Saturday, April 4, 2015

A complicated chess game and a Liberty Holiday in military prison

In the beginning of this week, the far-right paper Makor Rishon published an exclusive report entitled "Germany gave the order not to visit Ma'aleh Adumim – because it is Palestinian territory". As was related, the international Jewish organization B'nai B'rith organized an Israeli visit by the German female soccer team FFC Turbine Potsdam, to culminate in a friendly match with a team of Israeli girls. The trip was funded from German Foreign Ministry's special budget for celebrating the fifty years’ anniversary of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany. For the German girls’ pre-match training, the Israeli organizers found a suitable location in… Ma'aleh Adumim.
"Then followed an amazing and shocking development" recounted Ralph Hoffman, president of B'nai B'rith in Germany and Europe, "The German embassy in Israel sent email messages to the team managers and told them unequivocally to cancel the visit to Maale Adumim, stating that Ma'aleh Adumim is a settlement in Palestinian territory, and that a visit there will be a violation of International Law. Our representative in Israel immediately called the Embassy. He hoped to hear there's been some mistake or misunderstanding. But no, the diplomat told him explicitly that this was indeed the official policy!"
"I'm still upset" added the president of B'nai B'rith. "Can you imagine it? Seventy years since the liberation of Auschwitz, and they behave like this. Is this friendship? Is this a way to treat Israel? If they behave like this in sport, how will they behave on other issues? What will they do to business people?"

Indeed, the German government, which spends hundreds of millions of Euros from the German taxpayers’ money to provide the Israel Navy with submarines capable of carrying nuclear missiles, dares to also require German soccer players who traveled to Israel at government expense to abide by International Law. What a nerve!
On the same day that this news broke out, there was a radio interview with Bonni Ginzburg, past goalkeeper of Israel national soccer team and presently a well-known sports commentator: "This evening our team faces a hard test with Belgium. The Belgians are among the best in the world. We would have to struggle hard for every chance at the ball. But I would be willing to have Israel suffer a harsh and humiliating defeat on the pitch, if only I knew that the Lausanne negotiations would fail and that this bad agreement with Iran will not be signed. In fact, the next morning’s news broadcast told of soccer team losing at 1: 0 to the Belgians, and of a seeming deadlock at the Lausanne negotiations.
Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s old-new Prime Minister, once again demonstrated his talent of creating catchy sound bites and arousing waves of panic. On election day two weeks ago he had warned against "Arabs being bused in droves to the polls in order to bring the Left to power". This week, it was the turn of "The Iran-Lausanne-Yemen Axis" which Netanyahu proceeded to describe in the strongest terms: "The agreement being worked out in Lausanne would be intolerable, an existential threat to Israel and to the entire region and to the whole world. The Iranians are trying to take over the entire Middle East in a pincer movement. It is impossible to understand how representatives of the powers close their eyes to this aggression, when Iranian forces continue to occupy more and more territory in Yemen. The agreement which is emerging in Lausanne sends a message that there is no price to be paid for aggression – on the contrary, Iran's aggression is being rewarded". (Zvi Barel expressed in Haaretz some surprise at seeing Netanyahu being "strongly opposed to the occupation of territory and protesting the International Community’s inaction in face of that occupation. In Yemen, of course.)
Exactly a year ago, Secretary of State John Kerry experienced a bitter diplomatic failure, which Netanyahu probably remembers proudly. This time, Kerry and President Obama were determined to see it would not happen again. Even after the passing of the original deadline, 31 March, there continued over day and night the intense and crisis-ridden negotiations between the foreign ministers of the six world powers and of Iran. On Thursday night was announced the agreement, designed to halt Iran's nuclear program for ten to fifteen years. Minutes after the dramatic press conference in Lausanne, President Obama delivered a passionate speech in Washington, speaking of a historic deal which will make the world a safer place: "This is the right way, the best and safest way to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons. And it is certainly preferable to a bloody war."
Obviously, Netanyahu was not pleased – the transatlantic call by which President updated Prime Minister on the agreement achieved was yet another in the ever-lengthening series of head-on confrontations between them. The Prime Minister was quick to convene his Inner Cabinet and pass a unanimous resolution characterizing the agreement as no less than "an existential threat to Israel." Evidently, in the coming months he intends to wage another running struggle on Capitol Hill, with the help of his Republican friends. House Speaker John Boehner, the impresario of Netanyahu's famous speech last month, visited the PM this week and promised his help. But as noted by Nahum Barnea in Yedioth Ahronoth, "The Republicans are happy for any occasion and excuse to bash Obama, but they would not want to be perceived in American public opinion as those who led the United States into a new war in the Middle East."

"Israelis tend to judge the agreement by their own standards, so they find it hard to believe that Iran would really give up its nuclear program" continues Barnea. "Israel, in a similar situation, would not give it up. Israel would play tricks. Why should Iran behave differently from us?". Actually, it's not a hypothetical question. Israel was indeed in a similar situation in the early sixties, facing President Kennedy. And indeed, at that time Israel did not give up its nuclear program, but rather played tricks. Eitan Haber, who was Chef de Bureau to Prime Minister Rabin and became a rather sober and cynical columnist, wrote even more openly: "Every beginner politician knows that where nuclear facilities are concerned, it is perfectly acceptable to cheat and deceive the whole world. A country which invests billions of its best resources in constructing nuclear plants would also be ready to invest hundreds of millions in fraud and deception. Iran will not give up. The concessions which Iran made during the talks in Lausanne were similar to the concessions of another country, a country which we all know very well – a country which outwardly exhibited exemplary behavior and got high marks, but still built first-class nuclear facilities and already for years and generations subsists on nuclear ambiguity." Netanyahu’s aforementioned triad "Iran-Lausanne-Yemen" does not include Dimona, nor does it rhyme.
According to several commentaries in the American press, especially in the Wall Street Journal, the nuclear deal with Iran is part of a much broader political initiative taken by President Obama - the final goal being to "do with Iran what President Nixon did in China" and make the rogue country into a key player in the system of US alliances in the Middle East. Compared with the murderous fanatic entity known as ISIS, which erupted with great force in the past year and whose trademark are ever-new execution clips released into the web, the broadly smiling Iranian diplomats at Lausanne seem the very epitome of moderation. Indeed, precisely during the talks in Lausanne came reports from northern Iraq on the significant success of the forces fighting to expel ISIS from the key city of Tikrit, birthplace of Saddam Hussein. Planes of the US Air Force launched heavy bombardments from the air, greatly aiding the pro-Iranian Shiite militias on the ground in penetrating to the center of Tikrit.
This direction in American policy is very worrying to Netanyahu - and also to Saudi Arabia, the United States’ long-standing ally. It is not by chance that, exactly during the talks in Lausanne, the Saudis formed an alliance of Arab and Muslim countries to go to war in Yemen and send planes to bomb the pro-Iranian Shiite militias. In these bombings American planes are not directly involved, although the US did announce its support for "the military operation designed to strengthen the legitimate Government of Yemen" and reportedly provided intelligence reports and satellite imagery to assist the Saudi bombers in locating their targets. Also this week the United States resolved to resume military aid to Egypt, resigning themselves to the fact that General Sisi, the Saudis’ ally, had an impressive success in crushing the buds of democracy which sprouted in Egypt four years ago.

(In the circuses of old it was common to feature the daring stunt of riding two galloping horses at once. How will Obama fare with such a stunt?)
And what about the Palestinians? Following the signing of the agreement in Lausanne, Secretary of State Kerry stated that there are greater threats than Iran to the security of Israel – namely, ISIS and the failure of peace efforts with the Palestinians. With regard to Iran, France was the power most skeptical about Iranian intentions, constantly pressing for tougher terms, and Netanyahu had pinned quite a bit of his hopes on the French. But conversely, on the Palestinian issue France intends, already in the near future, to submit to the Security Council a new, far-reaching draft resolution which would state unequivocally the principle of the 1967 borders as the basis for the future border between Israel and a Palestinian state. And, to Netanyahu’s alarm, it is far from certain that the US would veto such a decision – indeed, it is even possible that the Americans would join it.
It was just a week that Obama launched his broadside, stating that he quite believed Netanyahu’s elections pledge to the extreme right voters – "there will be no Palestinian state during my term". Conversely, the President found it difficult to take seriously the pale retraction published by Netanyahu after the elections, declaring that he was not opposed to the principle of a Palestinian state, provided that it will remain a purely verbal statement and never, God forbid, become a reality. Netanyahu had also taken two concrete conciliatory steps: The Palestinians were given the hundreds of millions of tax money which Israel is collecting on their behalf in accordance with the Oslo Accords, which were held up at the Israeli Treasury for several months – this, provided that Palestinian do not submit a complaint against Israel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. And in East Jerusalem, preliminary approval was given to the construction of thousands of housing units for Palestinians - the first decision of its kind since Israel occupied and annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, and which had been delayed for many years, right-wing officials holding key positions in the governmental and municipal bureaucracy. Though, to be sure, realization on the ground of that decision might take years - while for the sake of balance, bulldozers in the here and now embarked on construction of yet another neighborhood for Jews only...
Still, on April 1 the State of Palestine officially became the 123th adherent to the International Criminal Court, fully authorized to sue and initiate legal proceedings for any violation of International Law committed in the territory recognized by the UN as part of Palestine. That would apply both to civilians killed in the bombing of Gaza and to the expansion of settlements in the parts of the West Bank designated by the State of Israel as "State Lands". "We are preparing files on all these issues. We will start proceedings when the appropriate time comes" stated the veteran Saeb Erekat for the Palestinians. "I hope that the very fact of our ability to file such judicial proceedings will act as a deterrent and inhibiting factor affecting Israeli behavior on the ground, from now on."
Will the ICC membership indeed make a difference on the ground? For example regarding the issue of forced displacement about which Human Rights activist Niv Michaeli warns?

"Dear Friends, I recently joined B’Tselem as data coordinator responsible for handling communities at risk of forced displacement. There are dozens of such communities scattered throughout Area C in the West Bank: especially in the Jordan Valley, the South Hebron Hills and east of Jerusalem. Home to thousands of people, most of these small farming and shepherding communities have existed for decades. In recent years, they have been subjected to ever more persistent attempts by the Civil Administration and the Israeli military to expel them from their land under various pretexts. With a view to gaining greater understanding of these communities, I joined B’Tselem’s field researchers on a visit to the area. I saw the long, arduous journey villagers must undertake to get water; the mind-boggling gap between the rough conditions in which they live and the conditions in nearby settlements, sometimes mere meters away. Words and photographs are inadequate to depict this reality.
It is also hard to convey the feeling of uncertainty that permeates daily life in these communities, of knowing that at any given moment your home, source of livelihood or property could be demolished or confiscated and that you are powerless to prevent it. Two such incidents occurred this month alone: on 4 March, military and Civil Administration personnel came to Khirbet ‘Ein Karzaliyah in the northern Jordan Valley and – for the fifth time since January 2014 – demolished the homes of the community’s five families. Two weeks later, on 18 March, Civil Administration personnel demolished the homes and livestock pens of four families in Khallet Makhul, a nine-family community that has lived at that site for decades. The Civil Administration had previously demolished all of the community’s structures in 2013. The residents of these communities are entitled to live undisturbed in their homes, as are all people. The Israeli authorities’ repeated attempts to displace them must cease. "
In the meantime, the calendar has once again brought us to Passover, also nicknamed the Festival of Liberty – a holiday which Jewish tradition had set to commemorate the miraculous deliverance of the Hebrew slaves from captivity in Egypt, thousands of years ago. Whatever its historical basis, the Exodus is certainly one of the great emancipatory texts of human culture, and has throughout history served as a source of hope and inspiration to people who dreamed of liberation from bondage. In particular, it was a source of hope and inspiration for Black Americans.
Over here, Passover will also this year be celebrated by the soldiers engaged in the daily routing of occupation and oppression. And Passover will be celebrated with special devotion by a thousand settlers living in an armed enclave at the heart of the city of Hebron. In the general elections two weeks ago, these thousand settlers had the vote – which was not given to two hundred thousand Palestinians living in the city all around them.
Passover this year will be marked behind bars, by four young Israelis who resolved to refuse being part of the system of occupation, oppression and colonization - Edo Ramon, Yehiel Nahmany, Effie Darshner and Yaron Kaplan. Each of the four has a different background and different specific reasons for the decision to embark on refusal: Ramon refuses to enlist out of a straightforward objection to the military's policy in the occupied territories; Darshner is an Anarchist; Nahmany is a Gandhian pacifist; Kaplan refused to go on being a soldier.

Edo Ramon: "I don’t believe that force and war can lead to anything other than death and suffering. All the more so when this is an army which claims to be made for defense but is the tool of bloodthirsty politicians, a body calling itself 'The most moral army in the world’ which holds millions of men and women under occupation, in violation of their most basic rights. I will not wear this army’s uniform and will not obey its orders. Such an obedience would mean submitting to injustice, indeed becoming its accomplice. That’s what I told the recruitment officer in Tel Hashomer."
Yechiel Nachmani wrote: "After thousands of years of violence and abuse, a new way must be found. We must get ourselves, get the world, out of this cycle where all are casualties. I see online videos on the behavior of soldiers in Hebron, and my small and simple mind can’t comprehend how anyone can think that such conduct can provide a solution. What are the chances of these children in the video to make peace, to love, after what they suffered that night at the hands of the soldiers? In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: 'By opposing hatred with hatred we do nothing but spread hatred’. I'm not willing to join a system in which the supreme value is the use of force. My challenge in prison is to find a way to overcome hatred for the military and for the prison guards, to find a way of loving them, too. They are human beings and always remains in them something which is deeper than any of their behavior, something which gives me the hope that they can change."

Effie Darshner, an Anarchist active in the Achdut ("Unity") group, was unable to send from prison a detailed message giving in detail his reasons for refusal to serve in the army – since he went on to also refuse to wear a military uniform while being in the military prison, which led to his being placed in isolation.

Yaron Kaplan has already served eighteen months in the army, and his experiences during that time seem to be what led him to decide that he was not willing to continue this service.
Next Monday (April 6) at 12:00 pm, there will be held at the gates of the Tel Hashomer Recruitment Center a vigil in solidarity with the imprisoned objectors. Protest organizers cite the traditional saying: "In every generation one must see himself as if he himself came out of bandage in Egypt."
Journalists play chess outside the conference hall in Lausanne, waiting for the results (photo:Reuters) 

Demolitions in the Jordan Valley (photo B'Tselem)
  Effie Darshner holding an Anarchist flag, shortly before his detention (photo: Achdut anarchists)
Military Prison 6 at Atlit, where refusers – and ordinary disobedient soldiers – are housed in big tents (photo:Yesh Gvul )