Saturday, September 5, 2015

A very educational week, indeed

In 2008 was born a new "friction hot spot" in the Ramallah area of the West Bank.  Israeli settlers from Hallamish went down to the spring which had been used for many generations by the people of the nearby Arab village of Nabi Saleh. The settlers took up spray cans and sketched blue Stars of David all around the spring. They put in place canopies and benches, and most importantly - blocked  residents of Nabi Saleh from any further access. Initially, a sign was placed reading "Archeological site - no entry”. Later, an unknown hand added a more explicit handwritten notice "No entry to Arabs."
The Nabi Saleh villagers were not resigned to the loss of their spring. First, they approached the military government’s Civil Administration and presented it with documents attesting to their long-standing ownership of the spring. For its part, the Administration was in no rush to take care of the matter. The documents were turned over to an open-ended “judicial examination” pending which the spring remains in exclusive possession of the settlers.
Thereupon, the residents of Nabi Saleh adopted a model which began at Bil'in a few years earlier. Every Friday, the villagers – accompanied by Israeli and international volunteers – set out on a protest march toward the stolen spring - usually blocked and violently dispersed by the military long before they could arrive there. The Nabi Saleh protests are distinguished from those at Bil'in and other villages by an especially conspicuous participation of the village women.
Usually, the Israeli media does not report on the weekly clashes in Nabi Saleh: the heavy barrages of tear gas grenades which the military lobs at the protesters, sometimes even before the procession gets out of the built-up area, and which occasionally escalates to the shooting of live bullets; the large number of wounded and detained villagers, including many minors; the raids on the village in the wee hours and large-scale detentions of people in their homes… All of that is essentially a weekly routine already lasting for six or seven years. Usually, the photographs and footage taken among the houses of Nabi Saleh and in the fields on the way  to the spring are virtually the same as those taken last week and those which will be filmed next week. For the news editors in the Israeli media, it is simply not news.
The images which came from Nabi Saleh last week were different. The arrest of a twelve-year old boy and his being wriggled out of the soldier’s hands got attention worldwide. A picture is worth a thousand words, but what exactly did these pictures convey?
photo AFP
The right-wingers of various stripes had no doubts about what they could see in the images from Nabi Saleh: "The shameful photos of an IDF soldier being assaulted and struck by Palestinian women and children convey the army’s weakness and helplessness"/ "It is not the fault of the soldier, but of the political and military leaders who hobble the soldiers and deny them the freedom to act." / "The little Ayrab threw stones like a big terrorist and then when the soldier grabbed him he started crying like a baby. Well done to the soldier who acted with restraint and exhibited his higher morality." / "A soldier should not have to run like a goat among the rocks in order to catch stones throwers, this is futile and shameful. We should instead place snipers at a 300-400 meters distance, to shoot each stone-thrower in the knee.”
 "No soldier had been assaulted in the village of Nabi Saleh. This is an Israeli national psychosis, evidence of the public's growing disconnection from reality that it generates" wrote Rogel Alpher in Haaretz. "Anyone who looks at the video documenting the incident in Nabi Saleh and concludes that a soldier is being attacked suffers a cognitive failure derived comes from a deep moral corruption. The eyes of these Israelis see a soldier brutally trying to arrest  a 12-year old Palestinian boy with his hand in a cast, and some Palestinian women and a girl in a desperate hysterical effort to prevent the detention. That is all. The soldier is armed with a gun and tear gas, the women are not armed. It is obvious that he was not in danger. As soon as he lets go of the child, they let go of him. But these viewers' brains tell them a different story than what they plainly see. "
Suddenly, the focus of the debate shifted from the Israeli soldier and the Palestinian women to another Israeli )not a soldier) who was also present there. It turned out that among the Israeli peace activists at Nabi Saleh was also Herzl Schubert, a longtime history teacher at the ORT school in Ramat Gan. Until this week, few knew his name. But he gained maximum media exposure  as soon as somebody recognized him  in one of the photos  from the demonstration. Within less than twenty-four hours after this discovery, extreme right-wingers launched a full-scale campaign, exerting pressure to get Schubert fired – to that end appealing to Education Minister Bennett, to the ORT educational system, to Right-wing Knesset Members and to the Municipality of Ramat Gan. Ramat Gan Mayor Yisrael Zinger proved receptive, declaring: "If the information presented in the media is correct, then a man who hit IDF soldiers has no business educating this city's children. " (In fact, no evidence was brought of Herzl Schubert assaulting any soldier." Knesset Member Bezalel Smotrich of the Jewish Home Party wrote: “A teacher should serve as a role model, also beyond the frontal teaching hours, and should act accordingly. There should be a thorough investigation of whether Mr. Schubert's deserves to bear the sublime title of Teacher' in the education system of Israel."
Columnist Eran Rolnik had a different answer then the one intended by  Smotrich.  In an article entitled “We are all Herzl Schuberts" he wrote: “In the France of 1968, hundreds of thousands marched through the streets, chanting ‘We are all German Jews’, expressing solidarity with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the student leader persecuted by the French government. In 2015 Israel, the  exceptional person is a history teacher participating in a demonstration against the occupation, who came to the aid of a Palestinian child being attacked by an armed soldier. He is denounced from all sides as a traitor, and the question of his suitability for the job of a teacher is cast  in doubt. It seems to be a further proof that the fate of Israeli democracy will not be determined by the composition of the government coalition, but rather by the willingness of decent people to stand up in opposition to the gravitational pull of fascism. What we urgently need at this time is not the replacement of the Likud Party by the Zionist Unity Party – what democracy needs, first and foremost, are brave educators such as the teacher from Ramat Gan. On the day when we will all be Herzl Schuberts, not afraid to identify with the weak and oppressed, we will understand the true meaning of opposition - even when the chances of ending the occupation seem more slim than ever. To be in opposition at this time means to continue searching for a way to live in this country without giving up our place in history as Jews."
It happened that all this commotion took place just in the week that the new school year began.  The mass media was filled with photos of cute kids arriving for their first day in First Grade. But there had been one recent educational event which  got no mention in the Israeli media. It did get a mention here, on this blog: "On the morning of August 20, the army destroyed the Samra School at Khirbeit Samra in the Jordan Valley, which villagers had constructed with the help of the Jordan Valley Solidarity Committee and international volunteers. Previously, local children had to go by bus to a school 25 kilometers away in Ein el Beida. All four classrooms were demolished, with educational materials buried under the ruins." The Jordan Valley Solidarity Committee had sent their press release to all the media, but none of the editors saw fit to take it up.
The settler organization Regavim (”Clods of Earth”), which is busily monitoring the situation on the ground, did pay attention. They are happy with the demolition of the Khirbet Samra school, but it is not enough for them - they want more! On Tuesday this week Regavim uncovered a real scandal: the EU is building schools for the Palestinians! Yes, so declared Regavim leader Oved Arad on Tuesday this week: "The European Union established an illegal school in the Hebron Hills. The Europeans are violating Israeli law in order to  strengthen the Palestinian settlement in Area C. We have photos of how the EU is just ignoring Israel law. It is a completely illegal school which should be destroyed immediately. And this is already the second case. Already in  October 2014 we have revealed that the EU had set up an illegal school on Route 60, east of Jerusalem. They did it completely openly, the EU Flag is flying proudly on an illegal school, they just don’t  give a damn about us. This is a breach of Israeli sovereignty, they teach the Palestinian pupils how to take over the land. And it is not only schools, the Europeans also provide the Palestinians turbines to produce electricity from the wind, and they also set up toilet for the Palestinians. All this must be destroyed, immediately, to block the Palestinian-European takeover of Area C."
Would Oved Arad of the Regavim Movement have been considered worthy of bearing the sublime title of Teacher' in the education system of Israel? In the current situation, very possibly he would.