Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Opposition - to what exactly?

Prime Minister Netanyahu does not really want Tzipi Livni in his cabinet. He made her and her party a particularly miserable and insulting offer. So insulting that even the most opportunistic members of her party – those who dream of joining the government – even as the deputy sub-minister in charge of unnecessary ministries – were not able to support it.

Still, Livni and her party are in trouble. More than half a year passed since she led the party into opposition, with a loud fanfare. Still she has not managed to make herself at all conspicuous in the Knesset nor did she gather the kind of public support of an adamant opposition leader.

Again and again, Tzipi Livini declares that the way to peace is via the creation of a Palestinian state – but Netanyhau also says that, now. True, Netanyahu's sincerity in these statements (and in general) is open to serious doubt. On the other hand, it is also a fact that for three years Livni held a senior position in the government of Israel, and that in these years she had not brought about any visible advance towards ending the occupation and making peace with the Palestinians. She did, in the same years, become deeply involved in acts which nowadays make it impossible for her to enter Birtain, for fear of a war crimes prosecution.

People simply don't understand what is the big difference between Bibi and Tzipi..

The horse and the rider

Raed a-Sarkaji, Anan Sabah and Raghsan Abu Sharah, inhabitants of the city Nablus - were they responsible for the killing of settler Meir Avshalom-Chai? Maybe yes and maybe not. The question will remain open and no court will decide on it. The Israel Defense Forces and the General Security Service made a shortcut.

Instead of troubling judges and lawyers, army officers and security agents judged the three in a very fast proceeding, condemning them to death and implementing the sentence on the spot, during a colossal show raid into the heart of the city Nablus (which is supposed to be under security control of the Palestinian
Authority ).

Alex Fishman - military commentator for Yedioth Ahronoth, and not particularly leaning towards the opinions of the Israeli peace camp - wrote:  "In such a politically sensitive period, it might have been better for an operation on such a scale to get a prior approval from the political echelon in Israel. There are now quite a few security officials biting their nails over the blunder of having destroyed the Fatah institutions during the Second Intifada .  Wasn't this medicine too aggressive? The operation in Nablus definitely eroded the status of the Palestinian Authority, a rude gesture straight in the face. It could turn out be the proverbial nail which causes the horse to lose its shoe, like in For Want of a Nail.


A war is going on there

Last week Rabbi Meir Abshalom Chai of the Shavei Shomron settlement was killed in a Palestinian ambush, while traveling in his car on the roads of the West Bank. All press reports emphasized that he was the father of seven. His fellow settlers made shrill demands to increase the roadblocks and prevent Palestinians from traveling on the roads, "so that they could not harm settlers".

"Nobody talks about the fact that we live in a war, here" complained Menorah Hazani, Rabbi Chai's neighbor at the Shavei Shomron settlement, on the pages of the extreme right "Makor Rishon". Indeed, the settlers live in a war, a ceaseless daily war. To rob the land of another people, trample on them and deny them the basic hope of being free in their own land is certainly an act of war. Meir Abshalom Chai was a soldier in the settlers' army, the army which in the name of God and the Bible conducts a war against the Palestinian people – a war to which most citizens of Israel are not party and don't want to be. A settler army which has made the whole of the Wild West Bank into a big battlefield. But why did this soldier have to travel on the battlefield in a vulnerable civilian car?

And why did he have to bring his seven children to live in the middle of the battlefield?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

As we already talk to Hamas…

Yesterday night, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his senior ministers discussed the proposals made to them by the Hamas leadership, and after long deliberations formulated a counter proposal, to be passed back to Hamas. This evening, Netanyahu's proposals will be on the desk of Ismail Haniye in Gaza and that of Khaled Mashal in Damascus. The Hamas leaders will draft their answer and send it to Netanyahu in his Jerusalem office. A regular process of negotiations, even if Netanyahu and Mashal are not sitting at the same table but corresponding via Egyptian and German mediators.

The government of Israel is negotiating with Hamas – openly, in the broad sight of all, with details of the proposals and counter-proposals leaked daily to the Israeli and international media. It is already going on for years. But the negotiations are on one subject and one only – an exchange of prisoners, Gilad Shalit for x Palestinian prisoners.

Why, in fact? When we talk anyway, why not open comprehensive negotiations between the government of Israel and the leadership of the Hamas movement – which won the elections three years ago and which undoubtedly represents a significant part of the Palestinian people? Negotiations with the Palestinians can only succeed when they include Hamas, too. Negotiations aimed at achieving peace, or at the very least a stable, long term cease-fire. (Among other things, it would be the best way to ensure that the Palestinians about to be released in exchange for Shalit will not engage in new acts of violence.)

Undoubtedly, the mediators – Egyptian as well as German – would be ready to pass Binyamin Netanyahu's offers to the Hamas leadership. If he has anything to offer.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Police in the service of robbers

It happened on Friday afternoon. The brave and industrious men of the Jerusalem Police charged head-on at demonstrators who marched through the streets, some of them drumming and others dressed as clowns. Twenty-seven protesters were dragged into the police patrol cars and sent to spend the weekend behind bars at the Russian Compound detention center.

No, these protesters did not riot or block roads, nor did they violate public order. They just walked, quietly and orderly, on the sidewalk, bound to a protest demonstration at Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. A protest on the spot where settlers are, openly and in broad daylight, breaking into Palestinian houses, throwing the inhabitants out into the street and establishing themselves in residence, hoisting the Blue-and-White flag on the roof.

The Jerusalem police is very deeply concerned for the safety of these settler robbers. They must not be disturbed, either during the robbery or afterwards. Demonstrators must not be allowed to get to the vicinity of these houses, the police spokesperson explained – this is strictly forbidden. God forbid, the protesters might have actually prevented some of the settlers from returning in time to the house which they seized, there to hold Shabbat services according to the structures of Jewish tradition and to light Hanukah candles and sing of the heroism of the Maccabees.

Two hours after the detention of the protesters, the settlers and their friends came out to hold a public prayer in the streets of Sheikh Jarrah. Feeling elated by the prayer, they went on to throw stones there, beat Palestinians passing by, break into a house and there beat up two children, who needed medical treatment and were evacuated by ambulance. The Jerusalem police were apparently still tired of chasing peaceniks. For the settler antics the police had no energy left...

P.S. On Saturday night, the 27 detainees were brought before Judge Liran of the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, their fellow protesters demonstrating and drumming outside the building. The police demanded that they be charged with "rioting" and ordered to stay out of the city of Jerusalem for 90 days. The judge rejected this out of hand and ordered all detainees released on their own recognizance.

The police representative complained that "leftist demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah lay a great burden on the police". The court reiterated the obligation of police in a democratic society to allocate sufficient forces to safeguard the holding of political protest.

To be continued next Friday, in Sheikh Jarrah.

Netanyahu buys cheaply

In her debut speech, the new European Union Foreign Minister strongly condemned the expulsion of Palestinian residents from their homes in East Jerusalem, and said that what Benjamin Netanyahu calls "settlement freeze" is "partial and insufficiant".

Ben Kaspit, political correspondent of Ma'ariv known for his extensive contacts in the corridors of power, wrote yesterday in his column: "Israel's diplomatic status is undergoing a rapid collapse, whose like we have never known before. We did undergo crises during the first Lebanon War, the First Intifada and on other occasions - but never did we fall from a such great height to such a low depth, and the bottom is still far down" (Ma'ariv, December 18).

And Kaspit added that "Netanyahu is licking his wounds from the settlement freeze. In retrospect, he greatly regrets it. The price is high, and no goods were delivered.". Daily, the Prime Minister is publicly embroiled with settlers, rabbis the extreme-right Hotobeli Faction inside his party - and yet the world still fails to recognize his merits as a great seeker after peace, the international criticism is still continuing and intensifying. Netanyahu's bureau tends to turn their fire on Attorney Yitzhak Molho, the man who ran the prolonged talks with the representatives of President Obama and cooked up the "freeze deal".

It's not nice to put all the blame on Molho, a faithful messenger and shrewd lawyer, who had gotten personal instructions from the Prime Minister and fully carried them out. He carried on tough and exhausting negotiations with the Americans, and managed to lower the price and obtain a settlement freeze lite, very lite indeed. Not a full freeze, without exception, but a freeze which enables the continued construction of three thousand housing units in the settlements, a freeze which does not include East Jerusalem, a freeze which puts no halt to the continued expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah.

Attorney Molcho did get goods for the price which the Prime Minister was willing to pay, a real bargain price. But the goods were no good. So it is not really a good deal even when the price was dirt cheap.

Villain of the week

First we were angry with Turkey and announced a boycott of tourism to Antalya.

Then we were angry with Sweden and announced a boycott of IKEA.

This week it is Britain's turn to be the target of Israeli national outrage.

If this continues in this pace we will soon only be doing business with Micronesia.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

In those days and in this time

An interesting coincidence. Exactly the time when Jews, in this country and world-wide, are celebrating Hanuka, was also when Israeli soldiers were sent to capture Abdullah Abu Rahme of Bil'in Village and bring him into detention. Already for years Abdullah Abu Rahme is organizing the people of his village to a persistent struggle, with no weapons in their hands, about the theft of their lands and livelihood – supposedly for erection of the "Separation Fence", in fact in order to extend the giant ultra-Orthodox settlement Modi'in Illit.

Abdullah Abu Rahme is leading the struggle of villagers who defend their land with courage and determination. The soldiers who are sent by the State of Israel come to oppress these villagers by brute force, use again and again their full might – and the villagers remain unbroken.

Two thousand years ago there lived in exactly the same region villagers, not so different, who bravely resisted the brutal soldiers sent by a king named Antiochus. The victory over occupying soldiers won by these ancient villagers led by the Maccabees, is the event which the Jewish religion sought to commemorate by instituting the holiday called " Hanuka"...

I host here the report of Roy Wagner, who every week reports on the struggle of Palestinian villagers whose lands are stolen, and on the activists who come to support them.

"A total of about 25 Israelis and internationals joined the Palestinians of Bil'in for a relatively small demonstration against the wall. The focus of the protest was the arrest of Abdullah Abu Rahme, a member of the popular committee, whose prominent presence in demonstrations and attempts to curb the use of stones and gas canisters made him such a dangerous person, that the Israeli army had to break into Ramallah in the middle of the night to abduct and arrest him. The new border police soldiers were very eager to spend gas canisters, and the wind made it difficult to maintain steady presence near the gate, which was nevertheless opened by the demonstrators. Many suffered from gas inhalations, some were bruised, and some went on to get arrested in the demonstration in Sheikh Jarah, just in time for the lighting of the first Hanuka candle. May the occupiers be defeated as was the evil king Antiochus."

So far the report of Roy Wagner, you can contact him at rwagner@mta.ac.il

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Nuri el-Okbi's Day in Court

Bedouin property and Israeli law

December 7, 2009, 9.45am - "What is going on here? So many visitors, and all for one case!", asked the guard at the entrance of the high rise housing Be'er Sheva's courts of law. In Justice Sarah Dovrat's hall at the District Court, all 22 chairs for the public were occupied, and many were left outside, waiting for a place to become free. Peace and Human Rights activists came, some from far, especially for this session. And Dr Becky Cook, of the political science department of Ben Gurion University, brought the 15 students of her seminar to witness the proceedings, as part of their studying the problems of Israeli society.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Speaking a non-truth

Some months ago Prime Minster Netanyahu delivered a famous speech at Bar Ilan University. After many apologies and roundabouts; he uttered the explicit words "Palestinian State". And after several more months of complicated maneuvers, he uttered also the words "Settlement Freeze". Now, there can be no doubt that the ball is in the Palestinians' court.. The government of Israel has done its share, above and beyond expectations! So, at least, say the government speakers.

This week Netanyahu found time to meet with the settlers and try to calm them down. The freeze is limited, it will last only ten months and not a single day more, and afterwards construction will resume and increase. And anyway, even during the freeze construction will continue through all kinds of methods and tricks, despite the settlers' highly publicized confrontations with the government building inspectors.

In at least one of the places, our respectable PM said what lawyers like to call "a non-truth". If truly Binyamin Netanyahu meant what he said in Bar Ilan, and he truly means to end the occupation and reach peace with the state of Palestine, than what will happen after ten months is not a resumption of construction but a transition from freezing the settlements to a complete dismantling. And if he meant what he said to the settlers, than there will be no Palestinian state, the occupation will continue and the Palestinians have no reason to negotiate with such a government.

And meanwhile, the European foreign ministers gathered in Bruxelles played the ball back to Israel.

Exacting a Price

Enabus. I was there two years ago, to help with the olive harvest. A Palestinian village south of Nablus. Industrious, lively and hospitable inhabitants. A very steep mountain terrain. Not the most ideal of agricultural lands, but the people of Enabus do their best. They build terraces on the mountainside, plant olive trees even on the most tiny plot available.

This week uninvited guests arrived in Enabus. Settlers. They arrived in Enabus in the middle of the night, burned cars and also a tractor, tried to set a house on fire, threatened inhabitants with their guns. (The guns which had been provided to them by the army for "self defense").

This was not because of something which the Enabus villagers had done. It was because the settlers are angry at Netanyahu's "settlement freeze". When settlers are angry at something which the Government of Israel is doing (or pretends to be doing), they are quick to "exact a price" from the first Palestinians they happen to encounter.

In fact, this is not the settlers' own invention. This method is already centuries old. Historically, in quite a few countries people who were furious with the King's latest decree took out their anger on the nearest Jews. In such places, this was called simply "a pogrom".

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Is there justice for Bedouins?

Day after tomorrow, on Monday December 7 at 10 a.m., there will take place before judge Sarah Dovrat at the Beer-Sheva District Court the testimony of the Bedouin human and civil rights activist Nuri al Okbi, a decisive point in his prolonged legal and public struggle to prove his ownership over family land in the Al_Arakib area northwest Beer-Sheva.

"In 1951, while still a child, the army deported my family and my entire tribe from the land. They told us that it was only for half a year, but we were never allowed to go back" says al Okbi. Nearly forty years ago, Sheikh Sliman Muhammad al Okbi ', father of Nuri, presented a claim over the land to government's Land Arrangement Clerk (Pkid Hahesder). However, the hearing dragged on interminably, like most ownership suits filed by Bedouin residents in the Negev. For the past two years, the case is heard by judge Sarah Dovrat.

"On December 7 will come the moment I waited for a long time – the moment when I will have the opportunity to address the court and present documents, some of them a hundred years old, making abundantly clear that the land had belonged to - and was inhabited and worked by our tribe - generations ago, long before the State of Israel was established. Contrary to the lie often heard in the media, about 'Bedouins invading state lands', we are not invaders or squatters – we are on our own ancestral lands."

For the past three years, Nuri al Okbi is living in a tent erected on the lands of Al-Arakib, close to the site of the house where he was born and spent his early childhood. He was many times evicted – sometimes with considerable violence – by the police and "Green Patrol" – but always came back.

Nuri al Okbi issued a call for all seekers for peace and justice in Israel to come to the court on Monday, be present during the testimony and express support for his struggle.

Contact: Nuri al Okbi 054-5465556

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Another day in the Eternal Capital

This morning, Israel's Foreign Ministry came out with a great outcry about the European Union's intention to proclaim that Jerusalem should be the capital of two states – West Jerusalem the Capital of Israel and East Jerusalem the Capital of Palestine. The Israeli ambassadors at all 27 European capitals were asked to approach the governments and make a sharp protest.

While the angry retorts of Lieberman and his officials continue to reverberate through air waves, at noon today extreme right settlers took over the home of the Al-Kurd Family at the Sheikh Jarah Neighborhood in East Jerusalem and expelled by force the family members. This is the fifth Palestinian house in this neighborhood to be taken over by setters, with the approval of the Israeli courts and active participation of the Israeli police. So far, some sixty inhabitants were literally thrown out into the street. Now they live in tents outside what were their homes. The settlers live in them, and the Blue-and –White flags fly proudly from the roofs.

Perhaps it would be worthwhile for the Foreign Ministry to invite European representatives to tour Sheikh Jarah and see with their own eyes Israel's eternally unified capital.

A Matter of Education

General Gaby Ashkenazi, the IDF Chief of Staff, made a speech in a conference of school principals and sharply criticized the kind of education which new soldiers entering into the army's ranks are bringing with them. "We get young people who have not learned about the State of Israel, its heritage and its landscape. A third of the soldiers have never in their lives visited Jerusalem until we in the army arranged for them a visit. And there are soldiers who think that Massada is a place which we conquered in 1967! This is not funny".

No, it is not funny. And one might note several more substantial flaws in the education provided by Israeli schools in our time. Flaws which the Chief of Staff somehow failed to mention. Young people who finish school and get to the army without the educational system having instilled in them basic values of human dignity and human rights, without their becoming truly aware that all human beings are equal and were all "created in the shape of God". Young people who put on a uniform and get in their hands a gun and the power to kill – without anybody having ever explained to them what are manifestly illegal orders, on which the black flag of illegality flies. Orders which a soldier is not allowed to disobey, but is legally bound to disobey. Certainly, the young people get to the recruitment bureau and beyond, without having ever learned what is the Fourth Geneva Convention (of which Israel was among the first signatories), so they even don’t know what is permitted - and what isn't - to the soldiers of an occupying power.

Had the education system in the state of Israel done its job, to truly educate the young people facing military service, the Goldstone Report might have a been a lot thinner.