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?