Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The writing was on the wall

Just a few days ago, the unequivocal Foreign Minister convened diplomats in order to unequivocally inform them that settlement construction would not be frozen for three months, nor for three weeks, not even for three hours. The writing was on the wall, but the government could not see it.

The Knesset majority could not see it, either - busily passing ever new anti-democratic and racist laws. The "Nakba Law" was particularly designed to punish anyone who dares to express a feeling of mourning on Israel's Independence Day and remind of the price which the Palestinians had to pay for the creation of this state.

And nobody noticed the Palestinian youths who saw the acts of their peers in Tunisia and Egypt and Syria, and how they too organized through Facebook and held simultaneous demonstrations in Ramallah and Gaza, and forced Fatah and Hamas into reconciliation and called for demonstrations and protests on Nakba Day, May 15. For many years since 1948, Palestinians had been talking about this idea: a large crowd marching, unarmed, to the border fence and breaking through it. They talked of it but until this week nobody ever tried to actually do it.

Standing again in the square

May 15 was one of these days when every news bulletin increases the horror. A 17-year Palestinian boy shot to death and other wounded during the dispersal of a demonstration in the Silwan Neighborhood of what Netanyahu still hails as "United Jerusalem, the capital of Israel" (the police still investigates if this was from a policeman's bullet or that a settler security guard). And an Israeli pedestrian was killed and others were wounded when a truck went widely careening through in the streets of south Tel Aviv (the police still investigates whether the driver did it deliberately). And then an afternoon of deluge, killings and bloodshed everywhere, on the Syrian border, on the Lebanese border, on the Gaza border, until it became hard to keep count. Hardly any attention was given to the Qalandia Checkpoint north of Jerusalem where nobody was killed and there were only hours-long volleys of tear gas with wounded in light and medium condition being taken to hospital.

As always on such days, the urgent phone calls begin - "Did you hear what is going on? We must react, go out on the streets, hurry, hurry!" Under tremendous time pressure a statement and call for action is drafted: "With bloody events happening all over the country we will gather tonight, in solidarity with the masses who oppose the occupation and call: No to the killing of civilians! Yes to popular uprisings! "

The message goes out by phone calls and voice messages and email and Facebook and at eight and a half we are standing in the square in front of the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and directed to the signs at the cars streaming along Carlebach Street, "Stop! War crimes ahead!", "Stop the Killing of Civilians." Hoarse chanting and beating of a dozen drums to the same: "You can't kill popular resistance!"/" You can't kill, the Nakba is real!"/" Barak, Barak, hey hey hey, how many demonstrators did you shoot today? "/" Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies"/" Jews and Arab are faithful to each other"/" We are all together, without hatred and fear "/" Come on, come on, no more tricks, dismantle settlements forthwith!"/" "Democracy is not built on the dead bodies of demonstrators!". (At the cabinet meeting in the morning, Binyamin Netanyahu chided the Palestinians for mourning on the anniversary of the founding of Israeli democracy. At the time when he said it, most of the nonviolent demonstrators killed today were still alive...)

A group of Arab students from Tel Aviv university, holding Palestinian flags, chanted "The people demand to overthrow the occupation!" – a slogan borrowed, with a slight change, from the protests of young people in the streets of Cairo and Damascus. Across the road a small group of Jewish Orthodox girls formed a counter-demonstration, singing the Israeli National Anthem. When they reached the words "To be a Free People in Our Country" one of the demonstrators called in their direction: "That's also what the Palestinians want!". A police photographer emerged from a patrol car and walked along the line of protesters, carefully photographing every face, and was greeted with calls of "Police State! Police State!"

On the edge of the crowd Aliya Strauss, veteran of the Women in Black weekly vigils, was deep in conversation with a passing young man, about which she later told other demonstrators. "He told me that he is serving in the IDF reseves and that he found my sign, 'Murderers in Uniform', very hurting. I told him that just a few hours ago soldiers wearing the IDF uniform had opened fire on protesters, killing unarmed civilians, and that there was a good reason to call it murder. He asked if I wanted my grandsons to be called murderers in uniform when they would be in the army. I told him that there is still some time until they are due to be called up, that I hope that none of them will kill civilians and that I also hope that by then the occupation will end and no soldier will be in such a situation. He said he understood us and that he was willing to talk with me about the situation but still felt hurt by my sign, and I told him it was not directed against him personally. In the end I decided, as a goodwill gesture, to replace my sign. I took up the one which said 'Nakba' in prominent big characters. He wished me health and went away with a sad expression. "

And now?

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz accused the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria of being interested in diverting attention from its own shooting on and killing civilian protesters on the streets of Syrian cities. He may well have a point. But then, one must note that the the Assad Regime got full cooperation on the part of the Israel Defense Forces, who volunteered to take up their share in the killing of unarmed Syrian demonstrators.

In Ha'aretz, commentator Aluf Benn wrote: "The Arab revolution knocked on Israel's door. The penetration of Palestinian demonstrators from Syria to the Druze town of Majdal Shams at the foot of Mount Hermon completely shattered the illusion that Israel can have a good time at its 'villa in the jungle', completely isolated from the dramatic events in its environment.

And when he goes to Washington two days hence, what will Netanyahu say? No problem, he already said it in the Knesset. He will tell the compromises of true peace are painful, but there is no need to worry about that because in reality there will be no need to experience this pain because we have no real partner for a real peace. A real partner can only appear if the Palestinians first break up the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas and go back to waging civil war with each other, and if they give up the impertinent attempt to create accomplished facts in the United Nations and the even more insolent demand that Israel stop creating accomplished facts in the settlements and besides and they should agree to a continued Israeli rule in the Jordan Valley and to United Jerusalem being the exclusive Eternal Capital of Israel and of course recognize Israel as a Jewish state. And if a Palestinian would be found to accept all these conditions we would think up something more.

Up to the next disaster...

Video reports on breaking through the border and demonstrations
by Lia Tarachansky