Friday, December 30, 2011


We have come to expel the darkness
We carry light and fire
Each of us is a little light
Together our light is a power
Away, darkness! Begone, blackness!
Turn back, back from the light!

Last week Uri Elitzur, a founder and leader of the settler movement (and former chef de bureau to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir), related to  this well-known Hanukkah song in the weekly edition of the right-wing "Makor Rishon" .

"We sang 'we have come to expel the darkness', and the kindergarten teacher let us march in step, and we were four-year old Maccabees and Pioneers upholding  the Blue and White flag and fighting the Greeks and Arabs", writes Elitzur, who was four in 1950. "We absorbed the conviction of the teacher and the other adults that we were the Children of Light and the Harbingers of Progress. In those days, both here and in the wider world, Zionism and Jewish Nationalism had a natural link with Enlightenment and Progress - the forces which expelled the Arab darkness and established the State of Israel".

But these good old days are long gone, complains Elitzur: "Light and Darkness have exchanged sides. Those who nowadays hold aloft enthusiastically the flag of Jewish Nationalism and fight the Arabs and settle the Land of Israel are no longer  regarded by the Enlightened Camp as Bringers of Light ; to the contrary, they are designated the Forces of Darkness. Conversely, it is those who support the Arabs and fight against Zionism who are convinced that it is they who are expelling the darkness and bringing the light".

So what does he propose to do about it? Make peace with the Palestinians? Fundamentally change Israel's behavior in practice, of which unpleasant reports go out all over the world? One need not exaggerate. Uri Elitzur lives in the settlement of Ofra at the heart of the West Bank, and he certainly has no intention of seeing it become part of the State of Palestine. In fact, he has a much simpler solution - later in life he realized that in fact "That image of the Expulsion of Darkness was a bit too enthusiastic and impassioned". In fact, it's not so appropriate to Jewish traditions. Hanukkah is about modest little candles that have no pretense of expelling the darkness.

In short: What is so bad about the darkness? If the Enlightened in this country and throughout the world turn against the settlers and settlements, let the settlers full-heartedly embrace the Darkness, and the world be damned. (That quite fits with the bills they and their friends keep on proposing in the Knesset...)

It happened that two days after the publication of this article, Channel 2 TV broadcast a big news item about a group of people who are very concerned about the deterioration of the status and image of Israel at the universities in the United States, where "Israeli Apartheid Week" is marked annually and speakers for the  Government of Israel face a hail of hostile heckling. "From the universities in the U.S. will come the next generation of leaders, the Presidents and Senators of the coming decades. Unless we can change the atmosphere there, the future of Israel is in danger," said one of the organizers.

So, what do these good people propose to do? Change the policy? Change Israel's face? Replace the government? Again, one should not exaggerate. A way was found - to convene the Israeli students attending American universities and equip them with good arguments to explain why we are still the Good Guys in this story. For example, to describe the horrors of suicide bombings perpetrated by Palestinians, and also explain that Israel covers only 0.8% of the overall total surface of the Middle East.

Is that enough to convince the students at universities across the United States that Palestinians could and should content themselves with 0.0% of ​​the Middle East? That's not at all sure.

And then, another coincidence (or is it truly coincidence?). On 26 December, the same day when this news item was broadcast extensively on Israel's Channel 2 TV , Adham Baroud died in the Al Rantissi Children's Hospital in Gaza City.

Adham Baroud  was seven months old when his life ended. He had been born suffering from congenital renal problems requiring specialized treatment that is unavailable in Gaza. Four months ago, he was sent to an Israeli hospital, where he was operated and returned to Gaza in a much better condition. But in late November there was a new deterioration after a catheter inserted in the  previous operation got infected.

On December 1, an official and urgent request was lodged with the Israeli authorities to let Adham Baroud be treated again.  The request got somehow stuck in the wheels of bureaucracy. For over three weeks, the officers and officials in charge of such issues could not make up their minds whether or not Adham Baroud constituted a danger to the security of the state of Israel. Now, they are spared any further dilemma on this issue.

This story came to me from the Gaza office of the British charity Oxfam. I looked in vain for any mention of it in the Israeli media. To be sure, there were other Gaza-related news items, much more important: about the aircraft carrying out the liquidation of those deemed to be dangerous Gazan terrorists, and of Palestinians shooting some missiles in retaliation, and of Israeli planes bombing some more in counter-retaliation, and of Israeli generals speaking ominously of a big all-out new war in Gaza, in or without conjunction with the bigger all-out war with Iran. It is absolutely necessary, in order to rebuild Israel's deterrence, which had been eroded a bit. But not this week. Not yet.

And, indeed, this morning there was on the radio a neat little item of how good we are.  Gazan farmers willing to come to a hall which was especially prepared for them near the Erez Crossing (which they are not allowed to cross) could attend a course of instruction in the proper use of insecticides and fertilizers, delivered by very enlightened Israeli instructors.

Who says we are no longer the Children of Light and Harbingers of Progress in the Dark Middle East?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Them Europeans

Why didn't we think of it before? Launching a frontal assault on the Europeans. We will teach them a lesson, once and for all, as we have already taught the Turks.

"Israel vs. Europe" proclaimed banner headlines in yesterday's newspapers. The "Israel Today" newspaper, aka Bibinews - published for our PM by philanthropist Sheldon Adelson - had an even more telling title: "Israel takes the offensive, Europe becomes irrelevant".

Huge ads all over the country, published by the Bibi paper, say "Every Israeli has the right to get excited!". And indeed, the promise is fully kept: What an excitement! The Battle of the Giants, Binyamin "Bibi"  Netanyahu and Avigdor "Yvette" Lieberman, all by themselves, take on the whole of Europe, the English and the French and the Germans, all of them together, and smite them hip and thigh!

Shame on these Europeans. Did they have nothing better to do with their time? Must they poke into the settlements which the government of Israel has seen fit to build and expand on every hill and under every tree in the West Bank (sorry, Judea and Samaria), on various pieces of land which Palestinians insolently assert that we stole from them? What robbery are you talking about? Is this not the Land  God in person promised to our ancestors. And now  the Minister of Education, Gideon Sa'ar, announced also in person that this is the Land of Our Forefathers which will remain ours forever, and that the scarce resources of the educational system must be used to bring all school kids to visit our brethren the settlers, who  make desert after desert bloom. So, let the Europeans stop interfering in our internal affairs.

And, by the way, what is this outrageous European interest in the torching of ten mosques? Oh, well, it's fifteen now, I was not quite up to date. But no matter, we will catch these arsonist bastards, we will indeed catch them and punish them with the full severity of the law, and we do not need Europeans to give us advice on the matter. We picked the best detectives of the Israel Police to work on this hot case, they are feverishly detecting and investigating and scrutinizing. There is no doubt that within five years at the most they will lay their hands on at least one of the arsonists. Well, maybe within ten years.

In short, the Europeans have lost their minds, they have become irrelevant, as the Palestinians are irrelevant; and the Turks, and the Egyptians, and the Syrians, who have never been relevant and the Iranians, not to forget how terribly irrelevant they are. And now - the Europeans. The British, the  French, and the Germans. All of them have ceased to be relevant. As a matter of fact, the Germans are still relevant when they build us a new submarine and fund it with one hundred and fifty million Euros. But that is where their relevance begins and ends. Otherwise, let them sit quietly and not interfere. Quiet, we are busy here – building and setting on fire and redeeming an ancestral land. Silence, don’t disturb!

And the Americans? Oh, that's another story altogether. The Americans certainly are relevant. At least, they are relevant until the Presidential elections in November next year. Until then, all candidates must listen to AIPAC and the Jewish vote, and take care not to anger us. That is what is relevant. But what if  that Obama gets re-elected and after the elections he also starts to make trouble about the settlements? Clear enough – in that case, he too will become irrelevant. We will stand all alone, in the most relevant of isolations.

Friday, December 16, 2011

About rampaging settlers, paralyzed soldiers and a threatened TV channel

"The law breakers at the Ephraim Brigade base camp are just like the law breakers at the Fence demonstrations in Bil'in, and should be treated the same" said the Prime Minister of Israel yesterday. As it happens, at exactly the same time there was a broadcast on the TV Documentary Channel a film about the activities of "Anarchists Against the Wall" in such villages as Bil'in and Ni'lin and recently also Nabi Saleh. Had the Prime Minister put on the TV set in his office, he would have seen soldiers opening up with a heavy barrage of tear gas as soon as protesters approached within tens of yards away, even without a single stone having been thrown. He could have seen how activist Matan Cohen was shot at close range and lost an eye. (There happened to be a photographer nearby, who documented in real time the bleeding eye). And the Channel 10 News this evening broadcast photos from the killing of Mustafa Tamimi last Friday at Nabi Salah and the killing of Bassam al Tamimi in Bil'in last year, both  shot by soldiers from close range. (So far, Channel 10 is still broadcasting, though it is under imminent threat of being closed down next month...)

In response, the spokesperson of the Army's Central Command expressed his wonder: "What did Mustafa Tamimi expect when he ran after a moving jeep and threw stones?" Indeed, what did he think? Now it is a bit late to ask him. And what were the young settlers thinking just four days later, when they opened such a door of an army jeep - whose passenger was an IDF brigade commander - hitting him in the head with a heavy stone? Were they afraid of sharing Mustafa Tamimi's end? If they had any such apprehension, it was certainly baseless. Actually, none of the many soldiers present did anything to prevent them from assaulting the  commanding officer, calling him a Nazi, and walking calmly away.

And after that the young settlers went in a great crowd through the main gate into the base camp of the Ephraim Brigade, without the guard blocking their way. (The guard at the gate of an army base is quite low in the military hierarchy, without much authority or standing – but the one thing he can be reasonably expected to do is prevent the entry of unauthorized persons…) . They entered the camp openly and brazenly, damaged military vehicles and slashed tires openly, in front of dozens of watching soldiers, and at the end of this operation went back through the same open gate decorated by the same guard, and went blithely back to their homes in the settlements.

So what should the soldiers have done? Open fire? With all due respect to Labor KM Ben-Eliezer, this might have been an unnecessary exaggeration. It would have probably been quite enough to declare "you are all under arrest", take the entire band into the nearest available detention cell, and on the following morning ask a judge to remand them in custody on charges of  aggravated assault and destruction of property.

But if it's that simple, how come it never occurred to any of the soldiers and officers present? Probably because already for decades it has been made crystal clear to soldiers entering service in the Occupied Territories, that their role and function is to help, facilitate and protect the settlers - at all times under all conditions and at all costs. When settlers take over a piece of land and establish a new outpost, the soldiers' mission is clear: first of all deploy to protect the settlers from any threat (including, and especially, from th side of the angry Palestinian owners of the land; only later (if at all) check into the legality of their presence there. In general, in any conflict between settlers and Palestinians, there is no question what the role of the soldiers should be: first,  use all means to help the settlers, and only later (if ever) check exactly what happened there, and why, and who is responsible and who is to blame.

Actually, all this began already in 1967. Already when Rabbi Levinger and his band set themselves up in Hebron for the first time and created a fait accompli, and the military governor sought to evict them due to his best professional judgment that their presence constituted the danger of a violent conflagration dangerous. But the political echelon (a Labor Party Cabinet, at the time ...) made it very clear to the governor that there are higher considerations which override the best of an officer's professional judgment. And ever since then, this lesson had been instilled and made clear to many generations of soldiers and officers. (Not to mention that an increasing proportion of the soldiers and officers are themselves settlers or come from the settler-friendly National Religious community, and that an ever decreasing number of people from other parts of the Israeli society are enthusiastic about serving in these places and in that army...)

Last night the Prime Minister delivered a magnificent speech at the Likud Governing Council  and promised that all this will would change, and that from now on harsh measures and severe penalties would be effected against anyone doing such things. Is he serious? There is, in fact, no need to take very drastic measures. Quite enough to convey new instructions through the army's normal chain of command which make clear to soldiers that  in such circumstances it is their duty to arrest the settlers. 

So what is going to happen next time that the Price Tag Hilltop Youth decide to go berserk? Probably we will not have to wait long to know the answer.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How we celebrated International Human Rights Day

December 10, 1948. Sixty-three years ago, the nations of the world gathered in Paris to adopt the Declaration of Human Rights, which states that all human beings everywhere have inalienable rights, which were set down and enumerated in great detail, and that every state and every government is bound to maintain and preserve them. In commemoration of  this event, the date of December 10 has been marked, ever since, as International Human Rights Day.

The young State of Israel, founded only a few months before, was among the first to sign this declaration, though its actions - both during the harsh war that accompanied its creation and in later years of its existence – did not always match what was said in that Declaration. In fairness it should be noted that Israel is not the only signatory to be open to such charges. Nor is Israel the only country where the government is angry and furious at the actions of human rights organizations which conduct research and dig up and reveal to the world the human rights violations perpetrated by the government and army and police and security services of their country.

This year, the Human Rights March in Tel Aviv was more than just another of the annual events which take place every year on this date. It was a challenge to an all-out assault by right-wing Knesset Members, in whose mouths 'Human Rights' became a dirty word and Senator Joe McCarthy -  an admirable man who was "right in every word he said." At the Rothschild Boulevard, the same place where the Social Justice protests began last summer, Human Rights activists gathered in their thousands - Jews and Arabs as well as hundreds of the African refugees for whom the Prime Minister of Israel intends to build new, large prisons (sorry, "staying facilities") and spend on it no less than 650 million shekels from the state budget.

"The Right Wing will not gag us!" read signs carried in the procession along Ibn Gvirol Street. There were activists for workers' rights, women's rights, the rights of the Arab minority, of the gay community and of the Palestinians in the Territories, as well as advocates of the right to housing, health, and education. Also members of the "Legal Aid Center for the Aged" were to be seen in the crowd, with their special logo showing a judge's gavel becoming a walking stick. Even MK Ofir Akunis would not find anything wrong with that (or would he?...)

And at that same moment, the villagers of  Nabi Saleh demonstrated in protest of settlers from Halamish taking over the spring which had provided water to their village over centuries. Every Friday they demonstrate, and every Friday Israeli soldiers disperse them. But not every Friday there are fatalities. Last Friday, in order to honor International Human Rights Day, an Israeli soldier sighted directly at the head of protester Mustafa Tamimi and shot him from a close range. Tamimi was mortally wounded and died in hospital the next day.

The next day, at about the time when Mustafa Tamimi died from his wounds and soldiers started shooting tear gas on Palestinians and Israelis taking part in his funeral, Prof. Dan Shechtman of the Haifa Technion delivered a speech in Stockholm when receiving the Nobel Prize in Chemistry from the King of Sweden. In the speech he said that it is the duty of scientists to promote education, rationalism and tolerance, in order to create a better world for all of us, and to keep their eye on the actions of the politicians. For their part, our politicians praised Professor Shechtman for an impressive and well-delivered speech and for having brought upon Israel a lot of honour, and went on to discuss the bill which would prohibit Muslims in Israel from calling the faithful to prayer from the top of minarets.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

JNF losing the battle for its reputation

Investigative journalist Uri Blau specializes in obtaining documents that are not intended for publication. He is currently waiting for the State Prosecutor's office with regard to the classified military documents he published with regard to "liquidations" and executions without trial whose publication considerably embarrassed the High Command of the Israeli Defense Forces. Former soldier Anat Kam already begun serving a four and a half years' term for having leaked these documents  to this reporter. Is the journalist also to be prosecuted for having fulfilled what he considers his professional and moral duty? A complicated issue, with which the government's legal branch has not yet completed grappling. Meanwhile, Blau does not sit idle.

In the Ha'aretz weekend supplement last Friday, Blau published minutes from the organization known as the Jewish National Fund, internal documents which include quite a few interesting items.

The included quotes hereafter are my own translation from the Hebrew original, written before Blau's article appeared in Ha'aretz English.

"A Jew bought an apartment in Carmiel [in the Galilee], on JNF land. He had no problem. Twenty years have passed and Muhammad, who lives in Deir al-Assad [near Karmiel] came in search of an apartment to buy. The Jew sold him the apartment, and got a proper payment. Then he goes to the Israel Lands Administration and says: 'Hello, I am Muhammad, I would like to register the apartment in my name in the Land Registry. They say, "Wait a minute, you're an Arab, aren't you? Then it is impossible. The rules are that JNF land may not be sold or leased to Arabs'."

Nowadays, this doesn't really sound good. Effi Stenzler, Israeli Labor Party member, Head of the Jewish National Fund and former Mayor of Givatayim, certainly did not mean these honesty spoken words, duly noted down in the minutes, to get such a public scrutiny in Israel and abroad. True, the Jewish National Fund had known  better days, easier times, when there had been no need to hide its goals or be ashamed of them. When the JNF was established through the resolutions of the 1901 Zionist Congress, and still for many years afterwards, there had been no special problem in openly proclaiming that its raison d'etre was to acquire land for the use of Jews, and of Jews only. Throughout the Twentieth Century, it was common for the current British Prime Minister to hold the title of Honorary Patron of the JNF (the current habitant of 10 Downing Street decided to decline this honor).

Under Ottoman and British Mandatory rule, the Jewish National Fund purchased another acre after acre, through the donations of various  millionaires as well as the dimes and pennies which Jewish children all over the world placed in the JNF 's blue donation boxes set up at their schools. (In Woody Allen's film "Radio Days" taking place in New York in the 1940's a Jewish boy broke open one of these boxes and dropped the money into his own pocket - which turned out to be a biographical detail.)

Until 1948, the JNF managed to gain control of about four percent of Mandatory ​​Palestine. In 1949 the government of Israel gave it another nine percent of the land, which was at the time classified as "abandoned land" whose previous owners ended up in refugee camps on the other side of the border. For this bounty of real estate the Jewish National Fund was not required to pay anything, not even a single one of these pennies donated by children to these  famous blue boxes. And all of these thirteen percent of ​​the State of Israel's territory which became JNF lands were - and still are – subject to the JNF bylaws stating that the land shall never be sold or leased or given away to a non-Jew. (According to these bylaws, even working as an employee on JNF land is prohibited to non-Jews, although this stipulation the JNF has long ceased trying to enforce – otherwise, Israel's agriculture might have collapsed...)

And that is still the situation up to the present. By the law enacted by the Knesset, management of the JNF lands was transferred to the Israel Lands Authority, which is obliged by law to administer it according to the abovementioned JNF bylaws. But in recent years, this routine is starting to creak, and there were repeated appeals to the Supreme Court, making the judges stick their noses into JNF affairs and take considerable interest in them and strangely enough rule that the discrimination of Arab citizens is illegal in a democratic country. In the previous Knesset, legislation has been initiated by right wing MKs to define this as legal, but it got stuck (maybe now it will be back ...). And now in some of the world's democratic countries – in Britain and Australia and even in the United States – there is an increasing number of people and groups asking why should the Jewish National Fund go on being registered in their countries as a tax-exempt charitable organization.

And then the Jewish National Fund was faced with a worldwide deluge of unflattering reports about the Negev Bedouin village of Al-Arakib, the village whose existence is strongly opposed by the Government of Israel , which applies its might to destroy it again and again (only to have it erected again and again by the residents). There were widely-disseminated photos of JNF bulldozers flattening the ground, in preparation for the planting of a Jewish National Fund forest on the site of the village, so as to create there an irreversible fact.

Also on this Stenzler had interesting things to say, quoted in the minutes now published by Blau: "We learned from experience that where a tree is planted, almost no one can take over the land... This is an area of which we take possession so that nobody else can take it over, neither Jews nor non-Jews, neither Bedouins nor anyone else". JNF Board member Yitzchak Krivitzky had an idea how to deal with the problem. "We play with courts and democracy. Go to Sinai and see how the Egyptians take care of the Bedouins. There is no democracy there."

But other members of the JNF board did raise concerns about the revelations in the world. Director Alon Tal said the affair was "a very grave JNF public relations fiasco... The photos of JNF forestry workers and bulldozers destroying buildings get into the focus of attention, and the Jewish National Fund looks like an accomplice. Our overseas representatives were unable to  give a convincing answer to the charges. They lost the battle for our reputation in Australia, the United States, and so on ".

Even more emphatic was Director Ora Kresin. "I will say what I think, even if it sounds quixotic" she said. "I feel uneasy about these photos placing trees against people. Having trees become a weapon of war against an Israeli population, citizens of Israel, is extremely difficult. It is very difficult to see these photos and listen to these voices. "

Chairman Stenzler expressed his satisfaction with the fact that at least the adverse publicity occurred mainly abroad. "I want to thank communications and public relations people, who worked diligently to prevent this issue from popping up in the media... In the Israeli media this issue hardly struck a chord. God forbid that it would." Well, now it begins to get attention also in the Israeli media.

The response made to Blau by the JNF stated that "the article is based on a collection of misquotes and half-truths" and that "the Israeli media acts responsibly, seeing and knowing that not a single tree had been planted in that area." Indeed, so far the JNF had not implemented its declared purpose of planting trees in Arakib and establishing facts on the ground against the Bedouin population. And perhaps, because of the media coverage, it never would ...

And a bit different, yet similar, issue: Since 1967, the JNF has made an effort to take control of Palestinian lands and properties, and was not very scrupulous about the means used in achieving this purpose. For example, the JNF had been conducting a years-long struggle to evict the Sutrin Family from their home in the village of Silwan in East Jerusalem. The state authorities declared the family house to be "absentee property" and therefore transferred ownership to the "Custodian of Absentee Property", who transferred ownership to the Jewish National Fund, which intended to remove the Palestinians from the house and hand it over to the settler association Elad,  which had already taken over in similar ways many Palestinian buildings and lands in Silwan. Last week, the twelve members of the Sutrin Family were going be thrown out of their home by a court order issued at the request of the Jewish National Fund.

Had the story not burst out in the Israeli and international media, by now the settlers would have already been in possession of the house. But the publicity  caused the JNF a  lot of confusion and headache - especially when the Rabbis for Human Rights organized a campaign of letters of protest to both the JNF directors in Israel and their fellows in the United States, who could be expected to be more open to the arguments. The JNF people tried to assert that it was not them demanding expulsion of the Palestinian family, but only the settlers who asked the court for the eviction order. But it turned out that the request to the court to issue the eviction order was lodged by the lawyers  in the name of the JNF (though, indeed, the same lawyers also happen to represent settlers). In the end, JNF announced that (at least for the time being)  the eviction order would not be carried out ...

On the well-designed website of the Jewish National Fund, all this is not mentioned. There's no word of Arakib nor of Silwan.  In fact, no mention of Arabs at all. There are a few general words about JNF "working on behalf of the Jewish people, as the trustee of their properties in the Land of Israel". But mainly the website is devoted to explaining that the Jewish National Fund is a model ecological and environmental organization, thoroughly Green :

"JNF is responsible for 1.5 million acres of planted and natural forest in Israel. In this land the JNF has planted over 240 million trees across approximately 200,000 acres. At a time of global warming, planting trees fixes the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, and therefore contributes to reducing global warming. JNF is developing community forests and bio-spheric parks which  combine and balance between use by the community which lives around the woods and open spaces and the preservation of nature and environment. JNF staff are ready at any moment to prevent forest fires and use advanced firefighting equipment and fire observation towers. The JNF performs advanced research in the process of rehabilitating burned areas. The JNF is working to de-pollute and rehabilitate the springs and rivers of Israel, and develop the potential for using nature and landscape as a public resource. The JNF prevents soil erosion and desertification processes, embarking on drainage flood damage rehabilitation projects. The JNF partners with international agencies in an attempt to find a solution for global forestry issues, drainage basin management, lowering levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and the management of semi-arid regions. The JNF conducts and supports research and development enterprises with international implications, and shares the knowledge with other countries."

The above is a sample of the extensive environmental activities for which the JNF proudly takes credit.
Indeed, a welcome and praiseworthy activity. It is highly desirable that somebody in Israel be in charge of promoting it. But why, in fact, should it be a specifically Jewish organization, excluding everybody else? Is preserving the environment not in the interest of all Israeli citizens, irrespective of religion, race or ethnicity?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"There are judges in Jerusalem!"

A week ago the extreme right paper "Makor Rishon" published  an article praising the efforts of Justice Minister Ya'akov Neeman to introduce significant changes in composition and orientation of the Supreme Court. In illustration it was accompanied by a cartoon depicting Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish screaming in rage and frustration when the minister moves his pawns in sophisticated gambits on the chessboard.

But not all moves are successful. This week the Israeli Bar Association has elected its representatives to the Judicial Selection Committee, which would choose new judges for the Supreme Court,  and they were not at all to the liking of the Minister and his adherents. Not that they are deterred – the new ploy is to pass in the Knesset a bill which would overturn the Bar Association's choice and force the lawyers to elect new representatives, more to the government's liking... Is this a game of chess? It looks more like a  boxing bout without rules.

Yaacov Katz, a leader of the settlers in the Occupied Territories and a Knesset Member for the National Union Party, initiated a bill which would make Justice Asher Grunis - who rarely interferes with the acts of the government and the army – into the next President of the Supreme Court. "This is a bill to return power to the people and wrest control of the Court away from a small miserable Tel Aviv elite group" said Katz.  "All opinion polls confirm that confidence in the Supreme Court is meager. Only the Left and the Arabs express any trust in this court, the Jewish People regard it with contempt."

Coincidentally or not, the same newspaper which published Katz's opinions also featured another item about the same Supreme Court.  The twins Mohamed and Mahmoud Atun live in Wadi Hummus which is part of Sur Baher, itself part of East Jerusalem. In East Jerusalem, Palestinians may only live if granted a residence permit  by the Interior Ministry in the Government of Israel. Such a status the Israeli authorities refused to grant to the young Atun twins, though their father is an undisputed Permanent Resident of East Jerusalem. Since 2008 Ahmad Atun had been conducting as struggle on the status of his sons - but the Supreme Court heard his appeal and decided that the twins would not get the residency permit.

Indeed, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish did rule that it is unacceptable to split a family in that way, the father having the right of residence at his home and his children denied the same - but she remained in the minority. Judge Grunis, the government's designated President of the Court, ruled together with his colleague Edmund Levy that such splitting of a family was acceptable "in order not to create a precedent".

"Now my sons are imprisoned in the house. Any police officer can at any moment arrest them. They can't go out to study or work or get married" said the father, whose last hope was dashed.

If such was the ruling of a "left-leaning court", what would have been the outcome in a court tending to the right?
The Supreme Court of the State of Israel is part of the government structure. It has shared interests and a shared system of values with the government, the Knesset, the Israeli Defense Forces and the Security Services,  Shabak and Mossad. It rules according to the laws made by the Knesset (though having wide powers to interpret them) and acts on the presumption that the government's acts and policies are legitimate (unless clearly proven otherwise). Its judges certainly do not want to make a move which would be – or would be perceived as being – harmful to National Security or undermining the foundations of the Zionist enterprise.

But the Supreme Court justices are also part of the international legal establishment, along  with the Supreme Court judges of the United States,  and those of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and of the International Court in the Hague and the jurists and professors in prestigious Faculties of Law throughout America and Europe. They would certainly not want to take a step which would be (or could be construed as) a violation of the norms of equality and democratic conduct formulated in Western democracies over the past fifty years.

So what do the judges do? They look here and they look there and compromise in this direction and in that. Immediately after the war in 1967 Meir Shamgar, then President of the Supreme Court, decided to hear and rule on the petitions of Palestinians from the newly conquered territories and pass under judicial review the actions of the army. But the court also decided that such petitions cannot be based on the Fourth Geneva Convention, and that the State of Israel is not obligated to do adhere to the letter of that Convention, but merely to its  "Humanitarian Principles".

For example, the Court ruled that the State of Israel is not obligated to adhere to the article in the Geneva Convention which prohibits an Occupying Power from moving and settling its own citizens in the Occupied Territory – since ruling otherwise would have rendered illegal any Israeli settlement whatsoever, and put the court in complete opposition to the basic government policy. In March 1979, when a petition was filed against the expropriation of Palestinian land for the establishment of the settlement of Beit El, north of Ramallah, the General in Charge of the IDF Central Command provided an affidavit to the court stating that "civilian settlement is part of Israel's system of defense" and therefore the expropriation was required for security purposes. The court did not want to dispute with the professional opinion of a general and accepted the state's position. Then Prime Minister Menachem Begin declared jubilantly on the Knesset podium: "There are judges in Jerusalem – settlements are legal!" and it was the left which was incensed at the court.

But half a year later, when a petition was filed against the expropriation of land near Nablus for the Elon Moreh settlement, the retired generals Matti Peled, and Chaim Bar-Lev filed affidavits stating their professional opinions which were contrary to that of the incumbent officers, stating that settlements do not in any way serve National Security but to the contrary impose on it a heavy burden. And this time the judges took up the dissenting opinion and determined that  expropriating private land in order to build settlements was unacceptable and that the land in question must be returned immediately to its owners. This time it was the adherents of peace who proclaimed "There are judges in Jerusalem", and briefly the settlers and their supporters panicked. But soon the state found methods of declaring vast tracts of land to be "State Lands", making creative use of various obscure laws leftover from the Ottoman Empire, and even if they had been for generations in possession of Palestinian farmers such State Lands were made available for the erection of Israeli settlements, all perfectly legal according to the Supreme Court...

And later arose the question of the Separation Wall (or Fence or Barrier or various other names), and was under review at the International Court in The Hague. Whereupon that court held that the Fourth Geneva Convention in its entirety does apply to the State of Israel, and that Israel should not build a separation wall inside the Occupied Territory, blocking Palestinians villagers from having access to their land.

Should Israel want to build a border fence to defend its borders, the right place to erect it is on the Green Line, the 1967 border which remains the internationally recognized border of Israel. And then the Supreme Court judges of Israel came up with their own different verdict on the same issue. They determined that building a Separation Wall inside the West Bank was in itself acceptable, but the injury caused to Palestinians must be "proportional". And therefore the court held that in some places the fence had to be moved and (some of) their lands be returned to the Palestinians. And right-wingers were extremely incensed at the leftist court which helps the Arabs and damages National Security. For their part, the military authorities were very slow in implementing the ruling and came to the brink of contempt of court, but in the end the Wall was indeed moved in several locations, which made a lot of difference to the specific farmers whose land it was.

And on another field – an Israeli middle class couple named Kaadan wanted to  purchase a home in a newly established town – and were turned down because they happened to be Arabs. And when they appealed to the Supreme Court, the  state authorities answered to the court that it was true, an exclusively Jewish community was being created in which there was no room for Arabs, and there was nothing unusual about that – establishing Jewish-only communities was and had always been a cornerstone of Zionism. At the time, Supreme Court President Aharon Barak stated "This is the most difficult decision of my life",  but after years of deliberation he and his colleagues decided to accept the petition and require the state authorities to allow the Kaadans to buy a house, like every other Israeli citizen irrespective of religion, race or ethnicity. It took the couple several more years and bureaucratic struggles until they actually got into their home. In the meantime the authorities found a new method – establish "Selection Committees" which are empowered to reject those who want to buy a home in a community because "they don't fit the social fabric", and this method was given the sanction of a Knesset law passed a few months ago. In the Supreme Court, appeals on its legality are still pending…

And there also came up the question of the interrogation methods used by the Shabak Security Services. For years, when the lawyers of Palestinian detainees appealed and asserted that their clients were being tortured, the court refused to hear the petitions on various technical grounds. When Human Rights organizations lodged an overall petition about such methods of torture ("moderate physical pressure"), the deliberations dragged on for years without issue, and the Shabak made strong hints and suggestions that should the Judges intervene  in the interrogation methods, they would be held responsible for any upsurge in acts of terrorism which would follow. At that time, Supreme Court President Aharon Barak used to stay some time each year at the prestigious Law School of Yale University in the In the United States. Some of the Yale students were going to hold a protest against "the Supreme Judge who allows torture." With great effort, the heads of the Faculty prevevailed upon the students not to hold the demonstration which would have shamed their Guest of Honor, but shortly after the return of Barak to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem he accepted the petition of the Human Rights groups and banned various methods of "moderate physical pressure" which were held to be contrary to International Law. (The Shabak later invented new methods, a bit different than those which the Court forbade...)

 And then, there came back tot the Supreme Court the issue of settlements  and the land on which they were established.  Peace and Human Rights organizations collected and brought evidence that despite the great abundance of "State Lands" available to them, the settlers allowed themselves to seize the private land of Palestinians, without any kind of expropriation or legal procedure - robbery and theft, pure and simple. And the court ruled that these settlements must be evacuated, and particularly determined that the settlement of Migron – which has become a kind of symbol and rallying point for the settlement movement - had to be evacuated no later than March 2012. And the settlers and their supporters cried out very loudly, and threatened civil disobedience and large scale violence and a multitude of random attacks on Arab property which they call "price tags".  And Foreign Minister Lieberman threatened to leave the cabinet and shake its stability, should the Supreme Court ruling on Migron be carried out. It might be all this which created for the Netanyahu Government a feeling of emergency and urgency to change, ahead  of March 2012, the composition and orientation of the Supreme Court...

So - who are you, the Supreme Court of the State of Israel? The last remaining defender and bastion of democracy and Human Rights, or just the "Good Cop" in a role-playing game which the State of Israel is playing? Or a bit of this and a bit of that, and not quite either? The Supreme Court is constantly looking in two directions, making all the time opposing considerations, and reaching all kinds of compromises – sometimes, rotten compromises. For many years, also the Government of Israel wanted to have such a Court, and found it quite useful. "There are judges in Jerusalem!" can only be said with conviction when these judges have some international credibility in the world.

But a different time has come upon us, when different tunes are sung. It is a different kind of a Right Wing – one which feels no shame or embarrassment, which no longer feels a need to put on a mask. A government appointing as its chief diplomat an Avigdor Lieberman, deliberately making him the face which Israel presents to the world. And now they want the Supreme Court to toe the line, too.Let the judges look in one direction only - at the government and the Knesset and the Army and the Security Services – and definitely turn their backs on colleagues in America and Europe and forget all that crap called democracy and Human Rights. To achieve this, ingenious tricks are devised and procedures are twisted out of shape and laws are changed in a twinkling and every obstacle crushed through with a heavy hand and everything done openly and brazenly. No more hypocrisy.

Is it possible? Certainly, it's possible. Gone are the days when you could say about anything in Israel "this is unconceivable." All bets are off, everything is open, everything is conceivable. Even a Supreme Court in the shape and image  of the current majority in the Knesset. Why not? Also in North Korea there is  an institution called The Supreme Court. Also in Syria.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The bastards have changed the rules

In a public opinion poll conducted in Israel several years ago, about sixty percent of the respondents supported the idea of Israel ​​joining the European Union. So far, this has not happened, but Israelis are very pleased that our soccer and basketball teams participate in European championships. Also the Eurovision Song Contest gets at least as much public attention in Israel as in countries located in the continent of Europe itself.

But how many Israelis would like to accept the authority of the European Court of Human Rights based in Strasbourg? 

Herzl would have been very surprised to hear that a time will come when "Colonialism" would be a dirty word and various Zionists will write articles and books trying to prove there is no connection and no similarity whatsoever between Zionism and Colonialism. 

"The Jewish Colonial Trust" was the name of the financial institution established by the Zionist movement at its beginning (now Bank Leumi LeIsrael, Israeli National Bank). Theodor Herzl devoted much time and effort to meetings with the British Colonial Secretary, and attempts to persuade him that Zionism could be a loyal ally for the worldwide British Empire.

At the time when Zionism started, the enlightened and civilized countries of the time considered it quite acceptable and self-evident that Europeans had the right to seize control of the rest of the world and establish settlements there – with or without the consent of the "natives".

When the State of Israel was created and its establishment caused hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to become refugees, it was very shortly after millions of people in Europe were uprooted and driven from their homes and from countries where they had lived for hundreds of years. Acts which today would be called "ethnic cleansing" and which then at that time were undertaken with official and express authority from the resolutions of the war victors, gathered at the Potsdam Conference of 1945. Mainly uprooted and expelled from their homes in Eastern Europe were ethnic Germans (in 1945, it was common to consider what happened to Germans they had brought upon themselves);  but quite a few Poles and Ukrainians and members of several other peoples were also uprooted from their homes by force ...

And on the year in which the State of Israel was born, and still for some years after that, racial segregation the discrimination of Blacks were set out in the  laws of the United States of America, and a significant part of the American political system thought that this was exactly the way things should go on.  And in those years most people in France considered  Algeria to be an integral part of France which would remain such forever, and a million and half French settlers lived in Algeria and were in political and economic control, and Arabs in French Algeria did not have civil rights, and only radicals and extremists in France thought there was anything wrong about this. And not coincidentally, when these Algerian Arabs rebelled embarked on a war of independence, France regarded the young State of Israel as its natural ally.

So, for many years it was not so hard to be members of the club of Western Democracies. The admission requirements were not so rigid, and the norms of behavior of other members in the club were not all that different. But in the sixties things began to change definitely and the ways started to part in opposite directions. Algeria won its independence after a harsh and cruel war, and the colonies of France and Britain and other empires gained independence, and the very idea of ​​colonialism and settlement in the territory of somebody else became unacceptable and illegitimate. And in the Southern United States Martin Luther King and his Black (and White) fellows waged a hard struggle and ultimately won, and the laws of segregation between Whites and Blacks were abolished and discrimination became illegal and illegitimate, and the way was paved towards the entering of a Black President to the White House. The norm was set that all people living under the rule of a government must share in the elections from which this government issues.

And just at this time, in the Sixties when students went out on furious demonstrations in Europe and America and opposed the Vietnam War and the authoritarian government of France, the State of Israel went out on a war lasting six days and captured a territory which it keeps to this day. And the state worshiped its victorious army and victory albums were published and the Chief Rabbi of the victorious armed forces went into the newly occupied  territories in search of holy sites where he blew the ram's horn. And in the immediate aftermath of war and conquest, the settlement movement started in the Land of Our Forefathers, with the generous support of Labor Party ministers who did not understand that they were digging a grave for their party (and not just for it). And the people who understood the magnitude of the danger, and who went out at night to write graffiti against the just-started occupation on the walls of Tel Aviv,  were a minority and their voice was not heard.

And ever since, the disparity has widened and the State of Israel has become the black sheep in this club of Western democracies, to which she so much wants to belong. And increasingly, outsiders could see a huge armored Israeli Goliath confronting the little Palestinian David, stone in  hand.

There had been an interlude when Yitzhak Rabin – a man who spent most of his life in war but retained enough flexibility to change his way of thinking when already beyond the age of seventy – tried to change and reverse course. Seeing Israel isolating itself and embarking on the path of eternal war with its neighbors in the region and loss of its friends in the world, Rabin went on to shake hands with Yasser Arafat and enter into an agreement that would have led to the establishment of the State of Palestine no later than May 1999.

But the assassin's three shots in the square intervened, and among all Prime Ministers who served after the murder Yitzhak Rabin did not have a successor.

Rabin's legacy is still alive among the youths who came to the square on Saturday a week ago, to honor the memory of a man who was murdered when they were babies or not yet born and to swear allegiance to the cause he took up in the last years of his life and for which he died. But Israel as a state has turned its back on Rabin and his legacy - moving high-speed towards the abyss.

Taming the Europeans

In a month or so, after the American diplomatic steamroller blocks recognition of the State of Palestine at the UN Security Council, the debate will move to the UN General Assembly, where the American have no veto power. Towards this vote, Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made an intensive effort to secure the support of Western democracies and gain their vote against the Palestinian request. Especially he sought the support of the European countries, making repeated visits and showering their leaders with compliments. Again and again Netanyahu declared that if the enlightened democracies stand by him, support for the Palestinians "would not have a moral force".

And just at this time Knesset Member Ofir Akunis, a close associate of Netanyahu, submitted a bill which gained the cabinet's support and which takes a quite different attitude to these same countries. A bill whose proclaimed aim is "to prohibit Israeli NGOs from accepting the donations of governments and international bodies such as the European Union", and thus "prevent the interference of foreign states in Israeli politics" and their support for (God forbid!) Human Rights organizations.

Speaking about "moral force"...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


In 2005 the State of Israel carried out a large political and military operation called "Disengagement from Gaza", following which the state formally informed the Supreme Court that it no longer controls Gaza and is not responsible for what is happening there.

When asked why, then, does the State of Israel continue to keep its warships cruising off the coast of Gaza and block the way of anyone trying to get in or out, the state answered that it had imposed a naval blockade on the Gaza Strip. Indeed, there is such a possibility in International Law, to impose a blockade on the shores of another country. But does Israel really consider the shores of Gaza as the shores of another country?

Last Saturday, two boats sailed toward the coast of Gaza, one from Canada and the other from Ireland. At sea, in international waters, they were boarded and taken over by the renowned Naval Commandos of the State of Israel. "This time it passed without violence," read a brief news story published the next day's in Israel's biggest newspaper "Yediot Ahronot". Which is not entirely accurate. The peace sailors, from Canada and Australia and Ireland and other countries, indeed did not resort to any kind of violence. On the other hand, the renowned commandos did use electric shockers  and pointed loaded guns at the heads of the activists. True, on this occasion they did not pull the trigger, and everybody on board survived and got alive into the detention cells.

"You're charged with violating the law on Entry Into Israel. Sign right here: 'I admit that I entered Israel illegally' " said the Israeli Police interrogators. "Absolutely not," answered the activists. "We did not want to enter Israel, we had absolutely no intention to do so. We wanted to reach Gaza, and you yourselves stated that Gaza is not Israel. We have entered Israel only because your soldiers took us off a boat in international waters and brought us into Israeli territory by force and against our will". 

"If you don’t sign a confession that you have entered Israel illegally, we keep you here" concluded the policeman...


November Second - and Fourth

Last week there passed quietly the date of November 2. It is exactly 94 years since that day in 1917 when Arthur James Balfour, Foreign Minister of Britain, signed a document known in Zionist history as "The Balfour Declaration". There were times when this date was noted with ceremonies and enthusiastic celebrations among Jews living in this country and by angry protests of their Arab neighbors - but since then, quite a few other things had happened, adding various other dates to be marked with joy or rage, and the Balfour Declaration was pushed into the margins. Perhaps this opportunity should be taken to briefly remind of it again.

A short document of great historical significance. "His Majesty's Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people" – to which, however, was added the proviso "It being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine". In the original English was written " Palestine". Hebrew translations almost always render it as "Eretz Israel", a difference which is not only linguistic.

The British deliberately did not give a detailed explanation what exactly a "national home" is, leaving it to "constructive ambiguity". But there was no doubt that with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, that National Home did in fact become a reality (at which point, by the way, His Majesty's Government no longer viewed it with any great favour). And what about the other half? Which Zionist - even the most ardent – would dare to assert that the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine have not been infringed in the least during the years which passed since 1917?

How to build and maintain in this country a Jewish national home without prejudice to the rights of the Arabs? How to protect the rights of the Arabs without damage to the Jewish national home? How to eat your cake and have it, get into the water and stay dry? The British tried to maintain an impossible balance for thirty years of conflict and bloodshed, and finally gave up and went away. After that nobody even tried seriously to strike a balance, and there were many, many conflicts and wars and much suffering, and the conventional wisdom was that of a zero-sum game, what's good for us is bad for them and vice versa, and better be ready to kill them before they kill us.

Then, in a moment of hope, it seemed that the rules have changed. A ceremony was held on the lawn of the White House and an Israeli leader shook hands with a Palestinian  leader and a document was signed which stated that "The Government of the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, representing the Palestinian people, agree that it is time to put an end to decades of confrontation and conflict, recognize their mutual legitimate and political rights, strive to live in peaceful coexistence and mutual dignity and security, and achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement and historic reconciliation.

The Prime Minister which Israel had at that time signed this document and took it seriously and tried to realize it in practice. He intended to reach a definite peace agreement  with the Palestinians by the date stipulated in the agreement signed - no later than the month of May, 1999.

But he did not live to see that day. On the night of  November 4, 1995, seventy-eight years and two days after the Balfour Declaration, three shots reverberated in a city square where a peace rally had just ended. The first (and so far only) Israeli Prime Minister who seriously wanted and intended to achieve peace with our Palestinians neighbors paid for it with his life. And May 1999 passed without an agreement and without a Palestinian state. The occupation continued, as a matter of fact became worse; the settlements expanded further and further, as did violent attacks and assaults and  bombings and bloodshed and more bloodshed on both sides.

We have come back to the zero-sum game, to fighting and fighting without hope; to killing and dying and wandering in the dark of a tunnel with no glimmer of light ahead. Ninety-four years after the Balfour Declaration and sixteen years after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the government of Israel government decided to punish the Palestinians for their audacity in asking UNESCO for recognition of an independent statehood – punish them by building a further 2,000 housing units reserved for Jewish settlers only, on  parcels of land which the State of Israel proclaimed to be "State Land " and thus expropriated them from the  Palestinians. ("It being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine" - but who remembers that?).

This week Dr. Yuval Steinitz, the renowned philosopher of Haifa University who serves as Finance Minister in the Government of Israel, paid an especially hearty and cordial visit to the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba (yes, the same settlement in which pilgrimages are taking place to the grave of Baruch Goldstein at the heart of Rabbi Meir Kahane Park) and noted how glad and happy he was to increase the government budgets allocated to the settlements in general and to Kiryat Arba in particular. And Dr. Steinitz also noted during his visit to  Kiryat Arba that "it would be strange if the State of Israel  continues to transfer funds to UNESCO".

Much less strange that Steinitz' colleague FM Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of an extreme right racist party - sent his ambassador at the UN to meet Marine Le-Pen, leader of France's extreme right racist party (perhaps to convey his sincere wishes for her to become Foreign Minister, too?)

Next Saturday night, November 12th, at 7:30 pm, will gather at the Rabin Square in Tel Aviv the people who remember Yitzhak Rabin, and what he came to symbolize; what he sacrificed his life for. People who think that Israel can still change direction, get on the path of peace and follow it.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Where did this mess come from?

And again, for the thousandth time, escalation on the Gaza border. They fired missiles at us and we bombed and killed five of them, and they fired more missiles and this night the Air Force will return to Gaza and bomb again. Quite by chance, all this is happening just on the evening when the Social Protest Movement gets up from its slumber and back to the streets.

What the hell? Why now? We had months of quiet on the Gaza border when the prisoner exchange was being negotiated and finalized, and we carried it out, and our Gilad came back home, and of the Palestinians prisoners those who were released were lucky and the others will have to wait another ten or twenty years, and the box called Gaza was closed and locked up again. And we have sent prisoners from the West Bank to Gaza because it's too dangerous to let them go home. And to their families we did not give permission to travel to Gaza to visit the sons which they have not seen for ten years and more. No, this is not really a security risk - but it's a matter of principle. Everyone should see and know who is the boss here, everyone should know that Israel holds the keys to the Gaza Strip and without our approval, no one will enter or leave the Gaza Strip. Oh yes, there were some human rights groups who said that since Gilad Shalit is released, now is the time to lift the siege on Gaza. Really, what do these leftists understand? Gilad Shalit is Gilad Shalit and the siege is the siege, there is no connection. The siege stays, just as it was, and please stop this chattering. And now suddenly they are shooting at us from Gaza and rockets are launched. The whole of South Israel runs to the air raid shelters. What the hell? What did we do to them? So we killed five, so what? These were terrorist bastards, they got what they deserved! If they dare to fire, we should teach them a lesson, to bomb and bomb more and more, shoot and kill and kill. Then they will learn a lesson and launch no more missiles. And if it actually puts them in a mood of defiance  and they actually respond with even more missiles? Well, Israel is not helpless, the Air Force armories are choke-full of sophisticated bombs with a great destructive power, we should bomb and bomb and bomb, hurray for our armed forces!

In the meantime, in Beersheba the Social Protest rally was already cancelled. .A net profit,  let them stay in the vicinity of their air raid shelters, not take to the streets to chant about Social Justice. Enough is enough!

Egg and Chicken

Why is a siege imposed on Gaza? Why do you ask, it's perfectly clear, would answer the common citizen on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. They shoot missiles at us, they make hell for us, so teach them a lesson until they stop shooting missiles. What is unclear here?

Why are rockets fired on Ashdod? Why do you ask, it's perfectly clear, would answer the common citizen on the streets of Gaza and Rafah. They shoot missiles at us, they make hell for us, so teach them a lesson until they lift the siege. What is unclear here?

So how to get out of this impasse? Well, just a short time ago, with the prisoner exchange we had an example of how to solve difficult and painful problems between us and the people of Gaza. To talk and negotiate, and offer proposals and counter proposals and come to a more or less mutually satisfactory agreement. And if is not possible to sit face to face at the table,  then we can find a mediator to take messages from side A to side B and back. The Egyptian mediators who helped with the exchange are already quite familiar with the route from Tel Aviv to Gaza and back ...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Who do we talk to?

Several months ago, a reconciliation agreement was signed between the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority and the Hamas leadership in Gaza. It was agreed to end the long conflict between them, with the intention of establishing a single government to represent all Palestinians and hold new elections in which Palestinians will be able to freely express their wishes. Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made a furious reply, stating that if the Palestinian reconciliation agreement implemented and a government established which includes Hamas, Israel would immediately sever all contact with the PA and no longer regard it a partner for negotiation (if and when negotiations resume...) .

As we know today, at almost exactly the same time there was a major breakthrough in the negotiations conducted the same Binyamin Netanyahu with the same Hamas movement, regarding an exchange of prisoners. A new Hamas proposal,  passed on to the  government of Israel, has indicated a significant degree of flexibility, and paved the way for implementing the exchange last week and the home-coming of Gilead Shalit.

There is something strange here, not entirely consistent. It is no surprise that in the opinion  poll conducted last week among  a sample of Israeli citizens,  no less than 79% expressed themselves in favor of Israel embarking on official negotiations with Hamas, also without resorting to Egyptian or German mediators. Of course, the results of an opinion poll are not binding on the government. Yet what would Netanyahu say if and when the Palestinians actually establish a joint government of Fatah and Hamas? "No, no, out of the question. We will never, never talk to these people, we are opposed in principle totalks with Hamas?" It somehow does not sound quite believable.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Congratulations, first of all, to Gilad Shalit, who will at long last come out of captivity, from darkness into light, from total isolation into the maelstrom of politicians and the media. (It is to be hoped that he would be given a bit of time to be in private with his family, and that he would once upon a time get the chance to live the normal life of an ordinary young person.)

Congratulations also to his parents, brother and grandfather, the devoted and stubborn family members who refused to give up and struggled and demonstrated and mobilized masses and eventually managed to move even the government of Binyamin Netanyahu.

Congratulations also to a thousand and twenty-seven Palestinian prisoners who will also come out of captivity, from darkness to light, and to the families who missed their sons and daughters no less than did the Shalit Family, and demonstrated again and again for many years and stood in public squares waving signs and photos (and were almost never seen in the communications media of the State of Israel).

Congratulations to all of us, that an agreement was signed which makes many hearts glad in Jerusalem as in Gaza, Tel Aviv and Ramallah. A practical, empirical example that a "Zero Sum Game" is not the only game in town. That there could well be an agreement which is acceptable and welcome to both sides. "We did not surrender to Hamas, nor did we force them to surrender" were the words of Yoram Cohen, head of the Shabak Security Service.

Congratulations to all of us, for having gotten a practical demonstration that it is possible to negotiate - not only with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, but also with Hamas - and reach a successful conclusion. It is possible – if we seriously mean the negotiations to succeed and end with an agreement and that the agreement will be implemented in reality. Not what we have seen so many times: a show of negotiations, handshakes and photo opportunities for the media and announcements about a "Peace Process" which never gets anywhere, while the reality of the occupation continues and the oppression deepens, and the settlements expand.

If we seriously want to reach results, the show can be dispensed with. No need of photographers, it is not even indispensable to sit around one table. It would be enough for an Egyptian or German mediator to pass from one side to the other, deliver proposals and counter-proposals. If we really want to achieve a result, this is quite enough – today we have the proof.

If we really want, there can be peace between the sovereign State of Israel and the sovereign State of Palestine. And with peace, there would be no reason for Palestinians who were released from prison to commit acts of violence against Israel (also not for Palestinians who hadn't been in prison). And Palestinians would also be able to stop worrying about armed Israeli soldiers and settlers, and of tanks and drones and fighter planes and gunboats. And it would be possible to implement very deep cuts in the defense budget and divert a great deal of money to social causes, and no longer would officers and politicians be able to cry out at such cuts and threaten us with grave and terrible dangers.

Not realistic?

It will only happen when we make it happen. When we demand it with loud voices from many, many throats.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Born on the day war broke out

Observations on Yom Kippur 2011 (1)  

Again, like every year since 1973, Yom Kippur provided an opportunity to once more remember that war and the way it took the State of Israel by surprise, and for again finding soldiers and officers whose stories of heroism were not yet published in previous years, and for newspaper headlines  quoting the Army Chief of Staff and his senior officers regarding the best way to win the next war. And because there had just been in this country huge demonstrations demanding to seriously deal with social issues,  including a demand to cut the defense budget, this year's Yom Kippur provides a golden opportunity for supporters of the military establishment to prepare a counter-attack, urging that not a single penny be  cut .

"Yediot Aharonot" found an original angle: interviewing 38-years old  military officers, who were born during that war. Such as Lieutenant Colonel  Amihai Segal, who was born exactly on its first day. He commands  the   Netzach Yehuda Battalion in the Kfir Brigade - the brigade which was established specifically to maintain Israeli rule in "Judea and Samaria" and whose soldiers go out every day, and especially every night, to detain people in the Palestinian cities and villages. Like many officers of the brigade, he and his family live in the settlement of Eli, where they found "a community which is very supportive and helpful." Lieutenant Colonel Segal is not much concerned about the fact that thirty-eight years after the war raging on the day he was born, the state of Israel has not yet reached  peace with its neighbors, and that military officials talk about the next war in terms of "when" rather than "if." In the eyes of Lieutenant Colonel Segal, there are problems and national objectives more important than peace.

Who still remembers that the Yom Kippur War could have been avoided, and that in 1978, Israel signed the peace agreement with Egypt which could have been signed already in 1970?  This is a lesson which only a few hint at.

Boycott and boycott

Observations on Yom Kippur 2011 (2)

The had never been a better time for consumer boycotts in Israel. The boycott against the dairy giant "Tnuva" resulted in a significant lowering in the price s of its products. The boycott organizers are now seeking the most effective next target, and newspaper commentators highly praise them on the successful initiative which at last managed to get the Israelis out of their traditional indifference.

And also the initiators of the Israeli tourism boycott of Turkey celebrated a small victory this week. The Turkish government decided to call back the tourism attache from its Tel Aviv Embassy. Until two years ago, hundreds of thousands Israeli tourists were going to Turkey, and their numbers were on the rise. Now, it is down to almost zero. Why waste money on a tourism attache when there is no tourism?

Only one kind of boycott is strictly outlawed in Israel. According to the law passed in the Knesset during a dramatic night session a few months ago, every Israeli person or organization daring to call for boycott of settlement products runs the risk of a lawsuit which might render them bankrupt.

The day after the passing of that law, an appeal was lodged by Gush Shalom - whose spokesperson I happen to be. The petition sought to have the new law ruled altogether invalid, due to its instituting a gross discrimination between boycott and boycott, protest and  protest, and its constituting a severe infringement of the freedom of expression, assembly and political activity.

The Justices gave the state sixty days to reply to this petition. The State Attorneys did not rush to answer. Last week the sixty days were over, and on the last day the State Attorney's Office simply asked for a further sixty days to reply.

As a matter of fact, no wonder that the attorneys have a difficulty in formulating their answer – they who are charged with the thankless task of defending in court the Netanyahu Government's policies and the legislation that gets passed by the right-wing majority in the Knesset. Already in advance, the State Attorneys several times addressed directly the Knesset Members, pleading against such a doubtful law and warning that it "verged on the red line".

A green light and a red light from Sweden

Observations on Yom Kippur 2011 (3)

This week Professor Dan Shechtman received the phone call which all scientists dream of, a call from Sweden announcing his winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. A day of joy and pride for Professor Shechtman and the scientific community in our country and for Israel in general – especially that in recent years the number of Israeli citizens getting Nobel Prizes far exceeds the proportion of Israelis in the world population.

And almost exactly on the same day we also received another message, a less pleasant one, from Sweden, where 218 professors and lecturers signed a petition calling for the severing of all ties with Israeli universities, until the State of Israel ends the occupation and oppression of the Palestinians. Specifically, professors at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm called upon the management of their Institute to cease cooperation with the Technion in Haifa - where Professor Shechtman works - because of the Technion's close relations with the IDF and Israel's defense industries, with some Technion scientists busy developing new weapons systems.

This problem Israeli scientists will not be able to solve, however bright they may be. Ending the occupation and oppression of the Palestinians, which blackens the name of Israel all over the world, is a task resting on the shoulders of the government and the political leadership.

No celebrations in jail

Observations on Yom Kippur 2011 (4)  

On this Yom Kippur, as on the preceding one, is spent by Gilad Shalit's parents in a tent outside the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem. The price for the release of Shalit from Hamas captivity is known. The list of prisoners whose release the Palestinians require in exchange for Shalit is already for years in the possession of the Government of Israel - but the Prime Minister is not willing to pay the price.

Several months ago,  Benyamin Netanyahu found a replacement. In  a dramatic speech which made newspaper headlines, he announced that "The celebrations by Palestinians prisoners  in Israeli prisons are over" and immediately the prison authorities began to worsen the conditions for the thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons: eliminating the possibility of academic studies by correspondence, limiting the newspapers which they can read and the television channels they can watch, and placing many of them in isolation, almost totally separated from other prisoners and the outside world. And all of this is of course in the name of the isolated prisoner Gilad Shalit, held somewhere in Gaza.

Several months passed of the new tough policy in the prisons and detention camps. And as one might expect (and as has been predicted by people who know a bit about these matters), the release of Gilad Shalit did not move an inch forward, and there was rising bitterness among Palestinians prisoners whose conditions were far from "a celebration" even before, and a prisoners' hunger strike began to gather momentum.
The Israeli media hardly reports it. Israeli citizens in whose eyes it is all about "terrorists" and "murderers" couldn't care less. But among Palestinians, where almost every family has a person sitting today in an Israeli prison and / or some who have done time in the past, the hunger strike has an enormous resonance.

It's been done before, at regular intervals since Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in 1967 and began to imprison Palestinians who expressed their opposition to this rule in various forms (by the way: not all of them by violent means). Every few years, somebody decided to exacerbate the conditions and "end the celebration", and always, soon afterwards a hunger strike started which caused unrest and tension in the prison itself as well as outside it, and eventually the authorities decided to quietly stop the worsening of conditions and restore the former situation. And so it probably will be again, now.

And Gilad Shalit? He will hopefully still be released, and return  to his loving family, and happy celebrations will take place all over the country. As soon as the government decides to cut a deal and pay the price required.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The end of the Oslo years

Whatever will happen in the coming months, one  thing is clear: the status quo of the last two decades  is dead.

The confrontation of Mahmoud Abbas and Binyamin Netanyahu on the United Nations podium took place eighteen years, almost to the day, after an earlier encounter of Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

It was in September 1993 that Itzchak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn, and hope was in the air, and peace seemed imminent. An interim agreement had been signed, under which a Palestinian Authority with very limited real authority and power was established as a strictly interim measure for a clearly defined period of five years. An explicit time table was set, under which a definite agreement was to be negotiated and signed and a fully independent State of Palestine come into being no later than May 1999.

And Rabin was assassinated, and Arafat died in circumstances which remain controversial, and very many Israelis and an even far greater number of Palestinians and quite a few others died in various horrible ways. And Palestine was not established in May 1999, nor on various later deadlines which were set and not enforced. And settlements in the Occupied Territories expanded to about twice the size which they had on September 1993, and the yoke of occupation weighs upon the Palestinians at least as heavily as it did eighteen years ago. And in Israel's latest opinion poll, more than half those asked said they did not believe peace would ever be achieved.

Should you ask a chance passer by on the streets of Tel Aviv what went wrong, he or she would probably answer – to the best of their knowledge - that Israel had been very generous to the Palestinians and that they have answered by terrorism and the hurling of missiles. Should you put the same question in the streets of Ramallah, you would most likely get a similarly sincere answer that it was the Palestinians who had made enormous concessions and that Israel answered with ever harsher occupation and settlement expansion – not to mention the three-week bombing of Gaza. In essence, both alike would say "we tried to make peace with them, we made every effort, but they only want to kill us and take our land" – differing only with who are "we" and who are "they".

After the elections of 1992, which brought Rabin to power, the ousted Prime Minister Shamir mourned: "We could have continued talking for another ten years and meanwhile extended the settlements". But even though Rabin came to power and for a time the term "peace process" seemed to have a real content, ultimately it was Shamir's vision which won out. Israel has been doing as he said, already for twenty years (and Netanyahu would not mind doing it for another twenty at the least).


In the halcyon years of Oslo, the agreements had raised hope among the majority of Palestinians as among the then flourishing Israeli Peace Camp, while the settlers and their allies opposed them vociferously. I can still remember the time when streets were full of extreme right stickers voicing the strident demand to "Prosecute the Oslo Criminals". It is the irony of history that with the passage of the years attitudes changed greatly, albeit subtly and without an open proclamation. 

The situation which was intended to be temporary and last no more than five years had been extended indefinitely. The Palestinian Authority is limited to isolated enclaves, comprising only 42% of the West Bank. Even there, its security forces are  obliged to maintain "security cooperation" and stand aside when Israeli forces come raiding at any hour of the day or (especially) the night, arresting whoever they want and hauling them off to interrogation with "moderate physical pressure" by the Israeli security services.

The rest of the West Bank is defined as "Area C" which Israeli government and settlers regard as their own – to plant and extend settlements, to grant (rather, refuse to grant) building permits to Palestinians and demolish homes built without such a permit, to dig for water and reserve the lion's share of it to Israeli settlers (and Israeli  citizens in Israel's population centers). Israelis can assert that Palestinians already have their own self governing authority, complete with president and prime minister and cabinet and parliament, even while any 19-year old Israeli corporal at a roadblock on the Ramallah-Nablus Highway has far more concrete power in Palestinian daily life than the Palestinian President and Prime Minister combined.

No wonder that Israeli right wingers, also among the settlers, concede that from their point of view the best practical option for the future would be "just to continue the present situation" – the situation created by Oslo. No wonder that  Palestinians increasingly came to resent to the Palestinian Authority which had once aroused their hopes, to regard it as a hindrance to the achievement of their national aspirations, in effect a body collaborating with the Israeli occupation. No wonder that some Palestinians called explicitly for the Palestinian Authority to be disbanded, and many other would not shed a tear at its passing.

What can President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and his Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and their ministers and officials do to dispel such feelings among their constituents and regain their credibility? In essence, only one thing would do: to give concrete proof that the situation created by Oslo is indeed temporary and that it could and would be replaced by an end to the occupation and full Palestinian statehood. 

To be sure, no such reassurance could be given by a new round of negotiations, yet another photo opportunity with the President of the United States ceremoniously spreading his protective wings over handshaking Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a hollow pretense to impartiality. Not after eighteen years when the term "peace process" had become a sad joke among Palestinians and Israelis alike.

And so, there came up the Idea of Palestinians in general – and the Palestinian Authority in particular - ceasing to wait for handouts from a tightfisted Israeli government of from a US on whose internal politics the same Israeli government  maintains a stranglehold. The idea of the Palestinians taking their fate in their own hands, breaking by their own effort out of the decades-long stalemate. Boldly going to the UN to demand recognition of their sovereign statehood – as Israel's sovereign statehood was recognized more than six decades ago, as sovereign statehood was recognized for no less than 193 nations around the world. To voice this demand and basic aspiration, neither asking nor needing anyone's permission and authorization, steadfastly persisting in it also in the teeth of a very manifest and prolonged displeasure from the American superpower.   .

So far, it had been an enormous publicity success, putting for months the Palestinian plight on the global agenda, and forcing everybody – Netanyahu, Obama, the European leaders – to respond to and grapple with a Palestinian initiative. This much they have achieved, even if the statehood bid itself is quashed by an outright American veto or by behind the scenes machinations and pressures on weak nations which happen to hold a crucial Security Council seat. Unflinchingly facing up to the American pressure has – at least for the time being – greatly increased the popularity of Mahmoud Abbas, never a particularly charismatic leader.

For its part the United States – and President Obama in person – pay a high diplomatic price for a right or wrong support to the government of Israel. For a manifestly biased presidential speech at the UN, which flatly contradicted Obama's previous positions and was warmly endorsed by Netanyahu's thuggish Foreign Minister Lieberman. Followed a weak later by the US offering a week lip service condemnation for Netanyahu's construction of a new 1100 "Jewish only" housing units in East Jerusalem, while the Palestinians were very concretely punished for the temerity of seeking statehood with Congress withdrawing US$200 million of already dedicated aid.

Altogether, the United States very thoroughly discredited itself and exhibited, clear for the entire world to see, its unfitness for the role of sole Middle East mediator which was established already by Kissinger in the 1970's. All the more so as the manifestly biased position was taken by none other than President Obama, of whom there had been expectations for something better (from the point of view of the Israeli right wing, for something worse).

French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who took the UN podium after Obama, got considerable international attention when stating that "We must stop believing that a single country, even the largest, or a small group of countries can resolve so complex a problem”. Never in decades was there such a clear call for a more objective mediator to take up the role of arbiter between Israel and the Palestinians. Indeed, Obama himself – whose own diplomatic efforts ended in such dismal failure and who has many other urgent issues on his plate – might not really object to somebody else taking up this hot potato.

Yet, where can an effective and impartial alternative arbiter be found, strong and decisive enough to enforce compliance? Can the Europeans – far from united, and mired in their own deep economic crisis – take up this role? What would happen if the appeal to the UN turns out to have brought the Palestinians no concrete result, no real step towards emancipating themselves of the occupation's suffocating presence?

Abu Mazen's dramatic speech at the UN included a passage which got virtually no attention in any of the Israeli media, completely overlooked by the hordes of commentators and analysts: "“This settlement policy threatens to also undermine the structure of the Palestinian National Authority, and even end its existence.” In an interview to Alquds newspaper, Abbas was more explicit: “I will return to the Palestinian leadership, which will make a decision on whether the time has come for Israel to re-assume its responsibility as an occupying authority.(…) We will not keep the Palestinian Authority as a mere name."

In short, the interim period - which the Oslo Agreement envisaged as lasting five years and which various Israeli governments managed to prolong into eighteen – seems to be drawing to an imminent end. Things will not remain as they were before Abbas made his appeal to the International Community. The Palestinian Authority might be upgraded to a fully sovereign state, or it might disappear, leaving a vacuum and completely unpredictable new situation in its place.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A century-old warning

A few days ago I found lying in the street near my home an old book – the collected writings of Micha Joseph Berdichevsky, a Zionist writer, poet and commentator who was born in 1865 and died in 1921. Once his name was well known, but now he is almost forgotten and even most of those who live on Berdichevsky Street in Tel Aviv have no clear idea for whom their street was named. I opened the yellowing pages and found an article written in the aftermath of the  Seventh Zionist Congress, held at Basel in 1907. Much of it seems as if it was written just now. (Emphasis in the original). .

(...) We heard a thorough discussion about the Arab movement and of the Arab people. Eretz Yisrael is no virgin soil, but a land inhabited by a nation which works the land and which has rights over their land ... The writer A. Hermoni, a native of Eretz Yisrael, spoke of the Arab movement in his articles published in "Hashiloah". Even more explicit was what we heard from another resident of Eretz Yisrael, the teacher Yitzhak Epstein, who during the Seventh Zionist Congress in Basel set out before us this major issue, the issue of the attitude of the Sons of Israel coming to settle in the Land of Israel towards the Arabs ...

"The Hidden Question" was how the speaker spoke of it. The fact that such a fundamental issue could have been ignored and kept out of mind, that after thirty years of settlement work it could be spoken of as a new subject for investigation, is a sad proof of the lighthearted attitude prevalent in our movement.

"Ever since our national movement emerged,  said this speaker, the activists ceaselessly discussed and debated about the situation of the the country and its laws and so on. But one thing we have forgotten to discuss: we have forgotten that in the country we love there is an entire other people, which has been holding to it for centuries, and which never had any intention of letting go of it".

And he goes on to tell us of this living people as "a people with a sensitive heart and a loving soul", which is bound to its his homeland by strong bonds and that "It is to be conjectured that many of them are descended from the scattered and refugee members of our own people, who had become assimilated among other peoples during times of persecution and destruction", and share this blood relation. "The Arabs are a prime example of peasants who work their fields devotedly and water them with the sweat of their brow. In physical development, the Arab is the superior of all European".

"It is high time to get rid of the wrong idea, which has become widespread among Zionists, that in Eretz Israel there is soil which remains uncultivated due to the lack of working hands. There are no empty fields. On the contrary, each fellah is striving to add to his plot whatever uncultivated land is to be found nearby."."Well, when we come to take hold of the country, there immediately comes up the question: What would do the peasants, whose fields we will purchase? – Where will the dispossessed turn? – True, sometimes the Hebrew colony provides him with some work. However – first, we can’t oblige ourselves to permanently provide him a job, and secondly, by so doing we only make the situation worse. For when the fellah is provided with a job in the colony founded on his land, he is also provided with the ability to retain contact with the land which nourished him from birth, and he will continue to regard it as his own domain which had been temporarily stolen by strangers…" 

The speaker added: "Even supposing that in the land of our ancestors we are not obliged to care for others and that we have the right – or even a duty incumbent upon us – to obtain whatever parcels of land become available. But can this behavior really persist? Would these dispossessed keep silent and accept passively what was done to them? Is it not clear that they would at least rise up to regain by the fist what was taken away from them by  gold!  Will they not seek to settle accounts with the foreigners who expelled them from their land. - and who knows, would they not then become prosecutors and judges rolled into one... After all, they are brave people, all of them armed, skilled shooters, excellent riders, zealous for their nation and especially their religion. And this people is but a small part of a great nation, holding all the environments of our country: Syria, Mesopotamia, Arabia and Egypt"..
"We must not disregard the rights of these people" he cried out. "Most especially, we must not resort to the evil of those who rob their brothers. Do we trust that the ashes will always cover  the flames? Let one spark escape – and a conflagration will arise which could not be extinguished!"

Is Binyamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel in September 2011, truly unable to see what  Micha Joseph Berdichevsky  described so clearly a hundred years ago?