvited guests spray-painted on the wall of the local mosque a Star of David accompanied by the words "Destroy all Mosques!” and for good measure punctured the tires of dozens of cars. Like in dozens of previous cases, the country’s leaders duly condemned the act, but as in previous cases Israel's acclaimed security services exhibited a  lack of ability to identify and apprehend the perpetrators.

On the day after the hate crime, Fureidis residents held a general strike and thousands of them went out on a protest demonstration in the streets of the village. Dozens of residents of neighboring Zichron Yaacov  came over, holding such signs as "We Support Our Neighbors" , "Bibi, Bennett and Lapid - the Criminals Must be Stopped!" , and “Hate Crimes are Terrorism”. " Zichron Yaakov resident Yoel Ben-Artzi said :"We heard that our  our neighboring village had been attacked, and we came to express solidarity with the inhabitants. Such acts threaten not only our Arab neighbors, they also threaten us Jews."

Messages and letters of support to Prisoner of Conscience Uriel Ferera can be sent by fax to +972-(0)4-9540580
Or by mail to:

Uriel Ferera
Military ID 8004295
Military Prison 6
Military Postal Code 01860