Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Get out - no matter where to!

In 1967, just after the Israel Defense Forces soldiers captured the whole of the West Bank, Yigal Allon came to see the place. He was at the time a senior government minister, considered a serious candidate for prime minister. Allon went to Nablus and Hebron and didn't like what he saw: too many Arabs, they could become a demographic threat. But to the east, at the Jordan Valley, his eyes lit up - the Arab population there is thin on the ground, and the region seemed fit to be annexed, so as to expand the borders of Israel.

Allon's plan has never formally been approved by any government, but its implementation began vigorously, already in 1967. One by one model kibbutzim and moshavim were established (not settlements, God forbid, just enlightened communities of the progressive Israeli Labor movement.) There was only one remaining problem - the Arabs. True, their population was sparse and scattered all over the Jordan Valley, but still they are there. The ideal - a Jordan Valley completely free of Arabs - is still far from realization.

Allon passed away in 1980m and the then-dreamed of "Jordanian Option" vanished long since, but the "Allon Plan" is still alive and kicking. Allon's numerous disciples are to be found in the army and the Civil Administration , in the Israeli Lands Authority and various branches of the government. Day by day, until the present, they continue trying to dilute even further the sparse Arab population in the Jordan Valley.

The little village Al-Farsieyah - a hamlet in the North East Valley with a total of ten families - had never heard of Yigal Allon. But yesterday - the morning of Tuesday, June 29, 2010 - Allon's long arm came out of the grave. Israeli Defense Forces soldiers came to the village, decrees in hand which required all residents to evacuate their homes and land within twenty-four hours. Not out of racism, God forbid, but for the residents' own good. The army has declared the area of the village, its houses and fields, to be part of a Fire Zone. Live ammunition training will soon start there. Residents must not be stay in their homes and ,God forbid, get hurt.

So far, the residents did not yet leave Al-Farsieyah, although the evacuation order already came into effect.

'We have nowhere to go ", they said.

The furniture salesman

From 1980 to 1982, when Binyamin Netanyahu had yet not set his sights upon a political career, he was a salesman for "Rim Kitchens" (which later went bankrupt). He offered customers creaking kitchen cabinets with their doors a bit apart, and sometimes even managed to find customers.

Today. as Prime Minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu offers Palestinians a creaking state without borders. Where exactly it is to be established? We'll talk about it later.

Netanyahu offered these goods not only to the Palestinians; also to the Americans and even to the Europeans.

No one buys it.

Where else to look for customers?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Invaders of the state lands...

Who are the Bedouins and were did they come from? An ordinary Israeli citizen, who went to an ordinary Israeli school and who reads the mass circulation Israeli newspapers and listens to the major TV channels, knows that the Bedouin were once a kind of exotic nomads, wandering the desert on camel. And the ordinary Israeli also knows that nowadays the Bedouins are dangerous people, invading state lands in the Negev, who "breed too much" and become a "demographic danger". Everybody knows that, just as there were countries where everybody knew that Jews were in the habit of mixing blood in the Passover matzes.

But where exactly did these Bedouins come from? How did the innocuous camel riders become such a major threat? And how did the Negev lands turn into state lands which need to be defended agains these invaders? Few people in Israel know (or want to know).

Last Wednesday, quite a lot could be heard at the hall of Justice Sarah Dovrat in the District Court of Be'er Sheba, who continues to preside over the proceedings of Nuri al Okbi's claim of the land from which he was deported, from which his entire tribe was expelled, in 1951.

Those who came to the courtroom could hear the state's expert witness withdraw, step by step, in the face of the sharp cross-examination conducted by Attorney Michael Sfard. They could hear of the centuries of the Bedouin life in the Negev, of the Tribal Court which sat in Be'er Sheba where Bedouin sheikhs were the judges and where land ownership cases were deliberated and decided in accordance with the Bedouin Customary Law. Of the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire which recognized Bedouin land ownership and never tried to take land away by force. And even of the Jewish National Fund, which in the days before 1948 bought land from its Negev Bedouin owners, and paid the full price, and never (then) argued that it was state land.

Those who came to the court could also hear of the creation of Israel. Of the only democracy in the Middle East, which soon after it came into being proclaimed the entire Negev to be the property of its newly-established government, making a Bedouin into no more than an invader and squatter on state land. Of the expulsion of these Bedouin invaders from most of the Negev, in the early fifties - some beyond the country's borders, some to a small area called "The Sayag" which the state graciously allocated to them. That even there, where they were brought by the state, they were and are considered to be squatters and invaders and are treated as such...

Interesting things happened in that courtroom, a legal drama by any standards. But the courtroom has room for no more than a handful of spectators, and none of the media bothered to publicize what took place. The media had other things to tell about the Bedouin. For example, that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Aharonovitz have resolved to "smash the Bedouin takeover of land in the Be'er Sheba Region", a takeover which is conceived as a dire threat which might lead to "cutting off of the Jewish territoririal continuity". The Ministry of Finance already allocated generous funds for the establishment of a new commando unit, to be charged with stifling any new Bedouin construction.

Pending the creation of the new commando unit, existing police units are already doing their best in this good cause. This week, very early in the morning, no fewer than 500 police officers - armed with guns and accompanied by large dogs – conducted a raid on the Tlalka Tribe.

The Tlalkas are already used to the visits of government officials, which take place about every month, and are usually composed of bulldozers and their escorts. The Tlalkas no longer try to rebuild the stone houses which they once briefly had, nor even the tin shacks which were their abode for long. They live again in tents, and after each visit of the bulldozers they put these tents together again and put in them what survived of their gear. There had already been some forty visits of this kind.

This week was a different kind of visit. For once the police had not come to destroy but to arrest. They had a list of 18 young Tlalka men, and they combed the tents until finding and taking all of them into custody. As the police told the press, this is a dangerous gang of squatters and invaders, who regularly and systematically harass civil servants and violently prevent them from performing their public duties. Specifically, gang members claim that the land they live on has been the land of their tribe for generations, and deny that it is state land. The dangerous gang also filed claims in court to recognize their ownership, and pending the end of these proceedings asked the Jewish National Fund to stop creating facts on the ground and planting forests on the disputed land. "These highly dangerous people used violence against public servants, threatened employees and contractors of the Jewish National Fund, and burned down the vehicles, tractors and the seedlings planted by the Jewish National Fund" said the police representative. The court was persuaded to remand the gang members in detention.

Perhaps now the dedicated public workers of the Jewish National Fund can proceed to peacefully pursue their important public job, and secure the lands of the Jewish state against the nasty invaders and squatters.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Strawberry fields forever

In the old story, two patients at a mental hospital sat by the window, looking out. On the path a farmer was driving a donkey, from the bags on whose back a rather unpleasant smell arose.

One patient asked the farmer: "What is in these bags?" and got the reply "It's organic manure, to spread on my strawberries." Thereupon, the patient told his friend "What a world! I spread sugar on my strawberries and they put me here, and he spreads manure on the strawberries and goes free."

But this was not really the end of the story. There was a third patient in the room, who intervened in the conversation: "That's nothing. In Jerusalem there is a mayor who insists on destroying 22 houses in the village of Silwan, just because 3000 years ago King David had his garden there. And he walks free, too."

Just one small thing more

Suppose the government of Israel decided to send a thousand trucks to the Gaza Strip, all loaded with high quality caviar, and that it would be served to the Gazans on plates of solid gold.

And suppose that after making such a magnificent gesture, Prime Minister Netahyahu would have asked the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip: "And now, what more do you want?"

They might have answered: "Just one thing more, Mr. Netanyahu. That from now on it would not be you who decides how many trucks enter our territory, and what is loaded on them. "

Silence is not golden

For a long time Noam and Aviva Shalit kept quiet and maintained a low public profile with regard to their son Gilead, held captive in the Gaza Strip. The government solemnly promised them that the subject was being taken care off and that everything will be fine. A month has passed, and another month, and another. The fourth anniversary of Gilead's capture comes near, and there is an increasing feeling nothing is being done.

Now, the parents decided to break their silence and set out on a long foot journey across Israel. Now they decided to confront head-on the Prime Minister and his ministers, and appeal directly to public opinion. Now they say openly what was, in fact, well known already long ago: that in order to get the Israeli captive free, many Palestinian captives will have to be released, including some of those defined in Israel as having "blood on their hands".

Would it work this time, after four years of captivity? Will we soon witness Gilead Shalit reunified with his family? (and at least some of the Palestinian prisoners reunified with theirs?).

Binyamin Netanyahu once defined the main principle of his policy: "Those who give will get, those do not give will mot get". In practice, this can often be rendered as " "Those who shout will get, those who keep silent will not."

The way to heaven - paved with fiascos

Only after the state of Israel provoked against itself an unprecedented wave of protests throughout the world - and nine people were killed at sea - did the government of Israel come to the conclusion that it might not be an absolute necessity to prevent Gazan Palestinians from consuming pasta and coriander.

How many more fiascos until the government comes to accept that the inhabitants of Gaza – like those of Ashdod, and of Haifa, and of thousands of sea-side cities on the shore of all the world's seas - have the right to build a sea-port and invite to it ships from anywhere in the world?

The naval forces of the State of Israel already prepare for the next headache: a boatload of Lebanese women seeking to sail to the Gaza shores...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Madness at full gallop

In recent days, the name of Emmanuel came up prominently in news bulletins and banner headlines.

Not because Emmanuel is a settlement established in the midst of an occupied territory. Not because it is strictly forbidden for Palestinians from the nearby villages to live there - even to Palestinians on whose land and that of their families this settlement was established. These fact were hardly mentioned by any of the reporters. After all, there's nothing special or new about all this, and it is no different from the situation in dozens of other settlements throughout the Occupied Territories.

Emanuel made headlines because of a racial discrimination between Israelis and Israelis, between Jews and Jews, because a group of dominant settlers is systematically discriminating against their fellow settlers. Because in the middle of a school a high separation wall was established to separate Ashkenazi girls from Sephardi girls. Because the young Sephardi girls were repeatedly humiliated and told to their faces that they were "second class" and that they were "worth much less than Ashkenazis."

In violation of the Supreme Court ruling on the matter, the whole group of Ashkenazi parents embarked on tricks and evasions as not to let their daughters go to class together with their "second-class sisters" - until sent to jail for contempt of court.

"We'll go to jail with our head held high" declared Martin Luther King when struggling for the civil rights of Blacks in the US South. But in 2010 Israel it is the racists who are going to jail their head held high, boundlessly proud of their racism and declaring it the most sacred of religious principles. Tens of thousands of enthusiastic supporters followed the racists up to the prison gates, proclaiming them to be heroes and martyrs.

And what is left to a sane person to say? Perhaps no more than that we are in even deeper trouble than we knew.

Speaking about madness:
Dov Yirmiya's The end of Sicarii Zionism is a must read.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Investigation. Really?

Noise. A lot of noise, all over the world. A noisy, turbulent world is vehemently protesting and demanding an investigation of Israel's behavior, the acts of the Israel's naval commandos who went on board to shoot and kill, and of the officers who commanded them and of the government which sent them and of the siege of Gaza because of which everything happened.

Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak sat down with their friends and associates and gave it a lot of thought. They discussed and consulted and conducted a lot of calls across the Atlantic and finally resolved: There will be an investigation! Yes, there definitely will be one. There will be a respectable retired judge. There will be two distinguished professors. There will also be distinguished observers from abroad. An especially distinguished observer will be the leader of the Protestant Unionists from Northern Ireland, who just two weeks ago join the "Friends of Israel Association" initiated by Netanyahu's associate Dore Gold.

There will certainly be a Commission, a neat and dignified one. And an Investigation? There will be an Investigation too, just a small little bit of investigation. No, there will be no investigation of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense and their doings. God forbid, an investigation might have even found something which would have hurt them politically.

Nor will the Commission deal with any soldiers or officers. Members of the Commission will not get to see or hear anyone in uniform. The Army will conduct any such investigation in its own way, thank you, and provide the Commission whatever material it would consider appropriate.

And the activists who were on the boats? Them, the Commission will certainly not see. After all, the State of Israel had already decided, even ahead of any investigation, that they are dangerous terrorists. If any of them dare to approach Israel's boundaries, they will not get to the Commission's halls, but to a detention cell where they will stay for quite a long time.

But still, an investigation there will be. There certainly will be. Commission members will thoroughly investigate the little crumbs which the government left them, and will eventually submit their carefully reasoned and respectable conclusions.

And what is this upstart UN Secretary General doing here, rudely unsatisfied with our respectable Commission of Inquiry and goes on pushing for an International Commission. What is this supposed to mean?

Quiet, gentlemen! Quiet! Do not disturb, there is an investigation going on. Please stand patiently in line!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The ungrateful

In November 1949, Israeli soldiers conducted extensive searches in several Arab villages - at the time under military government. The villagers complained of brutal treatment by the soldiers, and these complaints were voiced on the Knesset floor by KM Tawfik Toubi.

Many of Toubi's Jewish colleagues disliked hearing such things in the Knesset, and gave a public vent to their irritation. Some said "He should be grateful for being allowed to be a Knesset Member at all".

On November 18, 1949, poet Nathan Alterman published in the labor daily "Davar" a poem which made quite a stir, "The rebuke to Tawfik Toubi".

"Well, who is Tawfik Toubi? A Member of the Knesset.
A Communist, an Arab. In the parliament
He is by full right, not by anybody's favour...
Perhaps the time had come to remember this, my friends.
He owes us no debt for the greatness of our hearts.
His presence in the House is by the law
By basic principle
It is elementary.
No! Parliament should not raise its hand
Again and again try to divorce him.

62 years later

Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi is outspokenly opposed to the siege which the State of Israel imposes a on a million and half residents of the Gaza Strip - in which she undoubtedly expresses the wishes of her voters. To express this position, KM Zoabi joined the flotilla which set out to break the siege and bring humanitarian aid to the residents of Gaza. This flotilla was attacked by the State of Israel's naval commandos, who killed nine Turkish passengers in circumstances which are soon likely to be the subject of an international investigation.

MK Zoabi herself was at a lower deck while these traumatic events took place. Later on she – at the request of the commando officers who took over the boat – convinced wounded passengers to leave cabins where they barricaded themselves and be taken to medical treatment in Israel.

For the crime of having participated in this flotilla, KM Hanin Zoabi has come under an offensive more severe than any of the dozens of earlier attacks on Arab Knesset Members during Israel's six decades of existence. She suffered a physical assault on the Knesset floor itself, and the Interior Minister made an impassioned plea to the Attorney General to find a legal way of depriving her of Israeli citizenship.

The Knesset House Committee constituted itself a special Summary Court, and convened to try KM Zoabi and deprive her of parliamentary privileges. With KM Yariv Levin doubling as Chief Judge and Chief Prosecutor, the pre-determined verdict was approved. The overwhelming majority included also the representatives of the Kadima Party from the "opposition".

Where is Nathan Alterman of the year 2010?

Friday, June 4, 2010

How to win friends (Israeli style)

David Ben Gurion turns in his grave: he invested such great efforts in forming an alliance with Turkey, the non Arab among the Muslim countries, and therefore - so he thought - a natural ally to the Jewish state. It worked out well for more than fifty years. Not only was Turkey a strategic ally, for many Israelis it also was the first foreign country where they spent their holidays.

How did it all go wrong? It is hard to remember that less than two years ago Turkey's Erdogan was working hard to broker peace between Israel and Syria, and that his mediation was gratefully accepted by both of them. But just when a breakthrough seemed imminent, in December 2008, PM Olmert paid a cordial visit to Erdogan in Ankara, neglecting to tell his host about his intention to launch a devastating offensive against Gaza on the very same week.

Erdogan took it as a personal insult. The Turkish people were shocked by the daily footage of the Israeli bombings and the bleeding and burned Gazans. The cycle of Turkish accusations, angrily rebuffed in Israel, was launched, and under Netanyahu escalated out of anyone's control. A far from sophisticated  thriller series on Turkish TV, depicting Israeli occupation soldiers as even uglier than they really behaved, enjoyed high ratings.

A wiser Israeli government would not have paid official attention and would have accepted such things as unavoidable in the aftermath of its having so forcibly "reinforced our deterrence". But, top diplomat Ayalon thought it was better to put en scene a calculated "humiliate the ambassador" play.

Later on, a wiser Israeli government would have felt very careful and cautious when dealing with a Gaza aid flotilla in which a Turkish organization, under the patronage of its country's government, was a major actor. A bit more diplomatic government might have understood what was at stake, and might have decided to allow the flotilla through to Gaza, for example with the condition that the Turkish authorities check the boats' cargo and guarantee there were no weapons aboard.

But the Netanyahu government is endowed with even less wisdom, or diplomacy than its predecessors. And an alliance which started to unravel over Turks outraged by the killing of Palestinians got its coup de grace with them even more outraged by the killing of fellow Turks…

And now, Ireland. Never a strategic ally, but a country which always had reasonably good relations with Israel. (Not many countries in the world had a president of Irish origin, as Israel's Chaim Herzog was.) Today another Gaza-bound boat, the "Rachel Corrie" has reached the Mediterranean, having sailed all the way from Ireland, carrying Irish citizens on board and with her mission of breaking the siege of Gaza enjoying an overwhelming support in the Irish parliament and general public.

The government of Israel seems determined – as of this moment – to deploy its renowned naval commandos once again.

Who is next?